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The Vox Book Club is going back to school with Elif Batuman’s The Idiot

School this year will be strange. But you can still go back to campus in a book.

Zac Freeland/Vox
Constance Grady is a senior correspondent on the Culture team for Vox, where since 2016 she has covered books, publishing, gender, celebrity analysis, and theater.

This fall’s back-to-school season is going to look very strange. But one of the things books are good at is giving us a semblance of normalcy in strange times, and — if they’re really good books — poking a little at what we all thought was normal to begin with. That’s why this September, the Vox Book Club is reading The Idiot by Elif Batuman.

The Idiot was one of my favorite novels of 2017, a weird and funny and tender book about communication and semiotics and how absolutely bizarre language is. It’s a campus novel set at Harvard in 1995, during the cultural moment when email was just becoming a thing. Freshman student Selin is struggling to figure out how to perform as the kind of person Harvard freshmen are supposed to be: She has to consciously remember to pretend she can’t resist chocolate, and when her roommate tells her to buy an Einstein poster, instead of buying the one where Einstein’s sticking out his tongue, she buys just a portrait of Einstein, so everyone thinks she stans for him and keeps explaining his flaws to her the whole year. One day, Selin strikes up an email correspondence with a boy she’s barely spoken to, and their relationship begins to develop in strange and unexpected ways.

This one’s a real language nerd book, and it’s going to be incredibly fun to talk about. We can get into semiotics! We can discuss how incredibly weird a lot of the stuff we are all taught is normal actually is! Subscribe to our newsletter to make sure you don’t miss anything, and let’s get started.

Here’s the full Vox Book Club schedule for September 2020

Friday, September 11: First discussion post on The Idiot

Friday, September 25: Second discussion post on The Idiot

Wednesday, September 30: Virtual live event, with details to come. Sign up for the Vox Book Club newsletter and we’ll send you the RSVP link as soon as it’s up!

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