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What I love about bookish events … and Ann Cleeves!

It was in the middle of a busy week that I’d organised to meet some bookish friends at an author event a couple of weeks ago.

I’d been extremely busy at work, and only just closed my laptop before racing out the door.

It has also been a full-on week emotionally, managing the different needs of a pre-teen, a daughter who would like to be a teen and a seven-year-old.

The last thing I wanted to do was to go anywhere, let along to drive through the rain to sit in a cold hall. I felt like my typical, introverted self, experiencing significant FOMO that my husband would enjoy a night on the couch and I would not.

Everything changed when I took my seat at the Ballarat Mechanics’ Institute.

There, on the stage was the magnificent Ann Cleeves, sitting and looking like she was up for anything the host, Jock Serong wanted to ask her.

Immediately, I felt right at home. No, better than home.

I basked in the unabashed eagerness of all of the book-lovers that had quickly snatched up tickets to listen to Cleeves talk.

We all laughed together at some benign bookish jokes from Cleeves, and listened with rapt attention as she described her method of writing (with no planning involved!!).

After months of election, and now post-election, talk on the television and radio, I was struck by the honesty, reasonableness and cleverness of this author who had brought us the strangely lovable Vera – a character who has become perhaps even more famous than her creator.

I felt like I could listen to Cleeves and Serong talk for hours about anything, from the recent attack on Salman Rushdie, to the birdwatchers of northern England.

But I also loved sitting with all of these, mainly grey-headed book-lovers whose enthusiasm for the event was so obvious. There was no-one there who would see being called a book nerd an insult – we were proud to be geeking out to a fabulous writer and a fascinating person.

It might be the very experience of going to a live event itself, after years of lockdowns, that is so exciting. Or perhaps it is the shared joy in books.

I feel it every year at Clunes Book Fest, and recently at the Bendigo Writers Festival, and I’m hoping to feel it at the Melbourne Writers’ Festival next month.

An article in The Conversation recently explored the sense of joy of going to a concert, and how that differed from listening to music online.

The author suggested the impact of listening to live music was a result of synchronised perception of rhythm or beat.

“When we’re in physical proximity, our mutual tuning-in toward one another actually generates bodily rhythms that make us feel good and gives us a greater sense of belonging. One study found that babies who are bounced to music in sync with an adult display increased altruism toward that person, while another found that people who are close friends tend to synchronize their movements when talking or walking together.”

However, I would argue that it is not just live music that can generate this sense, but also live theatre, or even a live conversation about a shared interest.

I find that there is a real sense of community and goodwill at these events, that brings with it an intense happiness, or ‘magic’ as the writer in The Conversation describes it.

Despite my busy week and emotional overload at home, I left the hall feeling energised and content.

I really need to remember that feeling next time I find myself looking back longingly as my husband turns on Netflix.

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