When I was little, books were plentiful in our home. My mother had been an English teacher prior to becoming a stay-at-home mom and reading books was expected of my brother and me. We devoured them like Oreo cookies.
Curious George and Winnie the Pooh were our bedtime favourites, the man with the yellow hat and Christopher Robin our storybook heroes night after night. As I grew older and learned to read on my own, Nancy Drew’s adventures became my bible.
But somewhere in primary school, my love of reading faded. I noticed how a friend of mine was constantly absorbed in her books. I wasn’t like that. The transition from learning to read to reading to learn was uneventful for me, like the way one day blends into the other.
Somewhere in that process, I lost my passion for reading and soon discovered that school textbook requirements were enough. Novels were long, and the instant gratification of television replaced any desire to read for pleasure.
After I graduated from university, I made an effort to read books for fun. I craved the knowledge and satisfaction that radiated from my friends after a good read, like a runner’s high. I wanted to know what it felt like to stay up all night with a good book, to relax in a comfy chair and forget about time.
I made New Year’s resolutions to read at least five books a year, but always ended up short of my goal. It took me many months to finish a book, after putting it down for days or even weeks during busy times. Subsequently, I’d forget what I’d read then procrastinate at the thought of having to reread several pages. Once I tried to speed read my way through a novel, but my attention to detail conflicted with my attempts to skip even a single word.
Chores, exercising and socializing took precedence over books. And reading in public was hopeless, as people-watching competed for my attention.
It wasn’t until I was married with two youngsters, when a friend of mine asked me to join her book club, that I made another effort. I knew I wasn’t an avid reader, nor was I comfortable expressing my opinion in a group. But I didn’t care if my credentials were lacking.
An escape from my mom duties for one evening a month, and the opportunity to ignite the reading spark I’d lost years ago, was hard to resist. So I accepted the invitation to this well-established group of readers.
That summer I read Family Matters by Rohinton Mistry, the required book for my debut meeting in September. I wasn’t particularly fond of that book. I had wanted to give up after the first chapter, but the potential embarrassment of showing up unprepared was enough to make me persevere.
I was apprehensive walking into the first meeting. I recognized all seven women in the room, casual acquaintances from the neighbourhood. I received a warm welcome, smiles and pleasantries while I accepted a glass of wine, hoping it would calm my nerves. Idle chit-chat kicked off the meeting, followed by a short book discussion, then more conversation, all while we sipped wine and devoured appetizers.
Even though I had read the book, I contributed nothing to the discussion and little to the chatter. I felt like the shy, new kid at school who had been incorrectly placed in a higher-level class on the first day.
But there was something in this meeting that I did do. I listened intently. These women were fascinating, sharing their knowledge from all the reading they had done. They talked about the current book, compared books, discussed authors and recommended other good reads. Their enthusiasm was contagious. And I was like a sponge, soaking up every word.
I don’t know what the group thought of me, but later that night I had trouble drifting off to sleep. I couldn’t stop thinking about the meeting. I felt inspired, maybe a little overwhelmed, but I was determined to read the next book and go back the following month.
Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew was on the list for October’s meeting. Recalling my struggles understanding the Bard in high school, I was tempted to ditch the play in favour of a Coles Notes summary. But I read the book and, surprisingly, liked it.
Instead of the regular weeknight meeting, our group took an overnight road trip to Stratford, Ont., to see the play. I remember my confidence as we strolled out of the theatre critiquing what we’d seen. I felt energized, excited and accepted as I shared my opinion.
Each month that first year, I read every book. Some I liked, some I didn’t. I even read a few that were not on our list, but had been recommended as good reads. The women offered an infectious energy for books that I adored and respected. They were passionate about reading and I wanted to feel that way too. And that meant challenging myself to read more.
Eight years later, I’m still a member of the same book club. I’m fairly quiet in our meetings, and I will never read as much or as quickly as the others. But I’m learning more about other cultures and religions, exercising my mind and increasing my vocabulary. I now sink into a good book on a rainy day, stay up late to read a few more chapters and recommend good reads to others. For that I am grateful.
Christine Biggs lives in Toronto.