Archive for June, 2009

Good Clean Fun

book_swap_banner_blogOnly a week to go before the next book group meeting and I’m already itching to talk about Wide Sargasso Sea, which I’ve been totally absorbed by this weekend. Me and this book have a bit of a chequered history- I did it (twice!!) at university, labouring long and joylessly over two “Jean Rhys and feminism” essays, and so for me the book has a slightly institutional aura. There’s nothing like a series of awkward seminars to strip a book of its appeal… Consequently, I have been putting it off and came to it on Saturday with a slightly heavy heart. Surprisingly though, I’ve found it a really easy read but much more disturbing than I remember. We certainly shouldn’t run out of things to discuss. I’m still not sure whether I actually like it but that’s something I plan on mulling over before next week.

 However, I am really looking forward to our inaugural BOOK SWOP. I’ve  already amassed a “bag for life” full of paperbacks to get rid of and that’s just skimming the surface- a year of reviewing books and you build up quite a surplus. Free, eco-friendly and a crafty way of getting lovely new things- what’s not to like? The future starts in Sunderland!

 Actually, there are a few booky things coming up on our patch. The Read Regional campaign is underway, heralding some rather fabulous North Eastern writers (check the events page for more details). As part of this, some of these lovely authors will be appearing (in a tepee!!) at the International Friendship Festival (that’s the Kite festival to you and me) on the 4th and 5th July, along with other book related activities and giveaways. I’ll be going on about it at length next week I’m sure but there’s a bit of advance warning for you folks.

 See you all next week, armed with bags of books and opinions please! Happy reading.

One of those lightbulb moments..

I don’t seem to have been anywhere very long this week. This is not very conducive to reading- rather shamefully, I’ve still not started my recap of Wide Sargasso Sea – but my head has been full of book group business. On Wednesday I went along to a course in Newcastle organised by the Reader Organisation, an organisation based in Liverpool that I hadn’t heard of before last week ( That seems quite unbelievable now- it’s one of those strange serendipitous moments when you find out that people on opposite sides of the country are pursing remarkably similar goals. They coordinate all sorts of reading related activities but much of core of their work is a network of reading groups, many in unexpected places (drug rehab, age concern, sure start etc.) and they were catapulted into the spotlight when Blake Morrison wrote a very interesting article about them in the Guardian last year (see link below). Their technique is a bit different to ours- they meet weekly and actually do the reading aloud in the group, a short story, a few poems or they work their way through a novel a chapter at a time. Obviously not all of their method is useful to us (don’t fear!) but I was struck by the common aims; the wonders of reading, concentration on the book and the encouragement of a diversity of views- the idea that a book isn’t a problem to “solve” with a right or wrong answer but something to explore and enjoy. So I might sneak a few new ideas next session and see how they go down. Prizes for those who spot them.

As I say, I have been sadly negligent and I’m going to get down to some serious Jean Rhys this weekend. I have been flicking through some of the reviews of the new Rhys biography that I gave out last meeting though- she had quite a rock n roll/ tragic life! It might be interesting to think about what effect this knowledge has on our reaction to the book- does it aid or hinder our understanding? Do you like to know background r would you prefer just to read? It’s a vexed question and I’d love to know what you think.

Anyway, I’m off to get reading. I just wonder whether this week’s going to let me…

Alice and Claire and Us

SDC11729Crikey- that was exciting. A really fun book group meeting and a visit from a lovely author to boot- what a way to spend a Wednesday evening! I think we all really appreciated Alice taking the time to come along- for all we’re a pretty unthreatening lot, it still must be really daunting to sit down with a group of people who’ve got opinions on your work- so many thanks to Alice. I’ve also (finally) got some photos of you all, so here you are in glorious Technicolor…

I think we all got a lot out of the experience as well. Whether you loved or loathed the book, an author’s perspective gave a whole different perspective to Welcome to Life. Who’d of thought that the novel began with polygamy rather than Freya? And that it was almost set in Newcastle? And who had any idea what a literary agent actually does? (And, more importantly, that Barnston was a hotbed of wife-swapping activity??? The confessions a book can elicit…). I was surprised to realise how wedded I still am to that Romantic idea of a writer- that a work somehow emerges complete from a writers consciousness. In reality, it is so much more alive with inputs and possibilities – so many decisions to be made, so many different ways it could go. I think it made us all see that writing is a process rather than a result-  and that it’s achievement that anything ever gets published at all.

 Though we all loved Alice, reactions to the book itself were, as usual, a SDC11732mixed bunch. Some people enjoyed its light touch and empathised with the characters; others found it superficial and felt many of the characters didn’t quite ring true. As I predicted, there were some strong reactions to Millie (only me sticking up for her- what’s wrong with a woman that wants things, ladies?) and our valiant lone male felt a bit let down by the males in the novel. All were disappointed by the ending but, interestingly, no one could think of another way out. But at least everyone had something to say which puts it higher than Out Stealing Horses in our Top of the Pops chart!

Other end of the scale this month- a Penguin Modern Classic no less. And plenty of weighty issues in this one, if that’s what you’re all after. I read it for university and, while I enjoyed it, it’s a bit tainted by the circumstances, so I’m looking forward to reading it with fresh eyes. Let me know what you all think….

About the group

Sunderland Book Group meets on the third Wednesday of every month at 6pm at Holmeside Coffee in Sunderland.

If you would like more information about what the group is reading, please visit

June 2009
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