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A winter of content has arrived for the bookish tribe

It’s footy season again. Aussie Rules supporters have risen out of their summer hibernation and gathered their sashed or striped tribes. The games are watched in homes, pubs and clubs across the nation, and are the source of impassioned conversation in workplaces every Monday.

Football provides a wonderful sense of community, of common cause and shared triumph and disappointment. But it is not my community.

As much as I might have tried to muster some kind of interest in the highs and lows of the game, the action and drama, it just isn’t there. The world of the AFL is one to which I don’t belong.

But there is another tribe to which I am happily a part — it is the quieter but no less impassioned book-loving community.

For years, I had an inkling it existed, but didn’t really know where. After all, reading is such a solitary activity. It’s not something we gather to do. We might inwardly cheer on our favourite protagonist, but there are no team colours or cheer squads. No nightly bulletin celebrating their success or lamenting their failure.

More recently, I have begun to recognise the strength and span of the reading community. There are members who stand at my bookcase when they visit, eagerly commenting on the books they have read, the writers they adore and the writers whose works they couldn’t finish.

The unadvertised, quiet nature of this mutual interest makes its discovery all the better. Another reader! A member of my own tribe.

The recognition that there was an active community of readers out there hit home when I, by chance, attended my first literary festival. The Sydney Writers Festival happened, by chance, to be held when I was visiting from Melbourne. Stumbling across it, I realised before long that I was in my natural habitat. Here readers milled around, as excited as I was to listen to the writers whose words had touched us so deeply in the pages of their books. There were so many sessions to choose from, but, just as importantly, so many like minds jostling to attend them.

Here was my tribe.

When it was over, I began to seek literary events closer to home, and was thrilled to see there were so many. I live close to Melbourne, a designated City of Literature. Yes, what a place to be! We’re not just known as the home of the MCG and so many wonderful restaurants, but also host the Melbourne Writers Festival, the Williamstown Literary Festival, the Feminist Writers Festival, The Wheeler Centre, the School of Life, and many other events and organisations where members of my community gathered.

Even in the regional centre of Ballarat, there were visits by my idol, Anna Funder, and Alexander McCall Smith, whose No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series I adore. Half an hour away, the picturesque little town of Clunes will host Hannah Kent and A.S. Patric, among many other literary heavyweights, during its annual Booktown event next month. Imagine, a ‘booktown’ so close to home.

Then there are all of the book clubs that provide the opportunity for readers to share their passion, meeting expressly to talk about books. A study of women aged over 25 who read at least one book in the past month revealed 56 percent were members of a book club, with 19 percent in two or more book clubs.

There really are a lot of us. And that is unarguably a good thing. After all, research supports the appeal of membership of clubs or communities. In fact, they can be a matter of survival. BMJ Journals last year revealed that social group membership in retirements was associated with reduced risk of premature death.

Retirees who had two group memberships prior to retirement had a 2 percent risk of death in the first six years of retirement if they maintained membership in two groups, a 5 percent risk if they lost one group and a 12 percent risk if they lost both groups. Furthermore, for every group membership that participants lost in the year following retirement, their experienced quality of life six years later was approximately 10 percent lower.

However, it is not just physically that members of the reading community gather. After joining Twitter and gravitating towards others who expressed an interest in books, either as writers, bloggers or readers, I have been surprised by the warmth, inclusiveness and enthusiasm of this community.

Using the #amreading hashtag, readers tweet about books that are inspiring or moving them. Publishers announce the latest releases and bloggers speak to authors about their books or how they write.

And the most passionate subgroup of all is the genre reader or writer, whether romance, sci-fi or fantasy. These groups are fiercely defensive and supportive of their own, carving out their own, solid place among the wider group of booklovers.

So, while the excitement of the AFL season dominates during winter, it is heartening to know that without hype or fanfare, there is another group that revels in the colder months, which are just right for sitting in a comfy chair by the fire or lying under a warm doona, books in our hands and smiles on our faces. This is my tribe.

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