Travel With Nowhere To Go

37788084343093605_97fQ9uva_fOne 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.

13 thoughts on “Travel With Nowhere To Go

  1. I know what you mean about book challenges! It is quite sweet that bloggers go to so much trouble to organize Japanese literature challenges or whatever (and I really should sign up for that one), but I seldom feel like reading a book at the same time everyone else is doing it. Example: Simon Stuck-in-a-Book organized a Muriel Spark read last. I love Muriel Spark. But guess what? I didn’t get around to reading any Muriel Spark till the challenge was over. Oh well…

    1. That’s it exactly, MD. Many of these challenges look really attractive. There’s one doing the rounds now concentrating on the literature of the period at the turn of the nineteenth century that in theory I’d love to get involved with but I know from experience that for me it’s the best way to kill an idea.

  2. My feelings are very like yours – the moment I plan to read a particular book it sets up a reaction in my head and makes me resist reading it – how strange. And I have exactly the same reaction after finishing a course, plunging into reading any old rubbish. I remember my A level teacher saying to read anything as quickly as possible after the exams were over, anything to get rid of the analytic approach to reading and to recover the pleasure.

    I love my book group. We read some books I’d never try on my own, but most of all I love the discussions, which is very hard to replicate on-line. And we enjoy each other’s company. Like your group we’re a mixed bunch, although nearly all much the same age, so we have our likes and dislikes which can make for interesting and spirited discussions sometimes.

    I do join in reading challenges, but find they can produce the same reaction – as soon as I list books I become averse to reading them. I like the planning and making lists and the best way for me to continue after that is to just let myself read whatever takes my fancy and if it fits in with a challenge, all well and good and if not so be it. Most challenges seem to be still very individual – you read a book and link up to a site to record it and that’s that! Not really much interaction. I keep thinking I won’t do any more, but have done so again this year, because I use them to remind myself of books I’ve bought, full of enthusiasm to read them, which have sat on my bookshelves unread for some time. I even get round to reading some of them and wondering why on earth I hadn’t read them before! And that is most rewarding.

    1. The question of ages in reading groups is an interesting one, Margaret. One of the groups to which I belong is very much the same age range but the other has a span over over thirty years and that does make a difference, not only in respect of what is chosen, but also in terms of the discussion. And it is the discussion aspect that makes the difference, you’re right. Even if you set up a chat room conversation for an on-line group it doesn’t somehow have the same immediacy of that F2F experience, doest it?

  3. I seem to have an internal quota for books I can read-that-someone-else-has-told-me-to. I think it’s about 10 a year, I doubt it would be more, which means I can do the Slaves online and belong to my real life book club and that’s enough for me. I completely agree that too many years in academia can create an aversion to huge amounts of proscribed reading!

    1. When I add up the books I’m committed to read for other people (although committed willingly, I should add) it comes to around 25. I hadn’t thought to reckon it up until you mentioned it, Litlove. That possibly explains just why I don’t want to take on any more. And yes, years of academia have a lot to answer for.

  4. Book groups can be quite marvelous when you all aim to read a certain quality of literature – you can discover some really good books you wouldn’t have picked up on your own. I belonged to a group once though where choices were a bit erratic in quality and we’d go from Jane Austen one month to Wally Lamb the next. As for challenges, the only one I do regularly is the RIP challenge in the fall. I get my fill of gothic reading then. I am currently doing the postal reading challenge but only because I was planning on reading a few books of letters this year anyway and four books in a year isn’t hard to do. For the most part though, I don’t do challenges because of the constraints they put on my reading.

    1. Stefanie, you’re absolutely right about the quality of book group choices. I’ve just been asked to join a group whose first choice is so cliche ridden in respect of the plot that I’m really worried, especially as I know that they are dependent on sets from the library and so I’m not going to be able to influence choice. I’m giving it six months.

  5. “but I do need to read with nowhere to go”–God, I understand. After I finished my PhD, I couldn’t even dictate to myself what to read next, never mind being able to join a book club or read anything that might in any way be connected by theme, topic, author, time period(!), to anything else I’d recently read. This is much, much better now, but I still can’t deal with book clubs even in theory; I fear wasting my finite time on earth by being forced, out of fairness, to read Twilight because I made someone read Dickens or Trollope.

    1. I was fortunate in that my PhD dealt with narrative in the abstract rather than the particular so I wasn’t bound by specific texts, but I do know what you mean just remembering A levels and my first degree. What was your research area?

      1. I worked on representations of women’s writing (letter-writing, specifically) in the English Renaissance–mostly drama, but some very bad poetry and questionable prose too. I sometimes think I should have worked on the novel, but then it would be so very terrible not to want to read novels now that I can’t really regret it. 🙂

        1. How fascinating! Where did you study? I have the remarkable privilege of being able to attend lectures at the Shakespeare Institute in Stratford and I am sure there are people there who would be really interested in your research. I know I am.

  6. Ha, my research is now, no doubt, entirely outdated–I defended December 2008 and didn’t pursue an academic career, so my dissertation has been mouldering on my shelf ever since. Actually, it’s been mouldering online too. If you really want to, you can look at it here:
    I wouldn’t recommend it though. 🙂

    I am entirely jealous of your proximity to Stratford, by the way.

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