The Valencia College Book Nerds Rediscover the Magic of the Page

In our digital world, we often find ourselves drowning in an endless flood of media as 5-second videos, eye-catching photos and incendiary headlines inundate and over-saturate our attention. So, finding that book that will pull you out of the sea of push notifications can be as difficult as sticking with it from cover to cover. The Valencia College Book Nerds are here to help you cut out the digital noise and guide you on a meditative journey into the long form.

Like all good stories, the Book Nerds has a compelling origin, says East Campus librarian Courtney Moore.

“During Banned Books Week in 2015, we had a conversation on ‘Go Set a Watchman,’ a controversial new book by Harper Lee,” recalls Moore. “There was such a demand to talk about it that we had to keep the conversation going.”

So the group did – and with other books, too. Valencia College’s charter group of Book Nerds embraced their page-turning culture and began to meet monthly.

Three and ½ years later, the club is still going strong and librarian Moore has passed the veritable torch on to East Campus students Neena Shimada, 17, and Kassandra Vargas, 18. It’s one they’re proud to bear, says Shimada, so that more students at Valencia can re-discover the magic of reading.

“We always hear, ‘I don’t read because of the stuff they forced us to read in high school,’” says Shimada, who is the club president of Book Nerds. “We want people to choose the books that interest them and ignite that fire again.”

To keep the fire going, the group holds monthly meetings and events geared at getting fellow students back into the pleasure of reading. Shimada and Vargas stress that meetings aren’t the typical recounting of plot. Book Nerds events can include anything from free-form discussions to quiz-show-style contests. In January, the group launched the spring term with a discussion of “Bird Box” and the differences between the novel by Josh Malerman and the adapted original series which took Netflix and social media by storm earlier this year.

“It’s cool to see film versions of your favorite books, but that also takes away some of the imagination,” says Vargas, the Book Nerds’ vice president. “Imagination plays a huge role in our book discussions, because you get to see another person’s perspective on a story – to see something you might not have before.”

In the months ahead, club officers expect plenty of opportunities to share perspective – and to compare source material with adaptations. In March, the Book Nerds will tackle “Good Omens” by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, an apocalyptic tale in which an unlikely duo – an angel and a demon – team up to stave off the end of the world. Shimada and Vargas are eager to delve into the text authored by the literary power duo before May, when it will be transformed into a star-studded TV series available for streaming.

More than plucking from the best-seller shelves, following the critically acclaimed or just trying to read books before they’re snatched up by Hollywood, Shimada and Vargas want to spark lively conversation around stories that are relevant today.

“One of my favorite books from last year was actually a graphic novel called ‘Sabrina,’ ” says Vargas. “It’s about abuse, femicide and a woman who has to fight the spread of fake news to find justice for crimes committed.”

Other titles to get the Book Nerds treatment this semester include “Where the Heart Is” by Billie Letts and “Samuel Johnson’s Eternal Return” by Martin Riker.

With future book selections yet to be determined, they encourage students to join and suggest any titles they would like to discuss.

“Book Nerds is a safe space,” says Vargas. “You aren’t just a student but a contributor to a larger conversation that not only discusses an author’s work but reflects personal experiences and opinions… It’s not just a club, but a community of the readers of tomorrow.”

The club meets on select Tuesdays once a month in room 4-210 on East Campus. Follow them on Instagram @valenciabooknerds.

Neena Shimada (left), president of the Valencia College Book Nerds club, and Kassandra Vargas, club vice president, pose for a portrait on the mall of the East Campus on January 16, 2019 in Orlando, Fla. The club meets in building 4 (pictured in background) on select Tuesdays once a month.