The 2019 Pennoni Book Bingo Board hanging in the Pennoni Honors College. Participants sign the squares that they've completed.
What was the last book you read? How about the last book of poetry, or book published in 2019? Book with a body part in the title? Book that is “spoopy” (something comically spooky)?
For some faculty, staff and friends of Drexel University’s Pennoni Honors College, they’ve definitely read at least one book this year — and possibly even one book from all of those categories — by playing Pennoni Book Bingo.
Started in 2017, the game has brought Dragons together (including this author, who has participated in 2018 and 2019) to read and discuss books. It’s the ultimate team-building exercise for people who read — or want to read more, or want to start reading for pleasure.
“It’s a very old-school way of fostering a community,” said Pennoni Book Bingo organizer Melinda Lewis, PhD, associate director of marketing and media and managing editor of The Smart Set, the Honors College’s magazine about art and culture. “People here get really excited about Book Bingo.”
To play, Dragons pick reading categories (like those listed above plus 20 others and a free space) from a 5x5 bingo board to guide what they read over the course of a calendar year. “Basic bingo” is achieved when a player reads five books to make a horizontal or vertical line on the board. And “no life bingo” or “blackout bingo” is achieved when someone reads 25 books, one for every square.
Last year, 12 people achieved “basic bingo” and five people achieved “no life bingo.” But even better, Dragons now regularly chat about books, give out recommendations, support each other on their reading journeys and celebrate when someone reads a book, or five, or 25.
That’s the whole reason why Lewis came up with the idea of Pennoni Book Bingo, after first trying to create an online reading list for The Smart Set.
“I was trying to find ways for the site to be more interactive, but when I was telling my colleagues about it I realized I actually preferred the fact that I could look at people while we talked about books,” said Lewis.
Roxane C. Lovell, program manager in the Office of Undergraduate Research, had worked at a library that played book bingo, and Lewis said she was instrumental in sparking the idea and “gaming” element.
“I thought that this could be used as a means to kind of further cement ourselves as a community entity. It just really clicked for our department,” said Lewis.
But don’t worry if you want to participate and you aren’t part of the Pennoni Honors College.
“I don’t care if the only connection someone has to the Honors College is by playing bingo with us,” said Lewis. “The more the merrier!”
The book categories change each year, and they can be influenced by inside jokes within the college (the “spoopy” one came about when a colleague kept bringing it up last Halloween). But some also feature certain reoccurring themes, like books tied to a location (last year had a book set in Philly and this year it’s a book set in your home state) or books written about marginalized people within publishing, like authors who are LGBTQ or people of color or global writers.
For 2018 and 2019, the ultimate conversation-starting square was designed to spark conversations and further spread the word about Book Bingo: a book recommended by Pennoni Honors College staff (like last year) or non-Pennoni Honors College staff (like this year).
“I think the idea of being a part of a university like Drexel and being excited about books makes sense for us to go analog and read for pleasure and not just for work,” said Lewis. “Anything that refocuses our brains and provides a little bit of pleasant stimuli is nice, and so is being able to share our knowledge and experience with others, which is what we’re in higher ed to do.”
Book Bingo is played for an entire academic year — so there’s still time to start playing, or even just use the 2019 board for inspiration for your own personal reading. And you can always sign up to receive the 2020 board once it's released!
This summer, Lewis and other Pennoni Honors College staff were asked to recommend a book (or two!) and talk about how long they’ve been playing Pennoni Book Bingo. Read on in case you’re looking for a new book to read or want to start playing yourself!
I read a book called “Heart Berries” by Terese Marie Mailhot, who is an indigenous writer. It’s about her romantic relationship with this man that is going south, but she inevitably marries him. And it’s also about all these tensions and frustrations that are rooted in her being indigenous and how she is carrying all this trauma with her into this relationship with a man who is white. It’s about things like, “How does my identity work its way in to my partnership with this person? What are the power dynamics here?” And this book fulfilled two categories, because it’s written by an indigenous person and it has a body part in the title. I just went nuts for it. It got into my bones and it reminded me about why I like reading so much —being affected by the written word and being crushed in certain ways by the writing, which I find so amazing.
A book I’ve regretted not reading was “Anna Karenina” by Leo Tolstoy. I started it at the beginning of the year. It took me a few months, but I was really proud of myself. It is a great book — like, I get with the big deal is now. I had always wanted to read it, but I’d get through like 200 pages and be like, “There’s so much more to this book and I just don’t know if I have the time now.” But because I had this very short-term goal of reading it this year, I was able to do it. Reading this felt like I ran a marathon, but I did it and I crossed the threshold and I feel like a better person after doing it. And that book has sat with me, so much so that I bought Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” not too long ago.
Roxane C. Lovell:
I’m currently reading “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan” by Lisa See. It is for the “book originally published in China” square. I am enjoying it because it is beautifully written and about a time and culture that I know little of (19th century China). My colleagues Erica Zelinger and Katie Barak recommended it to me.
This is my second year doing bingo.
Erica Zelinger, director of marketing and media:
Erica Zellinger's completed 2019 Pennoni Book Bingo board.
I finished Book Bingo back in June. I try to read a book a week now and just finished “Where the Crawdads Sing” last night. But here is my book bingo. My favorites were: “A Woman is No Man,” “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan” and “We Were the Lucky Ones.”
This is the second year in a row that I won — unintentionally. I think I just found it as a good excuse to escape from my children or the monotony of my husband watching Rachel Maddow every night! I used to be an avid reader when I was younger but found myself only reading during the summer months. When Melinda started the book club two years ago, I was really excited to put together a plan for what I wanted to read —sometimes trying to figure out how to fit a particular book into a particular box, and other times trying to find stories I wouldn’t otherwise be attracted to.
Emily Coyle, assistant director of the Center for Scholar Development:
One of my favorite books that I read recently for Book Bingo was “Heart: A History” by Sandeep Jauhar. I liked it because it threaded together the history of treating heart disease with Dr. Jauhar’s personal and professional experience with heart ailments. It was an informative read that also humanized Dr. Jauhar as a cardiologist. I then got to meet Dr. Jauhar in person as he was the keynote speaker for the Center for Interdisciplinary Inquiry’s graduation this year. He lived up to expectations!
I’ve been participating in Book Bingo for two years.
Eric M. Kennedy Jr., associate director of the Honors Program:
This checked off the “Romance Novel” box: “Lie With Me: A Novel” by Phillipe Besson, translated by Molly Ringwald. I was immediately drawn into the language and poetic style of the book. The narrator reflects on his youth in 1984, his first love and how the decisions we make when we’re young set us on different paths into adulthood. I’d highly recommend “Lie With Me” to fans of LGBTQ literature, quick reads, or “coming of age” stories.
This is my second year doing Book Bingo. Last year I completed a blackout Bingo and I hope to do so again!
Jaya Mohan, director of the Office of Undergraduate Research:
I participated in Book Bingo in 2017 because it aligned with my own book challenge I set for myself, so it gave me a good structure to meet my reading goal that year. In the years following, it’s been hard for me to stick with it because I’ve cultivated a long list of books I want to read that don’t necessarily map onto the categories provided … but, if I didn’t have that list, I’d say that Book Bingo helps to bring books into your orbit that you might not otherwise read. I also like that it gets our colleagues talking about what books they’re reading, because I’m now constantly borrowing books or taking recommendations (adding to that list that’s keeping me from joining in on Book Bingo…).
This story was published in the fall 2019 issue of Drexel Quarterly.