For the love of books

Staying connected by reading

Last year I received an offer I couldn’t refuse. It was an invitation from the University of Melbourne. Would I like to join the 10 Great Books reading group in 2022?

I had been a member of a book group for many years, long ago, and enjoyed it mightily. But group dynamics and an over concentration on food and wine had triumphed over the actual discussions. So I drifted away, always with the intention to join another, sometime. And somehow 20 or so years have elapsed.

But here in my inbox was an invitation from no less than the Dean of the Faculty of Arts

himself, Professor Russell Goulbourne, asking if I was interested in this monthly exchange of ideas.

A quick check of the texts to be discussed convinced me that I was! Authors and playwrights included Euripides, Shakespeare, Samuel Beckett, Jane Austen and Alexis Wright. I was hooked.

And so my love affair with reading has been nurtured and deepened.

Confession: I did not finish all 10 books, but those I did have had a profound effect on me. More to the point, having this monthly commitment was akin to discovering a whole new friendship group. And this is where the ‘staying connected’ theme kicks in.

We all know that purpose plays an important role in ageing positively. And purpose is often fuelled by curiosity – about life, choices, meaning and values.

The 10 Great Books program fed my curiosity in so many ways. It is set up to introduce the text with key questions and contextual articles, videos and reviews, some of which include authors commenting on their own work. Next a 45-minute online Masterclass is offered so an appropriate University of Melbourne academic can share their insights and alert readers to wider themes. Finally a zoom meeting on the last Tuesday of the month offers further discussion and question and answer, hosted by Professor Goulbourne and the relevant academic. This promotes a lively discussion during which you can pose you own questions and enjoy those asked by other members. Throughout the month you can continue your interactions on the 10 Great Books social media linkups.

It’s been wonderful to be part of this group of serious booklovers and I’ve re-joined for 2023 when we’ll be exploring works by Tolstoy, Sophocles, Sylvia Plath, Kim Scott, Harper Lee and David Malouf, among others.

When I received the alert about the 2023 reading group, there was a competition offering free membership and all 10 listed books as a prize. Imagine my shock when I won it!

I would have joined regardless, but it was too much fun when the big box of books from Readings landed on the front porch.

One more thought.

Reading matters; books foster friendships and understanding.

In this age of ‘hyper connection’ it seems as though more and more of us are feeling increasingly isolated, lonely, out of the loop.

Reading isn’t the answer to everything, but readers are rarely alone. Whether you choose to read in a group setting, or solo, you connect with the author’s world, join the characters who inhabit it and, if the author is successful, care deeply about these people and their journeys.

It’s a mighty fine place to be.

10 Great Books

My favourites from the 2022 reading list:

The Color Purple, Alice Walker

The Master and Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov

My Brother Jack, George Johnstone

Books I read and enjoyed over summer:

The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man, Paul Newman

Lucy by the Sea, Elizabeth Strout

Bulldozed, Niki Savva

Atomic Habits, James Clear

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, Haruki Murakami