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October book group cancelled

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Hello all. Sorry but the October group is cancelled. We’ll be reading the October book in November instead (I’ve updated the list to the right). See you on the 12 November, 6.30pm. x

New term for book group!

Jackie Kay's hero, Audre Lorde. I love this picture.

Jackie Kay’s hero, Audre Lorde. I love this picture.

Summer is over, the dark nights are rolling in, there’s a, autumnal chill in the air, everyone’s back to work (lots of teachers in the ranks!), soall have a reason to be feeling a bit miserable. Luckily, for September we’d been reading Red Dust Road by Jackie Kay— a rare, joyful gem of a book which, though it didn’t TOTALLY rock everyone’s world, was universally praised for its generosity and big-heartedness. Here’s what we thought:

PROS
*We loved the way a story which could be a “tragic life story”— adoption, racism, dementia— became, in Jackie’s hands, a humane, joyful story of her search for her “roots”. A testament to her own character and her awesome (adoptive) parents that she manages all these events with such grace and lack of anger.
*Her awesome (adoptive) parents who this book is a love letter to and are the absolute stars of Red Dust Road. Their frank Scottish humour, their total love of Jackie and her brother, their honesty, their communism, their strong colourful characters— we wanted a whole book about them!
*It’s really funny.
*Deceptively easy to read, yet also poetic and conjors incredibly vivid pictures.
*Thought provoking exploration of what makes a person “themselves”.

CONS
* Some people found that because they didn’t know who Jackie was before reading the book they found it difficult to care too much about the story. I vehemently disagreed.
*The jumping back and forth in time annoyed the life out of some people and made it difficult to follow.
*A bit underwhelming. Lots of people felt that while they enjoyed the read it wouldn’t “stay with them”.

Mostly the whole book group wants to take Jackie for a drink and a natter.  Also, a special mention for a group member who became a Jackie groupie, researched her life AND read her short stories. Big gold star for you Laura!

Next time, we’re onto something totally different— a novel called How I Killed Margaret Thatcher by Anthony Cartwright. We’re doing it in October because it’s been nominated for the first Gordon Burn Prize, the result of which will be announced at this years Durham Book Festival. You can even come to the prize ceremony too! It’s well worth checking out the rest of the programme too: http://www.durhambookfestival.com/home.html

Enjoy reading and see you next time!

Weirdo: The clue’s in the name

Goths + pink fluffy tea cosies

Goths + pink fluffy tea cosies

We couldn’t have been more incongruous really, meeting at our cosy, pink, bunting-strewn new venue Serendipity Cafe to discuss a dark, gothy, crime-noir which was full of witchcraft, child prostitution and murder. Yup, this is the month we did Cathi Unsworth’s Weirdo. And it inspired love, hate and everything in between from our members. Here’s a neat surmise of our thoughts:

WHAT WE LIKED

  • The biggest thumbs up was for the sense of place (small Norfork seaside town) and time (the 80’s). Almost unanimously we thought Unsworth managed to evoke the feeling of small-town claustrophobia brilliantly and that added to the believability of characters and story.
  • The  examination of teenage-girl relationships and female transgression.
  • Corrine. We thought her story was incredibly well examined and terribly sad, particularly the “generational stigma” which she has to endure.
  • Interesting exploration of a sub-culture. And good music!
  • Very completing and readable. A page turner.
  • An interesting take on the crime genre.
  • Even those who didn’t like it were interested in reading Unsworth’s other work.

WHAT WE DIDN’T LIKE

  • The dialect. It drove everyone MAD due to its inconsistency. If you’re doing dialect JUST GO FOR IT.
  • Although some people did enjoy the split narrative, most of the group felt that the 80’s part was much more powerful and interesting than the section set in the noughties.
  • A bit unimpressed by the character of Sean- felt Unsworth fell back of private detective cliché which was a disappointment for a book which pushed the boundaries in many ways.
  • A few too many stories which went nowhere and characters that just disappeared without being fully explored.
  • Samantha’s “evil” not adequately explained.
  • The end. All felt that Unsworth lost confidence in the end chapter and neatly summed everything up. Not necessary, we thought.

And we’ve got another cheerful one for next month, The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers, set during the Iraq war. I’m really looking forward to it. At least we’ll have cocktails in teapots, cake and cheese toasties to offset the (possible) gloom.

We’re moving!

Check out the cakes!! Not the only reason we're moving BUT A VERY BIG PART OF IT!

Check out the cakes!! Not the only reason we’re moving BUT A VERY BIG PART OF IT!

After a very pleasant year at the Royalty Theatre, we’ve decided to up sticks and move to a new venue! We’re off to Serendipity Tea and Trinkets at Fredrick Street (right in the town centre). It’s gorgeous- all bunting and vintage chic- and I’m reliably informed they do a mean cheese toastie and cocktails in teapots. The lovely owners are going to open up for us specially. I think I’m going to like this place….

Our new home  does mean that our regular night is shifting from the second Tuesday of the month to the second TUESDAY. And because I wont have to bring tupperware and make tea, we’ll be able to get started at 6.30pm. Everything else will continue as usual with our usual blend of highbrow discussion and filthy jokes. Hope you can come! x

Glasshopper: Neither like nor dislike

Sometimes it’s hardest to do a good book group when most people think a book is just “okay”. I think we felt that a bit this month- Glasshopper proved pleasant but not inspiring. I get a bit wound up about books like this, so we ended up talking about other books and drinking wine. This was the gist of what we thought: 

 

UnknownWHAT WE LIKED

  • We generally all liked it, in a muted sort of way (except Kelly who HATED it). 
  • The characters, in particular those in the the 80’s/ Jake section were well drawn. There was lots of tiny detail which lots of us recognised.
  • Described as “easy to read” and well written.
  • Sympathetic treatment of depression/ alcoholism, and interesting how both things are viewed and treated differently depending on the gender of the sufferer.
  • Very effective use of a split narrative, which sometimes can be a bit gimmicky but here was used to brilliant effect. The jumping back and forward in time and between jake and his mother  demonstrated effectively and movingly the effect of one generation has on another.

WHAT WE DIDN’T LIKE

  • We were mainly a bit underwhelmed- it was described (very aptly) as “pedestrian”. It was like it had been designed by committee for book group discussions. 
  • Most thought the book lost the plot (literally and metaphorically) when it moved to France. The fervent defenders of the book argued that they read it as a kind of “dream sequence”/ ending but the rest were entirely unconvinced!
  • The end. What? Why, after the event (trying desperately not to do spoilers!), did everyone just carry on as if  everything was okay? We weren’t convinced. Though admittedly couldn’t come up with a convincing alternative…
  • Most of us less endeared to the Mary side of the story.
  • We felt that it was a bit too “plotty” toward the end (EVERYONE was sleeping with EVERYONE and having illegitimate kids all over the place) and maybe the book needed a better final edit/ paring down. It has that “first novel” feeling that everything and the kitchen sink has been chucked at it.

The funniest thing about the meeting was the fact that Hit Girls has now become book group short hand for everything that is bad. There was a lot of “Well, I didn’t like [Character A/ a plot point/ a particular use of language] but at least it wasn’t Hit Girls. I can see this is going to keep us amused for a long time

Hit Girls: Not a, erm, hit

Okay, this is an exaggeration but I REALLY DIDNT LIKE THIS BOOK

Okay, this is an exaggeration but I REALLY DIDNT LIKE THIS BOOK


I generally don’t read crime books and so it’s perhaps unfair that I get to be the one writing up our review of “Hit Girls”. I have no idea whether it’s a good or bad example of the genre. I just know I didn’t think this was a good book. And roughly two thirds of the group agreed. I don’t like slagging things off, so I’ll be brief.

WHAT WE LIKED

  • Those book group members who like crime books generally liked it. Even I wanted  to know what happened. So, it’s compelling (if you can get past the misogyny and violence and bad writing).
  • Pinkie
  • Described as a good “holiday read”
  • The setting- a really good sense of Hackney. The writer clearly “knows her stuff”
  • Good to try crime in book group. Even I agreed with this. When else would I get to read “Hit Girls”?

WHAT WE DIDN’T LIKE

  • Oh my god, where do I start?
  • The writing- very reliant on cliche. Too much exposition. “Clunky”.
  • The characters- mainly stereotypes.
  • The setting (about half the group TOTALLY disagreed and thought you got no real sense of this being in any particular place)
  • Appalling misogyny and violence
  • The “ozzie”

My overwhelming feeling about this book was that  it’s entirely “functional”; it sticks entirely within the conventions of a genre and aims to “do a job” (i.e. wants to tell a complicated, bloody story, using the types of characters you find in a book like this). And maybe that’s okay. After I’d got through absolutely HATING the book (about the first third), I did find that I wanted to know what happened and so maybe it is successful? For what it’s worth, I thought it was a shame that a writer who knows the world she writes about so intimately doesn’t want to push beyond the cliches and the stereotypes and give us a bit more. I’d LOVE to read a book about the Hackney underworld which felt real and had some depth; this wasn’t it. I want more from a book.

Nevermind, onwards and upwards and onto “Glasshopper” by Isabel Ashdown. I have a feeling this might be a bit different…

Not quite “The Most Beautiful Thing”…

Valentines biscuits- sadly, tastier than the book...

Valentines biscuits- sadly, tastier than the book…

Rather appropriately for Valentines Day, our February book was called “The Most Beautiful Thing”.  But although it did generate a whole load of brilliant discussion covering mental illness, Amsterdam and our relationships with our mum’s (eek), ultimately it was a book that promised rather more than it delivered, with lots of interesting threads that never quite came together. We did enjoy the heart shaped Jammie Dodgers though… WHAT WE LIKED

  • Really intelligent portrayal of mental illness- Joe’s depression and breakdown, possible Asperger’s/autism, very believably and sensitively depicted. Interesting to get  “inside Joe’s head”.
  • The character of Nell- very unusual and dynamic female character who felt like the book’s central figure.
  • The web of dysfunctional relationships and a real sense of how one bad relationship can cause another another.
  • The death. We didn’t see it coming. Some liked it come didn’t.

WHAT WE DIDN’T LIKE

  • WHERE WAS THE PLOT?! Many found reading the book intensely frustrating, because so many interesting things were touched on and happened “off-stage” but nothing much actually happened in the book.
  • Most characters (except Joe and Nell) underdeveloped.
  • The two part structure. Although some liked the first section and others the second, we all agreed that there was a disconnect between the young and old Joe.
  • The ending; it was all a bit unbelievable, and felt that Nell’s death was a device so Joe could “recover”.
  • Really felt like a first novel- overdeveloped in some places, underdeveloped in others- and could have done with a bit more editing.

All in all, SOME good stuff but mainly not brilliant (although, interestingly, most people said they’d read whatever she read next). For the next meeting we’re straying from our usual territory and trying a crime novel, on the recommendation of Sharon who heard the author, Dreda Say Mitchell, speak at the 2012 Durham Book Festival. I NEVER read crime novels and am looking forward to trying something different. Hurrah! See you there.