The Importance of Conversation

Posted 1 year ago by John

The Importance of Conversation
Marjorie Gill, Founder of Open Book.


Reading the same books as someone else is a way of being together. This is the premise of seminars, book-clubs, of so many friendships and conversations. What it is to discover that you're currently reading the same book as someone else – especially someone you don't know all that well. The startling, sometimes discomforting, effect of accelerated intimacy, as if that person had gone from standing across the room to all of a sudden holding your hand.
                                                                           From This Little Art by Kate Briggs.
At Open Book, conversation anchors all the work we do. Each of our groups takes a piece of fiction - often a short story - and a linked poem and reads them aloud together. Depending on how the members of the group feel on any given day, the reader will be either the Open Book Lead Reader running the session or one or more of the group members.

Each story is broken into chunks, stopping to discuss views along the way. Do we like the character? Why did he say that? What do we think she’ll do next? In some groups the Lead Leader will gently coax the conversation into existence. In others - often where the group know each other well and have been meeting together for some time -  no prodding is needed, with the conversation flaming into life as soon as the reader pauses. During the discussion, the group identifies common thoughts and ideas, often with memories and life experiences shared. The Lead Reader is trained to notice and honour differences in viewpoints, which are then examined, helping members to widen their horizons. 

Open Book uses literature as a way to spark a conversation that does not have to be about the experiences of the people in the room; a participant can bring as much or as little of themselves into the session as they wish. The connections forged by that conversation help members to better understand themselves and their place in the world. In troubled times we hear more and more frequently about the solace that these Open Book conversations bring, with feedback such as “it’s my oasis of calm in my week”, “it’s the first time I’ve heard my voice out loud all week”, and “it’s simply a place to leave the concerns of our day behind and be immersed in words, amongst friends”. 

While literature gives a crucial framework to Open Book sessions, the conversation it inspires and the connections that conversation creates hold the key to the restorative power of our sessions.
Marjorie Lofti Gill is development director and founder of Open Book and Chair of Trustees for the Wigtown Book Festival. Claire Urquhart, fellow director and founder, is a Trustee of the Edinburgh International Book Festival. Open Book runs reading groups throughout Scotland:

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