Dr Helen Moffett, freelance academic, author, editor; Bongani Kona, academic, author, editor

Wednesday 11–Friday 13 January

3.00 pm


In these three lectures we ask questions about the practice of reading, based on our shared experience as authors, academics and publishing colleagues. Most book clubs and reading groups focus on what to read. In these three lectures, we intend to look at why and how we read: the extent to which this can be an individual, communal and creative process. How do we process material that we read, physiologically, neurologically, sociologically, emotionally?

What are the politics of reading? Who do we read, and why? If books are magic carpets that take us to other countries, into other times, into fantasy worlds and parallel universes, into the lives of others very different from ourselves, how do we choose what direction to take? We will suggest different and overlapping answers to the same fundamental questions, leading in directions that we hope will prompt you to read more widely, eagerly and thoughtfully.

The first lecture will discuss: What makes a worthwhile read? What makes us buy a book, or borrow one? Why do we acquire books we don’t read? What makes us pick up a book? Put it down? What makes us want others to read a book we’ve enjoyed? What is a ‘Marmite’ book? How does who we are, and our other cognitive and cultural experiences, inflect our reading? The second lecture dives more deeply into the questions above, leading us down unexplored avenues and into new reading adventures.

Finally we ask: What comfort do books offer in a world reeling from existential traumas? How do we read to support our mental health and enlarge our minds? Can books be prescribed for a range of human woes, from heartbreak to illness? Our shared reading journeys can be not only strengthening and enlightening; they can even offer hope.

Lecture titles

1. The mysteries of reading: so many questions Helen Moffett

2. ‘In other rooms, other wonders’: fresh questions, new answers Bongani Kona

3. The book as apothecary Helen Moffett

Recommended reading

This course was inspired by the Good Book Appreciation Society, a popular Facebook group with close to 20 000 members. It is offered with the permission and blessing of the group. To join, visit the page on Facebook and follow the instructions there.

No specific works are prescribed for this course; instead we encourage participants to use these lectures as a jumping-off point for compiling a reading list of titles they wouldn’t usually tackle. Or to share lists of their favourite must-reads. Participants might enjoy these two books, which also provided inspiration for this course:

Berthoud, E. and Elderkin, S. 2015. The Novel Cure: An A–Z of Literary Remedies. Edinburgh & London: Canongate.

Hornby, N. 2013. Stuff I’ve been reading. London & New York: Viking.