Archive for July, 2009

Secret book stalking

Andre Kertesz

Andre Kertesz

Don’t suppose anyone saw the beautiful sequence of photos by Andre Kertesz featured in the Guardian’s G2 section last week? He sounds like an incredibly interesting bloke- born in Budapest at the turn of the last century, he was completely fascinated by reading and devoted much of his photographic career to taking sneaky pictures of people engrossed in a book. It struck a chord with me because they are not only utterly lovely to look at but I also share a similar curiosity- when I see someone reading, I just can’t take my eyes off them. It’s just something about that unique mixture of concentration and enjoyment- I find it really compelling… but then that’s also quickly followed by an overwhelming desire to interrupt them and ask them what they’re reading, which instantly ruins the whole effect. Probably lucky that I’m not a photographer

I wouldn’t have noticed if anyone had been taking pictures of me recently, as I have spent the last week completely absorbed in an unexpectedly fabulous book. As someone who gets through quite a few books a month (work and pleasure!), I am liable to speed-read and am fairly difficult to impress but this really worked. It’s called The Rapture and it’s by Liz Jensen, a kind of apocalyptic dystopian fantasy crossed with an utterly realistic and disturbing psychological thriller. It will make a great film. Not my usual thing at all (and the cover is hideous) but it just shows that you never can tell. And it’s a possibility for a future book group book, so I’m currently in a quandary about whether I should talk about it at the meeting next week (and risk spoilers) or whether I should play it safe and opt for an old favourite…

Hope you’re all sorted for the August meeting- the format’s going to be  slightly different and the idea is to bring along a book that’s made an impression on you (good OR bad)  that you want to tell the world about. I’m also thinking of compiling a summer books quiz but we’ll see if I get round to it (so much to do!!!). So see you all next Wednesday (5th August) at 6pm in Bar Justice. News of new venue then too…. xxx

A topical poetic thought….

Summer Dawn

My sleeping children are still flying dreams
in their goose-down heads.
The lush of the river singing morning songs
Fish watch their ceilings turn sun-white.
The grey-green pike lances upstream
Kale, like mermaid’s hair
points the water’s drift.
All is morning hush
and bird beautiful.

I only,
I didn’t have flu.

Spike Milligan



Another fine mess (but a good book!)

On the move again...

On the move again...

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a completely problem-free book group meeting? Once again (and I hope I’m sounding suitably peeved), we seem to have been rendered homeless by the gremlin that follows us around closing cafes as soon as we’re about to use them. Thankfully, you are all old hands at this game now and we found another suitable venue just around the corner so a crisis was averted but I know that this really isn’t the ideal situation and I for one won’t be too happy if it happens again. I’m currently on the hunt for a new reliable home and am following up the suggestions that came up at the meeting and exploring another few. By our September meeting I absolutely promise that I will have somewhere permanent but for our “summer drinks and reads” meeting the plan is to meet at Bar Justice again.

And, though it took us a while to get going, the discussion of the book was well worth the wait. Wide Sargasso Sea was a departure for us- the first time we had tried a “classic”- and I was worried that we might feel a bit wary about criticising it in the way we have some of the newer books we’ve tackled. Thankfully though we had the usual gamut of opinion- everything from loving to loathing- though I think most people could understand how it gained its classic status. Everyone loved the idea of the book- to “re-imagine” a classic text from a different point of view- and really admired the way Rhys had obviously used many of her own experiences in such a unique and creative way. The character of Antoinette also provoked much discussion with most people agreeing it to be a very affecting and disturbing account of the effect of place, history and circumstance on a woman caught in her situation. That terrible, recurring feeling of isolation and of “not being able to win” was widely sympathised with.

How much all of these ideas worked in practice was more in dispute- many people had become frustrated with the Rochester character and done a bit of page skipping through his sections. Some of the themes and the unremitting bleakness of the novel also came under fire, criticised by some as being a bit too laboured. I wonder whether this is because the ideas that Rhys was pioneering- post-colonialism, madness being imposed rather than innate, playing with narratives- have become so commonplace now that it does seem a bit like hard work in its original form? Perhaps. I also thought it was really interesting that we could spend so long discussing what actually happened in the novel- who were some of the characters, what did some things mean, did this actually happen?- and still not really know (though I do know this makes lots of people want to tear out their hair too…). All in all, most people were glad they’d given it a shot but agreed it was not one they’d be rushing to read again.

And, in the spirit of book-loving friendship, we agreed to forgo our summer break and meet at Bar Justice instead for a “summer reads and drinks” party instead. So get re-reading for next month- one you love, a classic that needs debunking or the one which got you reading- and be prepared to tell all in August. See you then. xxxx

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

July 2009
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