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The Value of Reading and Book Groups

abstract:A journalist friend called to set up an interview to discuss what I do. It reminded me of a speech I wrote that was intended for an audience at the opening of our town library and it has to do with the joy of reading and the place that book groups hold within that realm. In re-reading it, I decided to post it here and share it with all of you. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

"Joyce Carol Oates has said that she believes art to be the highest expression of human spirit and I have to agree. Literature in particular, enhances our perceptions and deepens our understanding of life. I treasure the solace of literature, its capacity to illuminate what is unique about an individual and what is universally human.

Stories transcend barriers --- of place, generation, class, race, faith and create gateways to understanding humankind’s endless response to life’s challenges, joys and conundrums.

Literature describes more exquisitely than any other art form what it feels like to be alive, how minds shift through memories, emotions, thoughts, and sensations. It entices us into contemplating diverse traditions and divergent viewpoints. It awakens empathy and fosters a sense of connection with others.

I am forever falling in love with books.

If reading is the most solitary of pursuits – what is the value and purpose and motivating factor of book groups?

Firstly, they create a forum to discuss the ideas and feelings and concepts brought out through literature.

Secondly, it provides a monthly goal that is not just for ourselves, but provides value to each member – our insights, experiences and perspectives are so individual that in discussing literature there is no one right answer when interpreting a book. We all bring something to the table.

Thirdly, it forces us outside our particular reading tastes and habits. Some of the most astounding books I’ve read were titles I was not particularly interested in or would have picked up on my own volition.

Fourthly, it elevates our level of examination of literature, our appreciation of writers and their craft and provides a reference point to which our own anecdotes and life experiences can be weighed."

article:

October 25, 2010
— I urge you to join or form a book group. I've been in a book group of one form or another for the past 30 years; whenever we moved, I either started or joined a new one (and kept tabs on my old ones). My Vancouver book group "Between the Lines" has been meeting once a month for over 15 years. That means we've read and discussed over 180 books together. When my family moved to Whistler BC I started a villagewide book group open to the public called WHISTLER READS. That group meets every two months to discuss a new book alternating fiction with nonfiction and we create fun events around the book title that range from author readings to political skits to panel discussions to costumed themed parties. If there isn't a citywide book group in your town, why not start one?

Midway thru the 15th Century when books were first printed, a few hundred titles were published each year. Most of those were ancient texts and explications and commentaries on the Bible and Greek and Roman works.

Today over 300,000 new books are published each year in the USA and 25,000 books in Canada. How does a reader keep up with this? The answer is WE CAN’T. So what do we do? Well, one tactic is to read the book reviews in major newspapers with book editors. Rebecca Wigod is our Vancouver Sun Editor. Another way is to watch the various Literary Prizes around the world – in Canada we have the Giller and the GG (Governor General Award), The Orange Prize was a prize created for women writing in the Commonwealth because it was believed (10 years ago) that The Man Booker prize was favoring males, and then of course there is the Nobel Prize awarded to an author for their body of work, and the Pulitzer Prize in America… the list goes on.

But what I’ve discovered is that BOOK GROUP MEMBERS are one of the best advocates of titles – they alone have read and discussed and researched titles and authors and so we are ourselves a strong resource. Who does one trust? A publishing company who is going to promote the hell out of the latest novel of a popular author – or an editor that has been spoon-fed titles from various publishing companies? Or a fellow book group person who has read and enjoyed or been stimulated and experienced a lively conversation surrounding a well-crafted novel?

These are your choices. You can even register your book group with BookBuffet and have one convenient place for all your book group needs. See you online!

 

 

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