You may have noticed that I've added a new tab at the top of the page for my Monday afternoon reading group and I thought you might like to know a bit about us and the type of book that we read.
As the tab says we meet under the auspices of the University of the Third Age, which you may know is a world wide organisation through which people who for the most part are either retired or semi-retired come together to self-educate. Branches vary in size. My local group is around the 200 mark, but there are others which are smaller and others that are as big as 1400 or 1500. The study groups available will depend on the interests of the individual branch members and the expertise within the group in terms of people who can lead the learning. In my case I belong to the history and music groups in addition to the reading group and I teach two Shakespeare classes as well as running a literature Summer School each year.
I belong to three different reading groups, but this is the one that most makes me think. Almost all of the members have been English teachers up to at least 'A' level standard and all of them are really really intelligent readers. I learn so much just from talking with them about the books we choose to read. I love our Monday afternoons and always come home with my mind buzzing with new ideas.
Our group was set up to read award winners and for the past three or four years that is what we have done, choosing from amongst the Booker, Pulitzer, Orange, Costa, Commonwealth and Dagger Lists. Given the amount of 'bashing' that goes on after any prize is awarded, it's interesting that in all that time there has only been one book that we have unanimously agreed should never have had a sniff at any award. I probably ought not to say what that was in case the author is reading. I've been caught out that way before.
Despite our having so few failures, at our last meeting we decided that we would like to spread our nets a little wider and acknowledge the fact that in many instances there have been other books on short lists that have been every bit as deserving of the award as the title that actually won. So, with that in mind, we have been studying the runners-up for the Booker and I suspect that this is a project that will keep us busy for the next couple of years, if not longer. May is a special meeting because we have specifically been asked to read Iris Murdoch's The Bell. As we take a break in August, for the moment we have just selected titles for June and July, Penelope Fitzgerald's The Bookshop and Kazuo Ishiguro's When We Were Orphans. But before we break up for the summer we will decide what were going to read through the winter and I will post our choices here.
If you have any favourites that you know have run the Booker winners close and which you would like to recommend then we are always open to suggestions. What do you think we should read over the coming months? Or, if you are brave enough, are there any you think we should definitely avoid?