Last book club was fun for all of us chatting previous and about up coming travel plans and the fact we’d all had a bit of a chuckle from the book, which was Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. I have to say it struck me as typically Prachett; quirky and absurd with a dash of surreal.
What caught my writer’s eye though, was the point in the text at which a crazy number of strands suddenly converged into one narrative. Up until then it was either intriguing or annoying depending on how you react as a reader to the constant and isolated introduction of new characters!
The bookclubbers were a bit divided depending on whether they’d made it past that point or not, and not everyone found it as funny as I did. Though they did all have a laugh at me as I retold the scene where a big, nasty hell-hound turns into a tiny, jack russell type dog, complete with inside-out ear and chuckled a lot.
It’s traditional for my book club to have an end-of-year lunch as well as a book discussion in December and, while the food and chatter might have overtaken the book stuff somewhat, we did read Burial Rites by Hannah Kent.
I found this book really interesting from a writer’s perspective. It changes from 1st person for one character to 3rd for all the others and pulls it off pretty well. The characterisation is fantastic and clearly the history well researched (without weighing it down).
In fact, the only thing I didn’t much like was that it was – in that grand literary tradition – a book in which nothing much happens. People change in small ways though and that’s fine. I cared enough about all the characters to be sad that at the end.
Possibly the book I’ve most enjoyed of our book club reads this year.
One of the things I love about the bookclub is that we select books by putting selections in a “hat” and doing a blind draw. The method keeps an alluring mystery about what we’ll read next and ensures an equal chance for all kinds of books.
My favourite things is when a book is picked and – as happened this month – two people go “that’s my suggestion!”. Sometimes they’ve come to it via entirely different routes and sometimes the same one. It’s fascinating what brings books to the attention of each of us.
The book that was picked this time is We are all completely beside ourselves which found its way into the “hat” from my hands and another bookclubber’s. I’ve been wanting to read it for ages as I know many a person who loves it, so the bookclub will give me the push to!
For the recent book club book, I ended up grabbing an audio version and it’s the first time I’ve really sat and listened to a book read in such a concentrated form. I’ve often listened to such things on the radio, but they’re always in short sections over many days/weeks, so this was quite a different experience.
I liked it. Not only did it allow me to do some weaving while I listened, but it was a nice way to get through a book about the horrors of the German occupation of France during WWII. I think I’d have found it harder to get through if I’d been reading it myself.
One thing that interested me – particularly because I listened to it in such a condensed time frame – was how often the author used the same phrases or descriptions. I probably wouldn’t have noticed them in reading the book because they were ordinary enough to slip by the eye, but the ear seems to pick them up more.
My only frustration with the audio experience was that I had it playing at the opposite end of the house to where I was weaving, so I couldn’t skip past some of the longer descriptive passages that I would skim in a book, looking for the next narrative bit!
The book The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah, is excellent. Everyone in the book club was in agreement on that. Essentially about sisters, it uses their differing experiences and responses to the occupation to show, in great detail, what happened to France during the war and the decisions that faced the people – mostly women – in the cities and villages.
In a quirk of choosing-books-from-a-hat fate, another of my suggestions got picked as the next bookclub read and it’s a favourite of mine; Farenheit 451.
Other than being quite sure this will be as popular as my last two suggestions *ahem*, what was a little disturbing was that not one person in the group knew who Ray Bradbury was. I mean, rationally I know such people exist, but after a lifetime of being surrounded by people who know his work, it was downright weird.
I began to wonder how it is that the other bookclubbers can exist in this alternate reality.
A version of 2015 where he never existed? Please beam me back to my own time-stream now.
The bookclub’s most recent book was Risk by Fleur Ferris, which is a YA novel about online predators. It is a great book and I think most adults who have kids will find it a thought-provoking read.
In the story, a girl goes to meet a guy she’s met online and her friends cover for her with the parents until they realise something’s not right. In the aftermath, the girl’s best friend is left to deal with the blame, the guilt, the helplessness and tries to make sense of it all by setting up a website to educate her peers about this kind of online risk.
The strongest aspect of the book, I think, is it’s not really about the predator, though there is valuable information in there about how they operate online. Really, it is about the attitudes and mindset of being a teen that allow predators to lure them into these kind of meetings and how friends can help protect each other.
From the reaction of my bookclub, I’d say the messages about online predators really haven’t gotten through to adults. It certainly had all of them re-considering their own online profiles and safety!
I hope that this book does speak to its teen audience too.
So another bookclub has come and gone and another one of my picks has kind of failed… well, actually, the bookclubbers all liked it, but not too many actually got to the end of it! The book was A Man Without Breath, by Philip Kerr which is essentially a crime novel, but is set in Germany and southern Russia during WWII.
When I read it, I liked that it was about a time and place where moral absolutes would get you killed and where sometimes there weren’t any “good guys”. But then, I know the history of the period so I understood the setting really well.
Most of the bookclubbers struggled to keep track of the big cast of names and to really understand / track what was going on.
It is a dense book and there is a slightly overwhelming range of characters, so some of that didn’t surprise me. I guess I was surprised that they found the plot bits confusing, but as any crit group will demonstrate… people get confused the less they have to hang their imaginings off.
I’m beginning to think everyone will groan quietly the next time one of my books comes out of the hat!