I’ve always been a reader for as long as I can remember and will read (almost) anything; I’ll read the back of cereal packets or adverts on the underground if nothing else is available. I’m also never short of things to read … I have piles of books all over the house and keep a TBR list on Goodreads. Then there are the post-it notes with recommendations from friends plus photos on my phone of books I’ve seen in shops and libraries.
Just setting the scene … lifetime reader, librarian, house full of books, never short of something to read …
So why did I join a book group a few years ago?
Over time, most of my reading has veered towards teen/YA with the occasional new novel by a favourite adult writer thrown in during the holidays. Nothing wrong with that but it wasn’t always the case. Once upon a time I read only adult novels, wasn’t even aware that teen/YA books existed but exposure to these writers as a school librarian meant that slowly things changed and I wanted to extend my adult reading again, discover new authors, try something different. I know I could have done this by asking for recommendations or browsing the shelves in my public library but there’s something about sharing the experience of reading a book. Whilst reading itself is a solitary activity, each book will tell a different story to every person who discovers it and listening to others talking about what they got out of a book, how they identified with the characters, what they picked up on and noticed, adds additional dimensions to your own reading experience. It’s good to share.
It worked. I wouldn’t say I enjoyed every book we read and some of them I wouldn’t have finished if I hadn’t been listening to an audio version during my daily commute. But there were certainly a few books which encouraged me to read more by the same author.
Then I moved, joined a new book group and it’s been a bit of a disaster!
I have struggled with every book. Every single one! Even when I was able to find an audio version, I would not connect in any way with the story and my thoughts would drift off so that I missed chunks of it. I found myself resenting the time I had to spend reading these books for the next meeting, glaring at them sitting on my bedside table and covering (aka hiding) them with other, more appealing, tomes.
This surprised me. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt such animosity towards a book in my life before plus I found myself not wanting to go to the book group, which got me thinking about why? How had something that was such an integral part of me, something that was as natural as breathing, been turned into something I was actively avoiding?
I recognised it was because I didn’t want any more books that would result in a bad reading experience as each of these felt like a failure. Everyone else was able to read the book, and most of the group enjoyed them, so why not me? There was also an element of guilt involved as I felt I was letting down the other members of the book group. And I realised how awful it must be for those children who really couldn’t seem to find a book that they connected with and yet were forced to read. How, if they tried book after book after book, only to give up half way through, or only ever read books chosen by their teachers and which they didn’t like or enjoy, they would soon come to the conclusion that all books were the same and that they hated reading. I don’t think I’d ever really been able to truly understand this because I’ve never felt like that towards reading.
Students today have huge demands on their time so reading often isn’t a high priority and if they don’t find it a pleasant experience, why would they actually choose to do it? This makes connecting the right book with the right child so important. It also means that they need to be able to try, and give up, books that they don’t enjoy … without any pressure. And they need to be able to choose their own books, not be directed by a reading scheme or a book list or a teacher’s choice for the whole class. Sure, guidance from a knowledgeable librarian helps but ultimately, it has to be their choice because they will be the one reading it.
As for my reading group, a busy time and the summer holidays provided a natural break, and the next book was one that I actually wanted to read so that aided a natural move back into it. I have also given myself permission to “not” read a book if I don’t want to …