This year we are working with eight reading groups from across the UK. The groups have been selected to represent the regions of the UK as well as the homes of our selected authors. Reviews will be coming in soon from each of the clubs which will be posted here and on the review section of the website!
Books Actually in the South
We are called ‘Books, Actually’, and are an all-female book club/reading group based in Brighton and Hove. When the group first started about four and a half years ago it was purely Hove based, which is where the name for the group came from – that old riposte to the ‘oh, you’re from Brighton are you?’ question is ‘No, Hove, actually.’ The group was started by a woman who was new to the area, who wanted to have the chance to socialise with other women and have it not revolve around her young daughter. She instigated a few rules for her fledgling book club: 1) women only; 2) nobody who lived outside of Hove was allowed to host; 3) the group had to talk about the chosen book for at least a part of the evening; and most importantly 4) drinking of ‘bubbly’ was a compulsory requirement (be it Champagne or sparkling water)!
Various members, including the founder, have come and gone over the years, due to the usual sorts of reasons, but the group continues to thrive, with about 18 attending each meeting. Brightonians (and even residents of far-flung places like Saltdean, shock horror!) are welcome these days, and the drinking of bubbly has now become a (very enthusiastically upheld) tradition rather than a rule. We meet monthly, in the members’ houses, so of course half the fun is the chance to have a peek into other people’s homes! Whoever is hosting has the privilege of choosing the book, so given the diversity of our members we have an equally diverse range of books, from timeless classics like Jane Austen’s Persuasion and Aldous Huxley’s scarily prescient Brave New World, to very recently published works such as the Young Adult Wonder and Mary Berry’s autobiography. There probably couldn’t be a wider range of reading matter! Suffice to say there is always plenty of very lively discussion, and not always in universal agreement…
Over time we have become a great group of friends, regularly organising social events such as pub quizzes outside of our book club, though the monthly book meeting is always everyone’s favourite night – drinking Prosecco, eating delicious nibbles provided by the host, gossiping about our lives, and of course talking about our impressions of that month’s book choice.
Read Books Actually Book Club’s review of Lolito by Ben Brooks
Bush House Book Group from London
Bush House Books is a workplace based book club in central London. We formed in December 2012 when the Union Learning rep (ULR) opened the new union learning centre here at work. There are sixteen of us in the book group and we all work in HMRC doing different jobs. We range from admin support to accountants and tax inspectors! We all commute to work so we can read our books during our journeys. We meet once a month at lunchtime in our common room but not everyone can make it to every meeting. We average around ten at the discussions.
In our first year we chose books based on different themes each month and in our second year we are doing a ‘mystery readers choice’ system. We rate our books 1-10 and keep a record. There are no defined criteria for our score; it’s just a straw poll after our discussion. We are flexible about sourcing our books. Our ULR signed us up with a library local to her for ease of picking up and dropping off books if we want to borrow them from the library. We also have some members with dyslexia and they prefer to read either large print books or use a Kindle.
Most people have joined the group because they want to expand their reading or just share their love of books. We read one book a month from many different genres including science fiction, foreign fiction, detective and classic novels. We particularly enjoy it when the book receives a mixed response and we get some good discussions going!
In 2013 we were lucky enough to be chosen to shadow the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize (IFFP) and read two books from the shortlist. Publicity at work about this led to an increase in membership from our original eleven! The effect of the book group has spread with members being inspired to attend other literary events such as the LSE Literary Festival and Social Book Week. One member has also started an access to higher education course at the Open University through his participation in the reading group. Our ULR also arranged a creative writing lunchtime seminar after a chance meeting at the IFFP event last year, and this was attended by over 20 people.
Read Bush House Book Group’s review of Vanishing by Gerard Woodward
Ickenham Library Reading Group in London
Ickenham Library reading group was set up 4 years ago and has been meeting since then on a monthly basis. We are a group of 10 women (with one token male), ranging in age from mid 30s to early 80s. The group over the years have read a wide variety of books from science fiction to crime and from contemporary to historical fiction. The group’s favourite type of books are those that they learn something from, be it a period in history or another culture. We also love it when people have differing opinions on the books we read as this makes for some lively debates.
Read Ickenham Library Reading Group’s review of Mrs. Hemingway by Naomi Wood
Lye Down With A Good Book from the West Midlands
Lye Down With A Good Book is an eclectic group of people. From the 30 and 40 something working mother to the energetic octogenarian. However, we all have two things in common. We all have a love of reading and we all love talking.
We meet at Lye Library on the last Wednesday of every month for a light hearted discussion about our book of the month and anything else that we may have read over the previous month. We also attend author evenings and other events put on by our local libraries. New members are always welcome.
One of the members of Lye Down With A Good Book has written a poem about the group below:
The Magical Box of Tricks
We’re a pretty average sort of bunch, really,
Nothing much out of the ordinary.
Some of us heading doggedly towards fifty,
The rest whizzed past that milestone a long time ago.
More women than men (of course).
Care assistants, retired teachers or engineers, supermarket staff,
But all of us “book-keepers”.
We’re from hard-working British families.
Dog-owners, motorists, fans and basic-rate taxpayers,
Parents approaching the end of their useful lives,
The BBE date was a long time ago, if ever there was one.
Then, on a Wednesday evening, something happens.
It begins with nothing unusual –
Instant coffee, British tea, digestive biscuits and cheerful chatter,
Until it’s time to open the box of books
Whose characters become temporary guest members of our circle.
Not at all an average sort of bunch:
Brilliant, inspired detectives who solve insoluble mysteries,
Irrational romantics who throw their lives up high in the sky,
Worn-out parents who learn how to love their torturous children,
Grieving widows who want to find love again,
Explorers, inventers, princes and poets,
A scattering of homicidal maniacs (both male and female),
Saints and psychopaths, beauties and bullies,
Gangsters, martyrs and heroes.
Visitors to the Black Country
From another country, another planet, another century
Even from another level of consciousness.
All of them are welcome, but we’ll tell them bluntly what we think of them,
Some of them we love, some of them we loath.
We wonder what they think of us; are they glad they came?
Tom Cheney. May, 2014
Read Lye Down With a Good Book reading group’s review of Mr Loverman by Bernadine Evaristo
Nottingham Readers from the East Midlands
Nottingham Readers have been meeting in a variety of city-centre venues for the last 14 years. Our discussions are often frank, varied in opinion but we’ve never yet come to blows… We enjoy reading a range of fiction, mostly 20th and 21st century books with the occasional wander back into the 19th century. We also dabble with a spot of sci-fi once in a while. Discussions are best if accompanied by large slabs of cake. In the past we’ve contributed to the Guardian First Book Award and the Jane Austen project, welcomed a couple of authors into our lair (and let them out unscathed) and drunk a lot of coffee.
Read the Nottingham Readers’ review of Whatever Happened To Billy Parks? by Gareth R Roberts
Page Turners Group from Norwich
Page Turners book group is nearly 3 years old, with very eclectic reading tastes. We are always open-minded about our choices, which reflect the range of personalities within the group. Whether reading fiction or non-fiction, on controversial, dramatic or romantic subject matter, discussion is always lively and opinionated.
Read the Page Turners review of Little Egypt by Lesley Glaister
Peninsula Arts Reading Group from the South West
The Peninsula Arts Reading Group was established about 5 years ago and meets monthly at the University of Plymouth. We are an open group and anyone can look at our website and just come along. We have a distribution list of over 20 people and about 8-10 people come along to our meetings. We try to cover a range of genres and at our Christmas party we choose and talk about poetry. Members have a range of backgrounds and ages, but are predominantly female.
Our up-coming reads and blogs on what we have read can be found at our website peninsulaartsreadginggroup.wordpress.com. We pick from Plymouth’s library sets as well as our own choices. Our recent books have included works by Patchett, Boyd, Ishiguro, Ballard, Ghosh, Marquez and Faber. We rarely share the same views on a book, which always makes for good discussion, and the most recent read to prompt a real diversity of views was Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera.
Read the Peninsula Arts Reading Group review of All The Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld
Whitley Bay Book Group from the North
We’re a public group, so I never know if old friends or new will walk through the door of the local hotel where our book group meets. We’ve been going for five years now, and average around 10-12 of us at each meeting, although we’ve reached 20 a few times! Most of the members are women. Occasionally a man will try us out, but sadly we never seem to keep them for long. We’ve a wide range of ages – from late twenties to seventies – backgrounds and careers, which all add to the mix when we talk about the books we’ve read.
Most people arrive looking to discover new authors and books, so we aim to explore a variety of fiction, from classics to contemporary (Caitlin Moran’s How To Be A Woman is, as yet, our only foray into non-fiction). A couple of times a year I’ll put together a list of suggested books which we then vote on – it’s democratic, yes, but it also puts a few more titles out there for people to think about too. The suggested books come from members, from the most interesting of the current crop of paperbacks out at the time, and from New Writing North (on whose behalf I run the group). They often put forward books that tie in to author events, which always adds another dimension to our discussion. Our most popular recent book was Jane Smiley’s A Thousand Acres, and many of us were able to attend a linked event, held at a beautiful old cinema in Newcastle, where the author was interviewed followed by a screening of the film of the book.
Sometimes, as with A Thousand Acres, there’s so much to talk about that we find our time is up and we’re still deep into the book. On other occasions the discussion peters out on the chosen book, and that’s a great time to widen our talk on to all things cultural. We’ve all taken away some great recommendations on books, films, TV, local festivals and events, and many other random things beside!
Read The Whitley Bay Book Group’s review of The Dig by Cynan Jones