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Sunday 5 September 2021

If you have joined in our Booker Book Groups in the past few years, you'll remember our collective frustration at wanting to read all the titles in the longlist for the prize but finding many of the books to be unavailable. 

When authors are gaining this extraordinary attention, it's a shame that the publishers are unable to act quickly enough to capitalise on the interest by providing the quantities of books clearly needed.

Although it is to be hoped that an author's career will see continuing rewards from this recognition, and although we are always acknowledging that reading is a solitary act, there is something to be said for us to be enjoying a book, or a list of books, together, in the moment, and it's a shame that this has often proved so difficult. 

Last week I saw that there was an abundance of copies of one of the Booker longlisted titles available as a paperback and thought that this would make a good choice for our regular book group meeting, later this month. Three days after selecting it, however, the publisher had sold out and a reprint will take another couple of weeks.

How will we feel when we are eventually able to obtain copies of the book? Will the wait have enhanced our sense of expectation and excitement? Or will we have moved on to the next 'big thing'?

There has been a great deal of hype ahead of the new Sally Rooney novel, which is released on Tuesday. Will you be racing to get a copy, to be among the first to read it? Or will you wait to see what others say about it before launching in?

Amidst all this publishing frenzy (and take a look at Tom Gauld's cartoon in this week's Guardian here), our book group for September will now be something completely different (scroll down for details).

And our Booker Book Group will take the shortlist as its focus this year in the hope that all the titles will be available to us as soon as they are revealed on 15 September (details about joining the discussion will be available soon).

In the meantime, I hope you'll find the two titles I've recommended this week on the shelves in your favourite independent bookshop, and if they're not, they'll be worth the wait, I assure you!

Thank you for reading.


Sunday 29 August 2021

Tomorrow evening the book group will be meeting for what I hope willl be the last time online.

The Zoom technology has served us well in the past 16 months but I know most people are ready to put it behind us and meet in person again.

It seems rather overdue to be looking at this subject now, but Michael Rosen discussed online communication in Radio Four's Word of Mouth programme recently, highlighting how we've had to adopt and respond to new triggers regarding body language when we're viewing each other on a screen.

There are so many things we have taken for granted in regular social interaction and etiquette, which through Zoom and other video communication tools we've come to acknowledge and reevaluate.

I was reassured by listening to the programme that our Zoom book group meetings have featured good practice in many areas! But it was interesting to hear how we've all had to adopt certain mannerisms to counter the failings of online communication.

Eye contact has been defined by whether our computer camera is positioned correctly, the 'raise the hand' button is causing us to feel we're going back to school, and even waving to say goodbye at the end of a session is exaggerating something normally conveyed with a smile.

So if you'd like to try out the online body language at book group for - and again I say - we hope, the last time, let me know by replying to this email and I'll send you the details to log in to Zoom tomorrow evening at 8pm.

Thank you for reading.


Sunday 22 August 2021

Apparently we're ready for the Coronavirus pandemic to feature in our novel reading. This autumn a number of big name authors are releasing work inspired by the past 18 months.

I remember a debate a little while ago where publishers and authors considered when it might be appropriate or desirable for this global crisis to feature as entertainment or distraction.

It wasn't something I thought I'd be eager to explore. However, having recently received advance copies of three novels soon to be released, I succumbed to curiousity and have been both surprised and a little perturbed.

The novels were variously a murder mystery (Louise Penny 'The Madness of Crowds'), a literary novella on community and survival (Sarah Moss 'The Fell') and a romantic blockbuster celebrating the human spirit (Jodi Picoult 'Wish You Were Here').

Each one proved gripping, consuming and thought-provoking in different ways.

It's right that we look to novels to investigate moral dilemmas, to feel empathy for decisions and responses opposed to our own, and to be introduced to new experiences.

But when a crisis has affected, and continues to affect, so many people so deeply, it feels insensitive to rattle on about the characterisation or the scene-setting when the plot delves into covid deaths, mental illness, isolation and financial hardship, or the morality of euthanasia.

Or is the novel the perfect environment to ponder these issues in a safe space?

Thank you for reading.

Sunday 15 August 2021


The weather has been changeable, unpredictable and largely disappointing in Britain this summer but we can be grateful not to have experienced the extreme conditions of wild fires and flash floods taking place in so many countries throughout the world.

After the years of debating, denying and procrastinating, the reality of climate change is confronting us each day. It becomes rather overwhelming.

I've been pleased, then, to discover, 'Positive News' magazine looking at 'what went right this week' with reports of encouraging environmental developments and points to action in what we as individuals can do to make a difference.

And my reading this week also gave a positive and optimistic approach to the climate crisis.

'The Future We Choose' states that "as we tune in to the raw emotion, many of us will undergo a dark, unsettling period of despair, but we cannot allow it to erode our capacity to courageously mobilise for transformation".

Instead of presenting an apocalyptic view of what might be in store, the authors take one chapter to describe a future as it might be if we take certain remedial actions now. Another section looks at how changing our mindsets can bring positive political actions, and build communities rather than preserve individual goals and ambitions. I read the book quickly, so am eager to return to process the details and to set my own action plan.

On other matters... I will be at FolkEast at Glemham Halll on Saturday 21 August, interviewing the writer Wendy Holden who worked with the inspirational Captain Tom on his autobiography last year. We will be speaking at 2pm and you can find out more about the festival here.

And thank you to everyone who has responded to the opportunity for the Booker 2021 Book Group. I plan to arrange a date for this discussion after the shortlist is announced on 14 September so will confirm the details in the next few days. If you haven't yet responded, but would like to be involved, please reply to this email. This meeting will be in person, all being well, as I am in the last throes of confirming a venue.


Sunday 8 August 2021

Do you ever find that you get to the bottom of a page of a book and can't recall anything of what you've just read?!

There are lots of reasons why this happens to me but this weekend I found that I was enjoying a book so much, I couldn't get enough of it and was thinking of all the other novels I could read by this author whom I'd just discovered!

I soon pulled myself together, reread the page and determined to remain in the moment before investigating what I might read next.

There have been so many fantastic books published lately and with the longlist for the Booker Prize recently revealed, that's another pile of new titles and authors to explore.

As a result I rarely make an opportunity to reread old favourites. However, the benefits of doing so were spelt out in an article in the Guardian this weekend when the reviewer wrote of revisiting Catch 22. Friends have also been telling me about the titles they've returned to for consolation, escape and enjoyment ('I Capture the Castle' by Dodie Smith was mentioned and prompted me immediately to look up those opening lines again). And there have been tv programmes which have inspired me to turn to familiar authors such as Ernest Hemingway and F Scott Fitzgerald, featured in Write Around the World with Richard E. Grant.

With the weather, and the world, so unpredictable at the moment, perhaps familiar, favourite reads are a tonic for the coming days and weeks?!

Thank you for reading.