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Taking the Time for a 'Reading Hour'

"If people don't like reading, they're reading the wrong book." --Mem Fox, children's author and literacy advocate, in an interview with ABC Radio National for the launch of Australian Reading Hour

If you like deceptively simple concepts--and I do--then yesterday was your kind of day. For the inaugural Australian Reading Hour, organizers encouraged Aussies to "stop what you're doing for one hour and pick up a book. We want Australians to either rediscover or introduce themselves to the benefits of reading."

More than 330 libraries and bookshops registered to participate in activities, with over 100 Australian authors taking part in events in their local communities, Books+Publishingreported. The campaign was supported by the Australian Library & Information Association, the Australian Society of Authors, the Australian Publishers Association, Australian Booksellers Association and the Copyright Agency. It is an extension of ALIA's Reading Hour event, which ran annually from 2012 to 2016.

"As an industry, we can encourage Australians to read Australian stories for pleasure for an hour," Louise Sherwin-Stark, Hachette Australia managing director and chair of the Australian Reading Hour committee observed, adding: "As an industry, we can spark a love of reading in children and set them up for a successful life, we can create more empathetic people and strive for a more prosperous and equitable society. Most of all, we can give everyone an hour out of their busy lives to escape into a great Australian book and reduce their stress levels...."

Yesterday, the publisher led by example: "A gentle hush descended on Kent Street as the good folk of @HachetteAus did what they do best--read. #AustralianReadingHour#brbReading."

Reading hour at Hachette Australia

Meanwhile, Simon & Schuster Australia's "book fairies have dropped books at random locations in Sydney! The perfect excuse (like we needed one) to set aside an hour and get lost in a good book."

Booksellers got in on the action, of course:

Antipodes Bookshop & Gallery, Sorrento, VIC: "The boys embracing Australian Reading Hour with their much-loved Taronga #antipodesbookshop #australianreadinghour #taronga #sharingstories #booksellerslads".

Melbourne's Hill of Content Bookshop: "We didn't really need much encouragement. What will you be reading?"

Dymocks Books‏ in Sydney decided "this is absolutely how every lunch break should be spent."

The National Library of Aus‏tralia featured a reader's version of a bucket brigade: "We know how important it is to take time out and read. Today's the day!"

I was particularly struck by an ABC News piece headlined "We asked 11 Australians why reading matters to them." I've been a reader since childhood and lived in a professional world of books (reading for a living, you might say) for 25 years, so hearing from readers who are not in the book business is intriguing to me. It's one of the things I miss most about not being a bookseller.

Noting that "Australians report spending an average five hours a week reading," ABC News spoke with some of them, including homicide detective Gary Jubelin: "Reading is my form of escapism. No matter what I'm going through in life, if I've got a good book I'm pretty well content.... It's my little way of getting away from the pressures and reality of the world and absorbing myself in a book."

And from Lauren Chant, a childcare worker: "Reading is just a fantastic way to escape and become whoever and whatever you want to be, and go on amazing adventures, and sometimes explore scary or challenging themes.... You can work through it through books, memoirs like Augusten Burroughs' books are really good for that. You see someone go through some pretty horrifying stuff but come through it as a stronger and better, if not slightly dysfunctional, human being."

Reading hour at Dymocks Books

In the Guardian, author Monica McInerney recalled: "I was an ordinary kid in an Australian country town, but I lived a different life with every book I read. I'd climb up to my favorite reading spot (the tin roof of our family house, tucked behind a chimney for shade) and be transported far from home. I time-traveled. I lived during the American civil war, in colonial Australia, on an island in Canada. In reality, I'd never been beyond Adelaide, but through books I was traveling the world.

"When I first moved to Ireland with my Irish husband as a 26-year-old--26 years ago--books were also my passport into Irish life.... In Dublin now, if I'm homesick for Australia, I reach for an Australian novel. Books by Robert Drewe, or Jane Harper, or Garry Disher instantly bring me back under an Australian sun, breathing in Noosa sea air or the sharp scent of country gums.... Reading opens up the world to us. It helps us be whoever we want to be."

I spent my Australian Reading Hour with The Turning, a story collection by one of my favorite authors, Tim Winton. And later I watched the amazing film adaptation of Winton's book. It was more than a good Australian Reading Hour. It was a good Australian Reading Day.

--Published by Shelf Awareness, issue #3087

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