Category Archives: Book Group

The Readers Summer Book Club 2012

One of the projects I have been working on while away from the blogosphere for some time is The Readers Summer Book Club. I am really rather excited about this particular book based project because it is one that myself and the lovely Gavin have designed to be able to include all of you, no matter where in the world you are.

I try not to mention The Readers too much on here. I worry you will either think it’s using the blog for self promotion or come across as being a bit smug. My intention is never to be either of those things, if I bang on and on about something it is no doubt simply because I am bloody excited about it… so there! Anyway, as I say only too often on the show, ‘moving swiftly on…’

Recording the readers over the last six months has become one of my favourite parts of every week. Whilst I have only met Gavin in the flesh once, briefly, through endless hours of recording he has become a true friend. Recording a show takes roughly 2 – 3 hours and lots of editing afterwards (though if you are a subscriber and got an early version of Mondays episode you will notice there was an editing slip up and me saying ‘I couldn’t be a****d to say goodbye’ – how rude, many apologies). I can guarantee in that two hours of recording I will laugh the most I do at any point during the week, with the exception of Sarah Millican’s TV show maybe, for as well as the bookish banter that makes the show there is at least one hour of gossip and general madness that we cut but which adds to my week. So a little bit of thanks and a shout out to Gavin there, he’s ace, erm shall I get back on track and stop with the schmaltz?

Back to The Readers Summer Book Club 2012 though. A few episodes ago we were waffling on about Richard and Judy’s Book Club and the TV Book Club. We like both, don’t get us wrong, but when we were talking about it I was thinking ‘why don’t we do a book club?’ After all we have listeners all over the world, thanks to the joy of the internet, and what an interesting way of bringing a real mix of people together as we could have some of them on Skype with us to discuss the books and send in mp3 reviews etc. So the idea was born, the publishers contacted for submissions, and blow me down we got 146 suggested titles! Now, a good few weeks later, we have the final eight…

I am a little in love with this selection of books, if I say so myself. I think they show exactly where myself and Gavin’s taste for books merge and also reflects the fact that not everyone wants a throwaway read on their holiday. Reactions have been interesting both on GoodReads and on blogs like Curiosity Killed The Bookworm, Dog Ear Discs and Alex in Leeds, and part of what we wanted was to get people talking about the list, we are all about book based banter after all, but we didn’t make them calculatedly or to particularly surprise anyone (apparently I said this, but don’t remember doing so) because we haven’t read any of them. In fact scrap that, we have now both read ‘Pure’ as we are interviewing Andrew Miller tonight as he is a very busy man, but we hadn’t read any books on the list before we announced it, we may have dipped in but it was all done on what we fancied reading and might test us both a little (the fact I chose Ernest Cline, for example), I would say, and not as a plug, that if you want to hear why we chose them have a listen to the latest episode and you will see.

So how can you get involved (and I really would love you all to)? Well, the way the show will work is that Gavin and I will interview the author for the first part of the show, asking any questions you have sent in (thanks for those of you who have sent in some for Andrew Miller later, keep them coming) the second part requires three guests who will join Gavin and I on Skype to talk about the book like a real book group, only recorded for 30 minutes. We need volunteers for this bit!!! We would also love mp3 reviews, or written ones we can pop on The Readers website which you can email to me savidgereads@gmail.com or bookbasedbanter@gmail.com  and discussion points too. So get involved!!!

For more info you can visit The Readers website, where you can listen to the special Readers Summer Book Club show (dates for each shows ‘airing’ will be up next week, we may swap some around due to international release dates). But while you are here, before you whizz over there, what do you think of the list? Have you read any? Keen to? Oh, and please spread the word, lets get lots of people joining in!!

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Filed under Book Group, Book Podcasts, The Readers Podcast

Before You Go To Sleep, The TV Book Club Returns Tonight

Just a quick post to remind you book lovers that The TV Book Club is back tonight on More4, I think it is also repeated on Channel 4 tomorrow (I could be wrong but it will be on 4od either way which is normally how I catch up with it). The list is quite an exciting one I think, there are only a few in the mix that I am not that bothered about , I won’t say which, and I have already read a few of them too. The book that starts the series off tonight is one such book, its ‘Before I Go To Sleep’ By S.J Watson and I really enjoyed it when I read it last year, and who came to the first Bookmarked Salon.

The lovely people at the TV Book Club have sent me the whole list, so you might even get to hear a Savidge Reads mention on the show as they have asked me if I will review some of them, though this we have agreed will be based on whim reading and which ones I fancy. I have just finished ‘The Somnambulist’ by Essie Fox, which is one of the choices and was rather good in a sensational way, as she will be a guest host on The Readers Episode 19 (a Victoriana special) which we are recording tomorrow night. If you have any questions for her please feel free to leave some below and I will ask her on your behalf.

Here is the list of titles in full…

Before I Go To Sleep by S.J. Watson
The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt
The Somnambulist by Essie Fox
Into the Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes
The Rules of Civility by Amor Towles
Girl Reading by Katie Ward
The Report by Jessica Francis Kane
The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson
Half the Human Race by Anthony Quinn
You Deserve Nothing by Alexander Maksik

Have you read any of them? I have heard Caroline Quentin is joining as a host this series (why so many comedians?) which I am thrilled about as she reminds me of my Mum (who is young and very funny, when she wants to be, so that’s meant in a nice way to both parties) interestingly and I just have a feeling she will be a great judge of a good book – yet I am not sure why. I did suggest to Cactus Productions that Gav and I would make good hosts, they didn’t comment…

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Filed under Book Group, Book Thoughts

Apartment 16 – Adam Nevill

Every now and again I like to try something a bit off the beaten track with my reading. One genre I have never really gone for, but always thought I might like, is horror – especially as I used to devour Point Horror’s as a kid/teenager. I think I liked the thrill of feeling scared. So I decided that for my second choice at my book group with ‘The Ladies of Levenshulme and Paul’ I would choose something scary, but not a traditional ghost story, and so ‘Apartment 16’ seemed to fit the bill. I was really getting excited about being scared out of my wits, and also thrilled that several lovely ladies, and Paul, down the road might be in reading in bed scared out of theirs too.

Pan Books, paperback, 2010, fiction, 368 pages, kindly sent by the publishers

The basic premise of ‘Apartment 16’ centres on a converted mansion block in London’s Kensington. The tale is told from the perspectives of two people there and how the building they are in starts to slowly take over their lives.

Seth seems to be stuck in life; he wants to paint but has instead ended up making ends meet as a security guard in the mansion block. He has also started to see things such as a hooded child figure that keeps following him, could this be his imagination working overtime as he is bored or could there be something more sinister going on? The second story was that of Apryl (the fact Apryl was spelt such I admitted at book group got on my nerves and off on the wrong foot) who inherits an apartment from her long lost aunt, not apartment number 16 which threw me, in the same block and moves over from America to sort the place out and discover more about her aunt, the discoveries of course being a lot darker than Apryl expects.

It’s very rare for me to be negative about a book, in part because I have stopped making the effort to finish books I don’t like, sadly though ‘Apartment 16’ was a book group choice (mine too, I was mortified) and so I had to finish it, and it just fell completely flat (no pun intended) for me. I think from the cover, which I loved, I expected that there would be chills and spills galore; instead what I got was a book that had some moments of chills, promptly ruined by scenes that in my head were like a very bad and cheaply made horror b-movie. So bad in fact I occasionally laughed, for the wrong reasons. In the books defence it was my imagination that turned them that way, but then I guess the writing led me there.

That makes it sound like Adam Nevill’s writing isn’t any good, and that isn’t true and wouldn’t be fair to say. His descriptions are vivid, sometimes disturbingly so, but I think I am more of the show less let the readers mind scare you more school of reading horror than the out and out gore kind of reader. The problem was when Seth started seeing some of the inhabitants crawling about on their backs like cockroaches I laughed instead of getting freaked out, then when he went into some of their rooms and the scenes of utter horror-gore were described I just started to feel a bit sick. That is where this book and I just didn’t click. I am the same with films, I laughed through all the Saw films because it was just so far fetched, and actually I did read ‘Apartment 16’ as a film, so it shows Nevill’s writing has a certain cinematic quality to it.  It did also feel like it was trying very hard to be American, yet stay British if you know what I mean?

I genuinely wanted to like ‘Apartment 16’, and the story of Apryl and her aunt (who through the diary entries of hers Apryl finds seems to be a bit of a nutter, which I liked a lot) was an interesting strand and one that I would have preferred on its own without Seth’s. But then I guess the book wouldn’t have worked in some ways. There were some rather scary parts with Apryl and also a brilliantly bizarre visit to a very, very weird and dark book group, it’s just a shame the rest of the book and its storyline just left me cold. I am sure for horror buffs, and I have seen several reviews by them, this is a great tale and so if you love your horror and haven’t read this then do. Me, I think I might leave this sort of ‘modern horror’ and go back to my old Victorian-esque ghost stories filled with things that go bump in the night, off stage. I think my book group felt the same.

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Filed under Adam Nevill, Book Group, Pan MacMillan, Review

How Many Book Groups Make Too Many?

I love books. I know that sounds like a rather obvious thing to say with a book blog, but sometimes my love of books gets me into trouble. For example at the moment I am in the midst of reading the Green Carnation Prize submissions, of which we have easily had double or maybe treble what we did last year and there are more to come. I also have a big pile of books on the bedside table which I keep ‘meaning to read next’, some advance reading to do for ‘Discovering Daphne’ and another project for the blog which starts in August. Phew! So you might think considering I am part of two book groups the very thought of joining another would seem idiotic… and yet I think I have.

It’s not the fault of the other two book groups that have made my eyes wander. It’s definitely me.

You see with the book group I first joined (that in my own head I call ‘the lovely ladies of Levenshulme book group’ because it is lots of lovely women and me and Paul Magrs) I love the banter and I love the people but until this month a lot of the choices have been re-reads for me. This is of course my fault for reading too much frankly and not theirs at all. However this month, though I have no idea what day it’s happening, we are reading ‘The Lost Daughter’ by Diane Chamberlain which is a book I have never read and would go as far as to say from the cover looks like a book I would possibly avoid. It looks a bit Jodi Piccoult. However this is the very point of a book group isn’t it?

Sadly at the moment the book seems to be avoiding me. I ordered it from the library, they went and loaned it after I ordered it. I have tried book shops and no avail. I could go online, but I feel all funny about online sales after the latest Book Depository news. So if I get it and if I find out when the meeting is I shall of course be going.

The next book group I joined in part because it was organised by one of my lovely new friends up in the north and secondly because I hadn’t read the book, which was ‘Purple Hibiscus’ by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, one I had wanted to read for ages and ages but not quite got around to. The only issue is that I have read the next book that’s been chosen (again my fault not theirs) but I really don’t want to read it again. What is it? ‘The God of Small Things’ by Arundhati Roy. This seems odd, especially as you can see from a review of it back in 2008, when I had read it for a book group too, I came away confused but overall liking it. So wouldn’t this be just the sort of book that could do with a re-read? After all this was a few years ago. The answer screaming at me is no. I don’t want to be confused by it again, and one thing I missed in that review was how long that book took to read. I have it by the bed in case but I will see, I did love the people who went so much – a really lovely mixture. Can I not go without having to re-read it and see if I can remember it fully? I admit I remember one horrid scene in a cinema all too well.

Fate seemed to extend a hand when I found a new book group in Manchester through twitter completely randomly. I think Waterstones Deansgate retweeted them, they are the @NQbookclub. This group are a little specific with what books they choose, which is what attracts me so much – as well as meeting new book lovers that is, as they only read post war classics it seems… Classics such as ‘Revolutionary Road’ by Richard Yates, ‘Things Fall Apart’ by Chinua Achebe and next up to read is ‘Rabbit, Run’ by John Updike. Many of you will of course have read these, but I haven’t and yet they have always been books I have fancied (I did read Updike’s ‘Couples’ for a book group and was impressed with the read and the discussion was great) so should I add another book group to my reading schedule?

I am torn, especially as with ‘Bookmarked’ starting soon (exciting announcement about that soon) and the reading I will need to do for that… maybe it is too much? Do I need to give up one? I don’t really want to. How many book groups are too many? Has anyone else found that they go to a book group and each month it’s a book they have read? Does it matter if you pick and choose which meetings you attend, what are your thoughts on etiquette?

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Filed under Book Group, Book Thoughts

Purple Hibiscus – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

‘Purple Hibiscus’, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s debut novel, is one I have been meaning to read ever since I was completely blown away by her Orange Prize Winning ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’. That book really took me by surprise, I knew nothing of Biafra and the war there, I knew nothing of the author and the book (which has since become a favourite and was the title I gave away for World Book Night) before it became a choice for a book group I was in. I couldn’t put it down; it was an amazing reading experience. So funny then that it was a book group that made me finally pick up ‘Purple Hibiscus’.

With her debut novel ‘Purple Hibiscus’ Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie takes us into the heart of a family in Nigeria not long after its colonisation, though this not the focus that the book takes, though it’s always bubbling away in the background. Instead Adichie tells us a story of religion as we follow Kambili a fifteen year old girl whose father is an extremist catholic. As the book opens Kambili witnesses her brother Jaja’s defiance of her father as he refuses to take communion in church, something utterly unthinkable, enraging her father and changing the dynamics of the house hold forever.

I did think after the first initial sixteen pages that make part one of the book ‘where is the story here, we’ve got the climax of it all at the beginning haven’t we?’ Well Adichie then proceeded to remind me that to every momentous moment there is a something that triggers it off. In the case of ‘Purple Hibiscus’ Adichie hints in the opening pages that things are pretty fragile for Kambili, Jaja, and their mother, what she does in part two is take us to how things have gotten to that point. For we all know that there is a lead up to every momentous moment. In this case it is their father’s sister Aunty Ifeoma.

The household that Kambili grows up in is, for the reader, an oppressive and claustrophobic one, dominated by a father so obsessed with god and the workings of the devil that he becomes abusive at any turn. Even small things like Kambili coming second in her class leads to some form of abuse based punishment, not sexual but often painful and humiliating. For Kambili this is simply life, its as normal as the schedule, which allows for a few toilet breaks, that her daily life must follow that is until she and Jaja go and stay in her Aunties house. Only this house, whilst with a catholic belief, is one of encouragement, progression and freedom. While they may be poor compared to Kambili’s fathers mass of wealth, they are richer in many other ways. Once Kambili and Jaja have their minds opened and allowed to roam free they begin to question things and so starts unravellings of powers and beliefs.

“I lay in bed after Mama left and let my mind rake through the past, through the years when Jaja and Mama and I spoke more with our spirits than with our lips. Until Nsukka. Nsukka started it all; Aunty Ifeoma’s little garden next to the verandah of her flat in Nsukka began to lift the silence. Jaja’s defiance seemed to me now like Aunty Ifeoma’s experimental purple hibiscus: rare, fragrant with undertones of freedom, a different kind of freedom from the one the crowds waving green leaves chanted at Government Square after the coup. A freedom to be, to do.
But my memories did not start at Nsukka. They started before, when all the hibiscuses in our front yard were a startling red.”

What I found startling, and probably the most effective part of Adichie’s writing and aspect of the book which hit me the hardest, was Kambili’s acceptance of the situation at home. Yet the more I thought about it the more I realised of course she would be, she had been groomed that her fathers form of godliness and the punishment that comes if you don’t come up to those standards are the norm.

“We did that often, asking each other questions whose answers we already knew. Perhaps it was so that we would not ask the other questions, the ones whose answers we did not want to know.”

It also proves an effective device by Adichie, the initial distance she places between the reactions of Kambili and the reaction of a reader gives a reader the room to put there own emotions, shock and horror in there, while this young girl just goes on accepting it. This rather reminded me of the way Margaret Atwood writes Cat’s Eye’ actually, getting the reader to put their emotion into a void purposefully left. Will Kambili go on accepting her fathers ways for good, well of course you will have to find out, you will also have to read on to see that the climatic event you think the book will end with doesn’t at all.

‘Purple Hibiscus’ isn’t a perfect book, it could have either done with being a little shorter and some of the small tangent tales cutting out, or having those tales developed further and been much longer and more epic, the latter I think I would have loved as Adichie is immensely readable. In fact how she fitted all of this and its themes into just over 300 pages is impressive. It is a book that makes you think and one that will leave its narrator with you for some time after. 8.5/10

This is a book I have had in Mount TBR for ages.

It was hard for me not to compare this book to ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ though I did try my hardest. I was worried I had been harder on it slightly because of my subconscious comparisons. This is where reading it for a book group was great because there were other readers who had read them in the same order as me and felt the same, and people for who ‘Purple Hibiscus’ was their first Adichie novel. The latter also felt the same, everyone seemed to like it a lot, yet they sort of wanted either less or more which I found really interesting. It proved a great book for discussion. What are your thoughts have you read ‘Purple Hibiscus’ or ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’? Who has read her short stories?

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Filed under Book Group, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Harper Collins, Review

Savidge Reads and the RNIB

I am a big fan of doing as much for charity as I can, in fact the best non media job I have ever had was working for Breast Cancer Care, so when I had an email from Melanie at the RNIB (Royal National Institute of Blind People) asking if I would like to be involved in a new initiative, as a guest speaker, of people talking to book groups for blind and partially sighted people… I didn’t need any persuading.

So in the next few months I will be taking part in Special Interest telephone book groups. This is the chance for people who already have regular book groups via the phone, also through RNIB, get the chance to ask people in varying parts of the ‘book world’ any questions that they have. I also get the chance to ask them about their reading habits and the pro’s and con’s of the audio book industry. I have already got a list of questions about how the industry is doing, be it good or bad, in terms of resources for those people who might not be able to read a book in its traditional form. I think its going to be an interesting set of discussions.

As always, with any new exciting thing I get to do via Savidge Reads, I like to put out there to all of you for your thoughts and comments. So I was wondering if you had any questions that you would like me to ask these lovely readers in advance? I also know they are very keen to hear about great audio books, which aren’t so much my forte – though I have been really enjoying listening to Sarah Winman reading her own novel ‘When God Was A Rabbit’ since I finished the book – yet I am sure you will all know of some fantastic audio reads. Do let me know.

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Filed under Book Group, Book Thoughts, Random Savidgeness

Cat’s Eye – Margaret Atwood

When I chose ‘Cat’s Eye’ by Margaret Atwood for one of my book groups I had no idea that it would become a book that would cause such a reaction in me. I have mentioned a few times on Savidge Reads how sometimes reading a book can become and experience, you live it. Sometimes books can become more than that, they seem to become the subconscious focus of all your thoughts and they bring back emotions and feelings you thought you had long forgotten, and not always the most comfortable ones.

Before I talk about the effect that ‘Cat’s Eye’ has had on me, and the emotional reaction I had, I think that’s its best to set the scene and tell you more about the book itself. When Elaine Risley finds herself back in Toronto after many years, for a retrospective of her paintings and work in one of the galleries, she starts to look back to her childhood there. These are not the sweetest of nostalgic notions, in fact the more we learn about Elaine’s past and her friendship with a trio of girls the more we realise memory lane was a very painful road indeed.

After spending most of her time living a rather secluded life as her parents escape the big towns and cities during the Second World War, moving to Toronto is a whole new lifestyle and adjustment and one made harder by the fact that Elaine has never really felt like a girl (in fact discussing having her own two daughters she admits she wanted sons as she thought she would relate to them better) so when she befriends Grace and Carol it is with relief. That is until after a summer trip away a new girl has arrived in town called Cordelia, and from the moment she joins this group the dynamic changes and the line between friends and foes is no longer black and white.

I could talk more about where the story leads you, how it evokes the difference between the metropolitan and wild parts of Canada, how it looks at the countries history between WWII and the 1980’s and the changes for women in that period – these all linger in the background of ‘Cat’s Eye’ making it a multi-layered read and even more of a masterpiece in some ways. I think it would also give too much away and this is a book you need to go into a little blindly for it to really take hold. At heart though this is a tale of childhood bullying, much worse when done by friends, and how those actions and events can scar us far more than we ever know. It was this part of the book that really got to me and was for me what the book was all about.

“Cordelia and Grace and Carol take me to the deep hole in Cordelia’s backyard. I’m wearing a black dress and a cloak from the dress-up cupboard. I’m supposed to be Mary Queen of Scots, headless already. They pick me up by the underarms and feet and lower me into the hole. Then they arrange the boards over the top. The daylight air disappears, and there’s the sound of dirt hitting the boards, shovelful after shovelful. Inside the hole it’s dim and cold and damp and smells like toad burrows.
    Up above, outside, I can hear their voices, and then I can’t hear them. I lie there wondering when it will be time to come out. Nothing happens. When I was put into the hole I knew it was a game; now I know it is not one. I feel sadness, a sense of betrayal. Then I feel the darkness pressing down on me; then terror.”

From the initial little jibes and retorts, sometimes the smallest of incidents can be the most damaging, to larger more threatening events like burying Elaine in the garden as ‘a game’ (which was one of the most vivid moments of the first third of the book but not the worst that they do) Atwood makes the acts of bullying come to life in a way that really takes you back to your own childhood and those awkward moments where friends can be enemies and where someone must become the head of the gang.

I myself was bullied at school, I think most kids are at some point, so maybe that’s why this rang so true with me, but I simply couldn’t shake the feeling of it and it really, really got to me. To me, though rather uncomfortable, that is the sign of a wonderful book and a wonderful writer. Through Elaine’s often distant and removed narrative I was projecting my own experiences and emotions and it, along with Atwood’s creation of course, drove ‘Cat’s Eye’ and hit home. I can feel the emotions again just writing about the book, it’s the strangest and most emotive reading experience I have had in a long time, possibly ever.

If you haven’t read ‘Cat’s Eye’ then you really must. I have ummed and ahhed about whether this is my favourite Atwood so far, despite it disturbing me and my memories quite a lot because it was so powerful, and I think it’s too close to reading it to call. I need to let it stay and settle (or unsettle me) further. It is a book which certainly further proves what an amazing and eclectic author she is and certainly a book I have lived through and should be commended for its many layers, most of all for being one of the most insightful books into bullying and the scars it leaves behind I have ever read. A brilliantly uncomfortable read all in all and one I have found rather personally haunting. 10/10

This is a book I have had for years and years and meant to read… I think I might need to turn to these books more often than I have been doing.

As you can imagine this was a great book group choice with lots to discuss. Who else has read ‘Cat’s Eye’? I would be really interested to see if anyone else who has read it was left feeling like their childhood had been brought right back to the forefront of their brains and if it left them feeling breathless (or even dreaming about it as I did)? I wonder if it is as autobiographical as they say it is. Which other books have you read that hit an emotional part of you really hard or brought an uncomfortable part of your life to the fore?

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Filed under Book Group, Books of 2011, Margaret Atwood, Review, Virago Books