My blog

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Sunday 26 September 2021

The nights are drawing in now and how this year has flown by. Time seems to have done funny things in the past 18 months. In the midst of lockdown it seemed simultaneously to stand still and to rush past.

But do we place too much store on time, and how we use it?

This week I read a fascinating book by Oliver Burkeman called 'Four Thousand Weeks' (scroll down for more details). It is based on the fact that if we live to be 80, we will have had 4,000 weeks on earth. And he asks us to consider how we're addressing that fact. Are we making the most of each moment? What does that actually mean?

While he confesses to having been a time-management junkie, obsessed with being more productive and efficient, seeking to cram ever more things into each day, in this book he describes how he now believes that approach is all wrong. It means we are serving economists, industrialists, governments by keeping busy to reach some ultimate future goal of happiness and fulfillment. Instead, he says, we need to stop, reassess and let go.

We can build our security in keeping busy, but it can distract us from appreciating the here and now. Lockdown saw us enjoying the natural environment, taking local walks, gardening and baking, appreciating family and neighbours, as perhaps never before. This book urges us to recall that experience and to be brave and liberate ourselves from the overwhelming to-do lists. And it's a very entertaining and stimulating read too.

Thank you for reading.


Sunday 19 September 2021

Last week saw the release of the new Richard Osman book (and also the announcement of the Booker Prize shortlist, but we'll talk about that next time, perhaps!).

Called 'The Man Who Died Twice', it's the sequel to his hugely successful debut novel 'The Thursday Murder Club' which was published just before lockdown last year. If you're still in the dark, Richard Osman is the very tall man who co-hosts the quiz show 'Pointless' on the BBC.

But surely you've heard something of his story? This is a celebrity who has written a very popular novel and it's received lots of attention. The book? Well, it's a murder mystery set in a retirement home and most people have really enjoyed it and that's why it's sold lots of copies. Some people, of course, don't know what the fuss is about.

Normally I might be a bit cynical about a big 'name' publishing a book, and receiving an inordinate amount of marketing support - the type of which is rarely accorded to your jobbing writer. But on this occasion, I have actually enjoyed reading both books, have found Richard Osman to be a very pleasant man who genuinely champions bookshops, and I've also discovered that people who might not normally come into a bookshop, or read a novel, have been curious enough to buy his book.

What's more, though the book is set around a murder mystery, the story is full of humour, and the characters are warm, sometimes wise, charming and engaging. And it's nice to find a book which makes you smile. While I hope we don't have too many copycat books published as a result of this success, if more people are encouraged to read, and to find enjoyment and positivity through this book and others like it, that can't be a bad thing, can it?

Thank you for reading.

Sunday 12 September 2021

Although I strongly believe in the transportive power of the written word, I have missed experiencing new places and new people for myself in the past 18 months. 

I finally found an opportunity to take a couple of days away this week and though I wasn't far from home, another environment and a different pace and purpose to my day has proved welcome in recharging my batteries and clearing my mind. 

Holidays have always been an opportunity for concentrated reading activity of course - a book a day has been the target for a beach break, and even adventures or city stays have to have a carefully selected title which will reflect the change of scene.

While my time away has been short, it has coincided with a flurry of literary prize announcements and has given me the impetus to get up to date with these notable titles. I've been meaning to read 'English Pastoral' by James Rebank (winner of the Wainwright Prize) for some time, and the comments and reviews for 'Piranesi' by Susanna Clarke (winner of the Women's Prize for Fiction) describe an extraordinary book, with details of the demanding time the author faced as she wrote it (this always fascinates me!).

We also have the Booker shortlist announced in a couple of days' time. This has been a very readable, accessible longlist so it will be interesting to see how it has been narrowed down. The last six titles will be the ones we'll discuss when we meet together for our annual Booker Book Group, taking place on Monday 11 October at 8pm. If you'd like to take part, and haven't already responded, please reply to this email and I'll send out the details in the next few days. 

Thank you for reading.

Sunday 5 September 2021

If you have joined in our Booker Book Groups in the past few years, you'll remember our collective frustration at wanting to read all the titles in the longlist for the prize but finding many of the books to be unavailable. 

When authors are gaining this extraordinary attention, it's a shame that the publishers are unable to act quickly enough to capitalise on the interest by providing the quantities of books clearly needed.

Although it is to be hoped that an author's career will see continuing rewards from this recognition, and although we are always acknowledging that reading is a solitary act, there is something to be said for us to be enjoying a book, or a list of books, together, in the moment, and it's a shame that this has often proved so difficult. 

Last week I saw that there was an abundance of copies of one of the Booker longlisted titles available as a paperback and thought that this would make a good choice for our regular book group meeting, later this month. Three days after selecting it, however, the publisher had sold out and a reprint will take another couple of weeks.

How will we feel when we are eventually able to obtain copies of the book? Will the wait have enhanced our sense of expectation and excitement? Or will we have moved on to the next 'big thing'?

There has been a great deal of hype ahead of the new Sally Rooney novel, which is released on Tuesday. Will you be racing to get a copy, to be among the first to read it? Or will you wait to see what others say about it before launching in?

Amidst all this publishing frenzy (and take a look at Tom Gauld's cartoon in this week's Guardian here), our book group for September will now be something completely different (scroll down for details).

And our Booker Book Group will take the shortlist as its focus this year in the hope that all the titles will be available to us as soon as they are revealed on 15 September (details about joining the discussion will be available soon).

In the meantime, I hope you'll find the two titles I've recommended this week on the shelves in your favourite independent bookshop, and if they're not, they'll be worth the wait, I assure you!

Thank you for reading.


Sunday 29 August 2021

Tomorrow evening the book group will be meeting for what I hope willl be the last time online.

The Zoom technology has served us well in the past 16 months but I know most people are ready to put it behind us and meet in person again.

It seems rather overdue to be looking at this subject now, but Michael Rosen discussed online communication in Radio Four's Word of Mouth programme recently, highlighting how we've had to adopt and respond to new triggers regarding body language when we're viewing each other on a screen.

There are so many things we have taken for granted in regular social interaction and etiquette, which through Zoom and other video communication tools we've come to acknowledge and reevaluate.

I was reassured by listening to the programme that our Zoom book group meetings have featured good practice in many areas! But it was interesting to hear how we've all had to adopt certain mannerisms to counter the failings of online communication.

Eye contact has been defined by whether our computer camera is positioned correctly, the 'raise the hand' button is causing us to feel we're going back to school, and even waving to say goodbye at the end of a session is exaggerating something normally conveyed with a smile.

So if you'd like to try out the online body language at book group for - and again I say - we hope, the last time, let me know by replying to this email and I'll send you the details to log in to Zoom tomorrow evening at 8pm.

Thank you for reading.