Features: Reading Groups–The Crucial Factor

Just posted to the Features Pages an essay by Angela Macmillan entitled ‘Reading Groups: The Crucial Factor.’ Here’s an extract:

Once wrongly dismissed as something for bored housewives with nothing better to do, The Reading Group is now a hugely popular idea made real. Whatever form it takes, be it academic or domestic, formal or informal, general or specialist, always at its very centre lies the honourable intention to read and talk about books in company.

Most people who join book groups are already committed readers, yet in discussions one frequently hears someone’s thoughtful idea followed up by ‘But of course I’m not an expert’. I am afraid that too many people think they have to have literary qualifications or a specialist language in order to talk knowledgeably about what they have read. Anyone for whom reading is a serious pleasure will have something to say about the book currently chosen, but it is not always easy to put into words the tangle of thoughts that go on in the act of reading itself. It is one thing to read but quite another to talk about or even to write about reading. Sometimes our thinking is not even formulated into coherent thoughts, but is somehow felt and held at some pre-verbal level. Yet the effort of trying to pull random thoughts and impressions together into some sort of order and meaning can be exhilarating and rewarding. The best groups will offer the context and supportive company in which each member can try to give public expression to their own private response to a book. That means not resorting too quickly to shorthand opinions or overstated likes and dislikes.

Good books are meeting grounds. But the meeting ground (the book) is not a limited space; it expands as more people put their minds to it. The reading group means we are all in it together, giving and taking and allowing the book to open up in discussion. ‘I never knew there was so much in it’ is an exclamation that entirely proves the value of reading groups. I may be describing an ideal reading group and an ideal is not always attainable, but I have led and participated in reading groups of various sorts for many years and in that time believe I have come to know what makes for a successful session and what does not.

Here’s the link.

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