Tuesday, August 21, 2012

On reading and book clubs

I have always been a reader, but not really a reader of so called Great Literature. 

I loved to read as a child having been taught by my Mother the year I was in Kindergarten (age 3 turning 4 for those who don't use the Australian terminology, what I believe the US calls Kindergarten we call Prep or Pre-Primary and follows on from Kindergarten).  Through primary school I was voracious.  I would read while I was waiting for my father to finish up teaching his classes and his meetings (my Dad was a teacher at my k-12 school), then for the half hour journey home, then into the late night by sneaking out from my room to where a crack of light shone through from the lounge area.  The morning, of course, saw me read again on the car journey to school and while I waited the differential time between my Dad needing to be at work and the Primary School actually opening.

But somewhere in high school in the midst of English classes where you were forced to read at the pace of the slowest oral reader (remember that!), to analyse texts in the minutest detail and soulfully respond I lost some of the joy.  I don't think I would have minded if we were reading seminal literature, but we were reading texts like a particularly awful short story called "Real Land" which was notable for the complete absence of any form of punctuation.  You just try learning quotes from that for an exam essay, when your brain automatically corrects the appalling grammar!

It was not that I wasn't good at English.  In a rapidly acquired skill that actually proved remarkably useful in my university and then short government policy career before children came along I learnt to give the teacher exactly the response to a text we were 'supposed' to give (our English department were virulent left wing feminists) whether I agreed with it or not - I could pick a mile off what the politically correct, from their point of view, response was.  The English course being all about reader response rather than the author's crafting of a text or its place in the wider scope of literature.

Then came university and I was fanatical about getting straight HDs (almost eight years on I am still smarting over Mathematical Economics....) and there was no time for reading except in the holidays.  That was until I did a semester abroad in the US and took two classes which had novels and non-textbooks as set texts.  I started to enjoy more challenging reading again.  I was exposed to Plato, F Scott Fitzgerald and I began to see what I had missed out on in my school and university education.  What is even sadder is that if you base a school's excellence purely on the basis of the results its students achieve I had the best education you could have in our state - our school topped the league performance table the year I finished school (based on the percentage of students achieving over 75 per cent on their four university entrance subjects; our school had over 90 per cent).  So, I can't imagine what sort of education those other poor blighters got!

After university finished I really started to read again. I had an hour long commute at my first job in Sydney and I could get through five or six books a week because my husband and I would also spend the evenings reading; actually he was rarely ever at home during this period so mostly I just had my own company and did a lot of reading.  During this time I also discovered the book blog circuit and began to amass an impressive list of books I wanted to read, many remain on there to this day.  Then came a move to Melbourne and my daily commute grew to two hours and so my reading time grew too.  That was, until I got pregnant with Ginger and it took all my willpower just to make it into the city without throwing up - reading was not really an option in a moving vehicle:)  I joined a book club at my work but ended up only attending two meetings.  When of the group of ten or so attending only you and the club organiser have actually read the book there seems little point discussing it.

With the arrival of Ginger my reading slowed again, before discovering six months into nursing her that I could hold a book while I nursed.  I used to love that last hour before her bedtime while she nursed and I read was a relaxed way to start the evening.  I am sad that I will never have that quiet time with Tom Kitten...Ginger being her ever-present exuberant self! At the moment I sneak reading time when I can, evenings, nap times, early morning wake-ups and night time feeds (though I have a tendency to realise afterwards I have taken in very little when it is 2am in the morning, unlike my husband who gets up and studies when Tom Kitten wakes for a night feed!).

Which is all a very long winded history to introduce you to a new book club which has been set up by Edie of Life in Grace.  When we lived in Sydney (oh, five years ago) I bought The Well-Educated Mind by Susan Wise Bauer with the intention of plugging those gaps in my non-existent classical education.  But the book has seen little attention and I am yet to read a single text from its numerous lists!  Anyway, Edie's plan is to cover similar ground to Wise Bauer but work chronologically.  The text they are starting with is The Odyssey. As soon as I saw that I knew I was meant to jump on in and join up.

Edie's words...

....I like the chronological approach better, as a way of following the development of western civilization and how one writer’s work builds on the writers before them—although we’ll even alter that as need be.    I’m still working on the reading list but I think we’ll start with The Odyssey first.   Reading classics is its own odyssey, if you will.  And there will be times when you feel as if you’ve been kidnapped on a strange island by a sorceress who is bewitching your mind.   But reading classics will definitely help you on your journey home!

As my husband had the right translation on the shelf I am now four chapters into The Odyssey and am giving way to the beauty of the language and the richness of the tale.  Interested in Edie's club...then head over here for general information, or here for her book club forum.  I'd love to hear if you are signing up too!


  1. I love this post. You are a brilliant woman!
    I find it sad that your literature teachers managed to squeeze the joy out of reading, but I think it happens all the time.
    You're back now!
    (You are a fantastic writer, by the way!)

  2. The moment I discovered I could read I became a voracious reader as well. I remember running to the library at every opportunity just to find something new to read. I was reading Agatha Christie by the time I was 8yo (I'd read everything else in our little school library)!

  3. Everyone in my family is a reader. For us, life without reading just doesn't seem right. My sister was reading the Sydney Morning Herald before she started school. I think because our parents loved reading, and encouraged us so much, we still enjoyed reading, despite the school experience (I like to just enjoy the reading, not analyse the text to within an inch of its life).

    So, if a parent has a love of reading, I think the child will pick up on that. You will probably end up with readers as children. My advice? Learn to love your local library - it is much cheaper, and more environmentally friendly, than buying books, and if they don't have something you want, they will probably get it in for you if you ask nicely :-)

  4. What a wonderful post...i love reading and always have but just don't seem to get the time for it much at the moment...usually late at night but i only manage a few pages before falling asleep! At least i get to rediscover the joy of childrens books with the twins lol!Enjoy your bookclub x

  5. The bookclub looks like so much fun! Life is about to get a bit too crazy for me to join, but the books look great. After I fell in love with the Illiad, a college professor pointed me to his favorite translation of the Odyssey by T.E. Lawrence (as in T.E. Lawrence the "Lawrence of Arabia" if you've seen the movie - who knew he was also a classicist?). Enjoy your reading!