One of the things I value most about the book groups to which I belong is the wide variety of material that is selected. I read all sorts of things that I would never otherwise have picked up and sometimes I make a new literary friend whose work I come to value very highly indeed. Of course, I also have to accept that occasionally I’m going to find myself ploughing through a book that, to say the least, is not to my taste, but in the twelve years I’ve been a member of the various groups I can count the number of times that has happened on the fingers of one hand.
The book I’m reading for next Wednesday is one of those that I wouldn’t have selected for myself but which I’m thoroughly enjoying. It’s Owen Sheer’s fictionalised memoir of his Great-Uncle, Arthur Shearly Cripps, an independent missionary, ministering in Southern Rhodesia between 1901 and 1952. The writing is wonderful.
It was growing dark. Not getting dark, but growing, the dark expanding, filling out a living, corporal darkness. Veld darkness. The clouds that had been burning on the undersides were now bruising into night, and the evening light of long shadows had fallen through to grey. The sky was deepening, disclosing its first stars, and a cool evening breeze was discovering itself in the thick air.
One passage that I read this evening really stood out. Cripps is trying to get to a distant village to take medicine for a fever that is killing the children. The only way to get there is to run.
But now it was a race against the darkness. Soon it would be no use carrying on, he would get lost, and would have to camp out for the night. But worrying wouldn’t help. Thoughts of where he was going would only hinder him. “Travel with nowhere to go” is what a Shona elder had told him last year, and it was good advice. Travel for the movement only, not the conclusion, that way you will be part of your journey, and not a victim of it.
I don’t do that much travelling, so the elder’s advice was not relevant in that respect, but this did seem to sum up for me why I don’t any longer get involved in reading challenges. I may not need to travel with nowhere to go, but I do need to read with nowhere to go. The moment I feel that my next book is being dictated by having to meet a particular quota it becomes a chore rather than a pleasure. I don’t like to have my journey planned before I start out. Perhaps this is linked to decades of reading for academic purposes, either as a student or as a teacher. Anyone who’s been there will know the joy of reaching the end of term and finally being able to read something of your own choice rather than the texts prescribed by the syllabus. I have been known to go demob crazy and drown in reams of rubbish that should never have been published in the first place, but at least it was rubbish of my own choosing.
And yet, I not only enjoy the book groups, where the reading is also prescribed, but I positively revel in them. I have been trying to work out why this is. I think it is probably down to two factors. First, is the sheer variety of what we read. Challenges tend to centre round books of the same genre, but the other members of the groups are so diverse in their tastes that that is never going to be the case where their selections are concerned. More important, though, is the communal nature of what we are doing. The journey doesn’t end when I finish the book. Indeed finishing the book is not the purpose of the journey at all. Its purpose is the sharing of the travelling, the support that I get from the others involved and the support that I hope I am able to give to them. Ultimately, the completion of a challenge is a satisfaction only to myself; reading with a group is satisfying for the community.
But, having said that, I know that a lot of bloggers do get a tremendous amount of pleasure from becoming involved in reading challenges and I wonder if you could explain to me what the source of that pleasure is. Perhaps I am missing out on something that would be really invigorating and if that is the case then I would very much like to know what the secret of that enjoyment is.