Joining a reading group was a 'turning point' for Clare Robinson. She went on to found the Swaying Ladies group and talked to us recently about what it means to her.
My book club helped me through tough times
I wouldn't say I was an especially discerning reader, but books have always been part of my life. I do remember being blown away, aged 14, by Jane Eyre - the intrigue; the first wife hidden away in the attic, and I really identified with Jane.
I went through a very difficult time after my second child was born. Like so many mums, I would stand at the school gates feeling that all the other women were doing a better job than me.
Then, in the playground, someone asked if I'd like to join a new reading group. Ironically, the book we read was We Need To Talk About Kevin, but I really enjoyed reading and then talking about such a harrowing and taboo subject. I came to believe passionately in the power of books to include. A reading group can lift, involve and welcome someone who may be feeling isolated or unhappy.
Setting up my own reading group
When we moved to the village of Sway in Hampshire I knew no one, but given how much I'd enjoyed my first book club, I decided to start the Swaying Ladies.
The response was huge from other mums wanting to talk and think more widely than around being a parent. Since then the group has reduced in number, but the chance to discuss and explore remains a key factor holding us together. We have a scientist who loves chick lit, a speech therapist and a drama teacher who's into Shakespeare. We like the diverse membership; it helps ensure we're not just talking about our children!
We meet every other month, reading two books - usually fiction, but not exclusively. Some of our favourites have been Room by Emma Donoghue and Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch.
Books are often just a starting point for wider discussions, sharing different viewpoints and opinions. As a mother you are doing so much for others, so it's good to have your own opinions heard and not get laughed at. It's fun, safe, supportive and interesting; I know I will see people regularly, and it's free!
Getting support from Reading Groups for Everyone
A few years ago, I picked up a leaflet at Lymington Library. It was about a Reading Groups for Everyone competition; we entered online and since then we've had so many brilliant resources, books, information, tips, reading recommendations and support. Reading Groups for Everyone is a great hub, full of starting points and ideas for existing groups and anyone thinking of starting one.
We've also taken part in events brokered by the Reading Groups for Everyone network. For example, we won a competition to visit the London offices of publishers Penguin, have lunch and meet Graeme Simsion, the Australian debut author of hit novel The Rosie Project. It was great to get a taste of how publishing decisions are made, and we loved chatting to Graham; hearing his advice and perspectives about writing.
We also participated in an English PEN event which was organised in partnership with Reading Groups for Everyone. There were talks; workshops about the translation into English of books by overseas authors, and we met two translators who'd been given the same piece to work on and who'd come up with very different versions. They talked about their processes, which was fascinating: so was meeting people from other reading groups.
We're currently reading The Girls by Emma Cline, part of a Reading Groups for Everyone giveaway. We wouldn't have picked it by ourselves; being part of the network has opened us up to books we wouldn't have dreamed of.
For me, Swaying Ladies is an informal way to reinforce who we are, how we look at the world; to work out and think about things. We want to open our minds and better ourselves in the face of all the other pressures on us. Most importantly, it's community; it's vital social glue.
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