Four reasons to join a Library Book Group

Did you know there are many Book Discussion Scheme book clubs meeting once a month in different libraries all over town?

One good reason to join a book group you get to meet new people. Many book groups start with a group of already established friends but there is much to be said for joining a group of people from different backgrounds – your book list will reflect diverse interests.  Another reason –  you will read books you don’t normally read. Some books you’ll love and some you may leave you conflicted. Did I like that? Is that really how people behave? Does the author really bring a true account of the period? Are the characters rendered realistically? We learn and grow in knowledge and what better place to do that than in a library. Every second Wednesday of the month our Central Library Peterborough book group meets at midday.

The Madonnas of Leningrad book cover The Mermitage 250 Masterworks Shostakovich Symphony No. 7 Leningrad cover

This month’s title The Madonnas of Leningrad is all about the Siege of Leningrad through the eyes of Marina, a guide at the State Hermitage Museum. It become clear her children have never understood this period of her life which has shaped the person she is. We see how much is hidden inside ourselves. You would think a book about the dehumanizing effects of war would be depressing yet it shows the resilience of mankind and the importance of finding beauty to the human spirit.

As her granddaughter looks to her future and prepares to marry. Marina is spending more and more time in her past due to the ravages of Alzheimers. She begins to rediscover the world seeing it anew as a child might, everthing new and wondrous. Borrow The Madonnas of Leningrad yourself or download an eBook  from Overdrive, take a look at the Hermitage’s masterpieces and listen to Shostokovich’s Seventh Symphony which was composed during the siege from our Naxos Music Library and read Sarah Quigley’s The Conductor inspired by these events. There’s plenty more to read if you like Russian historical fiction or you might like Still Alice for another novel exploring what it means to have Alzheimers (it is also available as an Overdrive eBook).

The Crimson Rooms book coverIf evenings are more your thing, every second Tuesday of the month our group meets at six o’clock at Central Library Peterborough. This month we are reading The Crimson Rooms by Katherine McMahon set just after World War One as women’s roles are changing. The main character is a feisty lady lawyer is juggling the demands of family against her independence. This detective novel is a good clean read.

Last month we read A Guide to the Birds of East Africa, a veA Guide to the birds of East Africary Alexander McCall Smith-like novel on ethics of competition and courtship. This book is a real treat with a great insight to human behaviour. Even if you are no avid bird watcher you may find you are intrigued to find out more about the birds of Africa to see if these birds truly caricature some of these characters! Listen to their calls while reading for something really atmospheric from our Smithsonian Global Sounds for libraries.

Why not join our book group at Central Library Peterborough or look for book groups and author events on our calendar at other libraries around the city.

Do you belong to a library book club? What are you reading this month?

Morning tea for forty three: WORD Christchurch

Diane Setterfield, Eleanor Catton and Roberta Smith

I had tea with Eleanor Catton and Diane Setterfield on Saturday morning at WORD. Well, myself and about forty other Book Discussion Scheme members, that is.

Morrin Rout hosted the event, armed with a long list of questions submitted by BDS convenors. I loved that the event kicked off with a chat about hairstyles – just like every book club I have ever belonged to! Diane’s was described as “artfully tousled” and Morrin’s as “strangely thatched.” Eleanor, her beautiful sleek long locks flowing down each side of her face, just smiled enigmatically.

Here’s how it went:

How has your background and upbringing influenced your writing?

Diane said she was the first person in her family to go to university. She had been a voracious reader as a child, but her family was unschooled. She always keeps her mother in mind as her sole reader. This gives her books a wide readership range.

Eleanor comes from a family of readers – there was no TV in her home. She credits her brother’s reaction to a short story she wrote when she was 7 or 8 years old with her writing rule: always to see your work as your detractors might see it.

How do you get into the minds of people who are not your age, gender or nationality?

Bellman and blackDiane (The Thirteenth Tale and Bellman and Black): It helps if you are a shy, quiet observer. Observation and listening make up seventy-five percent of the work. Always stretch a bit beyond what you believe you are capable of. The rest is a kind of magic.

The Luminaries is such a complex novel, how on earth did it come about?

Eleanor: I knew I wanted to write a historic novel about the West Coast gold rush (1864-1867). Overall it took me five years, and there were long periods of incubation in that time. I found a wonderful website called Solarium where you can see the exact position of the planets and the sun, moon and stars for any date in the past. For two weeks I studied the skies over Hokitika for the three year period in which I was was interested. In particular, I noticed Mercury (which represents trickery and deceit). So in a way, the story had been constellated for me. But it was a real headache to write and I have many, many folders in my computer under the heading Luminaries!

Where did you get your ideas for these two books?  What were your influences?

Diane: The Bellman and Black book began from listening to the radio (BBC Desert Island Discs, to be precise!) The radio is where all good books should start, in my opinion! Then I wanted to write a ghost story where a really robust character is haunted, but set it somewhere unscary. So the question becomes – is he mad or is he haunted? I was also fascinated by the vast London emporiums of mourning paraphernalia. Oh, and I always knew, from way back, that I would write about a character called William Bellman.

The LuminariesEleanor: Jung got me thinking about Astrology.

At what point in the writing of your book did you know what the title would be?

Eleanor: Right at the very start of the book I knew it would be called The Luminaries.

Diane: I only worked out the title right at the end!

What books are you reading now?

Eleanor: The Golden Bough – A Study in Magic and Religion

At this point I had a balancing meltdown with my muffin, my coffee, my notepad and pen and I missed Diane’s answer. If any reader who was at this event can remember Diane’s answer, or indeed can add any more information to this blog, just  comment below!

Because of the small number of invited guests (thanks Book Discussion Scheme), I felt more connected to these two authors than I would have done in a large packed venue. And, as a result,  I feel inspired  to read both The Luminaries and Bellman and Black. You can’t say better than that now can you?

Less is more?

When you read a short story, you come out a little more aware and a little more in love with the world around you. ~George Saunders.

I have always enjoyed reading short stories, most probably because I have the attention span of a gnat coupled with a huge need to dissect and psychoanalyze given situations to their ‘bare bones’. Well, nobody’s perfect…

Cover of Summer LiesAt a recent Book Discussion Scheme Bookclub the members (including myself) were given Summer Lies by Bernhard Schlink to read – a very good example of this genre – several short stories of exceptional quality.

Schlink’s characters are all so believable that it is quite frightening at times. They have lived the majority of their lives; spun their dreams; lived through their hopes, fears and ambitions – they have a history which, given that the majority of them are in late Middle Age or the ‘Autumn’ years, naturally provides the platform for reflection in these stories. I proceeded with the last story first – just love to live my life ‘On The Edge’! – and was instantly gripped by The Journey to the South.

I could understand and – if not exactly empathize – certainly see how Nina had become disappointed in life because of the decisions she’d made at an earlier time. The wistful ‘If only’ factor is such a common human behaviour when diverse personalities start to reflect on their earlier years. Her inability to face the truth behind her earlier decisions in life now unsettle her. It is only when she forces herself to view her actions objectively that she does become happier.

Cover of Don't Panic, Head for the HillsThe library has short stories literally throwing themselves off the shelves.  Simply typing in ‘short stories’ in the catalogue search box brought up a staggering 4356 results – I was so overwhelmed I quickly started applying ‘filters’ to keep the whole exercise manageable.

I immediately relate to the catchy, pithy titles  such as Don’t Panic, Head for the Hills or Shallow Are the Smiles at the Supermarket (what a truism), but always make time tor revisit my perennial favourites  such as The Moon and Sixpence by W. Somerset Maugham; The Grass Harp by Truman Capote and The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. What a choice!  And not only in book form – for those of you who prefer listening to reading, short stories on audiobooks in a number of different formats abound.

Who else out there in ‘reading land’ has a particular short story favourite they might want to share with others?

The book club years

A book about book clubs

After all the studying, the OE, and the child rearing – if you are anything like me, you will wake up one day and know that you want more. You want to read again. You want to talk to people about something other than breastfeeding and toilet training. It comes to you in a flash – you will join a book club.

You are not alone in this. Curious as to how many book clubs there are in Christchurch, I phoned around the local bookstores, contacted the WEA Book Discussion Scheme and, finally, sucked the left hand opposable digit. I estimate that Christchurch has at least 300 clubs, with an average of 10 members each: that’s over 3000 book clubbers. There’s even a male book club, but no mixed gender book clubs that I know of ….yet.

With so many of them around, you’d think it would be like falling off a blog to join a ready-made group. But over 30 years, in three book clubs (Cape Town, Durban and Christchurch) I’ve always had to start them from scratch. Need some help with this? Have a look at Christchurch City Libraries’ new book clubs web page which is full of useful tips.

What’s the appeal? It’s the discovery and sharing of great reads and new authors. But there is a lot more to it than that. For starters, creating your own book group means that you have a degree of event control beyond your wildest dreams. I have three non-negotiables:

  • I will not bake for my book club meeting
  • That said, I like a book club where all the other members are great bakers
  • And this is the weird one: I will not read Jodi Picoult (the reasons for this are shrouded in the mists of time and don’t bear terribly close scrutiny)

Truth is: it’s your book club, you can do what you like. You can read prizewinning authors or trashy romances, meet in cafés or at home, eat vegan snacks, drink only red wine, have no books at all and use only e-readers. All you need is a small group of reasonably like-minded readers and you are on your way. Besides the obvious book talk, a book club can be a comfort through life’s challenging times: raising kids, divorces, marriages, career switches and ageing parents. We’re getting older ourselves – at last month’s meeting, arthritis had its little moment in the spotlight.

There are even books  about book clubs:

Even though we don’t always agree on a book (and passions can run high), my book club is my Happy Place and my book club ladies, world-wide, are my friends. You can’t say better than that now, can you?