|Jane Goodall, painted by Deirdra Drysdale|
Jane writes: Some years ago I had a postcard from a good friend who had taken up a new job in a town where he didn’t really know anyone. ‘I’m lost,’ he said. ‘I have no time to read, and as someone who lives to read and reads to live, I need others around me who are like this too.’
That phrase – ‘lives to read and reads to live’ – has stayed in the reservoir of my memory and every time it surfaces I am struck by how there is something absolutely right about it. If you take just the first part, ‘lives to read,’ it might express some form of escapism, a resort to the world of books as a substitute for the world in which we conduct our daily lives. But then comes the second part of the equation, ‘reads to live,’ and that assumption is turned on its head.
The world of reading is the same as the one in which we live and breathe and have our being. It is not separate, any more than blood is separate from flesh, or water from air. Through reading, the life of the mind circulates and brings new energies and insights to how we act. These may be quite subtle, but they may also be enduring and sustaining.
Reading, like writing, is a form of communication, and as the silent partner in the exchange, is too often taken for granted. Without readers, a book is a gift only to its author. It is readers who make it live and cause its vital qualities to be released. So welcome to The Reading Life, a new space in the Universal Heart Book Club devoted to conversations about reading. Each month we will have a theme or question to explore and we would love to have your contributions.
This month’s theme: “The READING RETREAT”.
Many of us have been on a writing course or retreat, but have you ever thought about a reading retreat? A week in some beautiful, quiet environment, with the books of your choice and “all the time in the world” to devote to them? That’s the kind of respite many of us long for. So my questions for you are:
If you were to go on a reading retreat, where would that be?
And what three books would you take with you?
And what three books would you take with you?
They may be books you want to re-read, or books you have always meant to read; books that are a special challenge to your concentration, or books that are sheer escapism; novels, volumes of poetry, travel books, memoirs; books from your childhood, or books hot off the press. Think about what would make a good combination and sustain you over a week. Perhaps above all else, make your choices fairly instinctively and let yourself be surprised. Once you have chosen your ideal place, and the books that will go with you, share your thoughts with us.
Please keep your responses to fewer than 200 words. You can type them in the “Comments” box below. Easy to use either with a Google email address or using "Anonymous". If “Anonymous”, you can put your name into the text box. You must bear with us and use "captcha" - which screens out spammers - but the trick there is to note there are TWO parts, with a space between. Or if you prefer, you can email to email@example.com making it clear whether you want your name used when we post your thoughts. (200 word max!)
My own wish list?
For a place, the Bunya Mountains in Australia’s South East Queensland. There are cottages for rent, with wood fire stoves and many wonderful reading spots: decks overlooking the hillside, garden tables, a fireside corner if it is cold, and a rustic café nearby. And there is rainforest to wander in when you need a break from the books, to just think and re-live what you have been reading.
|A Bunya Mountain walk|
And for my choice of books?
Something huge – Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. It's a true epic, a marvelous weave of inter-generational story lines and revolutionary politics, with strong human themes. As it's 1200 pages long, it's definitely one for the retreat.
Something contemplative – Rilke's Prayers of a Young Poet, translated with such wisdom and artistry by Mark S. Burrows. Here, reading means more than just turning the pages. It is about developing a relationship, through re-reading, thinking, reading again, as images and lines find their way into permanent memory
Something current – Barbara Kingsolver's Flight Behaviour. This is partly because the ecological themes attract me, but it is also a tribute to the Universal Heart Book Club. This was given a special recommendation in December 2012 by Stephanie Dowrick and Walter Mason, who are such excellent judges of fiction.
(Both Flight Behaviour and Rilke's Prayers of a Young Poet were reviewed on this blog in December 2012. Check our blog archive to the right. Or click on the links above.)
And now, let's hear from you! Your special place? Your special book choices?
Jane Goodall is one of Australia's most talented essayists and critics. She is also a successful novelist, a truly gifted, thoughtful writing teacher and, for many years, an academic with a particular interest in theatre. Put her name into our "Search this blog" above and find her other wonderful contributions here.
|Jane Goodall with her gloriously smiling dog.|
You can purchase any book through our bookstore links (above right). The small % returned to us supports the Universal Heart Book Club. To post your comments: if you don't have a Google email, just use "Anonymous" (and put your name in the text book if you would like to). Follow the “captcha” instructions noting that it’s always two "words" with a space between. This will save us from spammers. Should be easy! Or if you prefer, you can email Jane with your thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org making it clear whether you want your name used when we post what you have shared. (200 words max!)