Start a new chapter, open a reading club

23rd June 2006 at 01:00
Never mind Richard and Judy - teachers at Loudoun Academy have set up their own reading group and found it is stimulating, it's refreshing and what's more it's fun, writes school librarian Frances Smith

Do you go home from school feeling tired and irritable? Do you slump on the sofa and let mind-numbing television wash over you? Does the odd ponderous thought on the meaning of life trouble you?

If you answer "Yes" to any of these questions, then maybe it is time to spice up your life with a good read. It's fun, it's stimulating and it's cheaper than therapy. Even better, start a reading group.

The staff at Loudoun Academy, in East Ayrshire, have had their own reading club for five years now and been through an impressively long list of titles. The members read a book a month and usually meet in the library at lunchtime on the last Friday of the month. They select two books for the summer holiday.

The group started because several teachers remarked that they wanted to read but had got out of the habit and didn't know where to start. When people lead busy lives, reading for pleasure is often a casualty. Being part of a reading group gives encouragement and a focus.

Over the years, the membership has fluctuated but is usually between 12 and 16 and includes two men. It is fascinating how their views differ from the women's. Women tend to get emotionally involved with characters, whereas the men seem more interested in the plot. That in itself makes for interesting discussions.

Choosing what to read is not difficult. Weekend newspapers are a good source of book reviews and author interviews. The internet has many useful sites for reading groups. Anyone in our group can suggest a book and unless several people strongly object, then we will go with it. Some members don't want to make suggestions and that's fine too.

We find it is best if one or two people in the group take responsibility for practicalities such as ordering the books andcollecting the money. We order from an internet bookseller once I've collected the money. Be prepared to remind people frequently because, in the rush of a typical school day, people tend to forget about paying. I am strict: if someone doesn't pay, I don't order them a book.

I get such a thrill when the box of books arrives and I can distribute them. Sad, I know, but I am a librarian.

We try to read widely. As well as mainstream novels, we have covered science fiction, travel books and biographies. We might even get around to some classics. We have all read and enjoyed books we would never have chosen ourselves.

Our first book choice was the Booker Prize-winning Possession by A. S.

Byatt and it was close to being the last book of the reading group too. It is a fascinating read but, by anyone's standards, a challenge. If you do start a group, I recommend your first book is an undemanding bestseller; it breaks people in gently.

Sometimes we all agree about the merits, or otherwise, of a book. For example, we all really enjoyed Joseph Knight by James Robertson and found it a fascinating fictional account of an episode of Scottish history we knew little about. Two club members found related items in magazines and brought them in to be passed around and chewed over.

Often opinions vary tremendously and that makes for interesting discussion.

Feelings can run high and I think that is good. It's great that people can feel passionate about books.

Some titles that caused strong love-it-or-loathe-it feelings among us were A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving, the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Shipping News by Annie Proulx, The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zaf"n and The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin.

Sometimes people worry that they are not intellectual enough to join a reading group. That's nonsense! The purpose of a reading group is to encourage reading and talk about books. The meetings should be entertaining and amusing. If they are not, there's something wrong.

The reading group has spilled over into our leisure time too. We've had some super nights out when we've gone for a meal, then on to hear an author speak. We were very impressed by Jeffrey Deaver and Joanne Harris.

We've also had some get-togethers with a reading group from another school, when we've had a meal and swapped books. Great fun.

So, take the plunge and start a reading group now.

Frances Smith is the librarian at Loudoun Academy, East Ayrshire

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