Life is full of pressures and competing demands, and for many of us this can mean we give up the things we love or find the things we love over-analysed and turned into a chore.
JCU English lecturer Dr Victoria Kuttainen was exploring ways to engage students with reading for pleasure and realised that one way was to take the pressure off reading and to share the reading experience with other people.
“We should give people who love reading an opportunity to engage, read and meet like-minded people,” she says. “It doesn’t have to be in the classroom, it doesn’t have to be assessable. And that’s when I thought I should start a book club.”
For Victoria, the JCU English Book Club is all about creating an environment of hospitality. There’s no pressure to come up with the “right” answers – because there are no right or wrong answers. It’s about how the average reader reads, not a critical academic perspective.
“They have a brain in their head and a heart in their chest,” she says. “They don’t need specialist skills.”
Victoria rejects the idea that people have stopped reading and replaced it with new technology.
“Everyone asks what’s happened to the fine art of reading,” she says. “There’s a ‘kids these days’ narrative that it’s all about swipe screens and social media and no one sits down and reads a good book anymore – but I think that isn’t true. The readers haven’t gone away.”
While many people think of reading as a solo activity, Victoria says a good book can make you want to share your feelings on it with the people around you – which is what a book club can allow you to do.
“I think a really good book connects with that empathy dimension,” she says. “There’s something about connecting. You connect with the characters and you want to share that experience with other people.”
Victoria likens a book club to going to the gym or having a running buddy.
“When you’ve committed to turn up and read a book once a month it actually helps you,” she says.
At the same time Victoria acknowledges that people can be under a lot of pressure with work and study and that it can be difficult to fit reading into the mix.
“We have all these competing demands,” she says. “They crowd out the priority to read – but people still enjoy reading, they still love it.”
And a love of reading is the focus of the book club, not pressure to read or come up with critical analyses.
Didn’t get time to read the book this month? Come anyway!
Didn’t like the book? Come anyway and discuss why you didn’t like it.
“Not liking a book is a legitimate point of view to have,” Victoria says.
One of the things that Victoria loves about studying and teaching English is that stories aren’t just stories.
“Writers just have this ability to articulate things in society that other people sometimes haven’t seen,” she says. “Writers can make us see things in a new way. No other discipline has been able to do that for me.”
JCU English Book Club runs on the first Wednesday of each month from 6:30pm to 8:30pm at the Mabo Library, Townsville. It’s open to senior high school students, JCU students and JCU staff. In the next few months they have committed to read their way across the Pacific, and engage with Pacific Island literature as part of JCU’s strategic agenda to improve the quality of life for people and societies of the Tropics and their statement that “place is powerful.”