Books I’ve talked about when I’ve talked about books at book group (part two)

I missed book group last week. It makes me sad for all the missed joys mentioned in the first part of this post series and also because when I can’t get around to reading the book-group book I feel it means I am not using my potential reading time as I should. It means I am letting work-reading start to take over again. It means I am checking emails while commuting when I could be reading my books. It means I am watching too many TV shows where an expert comes in to fix a bankrupt country house/failing hotel/failing restaurant or where amateur cooks try to make me feel un-gourmet by pretending they are proper chefs, and maybe we should all get over our fascination with goat’s cheese and pop-up restaurants. Not that we should blame the goat’s cheese.

So, yes, I wasn’t reading as much last month and I missed my previous book group meeting. Well, I opted out. But before that moment of truancy I had read a lot of book-group books. And if you didn’t catch the link to part one of this series above, I’m giving you another chance to click on it here.

Sometimes outsiders fear book groups are full of self-proclaimed intellectuals full of high talk about this literary theory and that rather brilliant but unfathomable novelist. Telling them you discussed Kafka the other month doesn’t help this fear. Mind you, if they’d been at the pub where we hold our meetings and overheard our conversation, they may not have felt so intellectually threatened. It went a little bit like this:

‘Oh my god, I just couldn’t finish it.’

‘I finished it but I didn’t really get it.’

‘I think I get what he’s on about but I don’t think I really care.’

‘Although, I am kind of glad that I can now legitimately use the term Kafkaesque.’

I was glad of that too, well not about using the term so much, but having now read a novel by Franz Kafka I will no longer feel as deceitful about the odd reference to him or his writing that I may have occasionally made in the past without having ever read any of his work.

So The Trial was not a resounding success, but not everyone hated it. The person who chose the novel, for example, adores it. He chose it for book group because it is one of his favourite books and he wanted to see what other people thought about it. He held up well, I must say. And he continues to attend our meetings so mustn’t think we’re entirely stupid. Plus the university student who sold me my copy at the bookstore raved on about dear old Franz for some time. And as once mentioned in a post a few years back, author and playwright Alan Bennett often wrote of Kafka in his journals.

So what did I think? I found The Trial a challenging reading experience. It took a lot of brain power to get through and as a reader who prefers a steady plot and reasonably clear character motivations my reading of this novel was slow. It was also tentative. I kept waiting for a penny to drop, for a revealing, for a proactive change in the character and/or his situation, I  kept waiting to feel as though I understood exactly what the point of the book was and therefore could allow myself to feel smart. I kept waiting. I also had a gap of a week or more between readings, which was not a good idea. It was difficult to get back into the tale even to the small degree that I had been ‘in it’ previously. I was on holiday and who wants to be reading Kafka while on safari? Well, maybe Alan Bennett and that girl from the book store. Maybe a lot of people, for all I know. But not me. It felt like homework. I was lying under a tree in the Namibian bush and I did not want to be doing homework.

Like my book group cohort who was glad they could now use the term ‘Kafkaesque’ without shame, I am still pleased that I have read The Trial, though perhaps not for the reasons I should. It is always better to be able to say that you didn’t really like a novel having read it, than pretend you know all about it when you haven’t. Plus sometimes it is good to challenge yourself, to exercise your mind and see how far it will stretch,  to be able to discuss how a book made you feel instead of avoid writings you are frightened you might not understand. In the end you may not enjoy the book, it might even make you feel a little bit thick, but going through the process and then discussing it with others can still be one of the joys of book group.

There’s no place like book group

It’s a funny thing homesickness. It can creep up on you in such an unassuming, disinterested kind of way that you aren’t aware of its stealthy pursuit until all of sudden you find yourself struck down with some kind of antipodean homesick blues. One moment you are ordering a pint of lager in a voice reminiscent of an extra in a 5th grade production of Oliver Twist and explaining how of course you miss certain people but that London is fabulous; and the next you are grumbling about it being so bloody cold all the time and asking how come it’s so hard to find a proper decent cappuccino and some sourdough toast in this overcrowded sunless city?

And then you calm down and try to re-embrace your sense of adventure and acceptance of experiences new; you remind yourself that moving to the other side of the world away from your regular life, comfort zones and loved ones is difficult at the best of time. And, really, I’m basically having the best of times; I can’t complain at all. But the homesickness has caught up with me of late and it seems a long road back, despite all the good things and wonderful people around me, to those half cockney/half crocodile hunter union jack waving pip-pip jolly good times. But I know it’s a phase that will soon pass. I’ll stop drudging about, buy myself a decent coat, and be all warm and keen and able to blog like a decent proper book blogger.

One thing that I think will help a lot is that this week I went to a meeting about joining a newly formed (well currently forming) book group. It was very exciting and my potential book group members were lovely and enthusiastic, and the organisers of the wider company of book groups (my group will be no. 18 or so that they have helped put together) were friendly and organised and encouraging. I’m very much looking forward to it kicking off. Stay tuned for a discussion of the first book selection.

On the day of that meeting I was ill, over my job, tired and lacking in any recognisable features of charm or sense. By the end of the get-together I no longer felt quite as ill, nor as world-weary, nor as overwhelmed by that wispy feeling of being a long, long way from home and I cheerfully trotted off to the tube and into a pub for the night’s next appointment.  It didn’t cure my antipodean homesick blues, but even the initial manoeuvrings of a book group get-together shone a lot more light on my little world. I felt like I might be finding some of my people – well some new ‘my people’ – and it reminded me how comforting, and also inspiring, the book world is for me, and how much I miss being a part of it; even if only as one of the many who like to meet up over a drink and talk about a novel for an hour. At the new pub, when I went to the bar to order a drink, there was definitely a little more of a Dick van Dyke chimney sweep in my voice than there had been for a while.

W, X, Y and Z were Left on the Wayside

Time for a new year confession. And, no, there’s no juicy gossip about the stupid things I may or may not have done in 2010—let’s just say I’m having a rest from online dating, and leave it at that.

I wanted to simply acknowledge those books that were stoically standing in line all year and didn’t get a gurnsey. Not through any fault of their own, all through the fault of my crazy hectic existence. What can you do? Well, sigh big sighs and cry yourself  to sleep, or wipe off the dust of 2010 from your palms, flash a smile and give 2011 a big ol’ hug. I choose the latter. But for those curious readers, here are the books which were my intendeds.

W was for Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. A foray into graphic novels I’ve been looking forward to. Though I imagine the post may have been a discussion about how I find this form of book hard to read. I have not seen the film yet, having tried to save it for after I’ve read the novel.

X was for Xmas and Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. If all had gone to plan I would have been posting on this in early December. Lucky we had The Twelve Days of Christmas to add some festive cheer. A year without Dickens is a sad thing. I may have to read at least two in 2011 to make up for it.

Y was for Yella. As in, ‘What are you, yella?’. Plus Elmore Leonard’s Hombre has a yellow cover. Call it a stretch if you like but I had been planning a weekend-reading of this classic western novel, immediately followed by a viewing of the classic western film starring Paul Newman. Possibly while drinking whiskey and eating some chilli made with a Paul Newman sauce.

Z was for Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s The Angel’s Game. Barcelona gothic. I really enjoyed The Shadow of the Wind. An indulgence of emotion and bookish things, all with a background of the paved streets of that beautiful city.

All these books will stay in the pile (there’s an approaching purge for reasons which will soon be explained) and will no doubt appear on this blog soon. Listing them has whetted my appetite for them all (particularly that Hombre scenario, I want to do that immediately). But first I’m continuing to shake off some 2010 dust. In a few days’ time I will be ready to wholeheartedly embrace the new year before us.

Time to Read

Last year Pile o’ Books packed their suitcase and schlepped off to Canada for six weeks for a whole bunch of fun, discovery, the odd tipple, and what felt like eons of time to stick one’s nose in a book (or seven). This year we’re away again, with swimmers and sandals replacing hoodies and hiking boots, for a week-long rest in Paradise. And so that most important of questions rears its head: what the feck are we taking to read?

Just exactly how many books can one read in a week? Well that all depends. As we’re lagging behind in our alphabetical challenge it seems tempting to answer: oh about a quarter of one, dontcha think, P o’ B? Well, erm, yes, I’ve been busy. Making books does not, unfortunately, lead to much time for personal book indulgence; but holidays do, and so the selection process begins.

Hopefully these screens will once more be chock-full of posts based on those wonderful stories read while on holiday. I’ve just got to decide what they will be. Working in the book-world the first thing colleagues ask when they know your trip is nigh is: what are you taking to read? It’s a Very Serious question in my office, akin to: have you got the right visa? And they look at you with a Very Serious expression as if the success of your trip will be jeopardised if you make a bad reading choice.

We’ve previously touched on the mythical equation for choosing holiday-reads, and I’m currently scratching figures on the back of an envelope and staring intently at my boxes of books (under the chimney) waiting for that magic combination to leap out and wallop me about the head (and hopefully meet our alphabetical imperative). Two big plane rides, six days by the pool, a big king-size bed to loll about in… I’m thinking five is the magic number. I’ll definitely get through three, will need a fourth to start on and it’s always advisable to take a spare, to cater for one’s swings of mood. 

Thailand here we come!