I first heard about reading groups from Helen Cooke some years ago at an Activate conference. Moving to Dorset and trying to meet new friends gave me the opportunity to join a local group. I loved it!! I am now a member of two local groups and I set up a third at my son’s school as a way of getting to know other mums better. All the groups meet once every six weeks or so, meaning that I usually have three books on the go at any one time. Living a full life with three kids, a part time job and helping with Activate means that I rarely get ‘free time’ to read but somehow having the groups gives me permission to enjoy reading and most months it is not a problem finishing the books. I always enjoy the get togethers, meeting a wide range of women from different walks of life and a variety of view points. Some of them share my faith and go to the same church, most don’t and the conversations and issues we share are never dull and often heated.
I know there are others out there who are involved in reading groups. I would love to hear your stories of books that you would recommend, that initiated great discussions and ones to avoid.
My favourite so far from the last four years is ‘We Need To Talk About Kevin’ by Lionel Shriver. This was a gripping but harrowing read, raising all kinds of issues about parenting, teenage angst, violence, forgiveness and murder. We didn’t all like the book but we were still discussing it two hours into the night. I look forward to hearing your favourites…

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  • Jan Harney

    Our group meets on the third Thursday of each month and if there are 5 Thursdays then we have a film night as well and more often than not we tie a film and book together, which gives a further opportunity to discuss characterisations, how faithful the film was to the book etc.

    If everyone turns up there are 12 of us, which is probably maximum capacity. We agree on the next title at the end of each session.Recently we read The Lovely Bones which most of the group didn’t enjoy, but it did inspire deep discussion.Our reading of this book coincided with the arrest of Jon Venables and some of the media coverage was drawn into our discussion.

    As we had previously covered several serious books (The Color Purple, The Time-Traveller’s wife, Cold Comfort Farm) we decided to read some chick-lit and settled on The Undomestic Goddess by Sophie Kinsella, which was a surprise hit. Some of the girls said they would never have picked it up but had laughed out loud when reading it. Others declared it the best read so far.

    This week we’ll be discussing ‘Notes on a Scandal’ by Zoe Heller which is clearly NOT a barrel of laughs but should inspire an animated discussion.Like Mandy I can thoroughly recommend it for building relationships.

  • Mandy Catto

    Just finished another excellent book. It is by Lorna Landvik with the delicious title above and follows a group of women who form a reading group and stick together through the ups and downs of life for forty years. Much more lighthearted and less intense than the ‘ need to talk about Kevin’ , nevertheless, the issues faced by the women are mostly realistic and touched a few raw nerves within me. Over some tasty themed snacks these women face up to issues including infertility, marriage fidelity, domestic violence, abuse by an alcoholic, weight gain, self esteem issues, teenage pregnancy, divorce and cancer. Their attitudes are very American and middle class but their friendships are genuine and I enjoyed travelling through the years with them . They continue to live near to each other on the same street for thirty years and their loyalty and strong bonds are something every woman yearns for.

    I had the privilege of meeting together with three other women for ten years after we had met during antenatal classes. We came from different backgrounds but shared our mum/baby and toddler years together. When I was the one to move away I missed them so much. Last month I learned that one of them had died of breast cancer. Fiona was 41 with three young girls. Every page I read I thought of our meetings and I remember her with gratitude.

    Next week I look forward to discussing this book with my new book group. The snacks we will share will probably not be so cleverly themed but I’m sure the discussion will be full of emotion.

  • Mandy Catto

    I have just finished this gripping and harrowing tale about the first world war. It begins in peace time France with a young man falling in to an affair. We follow him into the trenches and tunnels of the ‘great war’ and all the horrors that accompany this time.
    The book is carefully written and portrays in detail the sounds, sights and smells of the reality of life. The characters are left with little to believe in as so many of them die. There is a gentle story weaving through the end of the grand-daughter of the hero, living life in 1970s Britian trying to connect with her past. I recommend this book for your reading group discussions.

  • sheila bridge

    Our book group meets on the first Friday eve of every month. However because we are all a bit too busy to read a book a month we read one book every two months and watch a film the month we are not discussing a book.
    Our latest read was The Help by Kathryn Stockett. It’s set in 1962 in Jackson Missippi and tells the story of a group of white women and a group of coloured women who are employed as ‘the help’. It’s a very moving, often funny portrayal of the relationships between women living at a time of discrimination and injustice.

  • Mandy Catto

    This is an uncomfortable read and provoked a strong reaction in me. It is very innovstive in style and beautifully crafted, and shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize but I would exercise caution before choosing to read it! It is based loosely on the Josef Fritzl captivity story, a young woman lives trapped in a room with her five year old son – at the mercy of her ruthless captor for seven years. I could hardly bear to read the first few chapters: she is a great mother and doing an amazing job creating a safe stimulating world for her son. But, it was almost too much to read and I found myself upset as I became caught up in their limited world. I had to stop and read the last few chapters next, something I have never done before. Once I had read of their freedom, I could cope with the begining and was able to finish.Did I admire the protagonist and her articulate eccentric son? Yes. Did I want to read of their rescue and emergence into the ‘real world’? Yes. Did I want to be drawn into the evil of abduction and the world of Josef Fritzel? No.
    If you can bear it, this is a good read and would provoke a great discussion on the nature of evil, parenting, reality and perception.
    If you are of a sensitive nature and have a five year old son, maybe you would be better enjoying the latest Alexander Macall Smith!!
    Has anyone read the other Man Booker Prize nominations yet? Please put your comments on…

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