At the beginning of 2012 I made a simple New Year’s resolution: read.
My children were then 7 and 5. I was well versed in Dr. Seuss, intimate with all of Roald Dahl’s characters (specialising in gloriously fabububble BFG-speak), I certainly knew where the green sheep was, and the dilapidated nursery rhyme book from my childhood, that I’d had restored and rebound for my children, was again deliciously dilapidated through overuse. I loved reading with my children, but I couldn’t recall a book I’d read for myself in seven years. An avid reader since childhood, I felt in quite a predicament: I didn’t know how to start again, what to read first. In a previous life I’d read while walking to work, I’d slept surrounded by books: I was one of those people. I’ve read David Malouf’s An Imaginary Life more than a hundred times since I first read it at school, and that fraying, original copy travels with me on all my major life journeys. Although nervous beyond words, I was so thrilled to meet him in 2012, when he autographed my (now even more) cherished school text.
Within a month of making my resolution I’d coerced three friends into forming a bookclub. The quickest way to get started was to simply go with the First Tuesday Book Club‘s pick: The Submission by Amy Waldman. Our bookclub has flourished since. The other 11 books we’ve read together are: Why be Happy When You Could Be Normal?, All That I Am, Gone Girl, Autumn Laing, Life of Pi, The Casual Vacancy, The Italian Girl, Burial Rites, Cutting For Stone, Eyrie and The Slap. Every alternate month we ‘bring a book’ – any book we’ve read that we want to discuss. We haven’t missed a month, and will have our 24th meeting this month. We’ve evolved into a group of 9 mums: 4 born in Australia and 5 relatively recent migrants from France, Germany, Thailand, USA and New Zealand. We have developed a range of traditions to help sustain us. I can’t reveal all of our secrets, but here are two I can share:
- Every 10th meeting we celebrate the joy our bookclub brings us by putting in $5 each to purchase a gift voucher from Mary Who? Bookshop and then draw one of our names out of a hat to win the voucher
- Once a year we each choose our favourite book read in the previous year and donate a copy to a group of women in need of books. We’re still finessing this tradition, still trying to identify a group of English-reading women somewhere in the world who would devour and share our 2013 collection (my contribution is The Daughters of Mars by Thomas Keneally, a book with an ending that made me cry in public). We’re considering a few options, but are open to any suggestions for selecting our 2013 group…
I haven’t liked every book we’ve read, giving 3/5 stars or less to 6 of the 12 books mentioned. But I have loved every book discussion we’ve had, and I’ve read some wonderful books that I wouldn’t have considered reading otherwise. I’ve expanded my lists of authors I love and books to read; and my reading rate has escalated, sometimes perilously approaching addiction. Some weeks I purposely cook, clean and sleep less, solely so I can read more. But most importantly I’ve deepened my comprehension of, and capacity for, others’ perspectives: the global mix of life experiences that descend on each book we read together nourishes my understanding of the world, myself and other people, whether I like the book or not.
Reading. It has a renewed focus at my children’s school this year. It’s early days, but part of the new plan is: students are welcome at school before 8:30am if they bring a book, sit quietly and read. I like the idea. I want to help it prosper. I value reading, my kids value reading, and my friends value reading. But from my experiences volunteering in classrooms at the school for four years, I know that many kids there don’t value reading. Maybe their parents don’t value it, or maybe they don’t know how to convey their love of reading to their children. Some kids refuse to read, some kids hate reading, some kids can’t read. And some kids, like me two years ago, just don’t know where to start.
Reading is the way out of so many predicaments in life, not least escape through education, and escapism through imagination. I was on prac at a school last year when Tim Winton visited Townsville, and I mentioned to the teachers around me that my bookclub was going to his public lecture. None of them had heard of Tim Winton. On prac, where you’re trying to impress, you have to make a concerted effort to contain your shock when you hear things like that. I’ve only read three of Tim Winton’s books and I only loved Dirt Music, but I understand how fundamental he is to the contemporary Australian bookscape. I remember a tweet or blog post somewhere by a teacher explaining how they always display the book that they are reading in their classroom. If students’ parents aren’t readers, teachers might be the only adults they know who read. I will display my current read in my classroom, and encourage my students to display theirs.
I want teachers to read more. But mainly I want kids to read more. Not just my kids. All kids. I see making my students want to read as the primary task of my job as a teacher. It’s early days with the early morning reading emphasis at the school. I want it to work and I want to be part of it. I’ve got some ideas to help it happen. Let’s see how we go…
Give me a school, give me a class, give me any group of kids and I will give you a bookclub of some kind.