Tag Archives: Manchester Book Club

Books by the Bedside #3

I am at my mothers this weekend after a rather bonkers week and so I thought rather than go silent I would let you all know what I have on my reading periphery and then hopefully you can all let me know what you are reading, mainly because I am nosey.

Currently my bedside table looks like this…

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The next of the Manchester Book Club titles is ‘The Master & Margarita’ by Mikhail Bulgakov as chosen by fellow member Alex. I have to say I am oddly excited (whilst being slightly daunted) by this novel, I know it’s meant to be quite bonkers and brilliant but also it’s my first real foray into Russian literature, mainly because I have always been worried I am not clever enough for it – we will see.

Next up is ‘Absolution’ by Patrick Flanery which I have been meaning to read for ages. When I visited Atlantic Books HQ earlier in the year everyone was saying how good it was and I do want to read more novels set in South Africa.

Finally are two novels which I am both reading for The Readers, though aren’t part of the Summer Book Club. This is because, and I feel there should be a drum roll here, on Wednesday coming myself and Gavin will be interviewing Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter for an hour long special of the podcast. Gavin is so excited, I am now seriously Pratchett prepping. I will also be interviewing Carlos Ruiz Zafon this week and so I’m getting ready for that too by reading his latest.

Oh and I should mention the books I have taken away with me! I packed ‘Wyrd Sisters’, which lots of you said I should read as my way into Discworld, and I also packed ‘Filthy Lucre’ which is the shortest of Beryl Bainbridge’s novels (apparently she wrote it as a child) as next week it’s Beryl Bainbridge Reading Week over at Gaskella! I plan on picking another Bainbridge up too if I have time as Annabel kindly introduced me to her with ‘The Bottle Factory Outing’.

Phew, that’s a lot of bookish bedside chatter, though not quite enough… I would love your thoughts on what I’m reading and about to read PLUS find out what you are reading right now/next, as I said I’m very nosey and besides I can never hear enough about books. Over to you…

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The Day I Infiltrated The W.I.

Seeing as the last few days have been all about the Queen in the UK, and of course in various other parts of the world, I thought I would carry on with the quintessentially British theme by talking about the W.I. If any of you are wondering just what the W.I. is, it is the Women’s Institute and having run since 1914, when it was formed “to revitalize rural communities and to encourage women to become more involved in producing food during the First World War”, it has become something of a British Institution, but also something of a mystery to many. Well thanks to books, and indeed this blog, I got invited to a meeting, so I thought I would report back…

How did books get me, with my beard too, sneaked into a Women’s Institute meeting? Well, since you asked so nicely, it was actually an invite from Louise (one of the lovely new members of The Manchester Book Group – who I will not be seeing at the meeting tonight as I am still ill with this stomach thing, made all the more vexing by the fact tonight is my blinking choice too) who wanted myself and Lucy of Literary Relish to come and talk as “book experts”, which we both thought was debatable, and as people who have set up a book group or two and might have advice. Plus there was the offer of a grand old building to roam around and lots of tea and cake. I was sold on the simple idea of seeing just what happened at a meeting, the cake was just an added bonus. How could we refuse?

So a few weeks ago, a little nervous but very eager, myself and Lucy rocked up at Chetham’s School of Music which is a wonderful old building in the heart of Manchester where the new Manchester W.I. group has been set up.

The lovely Lucy outside Chatham’s School of Music

Well it wasn’t what I expected at all. I thought it would be a) filled soley with some very old ladies who would look at us over their glasses with utter disdain b) filled with a few Kirsty Allsop wannabes c) possibly a group of women chanting how much they hated their husbands. Instead was a wonderfully eclectic group of women of all ages and walks of life (though with a common passion for a floral design on their personage, lovely) who were all very welcoming, though I think the sixth time someone came up and winked ‘you shouldn’t be here should you’ at me it started to lose its charm. Everyone was really friendly and welcoming and excited to be there, it was most contagious.

Lovely ladies of Manchester’s W.I.

 The meeting was designed to set up some sub groups for people within the Manchester W.I. for members who also had the same interests to join. Each one was introduced; there was a ‘fine dining group’, a fitness group, a charity group, a baking group and many more which of course included the book, cinema and theatre group (which was run by Louise and which myself and Lucy were there to offer tips and bookish recommendations too)…

Manchester Women’s Institute Book, Cinema and Theatre Group

 Frankly I wanted to join them all. Particularly the ones involving books, chocolate, tea, cake or all four combined – the fitness one I might possibly not even have looked at. People seemed to mill about and have a gander at everything and then suddenly it was time for tea (in a wonderfully old room)…

The tea-room…

Followed by homemade cakes…

Cakes; please note one of these was for Lucy, they weren’t both for me…

 And then we were all deluged suddenly by people wanting to know how a book group should be set up, what books people should recommend for a group read, what had we loved and read lately etc? It was ace! I don’t think Lucy will mind me saying we were rather in our element. Louise too seemed to have lots and lots of people signing up for the sub-group and people wanting to join her book group AND ours, who says the love of a good book is dead?

The lovely Louise getting deluged in requests for her W.I. sub-group

Well it was lovely. Did I learn any of their secret rituals, well yes I did, but if I told you I would have to hunt you down, if that is ok with you all, do you all agree? (Members will know why that is so apt.)

On a serious note am quite jealous I am not allowed to join one. I was talking to my Gran about this and I can’t even use the gay card, apparently someone tried at the one local to her, which she isn’t a part of, and they said no. In fairness I am not a woman, I think it might be the beard that gives it away, but I would so love to find a group of men and women near me who like books, baking and the like and who I could meet up with at random times to indulge in it all with. I guess I will have to make do with The Beard for now, though I think he may have over exaggerated his love of books in the early days, that’s by the by though (and he has started building a library and getting bookshelves sorted here there and everywhere – swings and roundabouts, you can’t have everything hahaha) back to today’s post…

Do any of you know, or have started and so could give tips, groups of both sexes who bake and the like together anywhere? Is there an online directory you might have heard of? Should, when I am a little better, I start my own? Are any of you members of the W.I. or something similar?

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Mary Barton – Elizabeth Gaskell

I haven’t reported back on how the Manchester Book Club’s second meeting yet have I? In part that is because I have been busy yet I will admit that I have also veered away from discussing our first group read, chosen by Lucy, which was ‘Mary Barton’ by Elizabeth Gaskell. This choice was one I was quite looking forward to, I don’t read enough classics, and being a ‘Manchester tale’ seemed completely apt. Well, I am sorry to report that I hated it (but in a rather healthy loved to hate it way) and I don’t like writing slating, if constructive, but I am going to and as she is dead I don’t feel as bad, though I know she has a legion of fans who will probably now think I am a philistine.

Vintage Classics, paperback, 1848 (republished 2008), fiction, 496 pages, borrowed from the library

I am not someone who tends to read blurbs before I read a book, a topic for another time, yet as ‘Mary Barton’ was a book group choice and we vote on one of three titles chosen by a member and so we read the blurbs to decide. I voted for ‘Mary Barton’ because it sounded like it had all the elements of a great classic. There was a love triangle, a murder and a tale of mystery, injustice and a city in the grip of an industrial revolution. It sounded really epic and Mary Barton herself sounded like she could be a fantastic heroine struggling in the face of adversity. I did think it might be a rather stereotypical Victorian classic, but it would be fun to read one set in the city in which I live. I wasn’t expecting such a grim and depressing book which would also bore me rigid.

What makes it really hard to write about Mary Barton is that fact that, if we are all being honest, nothing actually happens in the book until the murder (and that isn’t giving anything away because you know one is coming from the blurb) yet that doesn’t actually take place for about 250 or more pages. So what are the first few hundred pages about? Well mainly how miserable everyone is and how it is ‘grim up north’ really. I know people say Manchester can be a rainy and slightly overcast place but this was too much.

‘The next evening it was a warm, pattering, incessant rain – just rain to waken up the flowers. But in Manchester, where alas! there are no flowers, the rain had only a disheartening and gloomy effect; the streets were wet and dirty, the drippings from the houses were wet and dirty, and the people were wet and dirty.’

I will admit the opening chapters are of a slightly lighter nature, the first describing the countryside around Manchester, and while initially I thought it was interesting to see the names of places I knew this waned and I was hoping for some plot or characters, if this book was going to be endless descriptions I wasn’t going to get on with it. The second chapter from its very title ‘A Manchester Tea Party’ suggests we will be getting characters and a situation, yes we do but for me it was a sudden mass of characters and initially I was cross and confused until I had figured out who everyone was.

As we do get to meet and know a character, which doesn’t happen too often as everyone seems to die a few pages after we get to know them, we are given insight into the social history of Manchester at the time. I can’t say I know much, or have ever been keen to know much, about the Industrial Revolution yet discovering about it became a glimmer of hope in what was fast becoming a book I was falling swiftly out of love with it. I did learn a lot I have to admit and I think in its day this book would have been somewhat of an eye opener. Gaskell was clearly doing something to make a point in the first half, alas after the murder she seems to give up, of what people were going through at the time. Good for her, and back then great reading I am sure, in the present day however someone would write a lengthy essay rather than have the same issues repeated over and over again for a few hundred pages and in such huge chunks you almost can’t take it in, or simply get bored and bogged down by it.

 ‘For three years past trade had been getting worse and worse, and the price of provisions higher and higher. This disparity between the amount of the earnings of the working classes and the price of their food, occasioned, in more cases than could well be imagined, disease and death. Whole families went through a gradual starvation. They only wanted a Dante to record their sufferings. And yet even his words would fall short of the awful truth; they could only present an outline of the tremendous facts of the destitution that surrounded thousands upon thousands in the terrible years 1839, 1840, and 1841. Even philanthropists who had studied the subject, were forced to own themselves perplexed in their endeavour to ascertain the real causes of the misery; the whole matter was of so complicated a nature, that it became next to impossible to understand it thoroughly. It need excite no surprise, then, to learn that a bad feeling between working-men and the upper classes became very strong in this season of privation. The indigence and sufferings of the operatives induced a suspicion in the minds of many of them, that their legislators, their magistrates, their employers, and even the ministers of religion, were, in general, their oppressors and enemies; and were in league for their prostration and enthralment. The most deplorable and enduring evil that arose out of the period of commercial depression to which I refer, was this feeling of alienation between the different classes of society.’

See what I mean, and that’s only half of that paragraph. I spared you the rest.

I could be lenient and say that this was a debut novel, so it is probably a book written from ideas and ideals. I also think I should state that it is a book of its time that hasn’t really aged very well. Yet forgive it all that and actually ‘Mary Barton’ isn’t really a novel, it’s more an overlong view of the Industrial Revolution and I think at heart that is really what Gaskell wanted to write. I am sure there will be academics up in arms at that sweeping statement but it’s true. Mary isn’t really a fully formed character, we learn more about those around her and their situations than we do her, she seems to simply be a tool for Gaskell to observe, fair enough, but give her some gumption.

 In fact that said I think that might be my big issue with ‘Mary Barton’ as a whole, it seems a half baked book. My reasons for such a critique are as I mentioned above Mary as a central character with no real central drive, just an observer, a murder which happens so late and becomes so clear who did it that it’s inconsequential, as is the trial later. These things are padding to a book that is far too padded with observational opinion already. If Gaskell had fully formed everything around the central issue of society at the time and in her area this could have been incredible, as it stands it’s a bit of a ‘moral guide to…’ instead. Sorry Mary.

What was interesting was that I rather enjoyed how much I disliked it in the end. It reminded me why we need bad books and to get cross now and again. I also rather naughtily felt pleased I could write off another writer, is that bad? I was also pleased to see that the feelings were felt unanimously between the twelve of us who met for book group, it was quite bonding. You can see a review from Lucy, who chose the book, here and another from Alex here.

Have you read ‘Mary Barton’ and what did you think? What other Gaskell novels have you read? I am bad to feel relief that I can write off an author after enjoying loathing one book so much?

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Books By The Bedside #2

I meant to blog all weekend I really did, alas I just got to busy with other fun stuff. As I had intended to post something about what we are all reading at the moment I thought that I would back date a post, that’s allowed isn’t it? So here we have the return of ‘Books By The Bedside’, a peripheral view of what I am reading at the moment and planning on reading very soon, also a series I planned to make more regular, whoops!

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At the moment my main read, and book of contention if I am being honest, is ‘Mary Barton’ by Elizabeth Gaskell. Yes, I am still reading it. It’s a bit like wading through treacle (we’ve all been there). Despite a murder happening, which I thought might spice it up a bit, Mary has almost instantly worked out who it is so now we know. If it wasn’t the first choice for ‘Manchester Book Club’ I would have given up by now. But, like the characters in the book actually, I have the grim determination to see it through to the end against all obstacles… Like boredom. Shall we move on?

I am combating the above book with a favourite thanks to pure timing. Monday is World Book Night and not only will I be giving away copies of ‘Rebecca’ I will also be reading it at an event at Waterstones Deansgate from 6.30pm. I’ve been dipping into Daphers for some favourite sections! I do bloody love this book.

The two books I am planning to read are ‘Home’ the latest Toni Morrison novel, which will also be my first foray into her work, for a review in We Love This Book, I am intrigued to see how great she is. I know lots of people who love her work. It’s fairly short but I am hoping packs a punch. I will then be reading ‘The Last Werewolf’ by Glen Duncan, described by one of my favourite book lovers Marieke Hardy as a ‘very silly book’ and a ‘cock forest’. It’s also the first of The Readers Summer Book Club choices so I best crack on.

It’s rather a small pile of books for me I admit, but at the moment I am splitting my weeks between Manchester and Liverpool (more on the lovely reason for this soon), so only so many books I can lug about.

Anyway… Which books are you reading and keen to read? Have you read any of the above, or other works by the authors? Do let me know as always.

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Simon’s Bookish Bits #31

Though it’s all still a bit shiny and new on Savidge Reads 3.0, I didn’t want to get rid of all the old features and so, as a special little treat today, I thought I would dust off my ‘bookish bits’ and bring them out for an airing. If you are new to the site this is a feature I would do occasionally, read as totally randomly, when I had a few bits and bobs that I wanted to talk about and yet didn’t really warrant/deserve their own post all to themselves. So what bookish bits and bobs do I have for you today?

Well first up is the joyous news that I have my World Book Night (which seemed ages away and now is suddenly upon us next Monday) books. The thrill of being able to pass on books is always one I love, but when you are giving lots and lots of your favourite EVER book away it takes it to a whole new level. Yes, that’s right; I am giving away Rebecca by good old Daphers.

That isn’t all I am doing. On World Book Night itself I will be part of a big event at Waterstones Deansgate in the heart of Manchester where I will be reading ‘Rebecca’ to any poor passing soul lucky person who pops in. I am alongside some great local authors such as Sam Mills, Rodge Glass, Chris Killen, Joe Stretch, Socrates Adams and many more. Do come along, details below, apologies it’s a little grainy but it’s a picture from the tinterweb.

Oh and speaking of World Book Night, if you are giving books away (wherever in the world you may be) and would like to record an mp3 about the title you have chosen and how you are giving it away we are doing a special episode of The Readers next week so email them to bookbasedbanter@gmail.com or you can now leave a voicemail by calling ‘bookbasedbanter’ on Skype. So techno!

In other news I am having a major book sulk. I feel a bit bad doing this (sorry Lucy) but I am reading ‘Mary Barton’ by Elizabeth Gaskell for The Manchester Book Club and I am really, really struggling. I am almost halfway (Lucy text me and said ‘it gets better after about 250 pages’, 250 pages!!!) So I was wondering if any of you had any tips on getting through it, and could at least agree with Lucy and say that yes, indeed it does get better. I like the story, though it’s like every other story of its time in the mid 1800’s to be honest, but all the politics and the trade unions rubbish is getting me down. There is about to be a murder though and you know how I like those, so maybe things will pick up and the book will get some pace. Is this just not her finest work? Or are all Gaskell’s books this bogged down in death and misery and too much intricate detail (something I never normally complain about)?

Finally, do you know of any good second hand book shops in Liverpool, the Wirral and around that sort of area? I am off there all weekend (rumours I am moving to Liverpool can neither be confirmed or denied) this weekend and would like to find some. I did discover the wonderful Reid of Liverpool as you can see here, but more would be a jolly lovely find, the centre of town would be lovely but so would the outskirts and further afield, so if you know of any let me know! Lovely!

Right that is all from me today, I will play comment catch up tomorrow I promise (rude of me to have not done sooner). What is going on in your bookish worlds? Don’t tell me what you are reading right now, I want to hear all about that on Saturday!

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A Manchester Book Club…

There are quite a lot of things I miss about London and there are quite a lot that I don’t. In bookish terms the main thing I miss was the book group I was in (followed swiftly by all the publisher parties I seem to miss out on, boo hoo, and the ridiculously cheap second hand book shop I had down the road). When I hear from the members how it’s going I always feel a little bit jealous I can’t still pop there every month.

The Riverside Readers started when I realised there weren’t really any in the heart of the city and so I popped a plea to learn of more out on the blog and got a response from Kim of Reading Matters. This then lead to lots of emails and discovering the bizarre fact we were working in offices 5 minutes apart, spooky. A few picnic lunches by the river later and we had it sorted we popped notices out on our blog and within a month we had a first meeting where 12 of us met in Waterstones Piccadilly and discussed our favourite books. After that it was a monthly meet on the Southbank and it’s still running strong with Polly of Novel Insights at the helm. What I loved most, and if you pop to their website here you can see this, is the diversity of what they read. It’s not just the latest hyped novels, Richard and Judy selections or classics (though there is nothing wrong with those and there are some in the mix) it really made me read outside my normal comfort zone.

I did join a few book clubs when I moved up here (and indeed will still be going to the one with the Ladies of Levenshulme and the lovely Paul Magrs) but for some reason the dates were wrong or they kept changing or I had read the book. So instead of moaning about it I decided to do something about it instead.

So guess what? After some emails and a lovely pot of tea with Lucy of Literary Relish, we have decided we are going to spawn a Manchester version. The working title is the Manchester Book Club, this is subject to change, and we have been busy bees creating a website (which is still a work in progress) and if you live near or in Manchester we will be having our first meeting, bring your favourite book, on April the 3rd. Like the Riverside Readers you don’t have to be a blogger or reviewer or anything of the kind, you just need to love books and want to recommend and try some unusual reads. That simple! We also hope to get local and not so local authors to come and talk about their books, more on that in due course.

So if you are local/ish please do go to the website for more details, we really would love to see some of you there and hope to hear from some of you soon.

If you can’t make it to Manchester I will mention the books in advance and you can always email me your thoughts and become honorary members maybe?

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