Paris in August- 5 days of Graves, Skulls, and Red Sancerre

I didn’t know you were this packed, Paris. I mean, I know everyone loves you and everyone’s supposed to love you even if they don’t really. But seriously, the traffic? I wanted to throw myself into the Seine at one point. Instead I just collapsed on the grass in the Jardin du Luxembourg and propped myself up long enough for a photo before unlocking that elbow and having a tantrum on my back like Harry Enfield’s Kevin.

Clinging on to life in the Jardin du Luxembourg

I wanted everyone to just stop walking INTO MY FACE for five minutes so that I could see Paris for a second. But then again I’m a bit of a country bumpkin when it comes to cities and I tend to just have a strop in the middle of pavements until people move past me. Look at these folks with their back to Notre Dame. Do they know they’re facing the wrong way?

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Jardin du Luxembourg

The Jardin du Luxembourg in August is an absolute godsend. Little toddling boys and girls in clothes that toddling children should wear (i.e. not jeans or clothes with words on) lean over the stone wall and place little wooden yachts into the water and gaze at them as the wind takes them on their near horizontal adventures across the lake. It is a place where you will manage to to regain some peace and be able to face the rest of Paris again.

Shakespeare & Co.

I think I was sulking at being so hemmed in at Shakespeare & Co. (If you don’t know what Shakespeare & Co. is then you’re at the wrong site and you need to go here instead).

As I was saying, I was sulking.

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god I love our bookclub, and advice for those wanting to start one

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I went to a cracking little bookclub when I lived in Oxford, where we sat in a cosy pub once a month and all the people around me sounded like they knew loads about what they were talking about. Everyone had a chance to vote for the next book on the list and in general it was just a ruddy nice time and I always cycled home with my book in my basket feeling a little bit like a better person for having actually left my bed to drink wine that night (Tracy Emin just pipped me to the post on that exhibition by the way).

When I moved back to my local area in the middle of nowhere I was unable to find a bookclub where I could get drunk and spout off my opinions about books. The only ones I could find had a ‘one in one out’ waiting list (code for ‘we have to wait for one of the members to die’) or they involved having to read Ruth Rendall in a stranger’s chinzy lounge eating overly buttered sandwiches with my legs crossed. So I decided in February 2013 to see if I could rustle up a tipsy book club like the one in Oxford, for lovers of liquor and literature, and call it Reading Between the Wines.

I put a shout out on facebook about this little gathering, chose a night of the week, chose a venue, and chose a really stupid book choice. Note to others who are thinking of starting a bookclub – maybe don’t pick a book about how every time a certain nursery rhyme is uttered a whole load of kids drop dead. Over and over again. And again. And some more. Cheers to Palahniuk for almost stopping the club before it started. Slightly more death than I’d planned for but at least it served the purpose of showing I didn’t want this to be a club that reads the equivalent of the ‘easy listening’ playlist on Spotify.

3 friends showed up out of sympathy to me. I have nice friends.

We drank some wine and turned the book over in our hands a bit and looked at the front and back cover while we said ‘yeh it was ok’. Once everyone’s alcohol limit for driving had been reached we were allowed to leave, and I tentatively said I hoped to see them next month. Someone chose a book. I thought ‘cool’.

Next month there were more of us. People suggested things. I liked the suggestions. I didn’t tell anyone they were stupid. It seemed to work.

And now that we have around 16 members, with a core of 8 who are there despite flooding, and other countryside obstacles, I’m assuming they don’t hate it because many of them bring a friend, and they often say nice things about it, and write me cards which make me cry (in a good way).

I’ve had various requests of advice from people wanting to set up a bookclub. After completely winging it for years now here is what I think about it all:

Don’t be put off about living in a tiny place. My own fantastic gathering of people happens in a place that only has a blacksmith, a church, and a pub. In places like this you can tap in to the fact that there is little else to do, a lot of people will have shit broadband services, and many will have started drinking at such a young age in the local pub that they will be down there every night anyway and may not even notice they’re even in your bookclub. Use these people to bump up your numbers and to fill the background in photos and make you look popular on social media.

Do have a bookclub ‘afterparty’ when the situation allows. It’s a great time for non bookclub members to dip their toe in, see what all the fuss is about, and also they’ll usually tell other people about you when they hear of others looking for a bookclub.

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One of the many after parties.

Let go of your own reading list. So you want to read everything Steinbeck has every written? Twice? Great. And so you should. But unless your book club is held in the National Steinbeck Centre then you really need to indulge in your own shit in your own time. Let everyone have some kind of say in the books, or the genres at least. You’ll often find that people will love to follow a theme for a little while anyway so you can totally have a few months of a theme ranging from ‘autobiographies’ or ‘books that won the transgender immigrant writer of the year’ award , but be open minded to all books. I won’t lie – you will hate some books, but others will hate your choices too at times. The flip side is that you will most probably fall in love with a book you would have previously assumed you’d dislike from your preconceived ideas. Even if you end up reading a book you thought you’d dislike, and it proves you right, well done – it is sometimes good to be reminded of what your taste is and often we don’t actually read the books we think we don’t like. Besides, you can still come along for the wine and opinions. And hey, maybe there is only one other person in the group who also doesn’t like that book. Maybe you end up talking about how you’re both better than all the rest of us because you clearly have more discerning taste. Maybe you go for a drink after the bookclub, maybe you end up getting married in the Bodleian and having a smug happy highbrow life together. Just turn up and read godammit.

Pick a few books in advance. I have found it really useful to gather book suggestions for as far ahead as the whole year. This has a few advantages:
1. People can choose to plan holidays around the months they really want to attend (often to showcase the book they chose)
2. Some people are avid readers and want to know immediately what they next book is so they can make a head start
3. If people know they can’t make one month they can use their time reading ahead to the next one
4. People can do all their book shopping in one big go, or order books ahead at the library
5. New people who ask you about joining the club will always ask ‘what sort of books do you read?’. Having the whole list ahead gives people a clearer idea of what type of book club you are.

Stick to the same schedule. I tried to start a bookclub 2 years before this one. It was a group of friends who had just had children and wanted to get out and meet others, and read more. I spent the whole time working around other people’s changing schedules. The meetings never happened. I gave up on bookclubs for over a year. It’s sad when someone who you really want to attend can’t make it one month, especially if they have chosen the book. But having a set day is the only way to keep it going. Trust me on this one, and this is coming from a total people pleaser who would love to be able to change it month by month to have the maximum attendees possible.

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Discussion Questions in the hiking boot for ‘Wild’ by Cheryl Strayed

Get a fantastic ‘Second in Command’.  I  am lucky enough to have a remarkable lady who helps me out so much. She is the Question Master on many an occasion and comes up with themed stuff like this (yes, the questions are in the boot).

Go online. People bloody love to be tagged in a photo holding a book. Make it happen.It’s useful to have a little public or private space for members to share stuff between meetings. I have a facebook page to create events, invite people to them, and share updates, and a private group where members post opinions and reviews about the book or ask questions to each other. I also send out a few emails a month to the whole mailing list as not everyone is on social media. It helps remind people to keep reading and gives people a chance to let you know if they can’t make the next meeting.

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One of our members stocking up

Get out of your house and meet in a (nice) pub – you’ll find that members (and yourself) often barely have time to finish the book, let alone whip the hoover round and arrange their book collections to hide any shitty books from their peers. Find a venue where people can order what they like, leave when they like, and leave someone else to do the washing up. It also allows people to drop out last minute, which brings me on to the final point…

Don’t be a dick to people if they don’t show up or drop out altogether. Sometimes people have an idea of what a bookclub will be like. Believe it or not, your gathering of pissheads reading that one book plucked out from the millions and millions on offer may not be what they want to do right in that moment in time, or ever again for that matter. There was enough of that crap at school (Disclaimer: without the alcohol)*.

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Secret Santa Book Swap

Failing all that, just do a quiz and give out some free stuff sometimes.

*My schooling was in Wales so this disclaimer does not apply.

 

February Meetup 2016 – Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

The book..IMG_0793
Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

This novel portrays the tension between illusions and material reality. Gives different perspectives

My 2nd reading of this book showed me a huge amount of stuff I’d forgotten.

We liked…
some of the humorous writing, such as the parrot episodes, and the surrealism.

We didn’t like…

  • How Marquez suggests that all women have carnal appetites.
  • How uncomfortable it was to read about the relationship with the 14yr old girl.
  • How difficult it was to empathise with some of the characters.

We agreed…

  • that the book would maybe not be able to be written now, with it’s discussion of rape and the underage relationship.
  • that it was interesting magic surrealism, a bit like some of Salman Rushdie’s works.
  • that it would have been good to have a sample of some letters. Guernsey Potato Peel book was so effective with the letters that some would have been so interesting.

We discussed…

whether ‘perverts are allowed to be in love’?

We digressed….
..and talked about whether two people in a couple can ever always want the same things, and that there seem to be 3 options:
1 – Be like elastic bands, going away from each other then bouncing back
2 – Take turns to do what you want
3 – One person tends to dominate the other
…and talked about how ‘Cholera’ means ‘Passion’ in Spanish and how whether knowing this affects the story. Passion is discussed like an illness throughout the book.

Other talk about marriage included a discussion about what is most important. We arrived at the conclusion that it was when you can be the best person you know you can be with that other person, the most yourself and most true to yourself.

Reviewed by:
Chris A, Judy D, Carol, Judy J, Nadia , and me J

Next month…
In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden – White Hart, Llangybi, last Weds In March, 2016, 7:30pm.

 

January 2016 Meetup – Maskerade by Terry Pratchett

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The book.. Maskerade by Terry Pratchett.

Not all of us in the group had ever been drawn to read Terry Pratchett as he seems to write in such a specific way. However Kath, a very welcome newcomer to the group, made such a compelling case that we all voted this as the first book to kick off 2016. This novel forms part of the Discworld series, but also stands alone as quite separate to anything else he wrote. There are at least 3 layers to this book. He uses the sci-fi world to mirror our society and each book is a social commentary.

We loved… – That it was a standalone book in a large series. – How he allows his characters to change to suit the particular novel in the series. – Kath’s reading out of the chocolate sauce passage – Anne’s mask which we all had the joy of wearing – How Judy J said it didn’t make her laugh once, just before she burst into laughter re-reading one of his paragraphs.

We didn’t love… Some of us debated the quality of ‘fantasy’ as a genre, with a few thinking that it is just an easy way to say anything you want to.

We agreed… …that his similes were astounding and that the work needs to be read aloud to be fully appreciated. …that his female characters tend to be more rounded as a whole, than the male. They don’t back away from difficult situations. Whereas the men all seem to have some sort of weakness. …that there is something intrinsically English about Terry Pratchett.

We discussed… …how he didn’t want his books to be made into films. Perhaps the changing characters would not work so well in films. …how Tony Robinson is by far the best narrator to listen to if you want to listen to the audio version. …how Pratchett enjoyed talking to people and that there is a gentle yet deflating way about how he satirises something or someone. … the rumour that this book was written as a dig at his previous agents about fraud, because he changed agents straight after this book. …the very serious couple of pages around chapter 5/6 which looks at a cow and baby’s death which could be interpreted to be about his own child.

We disagreed… …about whether his writing made us laugh out loud or not. …and some thought that this was perhaps his weakest novel in the series because it was more domestic than others. Some of his other novels tackle politics and larger questions. The book chooser pointed out that this tackles the subject of equal rights. It is believed to have been written in response to Pratchett’s daughter being bullied. She was very into her gaming but this was considered to be something that girl’s just didn’t do. So he wrote this book.

We digressed…. ..and considered whether there were any strong female characters in Lord of the Rings.

Reviewed by:
 Zuhal, Chris A, Judy D, Anne, Drew, Paul, Karen, Julie, Chris G, Judy J, JB, Kath, and me.

Next month… Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez – White Hart, Llangybi, last Weds In Feb, 2016, 7:30pm.

The Write Offs – a new writing community in South Wales

Today I have finally got the rollerball rolling and started a writing club, something I have wanted to do for a long time now. I have been putting it off until I finished my A363 Advanced Writing Course with the Open Uni but I just want to get it started so that I have something to discipline myself by the time I finish my final piece in May.

I already run (in the loosest meaning of the word ‘run’) a bookclub called Reading Between the Wines and a handful of us have decided we will stay on after it and hone our writing skills. I am going to use some of the materials that I have been exposed to during my course, along with other writing hints and tips that I have picked up along the way, to give some activities to the group. I want people to become more confident writers and to get used to sharing their work.

If people are happy with sharing any of their work on my blog then I will post some here.

Anyone who wants to join can find more information by joining the facebook group:

www.facebook.com/groups/thewriteoffs/

or by emailing me at uskbookclub@gmail.com

Lucy

November Meetup 2014 – I am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes

The book
I am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes, a thriller chosen by Nadia.

We loved….
…the fast pace and the ability the book had to take everyone’s minds off real life.

…that Michelle brought along her fantastic questions in a very apt brain games books.

…that we have a new member, Julie.

We didn’t love….
…that he says there are tides in the Mediterranean!

We agreed…
…that it was a good book for escaping reality, and that it reminded people of the Da Vinci code. The only problem is that some people loved the Da Vinci code and others hated it! We agreed that it was clear to see that it had been written by a screen writer and that it would work well as a film.

We disagreed….
…about the quality of the book. My favourite quote of the night:

A: ‘I read it in four days and I loved it’

B: ‘I read it in four days and I loathed it’.

Some people loved the horror writing and others thought it was unnecessary. Some people said that after reading it they felt as though they had eaten a whole box of chocolates and felt sick afterwards. Some felt that it was full of national stereotypes. Others loved the fast pace and the insight into his world.

We digressed….
… and talked about whether it is ok to do evil in order to do good,  created a very exciting book reviewing system, and also discussed good books about Autism/Aspergers, including The Rosie Project, The Language of Others, and Loving Mr Spok.

Reviewed by:
Judy J, Judy D, Chris Andrews,  Robin, Michelle, Carol, Julie, Nadia, Paul, Zuhal, Lydia, and me. Reviews ranged from a shocking 2.5 right up to 7.5. Once I’ve done a quick degree in Maths I’ll work out a way to show our figures.

Next month…
Haroun and the Sea of Stories  by Salman Rushdie (chosen by Judy D)  White Hart, Llangybi, Weds 17th Dec, 7:30pm.