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Wednesday, 10 January 2007

My Family is a BBC TV production that screens weekly on the ABC here in Australia. I'm rather partial to its dry humour. Tonight's episode featured a book club. It highlighted some of the enduring commonplaces surrounding books, particularly that reading literature is a women's activity.

In one scene, Susan and her husband Ben are in bed, reading. She's got Cold Mountain while he's reading a Tom Clancy. She asks him what he thought of it and the best he can do is read out some of the blurb on the back cover.

Later, John Griffin, a neighbour, knocks on the door of the Harper's house. He wants Susan to attend a book club. Ben, of course, is not sad to see her go, and she does. When she arrives, they start discussing the book. What did John think of Cold Mountain?

"I wept. I hope you don't think any less of me as a man."

He offers her tea and opens a bottle of champagne. It's soon clear that books are the last thing on his mind. Susan is flabbergasted.

Susan: Was there ever any book club?
John: No.
Susan: Did you even read the book?
John: I saw the film.

Susan is keen to hide John's duplicity from Ben, but eventually Abby spills the beans and he finds out. He turns up at John's house with a Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (not to discuss, but to hit John over the head with). As the gags continue, Ben and John realise they both love Tom Clancy.

Ben: Do you like Tom Clancy?
John: Oh... fantastic!
Ben: What about Cold Mountain?
John: Oh, I only bought that to get chicks.

The episode ends with four men sitting on the sofa at Ben and Susan's house discussing Tom Clancy. They love it, and Susan is there as a sort of moderator. For next month's reading, they decide to read the same book again.

It has always seemed so strange to me that reading literature is viewed this way in society at large. Since about the age of twelve, reading has always been as natural as playing sports. I started with Gerald Durrell, Ray Bradbury and a lot of science fiction. But my brother was even more of a reader than I was. He started reading the newspaper at about the age of three, and never looked back. It was his collection of sci-fi that got me going.

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