My reading group, the Sìdhe Literary Collective as we're known, has been going for over a year now and we're about to put on our first symposium (see the poster in earlier entry!). Reading groups are wonderful. I'm a big supporter. They're opportunities not only to take part in 'serious academic discussion', but they are support groups, too. When I was overwhelmed with marking and several members had theses due, we took to watching episodes of Xena and Buffy, followed by lively debates on who was the mightest female role model of all. We went through a baking phase where the sharing of recipes and baked goods went along with sharing of Derrida and Butler. It wasn't perhaps the best thing for our waistlines, but it was a thoroughly delicious period of scholarly endeavour. In recent weeks, as I juggle teaching two units and supervising students with trying to keep up my publication output, I've been sitting quite cheerfully in my chair, knitting socks. No one minds. I can relax and yet still engage in a good critical debate.
If you are at university and you long for those dreams of tight knit groups sitting around, pouring over Joyce or Baudrillard or Rowling (hey, I do teach Harry Potter!) while drinking coffee or sipping cognac (or eating pizza and drinking beer), reading groups are a good way to go.
The best way to go about it is to decide on a main focus for the group. My first reading group focussed on pop culture. We became Henry Jenkins groupies and met at cafes all over Melbourne (okay, generally in the vacinity of Clayton). This current group began as a feminist group, but the supernatural bent got the better of us. Nonetheless, we do have heated e-mail exchanges over various newspaper articles (many oddly about a certain S.N.). It's great for letting off steam.
It's also a good idea to approach lecturers who have an interest in your focus area. They may be able to suggest other students or postdocs who could be asked to join. If you can get people at a variety of stages in their academic careers together, you can get the best of all worlds.
And if you find someone who is a good baker, that's just heavenly...