LIKE many keen readers, I belong to a book group. I’ve been with the same crowd of friends for many years, enjoying not just their company but their choice of books, too.
Or that’s my story if asked. But since you are asking, and no doubt expecting a truthful response, I don’t always enjoy the books.
I know one of the reasons for reading a book that someone else has picked for you to read is to have your eyes opened and your mind expanded by a different experience, being forced off straight lines and into new territory. That’s the theory.
In practice, my book group almost always plays it safe. Nothing too experimental or cutting-edge. No modern black writing, no exploration of feminist issues, nothing likely to challenge us too much. It’s comfortable stuff, in the main, so we get plenty of Margaret Forster (no complaints, she’s great, but do let’s move on a bit, please) and recently were tasked with grinding through to the end of a overly-long historical romance by Andrea Trigiani. I didn’t manage it, I’m afraid. In fact I didn’t even bother to get hold of a copy to start the heart-sinking task.
Before the groupies’ meeting where we were due to discuss the book, I conducted a brief debate with myself on what would be the best thing to do. Should I check out the reviews on Amazon and cobble together my own response from that research, or admit I couldn’t face it and risk being regarded as a book-snob?
I chose the latter, and wasn’t drummed out. In fact, I don’t think anyone really cared, which just goes to show how little notice they must take of me when I do express an opinion on a book.
My groupie mate Liz and I seem to be the only members who ever choose books written by male authors. A couple of my favourites, which thankfully everyone enjoyed when I chose them, were Revolutionary Road, by Richard Yates (I could read it 100 times and never tire of its clever, chilling and penetrating spotlight on suburban mid–1950s America) and J.G Farrell’s Troubles, winner of the so-called Lost Booker Prize 40 years after it was written in 1970.
Liz introduced us to Stefan Schweig in his wonderful The Post Office Girl, and we recently read one of her choices, Lost for Words, a satire of the literary world, by Edward St Aubyn, which is an absolute little masterpiece of exquisite writing and memorably dotty characters. These books will, I know, linger with me for a long time, which is the best result one could wish for as a reader – especially a reader of someone else’s choices.