Reading group notes

Although reading itself is a solitary activity, there’s a phenomenal range of social activity around reading. People talk about books with friends and family, lend books, comment on or review books in blogs and online forums, and many, many people are members of book clubs or reading groups. Reading groups vary from group to group, from formal and scholarly to primarily social groups that might, or might not, get around to actually discussing books – and all points in between! Some groups focus on ‘literary’ books, others read across a range of genres. I know of several people who are members of more than one reading group, enjoying different aspects of each group.

This vibrancy around books is wonderful, and integral to the role of books, reading, and storytelling in our culture. Despite all the ways in which authors and publishers can promote their books, word-of-mouth and recommendation from friends are still the among the most important influences for readers choosing a book to try. I think that’s a sign of a healthy society 🙂

The only thing that saddens me is the subtle (and often unsubtle) pressures about which books are ‘worthy’ of reading. This isn’t confined to the literary pages of  newspapers,  or the halls of universities, but seeps down through our society so that people are often hesitant to talk about reading ‘popular’ fiction, for fear of censure or ridicule. That’s NOT good.

I believe popular fiction, including genre fiction, is every bit as worthy of discussion and analysis as ‘literary’ fiction. It may not concern itself to the same conscious degree with themes, language, and Big Ideas, but authors use a wide range of skills, story conventions, ideas, and mix them with imagination to create something unique. Certainly some have more ‘skill’ or ‘originality’ than others and some more consciously use literary conventions. Popular fiction tells us a lot about ourselves, as individuals and societies, and the vast majority of it CAN stand up to analysis and reveal layers beyond the story itself. I’d love to see more popular fiction on high school curriculums. For example, Australian thriller writer Matthew Reilly’s books would not only be appealing to teenage boys, but would make a great starting point for discussions about masculinity, leadership and courage – as well as for analysis of novel structure, pacing and story development, as Reilly purposely uses a film-like structure for his books.

I know of at least one book club/reading group that will be reading my second book, Dark Country, this month. With input from my publisher and a friend or two, I’ve put together some reading group notes for both As Darkness Falls and Dark Country. They’re designed as  ideas for starting points for discussion, not as definitive analysis of the book. You and your group may have different perspectives and read the book far differently from me, which is perfectly natural! A book is as much about what the reader takes from it as what the author thinks they’ve put into it 🙂 I’m interested in the whole reading-text relationship, so if you have discussed either book, I’d love to hear what you thought of it, and what you read into it.

And if your reading group is reading either book, and you’d like me to send bookmarks and/or signed bookplates, then have one member of the group contact me with the details via the contact form on the About page, and I’ll arrange to send them.

5 thoughts on “Reading group notes

  1. Bronwyn, Dark Country is a fabulous read. You should be very proud. I look forward to seeing it in the schools. It’s a perfect read for students to study, one of those rare books that appeals equallyto both genders and of all ages. —– Eric

  2. Hi Bronwyn, I have just received a copy of Dark Country from Hatchette to review on my blog on my website. I’m just finishing The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas so look forward to escaping into your novel this weekend as I know it is going to be very different.

    I just wanted to comment on your remarks about the pressures of reading ‘worthy’ works. I couldn’t agree with you more. I have a degree in English and Drama and have always thoroughly enjoyed a huge variety of popular and literary fiction. Sometimes I want depth and thought provoking reading, either lyrical or informative or poetical, and at other times all I want is a well put together entertaining read. As a member of a book club I have experienced the negative side from our group when the chosen book has been more ‘popular’ in style than literary. However, we have had some ghastly ‘literary’ reads, and the wonderful thing about turning fifty this year is that I now have no qualms whatsoever about not finishing a book I am not enjoying! Life is too short!

    My mother loved literature of all sorts and encouraged a very broad choice of books for both myself and my children. She always encouraged us to read things out of our ‘comfort zone’ occasionally, and described staying with the same genre of book as being like eating sweets, more explicitly a box of Quality Street. “You can’t always eat your favourites, Victoria. That’s very boring and not very adventurous. Try the ones with the nuts in them too. Eventually they may become your favourites as well!”…….and they have.

    Good luck with your work and I look forward to reading Dark Country.

    Victoria

  3. Eric, it would be great if students studied it, but there are a lot of great Australian books out there that have things to say, even if they’re not ‘literary’ books. It might be fun to compile a reading list… 🙂

    Victoria, thank you for visiting and commenting. I hope you’re enjoying Dark Country! Re ‘worthy’ works, I think that some critics forget that many of the books now part of the literary ‘canon’ were, in fact, the popular fiction of their day – Austen, Dickens etc. I think it would be a pity to have to wait 100 years to examine what our contemporary popular fiction can tell us about today; as well as being entertaining, many commercial fiction books do have depth to them, and reflect our society in interesting ways. They can be read critically as well as for pleasure – the two don’t have to be mutually exclusive!

  4. Great read, Bronwyn. Thank you.

    I’ve was telling Fleur McDonald (‘Red Dust”) about you the other day and she picked up both books when she was in town last week so I’m looking forward to hearing her comments. So true about contemporary fiction telling us about our society today, how we speak, what we say, what we think and how we react. Hope the PhD goes well. Would love to read it!!

    Where was Gil the day I broke down going into town…..?!!

    Best regards,

    Victoria

    For review of “Dark Country” visit: http://www.victoriabrownpoet.blogspot.com

  5. Victoria – Thank you for taking the time to read and review Dark Country, and for your generous and positive words about it! And thank you for mentioning my books to Fleur – she has been in touch recently. I already had Red Dust on my reading pile, and just finished it tonight – an enjoyable read, and great to ‘visit’ that part of the world again. I’ll be on the lookout for her next book 🙂

    Re Gil, I think there’ll always be a soft spot in my heart for him 🙂

    Thankyou again,
    Bron

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