A conversation with best-selling Australian author Michael McGirr delighted literature aficionados at the State Library Victoria on Tuesday 30 October. The event, hosted by the Archbishop’s Office of Evangelisation, was the fourth in the Sparks of Beauty series which will continue into 2019.
McGirr, who is also Dean of Faith and teacher at St Kevin’s in Toorak, spoke about the power of literature through his experiences in literary education and his passion for reading which can be read about in his latest release Books that Saved My Life.
In an engaging presentation, McGirr shared his inspiration for the concept behind the book: a startling interaction with one of his year 10 students about their end-of-year results for English.
‘One boy was absolutely delighted because he got one of the best grades in the whole year level,’ said McGirr. ‘I said to him "you must have really loved To Kill a Mockingbird" and he said "Sir, I never read it. I didn’t have time, so I just read the plot summary on Google.’
What struck McGirr was the realisation that if the student had read the book he may not have not done so well. ‘If he read the book he would have been rather confused,’ McGirr said. ‘And that’s the point of the book. It’s to create this whole confusion in the minds of the young, especially the minds of 16-year-old young men who have reached a higher level of certainty than they ever will in their lives.
‘He really should have read To Kill a Mockingbird. Even if it meant not doing so well in his exam.’
McGirr spoke of various experiences with literature touched on in his book, spending particular time on the first book to have ever ‘left him winded’; Tolstoy’s War and Peace. Reading it as a boy in Year 7, he talked about his intention to read the book as an escape when his father was terminally ill in hospital. ‘I’d entered that book as a kind of escapism and came out of it understanding a completely different time, a faraway place,’ he explained.
‘You find out something profound about yourself. I’m really grateful for those lessons.’
The night concluded with a Q and A hosted by key organiser Tiffany Davis who spoke about her hopes for the evening earlier that night.
‘I’m hoping that through Michael’s stories about authors that have inspired him and shaped his journey,’ Davis said, ‘we might find the power of words and the power of connecting people’s stories that bind us together as a faith community.’
----For more information about the Sparks of Beauty series and to listen to previous talks click here.