Book lovers across Britain rejoiced this week when mockumentary-of-the-moment This Country aired the fourth episode of its third series... and included a book club scene. The show, dubbed by one national newspaper ‘the best British comedy since The Office’, follows cousins Kerry and Kurtan in their search for meaning in the unrelenting tedium of rural English life.
In the latest episode, having unearthed a fresh passion for reading, Kerry (Daisy May Cooper) joined the vicar's book group, armed with a well-thumbed copy of Goosebumps. To her distress, a few sessions in village 'hard woman' Mandy decides to join in, in all her threatening and obnoxious glory.
Apart from being as hilarious as it is smash-a-cushion-in-your-face awkward, the moment got us a bit nostalgic. This was not, after all, the first time the book club dynamic has been lampooned on the small screen. Here are five more of the most memorable examples.
'All Prologue' (Season 2, episode 6)
Here, the book club goes to prison where we were treated to as solid an analysis of The Great Gatsby as you could probably hope to find. A group of cons, including banged-up drug dealer D'Angelo, discuss F. Scott Fitzgerald's 1925 masterpiece. The group leader asks what Fitzgerald meant when he said there are no second acts in American lives. D'Angelo steps in to break it down.
'He's saying that the past is always with us. Where we come from, what we go through, how we go through it — all that s**t matters … Gatsby, he was who he was, and he did what he did. And because he wasn't ready to get real with the story, that shit caught up to him.' Which is one way of saying what Fitzgerald meant: we're all prisoners of the capitalist dream. And in some cases, like D'Angelo's, that is literally the case.
'The One With Ross' Sandwich' (Season 5/Episode 9)
It's not quite a book club, more an adult literature class. But the principle is the same: you still have to read the damn book in order to take part.
Phoebe invites Rachel along in the hope of fostering their friendship, as well as their literary chops. But of course, Rachel hasn't bothered to read the texts so she steals Phoebe's ideas and passes them off as her own. So far so silly.
But Rachel's comeuppance is swift and severe when she again attempts to rip off Phoebe's interpretations of Jane Eyre... only this time:
Rachel: 'Uh, thank you Phoebe. Umm, well, what struck me most when reading Jane Eyre was uh, how the book was so ahead of its time.'
Teacher: 'If you’re talking about feminism, I think you’re right.'
Rachel: 'Yeah, well, feminism yes, but also the robots.'
Interesting to think what Jane Eyre-minator would have made of Mr Robocop-chester in that remake. One thing is certain: it would have involved a much bigger fire.
'Stewie Goes For A Drive' (Season 10, episode 4)
Seth MacFarlane's cartoon sitcom has been offending people for 21 years. And in this episode, it's the book club's turn to taste his satire. Dimwit dad Peter Griffin stomps down the stairs to find his wife Lois and three friends in the living room reading books. 'What's going on here?' he interrupts.
'Oh, it's my book club, Peter,' Lois responds. 'Come join us.'
'Oh, OK,' he exclaims effusively. Then he puts two hands to his head, twists his neck till it cracks, and falls to the floor, dead.
Here's to the other halves who'll never understand the simple joys of a book club. Who needs them anyway; not when we have books.
The Book Group
(The whole series)
This series first aired on Channel 4 in 2003, and proved an instant hit, tapping into that not-so-small corner of the British psyche that gets off on awkward small talk. An American woman called Clare arrives in Glasgow and sets up a book club to make some new friends.
Through the first episode, the new members arrive at her flat: a struggling writer in a wheelchair, a posh drug-addicted student, three footballers' wives and a secretly-gay football fan. It soon becomes clear none of them are that interested in talking about books. Still, Clare perseveres with jaw-achingly hilarious consequences.