I think every woman who likes to read should be in a book group – as long as it’s the right kind for you. I’ve heard horror stories about reading clubs that give literary comprehension tests and require degrees, and read only foreign novels in their original languages. Those might be right for some people, but not for me. When it works, be it large, small, all female, mixed sex, neighbourhood, school run based, or randomly put together at a library or club, it will be interesting, stimulating, and great fun. You’ll read things you would never pick up on your own (and switch off the television to do it!), learn more about yourself and what you like and get to know your fellow members really well.
My own book club experience began pretty typically – a group of mums with kids just old enough to go to school who wanted to be pushed to read something more challenging than Hello! Magazine. We started gently. Most picks were from the front table in the bookshop, and I admit we sometimes chose based on number of pages more than anything else. It took us a few months to find our feet. But gradually, as we met more, we started to get into our stride, and that monthly date became a fixed point in our calendars.
Four years ago, I moved to the US. Leaving my book group was one of the biggest ‘cons’ for me in the list I made before we agreed to come to New York. So I didn’t. Every month, I read the book they’re all reading, and then, if I’m around, we talk on the phone, or, if they’re at a house with a Skype camera, I check in that way. Okay, so the discussion isn’t quite as in depth, or as long. I don’t get to eat dinner or have a drink with them. But I’m there in spirit.
For the months when I can’t be there (their evenings are my afternoons, and I sometimes have to be on the side line of a soccer match, or at a meeting) I bought them a stuffed bear – the kind that can be implanted with a recorded message. I recorded myself saying something pretentious about Iris Murdoch, and dressed the bear in a Statue of Liberty costume. Now she goes to book group every month. She’s had a couple of new outfits over the years. But she’ll still say something pretentious about Iris Murdoch if you press her left paw. And that makes us smile.
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The Sunday Times Number One bestseller
A New Year. A New Page. A New Reading Group.
Five women meet for their first reading group, little realising this social gathering over books and glasses of wine might see them share more than literary debate ... and will, in fact, take each of them to places they'd never imagined.
Harriet and Nicole are the ringleaders, best friends who can't quite admit - to themselves or one other - they might be trapped in loveless marriages. While Polly, a determined single mum, finds herself tipped off course by an unexpected proposal. Susan, usually so carefree and happy, is forced to face a shattering reality and Clare, quiet and mysterious, plainly has more on her mind than next week's book choice.
Over the coming year their worlds will intertwine in delightful, unexpected and surprising ways. Stories will be re-written as dreams are made and broken, but through it all they'll have the Reading Group, with friendship, tears and laughter featuring in every chapter of their lives.