Tag Archives: Book Groups

Book Groups… The Good & The Bad

Firstly before I go any further what-so-ever I wanted to just say that I don’t claim to be an authority on Book Groups. The posts that I have been doing on them are simply my opinions and experiences of Book Groups from my experiences of a new one, a random one and one I was in just over two years before I quit. The latter lead me to this piece, which I think is my last for now on Book Groups… the good, the bad and the ugly. I actually think my book group is quite aesthetically pleasing and yes that is partly an excuse to pop a picture of The Riverside Readers on my blog again.

Anyway, I am sure you will all have been pointed to a certain article in the New York Times about book groups go sour. It was with much sadness that just over a year ago I decided that it was time for me to leave the Book Group that I had started with all the best intentions. Partly because of the fact it became a huge money sucking monster, partly because someone was taking over (never got to the bottom of if it was intentional or not) and partly because of the books I got sick of reading the latest best seller or Richard and Judy choice.

Some of you may have raised your eyebrows at that last statement as you may know I actually don’t mind the Richard and Judy Book Club, its getting people reading and that’s great. The other reason might be after seeing my list of books for book groups. I don’t think I made myself very clear in that post and actually the list of twelve books wasn’t what would by my choice of  the perfect book group reads but a list of ones that (from my experience so far) have worked really well for discussion.

So why did my previous book group go wrong for me? It started off really well, a few friends/work colleagues would meet once a month in a local boozer for beer and book chatter each choosing one book and that would be the book for the month end of. By the time I left we had to bring a choice of five books and if anyone had read one it was discounted and we would vote on the others. Then the book chatter went to twenty minutes before a gossip, though the venue for dinner (?) had to be from the country the book was set in or the author was from. The final straw came when I got tired of people not finishing the books, saying they wouldn’t read ‘scary’ ‘murder filled’ or ‘too tough’ books or ‘books that are clearly for boys’. So I quit. I did for a while wonder if it was me, but I don’t think I am a hard person to be in a book group with, but I wouldn’t… you would have to ask my fellow book groupers I guess.

I do think that both the book group as a whole and each individual member has to work together to make a book group work it’s not down to just the organizers. Naturally friendships are formed or friends join together and that’s lovely at the end of the day though you all have the same goal and that is to read interesting books and discuss them. As being part of a book group I expect I should…

  • Make sure everyone is involved.
  • Welcome all opinions. 

As a book group individual I should;

  • Back up any opinion with reasons not simply ‘I loved it’ or ‘I hated it’.
  • Embrace any book that I wouldn’t normally read and give it a go minimising any prejudice I may have of it for random reasons.
  • Listen and not talk over people, actively encourage others to talk up.
  • Enjoy myself.

There are probably lots more but those are the initial thoughts that come to mind but no book groups are the same. In the new one I started with Kimbofo the only real rules we have are that the book needs to be easily available, not too expensive and we choose in turn and that persons choice is final. Simple as that and so far I think its working really nicely and hopefully it will stay that way as I love it.

If you have read this far, and I appreciate it if you have as this was a longish post and possibly a bit rambling, I would love to hear all your good and bad tales of book groups. I know you all have some so don’t be shy out with it. In fact to make it even more fun. To sweeten the sharing even more the best book group tale (positive or negative) and how your book groups work by midnight tonight will be sent these wherever you are in the world…

 

Yes two lovely Chris Cleave books The Other Hand, or Little Bee in the USA, and Incendiary which has been republished. So you now have a good incentive, though I am sure you would hopefully have lots to say without it too. So now it’s all over to all of you book group’s tales and book group workings (I do like the idea of themed book group meetings does anyone do those). Good luck…

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Filed under Book Group, Book Thoughts, Give Away

Books for Book Groups…

After my previous post on a few things Book Group orientated and The Riverside Readers I said that I would come back with a post on my personal top Book Group reads as well as discussing my top Book Group tips. Those two things would actually make a bit of a Bible of a post and so I will do the top books today and a few tips and my own experiences for and of Book Groups on Thursday, so hopefully you are all still interested in all things Book Group related. Could I fit the words Book Groups in these previous sentences if I tried?

After seeing Novel Insights wonderful post on her personal top twelve books a group could read in a year I thought I would have a go. This isn’t plagiarism it’s simply joining in, ha. Having been in a few book groups (in fact I am currently in two though one is rather rogue and we only do one every so often when the whim takes us) I realised that I had a list of 38 books that I could choose from. Some of the books haven’t worked (Tales of the Jazz Age – we all had different editions which all featured a different selection of short stories), some have received indifference, some have been disliked and some have been loved, more on those in my list.

Though I haven’t featured the books that were indifferent or went wrong I have included one book which I didn’t care for but caused great discussion and that’s one thing I have noticed from book groups, I might not always like a book but that in itself when lots of people do can make for a great book group read as it causes debate. So what five things do I do in order to make a book group choice now, I may not have always done this in the past mind;

  1. Books you wouldn’t normally read – one of the main points of a book group in my mind – but which are accessible, you don’t want to alienate your other group members.
  2. Books which have been received with strong reviews/thoughts both positive and negative way when they came out, this could cause great debate.
  3. Books that make you think and cause all sorts of discussions with yourself in your own head though you can’t always predict these in advance.
  4. Authors you love and admire who other people might not have tried, though don’t be precious on these as they could get ripped to shreds.
  5. Books that challenge and push you as a reader, if they are going to do this to you they probably will be to others.

Looking back at all the book groups I have been part of in the past which book would I recommend the most? Well after some whittling of the 38 I have read with book groups I came up with the final twelve (like Novel Insights I have chosen a years worth) that I think have caused the greatest discussion in no particular order.

  • Nineteen Eighty-Four – George Orwell
  • The Bell – Iris Murdoch
  • In Cold Blood – Truman Capote
  • On Chesil Beach – Ian McEwan (close tie with Atonement to be honest)
  • The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
  • To Kill A Mockingbird – Harper Lee
  • Half of a Yellow Sun – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath
  • Animal’s People – Indra Sinha
  • Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck (the one I didn’t like – discussion was great)
  • The Book of Dave – Will Self
  • Kafka on the Shore – Hariku Murakami

So there it is. You can see the full list of all 38 books now on the “new and improved” Book Group page where you can also see what the next book group read is. You may be wondering why some of the above list are in bold. Well my Gran wants a list of five books, as I mentioned on a previous post, she could put forward for her book group. I am actually going to send her a list of new books she and her group are less likely to have read along with the five above in bold. More book group musings on Thursday when I will be discussing Book Group decorum and what made me sensationally (love the drama of that word) leave a book group I started after two years! Let me know what you think of the final twelve too can you spot any themes in them? Also please do tell me of any great books you have done in a book group in the past.

P.S Sorry no picture on today’s post I am not a big fan of posts with no images, if it drives me to crazy will be the shot of The Riverside Readers again!

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I Served The King of England – Bohumil Hrabal

As I mentioned earlier today last night was the monthly meet up of book lovers and book bloggers in the London area for Book Group. This month’s choice had been one whose title and author I had never heard of. However ‘I Served The King of England’ by Bohumil Hrabal did make it into the 1001 books that you must read that the Guardian did a while back. So I was looking forward to a new author who I had read nothing by before. I was also looking forward to reading something by a Czech author, another first.

I Served The King of England is the tale of Ditie who at a young age starts the only career path available as a waiter in the Golden Prague Hotel (which isn’t actually in Prague) and then follow his life as he goes from servant to served and becomes a millionaire. In the process we see through his eyes how the rich Czech people live leading up to the war, a life of gluttony and prostitutes in the main (the book is quite explicit for the delicate of mind out there) and then the change as war reigns and the German’s come and take over.

I actually found that when the Germans invaded in some ways the book really came to life. Ditie becomes a German sympathiser, something not written about in many books which is very interesting if occasionally difficult to read, after he falls in love with and after being approved by the relevant bodies marries. This book for me was fantastically written and was darkly comic and the book sort of came alive after the first half of the book which seemed to just follow Ditie as he went about his daily business and observed all these rich people and became obsessed with joining them.

What of the plot? It’s very much a straight forward, though quirky, rags to riches and back to rags tale. That isn’t giving too much away as it is written on the blurb and there are a few random twists and events (dark and deeply funny) along the way. What about characters? There is a plethora of characters cast in this book but you never really get to know them they may pop up again from time to time but what motivates them and who they are eludes you slightly and I felt that could also be added to the main character himself.

I never really got under Ditie’s skin, I still by the end didn’t really know anything about him before he started waiting and what made him tick. Well apart from money and sex. He is a slight loner and unlike other books where the loner gives you their internal thoughts Ditie never really gives anything away. It left me leaving the book feeling like I liked it and yet didn’t like it all at once which very rarely happens to me. Maybe now I have finished it and the book and I spend some time apart it will grow on me as others have, or not. Strangely though I would read Bohumil Hrabal again despite my fuzzy grey thoughts on the book (not sitting on the fence), after all anyone who can make me whizz through a book with no paragraphs must be doing something right!

The book groups feelings were mixed too you can see Novel Insights and Paperback Reader’s, whose choice it was, Kimbofo and soon to be member Books Snob’s thoughts (when more members pop their thoughts up will let you know) on the book. As I said I would read him again, this book just left me feeling very nonplussed and I like things to be black and white not grey and this has left me in a grey fuzz. Have any books done that to you? Have you read any other Hrabal you’d recommend?

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Filed under Bohumil Hrabal, Book Group, Review, Vintage Classics

Belated Book Group Blog

Now what with moving house and all I have been lax on reporting back on Book Group last Thursday, and as the next one is a month today (August 6th) I thought that I should really get on with it as Kimbofo already has which puts me to shame. 

I had a few friendly faces from the Blogosphere as Jackie from Farmlanebooks and Claire from A Paperback Reader both turned up. Kim’s blog had drawn in two more and then some of my friends and a work colleague popped in too. It made a really lovely mix of eleven, with a diverse range of people, ages and genders and over a few drinks we all had a lovely discussion. There wasn’t actually a first book choice as we had decided to do an ice breaking group where we all brought along our favourite book. The choices were…

Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier (Simon)
My Brother Jack by George Johnston (Kim)
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith (Claire)
A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry (Jackie)
Persuasion by Jane Austen (Michelle)
The Pursuit of Love/Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford (Dom)
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote (Polly)

Diaspora by Greg Egan / Dawn by Octavia E. Butler (Kake)
Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson (Hattie)
A Place to Live: And Other Selected Essays of Natalia Ginzburg by Natalia Ginzburg (Armen)
A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini (Gemma)

I have highlighted the ones that I have actually read (I read half Behind the Scenes at the Museum and gave up so must retry that) and am going to get copies of the ones I haven’t. Of course mine had to be Rebecca, which Claire had actually guessed I would bring and is also her favourite but thought two same favourites might not be so interesting and so she brought another. Now I know I said that I would do a page of my favourite books on here but I have done something wrong with my coding and being mid move I haven’t been able to update it as yet, but its coming honest. I just need to have a big sort out and then settle in the new pad. I did ask you for your favourites but you weren’t too forthcoming and I would still love to know what they are. 

So what is the next book we are doing on August 6th?

Well it was my choice, after this we are going in alphabetical order, and so I decided to try ‘The Bell Jar’ by Sylvia Plath which sounds quite intriguing! “Renowned for its intensity and outstandingly vivid prose, it broke existing boundaries between fiction and reality and helped to make Plath an enduring feminist icon. It was published under a pseudonym a few weeks before the author’s suicide. Plath was an excellent poet but is known to many for this largely autobiographical novel. The Bell Jar tells the story of a gifted young woman’s mental breakdown beginning during a summer internship as a junior editor at a magazine in New York City in the early 1950s. The real Plath committed suicide in 1963 and left behind this scathingly sad, honest and perfectly- written book, which remains one of the best-told tales of a woman’s descent into insanity.”  Should be interesting! 

I will do a review and update on the group the day after we’ve met in the flesh, so you can join in with your thoughts then if you can’t actually make it. Well you can do it now actually… just no plot spoilers please!!!!

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Favourites…

In preparation for tomorrow’s Book Group, for which the theme is ‘Your Favourite Book’, I have had to really think about what exactly my favourite book is and why as surprisingly it wasn’t as instant as you would think. It has actually proved to be a real mission.

Firstly as discussed a few weeks ago after a Booking Through Thursday task, where we had fifteen minutes to think of the fifteen books that will always stick with you, I discovered that the fifteen books that have stuck with me aren’t necessarily my favourites. They may have been thought provoking, emotion inducing and possibly haunting but are they books that I would return to again and again… no, not all of them anyway. It’s a very few and far between group of books that make it onto my bookshelves for all my guests to see, let alone actually read more than once.

This has therefore made my mission that much more impossible. So I started writing lists, never-ending endless lists (picture to come later as I forgot to upload it) and what I noticed was that the lists differed on different days and was very dependent on my differing moods. However as I went on with the compilations I noticed that four or five books kept appearing with two particular books being the constant every time. What are they, which one did I pick? Well I can’t divulge that until after 6.30pm tomorrow now can I? It would spoil the surprise wouldn’t it?

Then I found myself thinking that why not share my favourite books full stop, well ok maybe not all of them but say ‘The Favourite Forty’. I then had the dilemma of how to display this on the site, I thought just doing a list would just vanish in the blog. I was still mulling this over when I popped into Waterstone’s (I am still having a debate over whether I should buy ‘Armadale’ by Wilkie Collins) when I saw their Writers Table. Each few months an author chooses their favourite books to recommend to readers, so I thought ‘why not make a readers table on the blog on a new page’. So as of 6.30pm tomorrow – in honour of Book Group – you should see that there is a lovely new page on Savidge Reads, I hope you all like it! It will also probably change periodically as I read new books that I am sure may sneak on there.

Now if you want to join in with the book group tomorrow but cant get there due to there being an ocean in the way or work commitments or some such then you can still join in by emailing me your favourite and why to savidgereads@googlemail.com and I will read them out tomorrow.

Or you can simply comment and do the same and I will take those with me. It would be lovely to hear from you all though possibly dangerous for my TBR pile!

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The Book Club Boutique

Something of a slightly different blog post for you all today as its not a  readers rambling’s or a book review but actually a review of a bookish event. As you may all be aware Kimbofo and I have set up a Book Club (which starts on Thursday) after my researching that London didn’t seem to have many or any. I contacted libraries which of course run them and a few as mentioned on Bookgroup.info and tried a few but nothing stuck, in fact I didn’t get any replies at all from some people I contacted.

Randomly, after having organised the new book group, my lovely friend Lotte emailed me saying that there was a night that we simply must try. The night was called ‘The Book Club Boutique’ and so last night we decided that in the name of ‘book group research’ aka ‘being a bit nosey’ we would go and check it out.

The Book Group Boutique is “London’s newest literary salon and Soho’s only free weekly spoken-word book club. It was created by the notorious poet and raconteur Salena Godden and her partner-in-crime Rachel Rayner in ‘Dick’s Bar’, the cosy basement bar at 23, Romily Street. The salon brings poets, authors and book lovers together to hear new and established writers, spoken word acts, and eclectic music in an informal speakeasy environment. This is no square affair; there is dancing, merriment and mingling over cocktails from the infamous Dick Bradsell and a different DJ every week.” Sounded perfection, something a bit different where book lovers could get together listen to poets and writers and natter endlessly about books!

Though in reality it wasn’t actually a book group, as in reading and nattering about books kind of group, it was a fun night. I did worry a little at the start when someone started singing ‘welcome to the book club boutique’ with a bass guitar over and over again but I needn’t have as there were several highlights. Two in particular… I am not the biggest fan of poetry I will admit but Mark Walton was fantastic, funny, emotive, just wonderful raw poetry. I will be buying a copy pronto and I never buy poetry. There was of course one more major highlight for me and that was…

Savidge Reads Meets Stella Duffy... outside a bar!

Savidge Reads Meets Stella Duffy... outside a bar!

… The delight that is Stella Duffy! Who took to the stage to read a very funny poem before doing a reading from the wonderful ‘Singling Out The Couples’ and then later from her Saz Martin crime series. In fact that reminds me I need to read the second of those as I loved ‘Calendar Girl’. You all know how I am a huge fan (without verging on being a stalker) of Stella’s and it was lovely to see her and have a good old natter over some wine. So if your in London and fancy a very unique and interesting night then I would say drop in to ‘The Book Club Boutique’ and give it a whirl. It made me wonder what other literary events there are out there especially after yesterday and discussing the Daphne Du Maurier festival in Fowey after my review of Justine Picardie’s ‘Daphne’. I would love, love, love to go to that… what other great bookish events do you know of I might be missing out on?

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Book Group… A Gentle Reminder

I am quite impressed as I am doing this from my Blackberry – though this could mean there are spelling mistakes – and therefore am actually still in bed with my book by my side (not that I can still as yet get my ‘Currently Reading’ column working, despite much help – and meaning I cant share it with you) however it is quite time consuming so this isnt how I will be uploading reviews… you are getting two blogs today you lucky things!

The first, this one, is just a gentle Sunday Morning reminder that the first book group  starts on Thursday the 2nd of July (see the Book Group Page for more info).  The theme is favourites as a nice ice-breaker, so all you need to bring is yourself and a copy of your favourite book. I am meeting up with the lovely Kimbofo this week to finalise the venue which for details of you can email me at savidgereads@googlemail.com now if you are coming you need to let me know so that you can get there… which helps. You also need to let me know as I will (fingers crossed) be prdering everyone a copy of the next book choice, which is mine, from the lovely people at Faber and they will be given out at the first meeting so I need numbers for that.

What is the first book???? I can’t tell you you will have to wait and see! But I will announce it on here the day after book group so that should you want to join in virtually then you have plenty of time to try and read it! Right my thumbs hurt from the fury of Blackberry blogging, back to thmbing the pages of my current book!

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The Faber Firsts

I am feeling very lucky this morning as yesterday when I came home there was a rather large parcel awaiting me in the hallway, now I dont know about you but I get really excited when any new parcels pop through the door so I couldnt hold on and simply tore it open in the kitchen. I was greeted by a delightful set/series of books from the lovely people at Faber & Faber… 
The Faber Firsts (And A Pineapple - I Opened Them Hurridly In My Kitchen - Apologies)

The Faber Firsts (And A Pineapple - I Opened Them Hurridly In My Kitchen - Apologies)

Now from my rubbish picture (please ignore the pineapple – it was a hurried opening in my kitchen like I said) you cant really see what arrived. It was the ‘Faber Firsts’ which is a selection of ten books republished specially by Faber to mark their 80th Anniversary (oddly I met a book cover designer from Faber at a party a while back, he did the Molly Fox cover) and they have published ten of the first books by some of Fabers most popular writers in the last 80 years. These are…

  • The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath (which I think has the most stunning cover)
  • Lord of the Flies – William Golding
  • Cover Her Face – P.D James
  • The Barracks – John McGarhern
  • The White Castle – Orhan Pamuk
  • A Pale View of Hills – Kazuo Ishiguro
  • The Buddha of Suburbia – Hanif Kureshi
  • Bliss – Peter Carey
  • The New York Trilogy – Paul Auster
  • Such a Long Journey – Rohinton Mistry

I have to admit I havent read a single one of these which is most shocking, so really I dont quite know where to start! Any suggestions? Now before you get suggesting bear in mind something rather fabulous that Faber & Faber have offered to do!

As you know I am setting up the Book Group with the lovely Kim from Reading Matters/Kimbofo which I am hoping some of you will be attending and as I am choosing the first book (see the Book Group part of the site for more) if it happens to be a Faber book then Faber will send a copy of the book for every single member of the group to read – for free!!!! Now there will be a condition that you need to attend the book group to get it but more on that on the Book Group page nearer the time.

Now where where we? Oh yes… which books would you recommend, where should I start?

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In Cold Blood – Truman Capote

I am thrilled that Novel Insights is back in the UK (though I am not sure she is going back to blogging or not), after what has felt like absolutely ages as we have been friends for 24 years, she has come back from her travels around the globe and so it was time for us to catch up with ‘Rogue Book Group’. Only I had forgotten to read one of the books that we had chosen to do. We actually were a bit flummoxed as we were pretty sure that we had chosen five books and though we could remember Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Blind Assassin’, Linwood Barclay’s ‘No Time For Goodbye’, Daphne Du Maurier’s ‘The Parasites’ and the one book I hadn’t yet read Truman Capote’s ‘In Cold Blood’ we were stuck on the fifth. Then after much research we realised it was just the four… typical. Anyway in order to do ‘Rogue Book Group’ (we had a picnic in the park) I needed to finally read ‘In Cold Blood’ which was easy as I found I was unable to put it down! 

In Cold Blood is a non-fiction account of the mass murder of the Clutter Family in Holcomb, Kansas in 1959. Where Herb Clutter, his wife Bonnie and two of their four children Nancy and Kenyon were horrifically murdered for what seemed like absolutely no logical reason whatsoever. Capote writes of the events leading up to the deaths of this family, onto catching the killers, their trial and then their execution through the eyes of the people of Holcomb and some of the detectives in the case as well as having had many meetings with the murderers Dick Hickock and Perry Smith to try and work out why people could do this and how these people could get caught.

At no point does this book ever feel like a text book which some non fiction can do for me. All the characters from the family and villagers to the killers and all those involved in the case and the trial are fully formed. You know the types too for example many of the gossips in the village who start to mistrust each other and spread rumours. It shows how a village that was in the middle of nowhere with no crime record dealt with such a shocking event, so in some ways it’s a study of humans and how they react. You also get to feel that you know the family and this adds to the trauma of when the events that actually took place that night, from the mouths of the murderers, it makes the impact greater and also makes what is a very emotional and gruesome event even more so.

The characters that you do get to know the best, possibly because Capote was fascinated by their motives and what drive people to do something so callous (and in the end only for $40 which was all they found in the house), are the killers themselves. Capote has researched their backgrounds, gone through letters, diaries and interviewed family members to find out if someone’s background and environment can create a murderer. It does appear that Capote was more interested in Perry Smith than Dick Hickock as the former is a much more researched and mentioned during the novel (some people, including those who made the movie believe Capote was obsessed/besotted with the killer, I am not so sure) and you feel that you have much more insight and time with him.

What I think made this book such a fascinating, with a subject like this especially as its real I don’t think you can call it a wonderful book, book to read was how Capote wrote it. The day of the murder is written so vividly and the settings so descriptively you could almost have been there. Note for the faint hearted the same applies when Perry actually admits what happened on that horrific night (I actually got quite upset by it). Undoubtedly it has to be said that this is an absolute masterpiece both of non fiction and as a book as a whole and I would recommend this read to anyone and everyone, particularly if you like crime. It has stayed with me for days since I closed the final page.

Many people say that In Cold Blood was Capote’s finest work and after so far this year reading Summer Crossing and Breakfast At Tiffany’s I certainly think that that statement isn’t far from the truth, though I have many more of his books that I desperately want to read. However I don’t think you can judge it along side the other two as it is a work of non-fiction. I am not the biggest fan of non fiction, I like the odd autobiography, diary or selection of letters but it’s not a genre I am drawn to. If I found more non fiction like this I think that I would possibly overdose on it all as this was utterly fantastic.

Hmmm, that’s quite a gloomy post! Maybe I should leave you with a picture of me and Novel Insights when we were lying full to the brim with summery picnic food and had exhausted the discussion on all four books which we agreed we loved all of.

Novel Insights & Savidge Reads Full of Fiction (& Picnic)

Novel Insights & Savidge Reads Full of Fiction (& Picnic)

As well as the new Book Group which I have started with Kimbofo (and which Novel Insights is also coming too) I am going to be carrying on with Rogue Book Group too. The next book that we have chosen is Tess of the D’Urbervilles!

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Filed under Book Group, Books of 2009, Penguin Classics, Review, Truman Capote

You Know I Mentioned About Book Groups…

A very short blog today but sometimes the smallest things can have the biggest news in them. I should get straight to the point shouldn’t I rather than simply just waffle on endlessly which frankly could happen couldn’t it?

The other week I mentioned that I really wanted to join a book group but had been having real problems finding a good one in the flesh or online. Well you all sent me some wonderful thoughts and ideas, I did particularly like the idea of a Skype book group. However randomly I had a chat with the lovely Kimbofo who is a fellow London book blogger and we have come to the conclusion that we will be starting one together in London Town.

We would welcome anyone who wishes to join us, though you do have to take a literary quiz in order to be accepted… that last bit is a joke, can you imagine if we were insistent on that, I would fail it and not be allowed into my own group. So if you are interested in coming along to the meetings which will be held once a month then please drop either me or Kimbofo an email via our blogs and we look forward to getting to know you. We are just tweaking how the group is going to work but everyone will be able to choose a book in turn but all will be revealed at the first meeting when all we ask is that people bring along their very favourite read… I look forward to your emails!

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A Blog About Book Groups

Earlier in 2009 I set myself the mission to join more book groups and did indeed join two. One of these was an in the flesh book group and one of them was online. Neither of them I have been back to. The online one was great but it felt a little bit disjointed, and while I love using the comments on this blog to have a good discussion or listen to your thoughts on the varying books I read that you have read or want to, that is more a forum than a book group and though you can have a nice coffee whilst you discuss the books you might be waiting 30minutes for the next person to say something.

The in the flesh book group wasn’t bad either except for two things. Firstly it was organised by emails, I have never had so many emails about long lists, voting for books to then make a shortlist to then make a top five choices to be voted at the next meeting. I was tired before I had even gotten there. Then new rules came in that we couldn’t vote for the same book twice. I would have let this slip but things didn’t change when we actually met. True we did discuss the book for two hours which I think is about average however ‘the group leader’ wouldn’t let it happen naturally we had a formula, and we had to follow online questions as well as bring in our own. It was a bit of a regime in all honesty and funnily enough I haven’t been back since.

Now I do have a Rogue Book Group with the lovely world touring (and therefore not blogging) Novel Insights and indeed whilst she travels round the world we have a list of five books we will have read in time for her arrival back in the UK. It’s really relaxed and we just have it at one of our houses, we have known each other for 23 years and though we have the same tastes we like to challenge ourselves too. We originally started a book group about three years ago. It started when we wanted to see Memoirs of a Geisha but see it first so we read it, saw the movie and then had a good natter about both after.

We had some book loving colleagues and so we started meeting in a pub once a month with one member choosing a book and everyone reading it, as you do. Then it became a bit of a monster. We started going for meals, which was lovely, and then having a list of five books to be voted on which again was a good idea. Until people started to say things like ‘no Jane Austen – they are girls books’, ‘no crime I cant bare murder I won’t sleep’ or ‘nothing too long or too hard’. Meals soon had to match the setting of the book or the authors nationality and then we stopped talking about the books after ten minutes. I sadly decided to leave.

So that might answer the question of why I am hesitant to start a new one which I would quite like to do. In fact I met a friend last week who is really really keen to start one of for us to join one together. I started doing some research and was surprised how hard book groups are to find. I thought London would be teaming with them but they seem a little like secret society’s and also I did try a book group a year or so ago which was so cliquey it was untrue (and it was a library group which surprised me). I always hoped to join a book group like the TV show on Channel 4 (see picture below) a group of diverse people who love books and make new life long friends, maybe that’s too much to dream. Mind you my Gran is a member of two and she has a wonderful time at both and has met some lovely people whilst reading some wonderful books.

So what should I do? Should I give more online book groups a go? Is there anyone out there in the ether of the internet in London be you a blogger or a blog follower who is up for it? And for the rest of you some more questions… Are you in any reading/book groups and how do they work? How do you choose what you read? Have you made life long friends? Have you had some book group nightmares? Do let me know!

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No Time For Goodbye – Linwood Barclay

I have had this book on my TBR pile for ages and ages and finally have gotten around to reading it as I needed some serious escapism. Escapist reading for me can be one of a few things, a comedy, a who-dunnit or indeed a gripping page turning thriller. Everyone has different escapist reading, I know on person who can find no finer escapist reading than Mills and Boon. So as it was also one of the books on mine and Novel Insights books to read (I still have to conquer The Blind Assassin yet to have caught up) I decided that this would be my next read.

Linwood Barclay’s debut novel No Time For Goodbye is definitely escapist reading. It is also a very thrilling read with possibly one of the most unpredictable plotlines that I have come across (bar the immense Child 44) in some time. One day a fourteen year old girl wakes up to find her entire family have vanished. There are no traces of them anywhere they have simply disappeared. Come forward twenty five years and Cynthia is still none the wiser to what has happened, however when a TV show decide to pick up the story again things slowly but surely start to unfold and Cynthia may begin to wish that she remained in the dark.

I found this a real thriller, it’s a proper page turner and you are thrown some big red herrings and then random possible theories that turn up later to make much bigger plot twists. I have seen reviews of this that state ‘this is no literary masterpiece and doesn’t deserve the sales’ and I have to disagree with that. I am not a literary snob, I like what I like some of it isn’t literary and some of it is, it’s the same with books I don’t like. No Time For Goodbye is a book that I enjoyed thoroughly because the plot and pacing are fantastic. I quite liked the characters without being attached to them but most of all it did what I wanted and drew me in, took me on a thrilling mysterious adventure and most of all I escaped.

What I will say was a slight issue for me was that despite the blurb, I have issues with blurbs that don’t tell the truth (this one says a letter arrives that changes everything – that doesn’t happen), the book isn’t actually written from Cynthia’s point of view. The thrilling tale itself is told through her husband Terry’s eyes. I really wanted more insight into how she felt about it all rather than what she told him she felt throughout it all if that makes sense? He was a great narrator and got fully entrapped in the whole situation and scenario and I enjoyed reading it from his perspective I just think hers would have given the book an extra something.

I thought that the plotting was brilliant, the end of every chapter makes you want to read on. Yes, there are parts that go slightly beyond coincidence and what is and isn’t believable but that’s what makes a great thriller and also some things that happen to people in real life you couldn’t make up, I never myself stopped believing that the whole situation could have happened.

Other reviews I have seen say that the plot is over the top. Yes it is, that tends to happen in most thrillers and if you don’t like that then don’t you tend to stay away from these types of books? I mean I don’t believe in goblins so I have always avoided J.R Tolkien. In the same vain don’t we all like to have the realms of our beliefs pushed I don’t really believe in magic but I really enjoyed the Harry Potter books. Sorry I have gone off on a bit of a tangent.

Overall I found this a ‘thrilling’ thriller. I became completely engrossed in the whole story line and though I predicted some of the ending there were still lots of twists that left me reeling. I can understand why this book has sold so well, I think the fact it was a Richard and Judy Summer Read (which I can find hit and miss) probably helped, but even without that I think this book would have done well. It has a very original and unsettling storyline, and you simply cannot stop reading it… well I couldn’t anyway. 4/5

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Filed under Linwood Barclay, Orion Publishing, Review, Richard and Judy

Thingbooks

So yesterday was my first foray into a book group where I didn’t know anyone. I have Cornflower Books book group later on in the week but being online you kind of have your profile or simply your name to hide behind, with a real live one it’s not quite the same. I didn’t realise when I arrived that this was the first Thingbooks book group. Though a few people knew each other most of us didn’t know anyone else and that made me feel some what better as most of us where in the same boat.

The book had been Brett Easton Ellis’ American Psycho and the discussion was very lively. I wont give to much away as will be doing the book review for you tomorrow, but what was nice was that no one stole all the conversation, no one laughed if someone said something a bit silly – unless that person (possibly me) was laughing as well. What I do love about book groups is the fact that you can hear so many different insights into a book. I found myself thinking ‘blimey I never thought that, but yes that’s right’ and also on occasion thinking ‘absolutely not, no way’.

I am really pleased I decided to go, I did actually when arriving at the right Waterstones think briefly about turning round and going home as give me a celebrity to interview and I am fine, give me a room full of strangers and I am absolutely hopeless. One thing that happened which did bond us all as a group, well I thought so, was a woman joined us having no idea what book we had read or who the group was. As Waterstones had simply left a sign saying ‘Sunday book group’ up on the wall she had decided to pop a long. We had just started to discuss some of the graphic scenes in the book and how they made us feel (mainly uncomfortable and nauseous) she suddenly jumped up said ‘well this doesn’t interest me at all’ and marched out. We were all a bit speechless and then dissolved into laughter. Would I go again? Of course, in fact I am when next months book is Jake Arnott’s The Long Firm which I read years ago but can’t remember. I think I liked it but found it confusing. I guess time will tell!

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Filed under Book Group, Brett Easton Ellis, Jake Arnott

To Kill A Mockingbird – Harper Lee

When Novel Insights and myself set up our ‘Rogue Book Group’ we decided that we would only do books that we owned or ones that we had always wanted to read. I have always wanted to read ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ and being sneaky I bought us both second hand copies. ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ is a book I knew nothing about other than the fact that it has sold absolutely masses and the author Harper Lee never wrote anything else. Well I think it has made it into my top ten books of all time and that isn’t something that comes easily.

The story of ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ is based around a family living in the American South. The narrator is Scout a young girl who recounts everything she sees and hears in the town during a turbulent time as Scouts father Atticus is battling the system of a black man Tom Robinson accused of rape. This in set in the present day or when the book was set but back when black people didn’t have any rights and so deals with the subjects of racism and discrimination and is one of the most accomplished books on the subject I have read.

It’s a slow starter and for the first fifty pages I couldn’t decide whether I was going to like it or completely loathe it. I also didn’t know whether the book being narrated by someone that young on such a topic would work, it actually made the book more comical, endearing, tragic, and black and white all at once. By black and white I mean in the sense that children see things in a much simpler way as Harper Lee shows in the reaction that Dill shows to the trail and this spells everything out for you as a reader and makes you really think about the whole situation and the society at the time. She also discusses women’s role and degrees of repression at the time.

The plot itself is superb as the actual trail doesn’t really start until the second part you have the plot of what caused the trial and subsequently what happens after. Behind all of this there is also the mystery of Scout’s neighbour ‘Boo Radley’ who never appears outside of the house apart from at night and who has many ‘neighbourhood gossip/rumours’. One of the themes of the books is also undoubtedly childhood and growing up seen through Scout’s eyes and also through the observations of her brother Jem (and their adventures) as he heads towards manhood and their relationship changes. Family is a big theme in the novel especially the relationship between the children and their father which is beautifully written. Atticus Finch is the father I never had but wish I did.

I have completely fallen in love with this book, all its characters no matter how evil or small and as Novel Insights and myself discussed yesterday (I again finished the book the morning of Rogue Book Group) it’s a complete literary gem. I laughed, though didn’t cry but was moved, believed completely in the characters and felt that I came away from the novel having had a true reading experience and more. It had that certain something. If you haven’t read it, which is unlikely, then you must read it soon. If you have read it why not pick it up again. I will be within the next 12 months I don’t doubt.

I wonder why Harper Lee never wrote anything else?

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Filed under Book Group, Books of 2008, Harper Lee, Random House Publishing, Review