Reading with others

Anything you enjoy is better done in the company of fellow enthusiasts. I love talking about reading and books. Here are my six top ways of sharing reading.

 1. On the bus

Actually it has only happened once, or rather twice but about one book. The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov. I was preparing for a reading group. ‘Are you enjoying it?’ a total stranger asked as he sat down next to me. We had a conversation about it how he had always intended to read it. ‘How are you getting on with The Master and Margarita?’ asked the second. I got a 4 minute critique. ‘One of my favourite books,’ she said before getting off.

Great! I thought – conversations on buses, about books. I thought about the conductor who sang calypsos on the 38 bus, and began to imagine poetry readings on the 210 and a 73 bus route reading group. On reflection it seems that the conversations were more a response to the book than the potential of buses for such conversations.

96 73 Bus

 2. With friends

Naturally, friends recommend, deconstruct, give me (I can’t bring myself to say gift me) books. Thanks to Rose I found Sebald, and my sister recommended Barbara Kingsolver years ago. I read Alone in Berlin recently, by Hans Fallada, recommended by a friend (thanks Jennifer). Most meetings with friends include enquiries about current reading and lead to most pleasurable talk about books.

3. When I have my hair cut

Usually the conversation is about holidays. I’ve never sat and stared at myself, all red eyed and too like my parents, and discussed books before. Great stuff. Recently, after 9 months I decided to have my hair cut, and went to see Gill Goddard in Totnes, who subscribes to this blog. Gill did ask me for my holidays recommendations – so watch out!

 4. In a reading group

96 J&JLove this – being required to read a book I may not have considered before, and then discussing reactions to it, hearing other people’s responses, and sometimes seeing things differently. Next up for discussion in my group is Julie & Julia by Julie Powell. It’s about food and blogging and life. Lots to enjoy and talk about there then. The first book I ever read for a reading group was one I had decided would be too difficult: A Child in Our Time, by Ian McEwan. A young child disappears from a supermarket … I am glad I have faced that one, and (like much of McEwan) it’s a tough starting point.

5. On courses

A day talking with other people, usually women, who I have not met before, and learning about books on a particular theme. What’s not to love? While I was in London I attended courses at City Lit. I remember one excellent course on women’s short stories at the end of the C20th. We focused on the collection edited by Elaine Showalter called Daughters of Decadence (Virago). And that led me on to Women Who Did, a Penguin Classic collection of stories 1890-1914. That was a good course, one that extended my reading.

A good way to talk books in Devon came my way a couple of weekends ago. I attended a day in the Reading Room on madwomen in the attic. Oh, the pleasure, an indulgence as so many of the participants described it, of a day looking at fiction, in an environment entirely consonant with the conversation! The house was on a hill, just outside Chagford. The drive through Dartmoor was a treat, the refreshments and lunch entirely delicious, and the room itself comfortable, warm, everything a reading room should be.

96 2 booksThe day provoked, entertained, introduced new ideas and we enjoyed much laughter. Again I want to revisit some of the books we explored: The Awakening by Kate Chopin and The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Gilmour Perkins are two of them. Thank you to Leah, Naomi and Frances.

6. With children

96 Reading with motherThe physical closeness of reading to a small child, watching them engage with the text and pictures, sharing the love of certain books – I spend hours doing this. Current favourites with my nearly 3-year-old grandson are still the Aybeeceedee book (in the picture), and also Not Now Bernard, by David McKee. I’ve been reading with both grandsons since they were just weeks old. Magic. I hope to read to their children in time. (That’s my daughter in the picture, by the way.)

96 Not now BAnd there is another way I am coming to enjoy conversations about books …

 7. Blogs.

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9 Responses to Reading with others

  1. I love your account of the book discussions on the bus and interesting that it should be a less well-known book that inspired it. I get very excited and slightly inappropriate when I see a stranger reading a book I’ve particularly enjoyed.
    I’m planning a literary walk around the area Charlotte Brontë was supposed to have set Jane Eyre, so there’s another possibility for book discussions. And you’ve made me think of a book I might pass on to my hairdresser!

    • Caroline

      Hi Anne. What on earth does ‘inappropriate’ mean in your comment? The mind, as they say, boggles!
      I love the idea of a literary walk. I did follow the footsteps of Jane Austen and Gilbert White around Chawton not long ago, and loved it.
      And which book for your hairdresser?
      Always interesting comments from you, thanks

  2. Eileen

    Lovely – reading this calmed me down after an alarming morning looking for the mouse in the hall that Smudge brought through the cat-flap at 4am.

    • Caroline

      Where on earth did Smudge find thatr mouse outside? After all the back of your flat is a secure area. Hate chasing mice!
      Love C

  3. Enjoyed this piece Caroline, thank you! It was slightly uncomfortable to realise though how much of my reading is private. I’ve never been in a book group (but think there’s potential for one on Follaton!) and seldom discuss books I’ve read with others. Could there be a gender element here? Might there be a more ‘feminine’ way to consume and share literature. Answers on a blogpost please…

    • Caroline

      I understand about reading as private. Most of mine is, but, as the blogpost suggests, I also love sharing it. I am planning a blogp[ost about reading groups so I may consider the gender element there too.
      By the way, your future comments wont need moderating, including on your own guset post.


  4. You don’t look red-eyed and your haircut looks fantastic (I spy with my little eye). I’m glad you put me straight about Elizabeth Taylor the author, and I’m also glad for the holiday recommendations as it’s so hard to find a really good book. Thanks!

    • Caroline

      Hi Gill, Glad you enjoyed Elizabeth Taylor! And while the red eyed look may have been due to your lighting, the haircut is down to you. Thanks.

  5. This is certainly a ‘feel good’ post Caroline. Thanks for sharing these suggestions. Being an early childhood teacher, a parent and now a grandmother, I have to go along most strongly with #6. I love reading children’s picture books, aloud, to children. What a fantastic experience that is like no other! There are so many wonderful books out there to share. Recently I have read books that have been recommended, suggested or reviewed on blogs. In fact, just before reading your post I visited Lisa Reiter’s blog and, on her recommendation, downloaded my next audiobook! I have previously read other books suggested by bloggers. I read in private too but miss the opportunity of sharing much of what I read with others. Being able to read aloud a favourite passage, to savour the sounds and images, to discuss the thoughts ideas and turns of phrase deepens the literary pleasure. Engaging in conversations on blogs such as yours helps fill part of that need. Perhaps we could podcast passages for each other? (Just kidding, really!)

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