Going Underground

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National Reading Group Day is a national celebration of reading groups. In this series of articles we look at a range of reading groups and find out what makes them unique.

Every day millions of people descend into London’s underground. Squashed, hectic, and usually pretty hot, the tube is not always the most enjoyable way to get from A to B. Yet there are some people who don’t seem to notice the crowds swarming around them. They possess a magical ability to transport themselves out of the crowd and into a completely different world. Who are these people? They’re the ones reading of course!

Books, e-readers, newspapers and magazines have long been a commuter’s favourite companion. But what about the staff who keep everything running smoothly? To a lot of their customers the people who work for TfL might just as well be invisible. But like the customers they serve, many of them share a passion for reading. Some have even started their own reading group.

About the group

The group was started in 2006 and a typical meeting involves ten to twelve employees meeting up to discuss their chosen book. Members range in age from thirty to seventy, proving that age is no barrier when it comes to reading. One of the things that makes the group so valuable for its members is that, just like the transport network, it creates connections between people. As one member, Fiona, put it:

“It gives you contacts in other areas and a greater understanding of what other people in the organisation are involved with or working on.”

It’s not all just talk

The group has been involved with a number of literary initiatives over the years. They have been book givers for World Book Night on numerous occasions, and they have held their own author meetings. One author invited along was Peter Bourne, who had previously worked for Tfl. He joined the book group to discuss his debut novel, The Deserter.

Location, location, location

The group likes to find the right place for their meetings. Acoustics matter – somewhere they can escape from the rumbling of trains and hear each other talk. Even better, somewhere with a cuisine appropriate to the book and enough, but not too much, to drink.

Plenty to talk about

The make up of the group matters, of course. As with any reading group, it’s important to get a good variation in outlook. Combine that with an interesting book that divides opinion and you have the makings of a great discussion.

The books they choose are wonderfully diverse – everything from Tolstoy to Toibin, Banks to Barnes, Shakespeare to Safran-Foer. It would appear that nothing is off the menu for this lot. They employ a rating system for every book they read. Each member present is asked to score the book from 1-10. To date, the books that had the greatest discrepancies in score were Ernest Hemingway’s The Snows of Kilimanjaro and John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces, both excellent choices if like your opinions divided.

The TfL book club is a fantastic example of how reading can enhance one’s experience of the workplace.

Get involved

If you would like to join a reading group in your local area, you can locate your nearest group and find out whether they are looking for new members.

If you are already in a reading group, make sure you sign up and add your group to get access to fantastic offers.

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