Many moons ago, I was a member of a reading group. The members have since gone their separate ways, but I sometimes miss the experience of reading together, followed by a heated discussion and biscuits. I like the freedom of reading whatever I want, it’s one my favourite forms of “me-time,” but there’s a lot of fun to be had when one develops reading into a social activity.
My late grandfather and I occasionally used to form an impromptu reading group. Our tastes were similar, so we often found ourselves reading the same book, or passing books on to each other. One of our finest discussions revolved around Harry Mulisch’s De Ontdekking van de Hemel, which he summarized as “way too long, and I can’t remember the plot even though I finished the book only a week ago.” But with my grandfather now departed on a journey into the afterlife, communication has become somewhat more difficult, and for a long time I have pretty much been left to my own devices when it came to enjoying literature.
Until my brother watched Inherent Vice, that is. He recommended it to me, as he thought I would appreciate its style and plot – or lack thereof. I already knew Inherent Vice – but as the Thomas Pynchon novel on which the film is based. My brother, never much of a pleasure-type reader, was delighted, and immediately went to his local library to borrow the book. The library turned out to be closed for the day, but the gesture is encouraging nonetheless.
On his request, I am currently composing a list of books which he might like. Though he is a slow reader, and may never make his way through all of them, I am struck by how nice it is to share one’s reading with someone else. Going back into my own archives and rediscovering books I almost forgot I enjoyed also offers a nice overview of my own reading habits. The past six months have been an era of periods: I have had a Japanese fiction-period, a Rita Mae Brown episode, a Patricia Cornwell flirtation, a brief yet strong T.C. Boyle addiction. As we speak I am verging back to science fiction, and right in the middle of the mindblowing work that is M. John Harrison’s Light.
It is easy, as a literary scholar, to forget the joys of reading for pleasure, and it has begun to dawn on me that, perhaps, the key is in sharing its joys with people in different fields. My brother’s excitement reminds me of the first time I discovered books, and who knows where it’ll take me in the future?