I heard on the radio yesterday or the day before – (I’m muddled about the days as I worked a night shift on Wednesday) – that to follow the trend of taking a ‘selfie’ (a photograph of one’ self, taken by oneself) we book lovers should start a trend of taking a ‘sheflie’ (a photograph of ones shelf, taken by oneself)- so maybe tomorrow, when the light’s a little better?
Anyhoo, I had a request a few weeks ago from a friend who wanted some ideas for her reading group. I promised, but hadn’t done it – so this is the result of my ‘clearing the decks’ activity… another job done…..
I have scanned the shelves and picked out a few books for suggestions for your book group. I don’t have a full list of what we have read as I have never bothered…. and as I often loan books and don’t keep track of them I have probably missed a few gems, as not all my books find their way home!
In no particular order – I have added a few we haven’t actually read as a group, but would be good for a book group to discuss.
Sebastian Faulks – we have read several of his, especially I enjoyed ‘Engleby’ – the story of a University infatuation and the outcome of this: it examines the emotional impact of a death earlier in the characters life.
‘Birdsong’ is a novel around the time of WWI (and is part of the trilogy, which I haven’t read which includes ‘Charlotte Gray’ and ‘The Girl at the Lion D’Or’) I have also read ‘A Fools Alphabet’. All his books are well written and there’s a lot to discuss.
Kazuo Ishigguro – ‘Never let me go’ was an excellent book to discuss and there’s a film of it, about a future time where clones are ‘bred’ to provide body parts– (I have read others of his including ‘Remains of the day’ about the misguided loyalties of a manservant…which was better in my view, and again there’s a film.)
Arundhati Roy – ‘The God of Small Things.’ Amazing book, full of descriptions, set in India. I bought the audio tape to listen to this one in the car. It is a complex story and plot and deserves a second reading, focussing on a relationship which is banned and the children’s part in this being revealed.
Bernhad Schlink – ‘The Reader’ about Germany after world war two, and the relationship of a younger man with an older woman. Excellent. Lots if issues and attitudes to discuss…There’s also a film, again, which was very well done. I have bought another of his books to read but haven’t yet read it: ‘Flights of Love’
Barbara Kingsolver – we read ‘The Poisonwood Bible’ about a missionary family, the Prices, who in 1959 move from Georgia to the Belgian Congo, close to the Kwilu River. The Prices’ story is narrated by the five women of the family: and reveals the misguidedness of their mission brilliantly. Voted somewhere as Britain’s favourite reading group book!
Sarah Waters – ‘Fingersmith’ I loved this book and keep intending to read more of her writing. This is set in the Victorian age and is ‘crime fiction’ of the highest order. We also read ‘Night Watch’ set in WWII which I enjoyed very much, but it was a little less well received by the group than ‘Fingersmith’. She also wrote ‘Tipping the Velvet’ which was made into a TV drama which I didn’t watch as I wanted to read the book first and have never got round to it.
Vladimar Nabikov – ‘Lolita’ – probably the best book I have ever read, it made such an impression on me and was a fantastic book to discuss as it brought up such diverse attitudes and passions. We also had the DVD of the film (there have been several but we watched the one with Jeremy Irons) which added another layer for the discussion.
Anne Enright, ‘the Gathering’ – large Irish family gathering at a wake, looking back over the life of the dead brother… something in his past which affected his whole life. A small gem, which illustrates family dynamics and tensions in deft strokes.
Julian Barnes, ‘The Sense of an Ending’ – examines how memory can play tricks on you and the recall of your life, so very well written and the ending is completely gripping. A small perfectly formed book.
Peter Carey ‘True History of the Kelly Gang’ – well written examination of the Australia outback gang, presented as though truth , but in fact a fictionalised account. Well written, but I didn’t ever quite finish it yet. It is by my bed waiting for a gap in my reading!
We also read ‘Parrot and Olivier in America’ – which I didn’t really like but was well liked in the group.
Carol Sheilds ‘Larry’s Party’ – the life of an ordinary man who is not so ordinary: he makes labyrinths. The author has excellent insights into human nature and this is what makes the book so good. I have also read others of hers, including ‘Stone Diaries’ and her ‘Collected Stories’ – a short story collection. Excellent if you like short stories.
William Trevor, ‘Love and Summer’ – again wonderful insights into human nature, and told by a gentle Irish voice, who I first knew of through his short stories. ‘The Story of Lucy Gault’ is an amazing book for book group, about a child who goes missing. (He is widely regarded as one of the greatest contemporary writers of short stories in the English language. Wikipedia)
Alessandro Baricco – ‘Silk’ a slight volume: very short and almost poetic, this made for one of the best discussions we have ever had in book group. About a merchant who travels to China for the silk trade and the relationships he forms there.
Michael Frayn – ‘Spies’ – an elderly man looking back over his life and a time during the WWII where he is told that a friend’s mother is a spy. Human relationship and dynamics are so well written here, and there are wonderful insights into life as a naïve youngster of the era. The relationship between the ‘friend’ and the boy is well drawn: bullying and class come into it.
Helen Garner – ‘The Spare Room’ – Australian author, telling the story of a friend who comes to stay in order to have access to ‘alternative therapy’ for her ‘terminal cancer’ – exceptionally well told. From Wikki “The events in the novel are based on Garner’s spending a period caring for her friend Jenya Osborne when Osborne was dying. Garner chose to use her own first name for the narrator character as she wanted to admit to the least attractive or acceptable emotions that she felt as her friend died.” I thought this was a very brave book and well written.
LP Hartley – ‘The Go Between’ – a well-known story of a poor child staying with a rich family in the holidays and through innocence and lack of social nous is involved in a deception between lovers – told retrospectively from the perspective of the old man going through his belongings.
Ian McEwan – ‘Atonement’ an interesting book which reminded me of ‘The Go Between’ is some ways – which is pleasing as that’s what the reviews said too! Lots to discuss in this. It is set pre-WWII, and then afterwards, both in England and France- and examines the need for atonement. Complex and clever. It has been turned into a film.
We have read other Ian McEwan books, notably ‘On Chisil Beach’ – which I loved, but others felt wasn’t so good – it’s ‘novella’ length book, looking at the relationship between two sexually naïve people in the 60’s. I have also just finished ‘Sweet tooth’ our latest book group book, but I had to miss the meeting. I heard it was very well liked and there’s a lot to talk about in it. A sort of spy novel, but more than that with a good twist, unexpectedly at the end.
‘Enduring Love’ (I loved this) and Saturday (really good, involving research into neurological surgery among other things). I’m a bit of an Ian McEwan fan, so I have also read the following, Amsterdam, Solar (don’t bother with this one, IMHO!) The Child in Time (a long time ago), The Cement Garden (also an long time ago) and his short stories In Between the Sheets.
John Banville – ‘The Sea’ – again a ‘looking back on childhood’ novel, again brilliantly exploring unspoken emotions of boyhood and the family he became entangled with and the effect this had on the rest of his life.
Zoe Heller – ‘Notes on a Scandal’ another one made into a film. An older female teacher wants friendship with a younger teacher, who is married. The younger teacher has an affair with a young pupil and the breakdown of relationships, the power balance and status following on from this are all well handled and told from the perspective of the near retirement age teacher, with a very disturbing undercurrent.
Ian Pears – ‘The Instance of the Fingerpost’ – this is one of the first books we read and it stands out as an excellent read. It is an historic novel starting in Oxford in 1663. ‘Every sentence in the book is as solid as brick — and as treacherous as quicksand’ – it is told by multiple narrators and each has a slightly different version of the truth which leaves the reader trying to piece everything together. I have always intended to read this again. It is so well researched and based in historical fact, but you can’t see the seams.
Joseph O’Conner – ‘Star of the Sea’ – The Star of the Sea is a ship which leaves Ireland in 1847 for New York. The 26 day journey reveals connections, and stories - and all the while those below deck are dying from starvation and those above deck are living it up as the affluent classes. Brilliantly told stories, and a gripping read.
Matthew Kneale – ‘English Passengers’ – Historical fiction again and again about a sea journey. About a journey to Tasmania from the Isle of Mann and about Tasmainia itself and some Aboriginal history thrown in. On board ship there’s contraband, and this has to be delivered on the way, while relations between the travellers unravel. So well told, and enjoyable.
Donna Tart – ‘The Secret History’ A story about a group of Classics students and a murder, told from the perspective of the ‘outsider’ of the group. It is a thriller, written by a very young author – at the time she was about 19, but it doesn’t feel as if written by such a young person. Recently discussed on R4’s ‘Book Club’ with the author and an audience.
Due to the success of that book we also read ‘The Little Friend’ by the same author, but it was nowhere near so good. She has just release a third novel, ‘The Goldfinch’ – I shall be interested to read it.
I shall stop there! I keep thinking of other books we have read… but this is probably enough. May I have a list of what you have read for ideas for our group?