e17 book clubs – more needed?

ImageYou might have noticed that I post quite a lot of book reviews.  I also post whether I have read the book as it was chosen as part of our E17 Book Club.  I think that this has provoked quite a lot of publicity for our book club as I have received many requests over the last year or so by people who would like to join.

We are obviously a rather literary lot in Walthamstow!

Turnover of members of our book club is rather low indeed – we ‘allowed’ a couple of newbies in when one member left in September, but the number of people asking to join and being turned away is growing weekly.

There are other Book Clubs that I know of in Walthamstow, one that meets at The Mill, the Reading Group that meets at Walthamstow Library and Forest Book Group who meet in Peking Chef.

I am sure that there are probably others, and if you know of them please do let me know.

However, my point for this post was to suggest that maybe someone sets up another Book Club (or two!) in Walthamstow – there are obviously enough people interested to fill them (we have found that about 10 people at any one meeting is kind of the upper limit…and about 14 on the list tends to get 8-10 each meeting).

I have quite a large number of people ‘in my archives’, so, if anyone wanted to set something up, I would be happy to get back in touch with peopel that had contacted me in the past and asked to be put on our waiting list to see if they would like to join.

So, come on, is someone going to stand up to the mark and say “YES! *I* will start organising a new book club in Walthamstow!”.

(PS – we now have no idea who ‘runs’ our book club…once you get a few meetings out the way, the members kind of look after it as one.)

***UPDATE*** Someone has kindly taken on the mantle of setting up a new book club, which will meet once a month at The Chequers.  Let me know if you would like more details.

Also, as per Jenny’s comment below, there is a book club set up that meets in The Castle once a month!

We really, really are a well-read bunch in E17!

the moving toyshop – edmund crispin

The Moving Toyshop

My nan had mentioned this book for me to suggest to the E17 Book Club.  We actually had about 5 picks to choose from for our Feb/March read, but I was lucky enough to have this one win when put to the vote!

The Moving Toyshop was first published in 1945, but is actually set in 1938 – mainly in Oxford.  Before reading I didn’t realise it was part of a series (apparently number three in the Gervase Fen set according to Goodreads).

Richard Cadogan, poet and would-be bon-vivant travels from London on search of  ‘an adventure’. That night he finds the body of an elderly woman in an Oxford toyshop, and is then hit on the head. When he comes to, he finds that the toyshop has disappeared and been replaced with a grocery store.

What comes after this is a delightful mix of detective and mystery and an absolutely glorious old English ‘caper’ of a story.

There is something delightfully whimsical and comforting about posh men in suits and hats rushing around towns like Oxford getting into scrapes, saying ‘jolly’ and ‘golly’ a lot and ending up in the most surreal situations.

And the language used is fantastic – so archaic, along with casual sexism which becomes rather endearing when it’s put into context (this IS 1938 after all!).  There were so many parts of this book that had me literally laughing out loud.  I will share a few, just to whet your appetite.

“…piled high like the gimcrack splendours of a proletarian heaven.” – even my kindle dodn’t know what ‘gimcrack ‘was!

“‘Look’, he said. ‘It will be better if we both talk about the same subject at the same time. This isn’t a Chekov play’.”

“There was no ring on her left gand, and the flatness of her breats had already suggested that she was unmarried.” – now this one confuses me, was she unmarried as she had flat breasts, or because she was not likely to have had children thus creating larger breasts?

I also loved the list of shops on the High Street as they were running – it shows a far different view than what we have now:  “A chemist’s and a draper’s. Farther to teh right, a butcher, a baker, a stationery shop; and to the left, a corn merchant, a hat shop, and another chemist…”

One of my favourite lines was a description of Gervase Fen himself: “He had on an enormous raincoat and carried an extraordinary hat.”  nothing else was said about the hat – I have no idea why it was so extraordinary!  This made me giggle 🙂

And another description, this time of a lawyer: “He looked a trifle seedy, and one suspected that his professional abilities were mediocre.”

Oh I could carry on at greta length quoting parts that I really loved – Fen suggesting to Crispin (the author!) names for his next novel; the Benny Hill style chase through Oxford, and the fact that the girl had to sit outside the baths (as it was male only0 while they carried on chasing each other in there; the fact that Fen had ‘once made love to a girl over there, but not very well’; the aniquated names they call each other and the description of The Colossal (one of the smallest and most disreputable cinemas ever contrived).

But instead, I am just going to suggest you read it. It wont take you very long and will definitely put a smile on even the sternest of faces!

freedom – jonathan franzen


I wanted to like this book. I really did. It was our Book Club read choice that we discussed last night.  However, it wasn’t that long ago that we read The Corrections (although it felt that it was far more recent than November – it obviously hung around in my memory!).  And even though I claimed to have enjoyed reading it, I still only gave it 3/5 stars on Goodreads, so I obviously didn’t find it THAT enjoyable.

Freedom is about a supposedly ‘normal’ family living in America and shows each of the family members from each other’s eyes, from outsider’s eyes and from their own over a period of about six decades.

I had exactly the same initial disorientated feelings reading Freedom as I did with The Corrections.  You are plunged into the middle of an event, and introduced to this stream of people of which you have no way of knowing whether they are going to be relevant to the main story or not.

And once again, I found every single character pretty much unlikeable.  Now I am happy to have anti-heroes who you are supposed to dislike, but at least have something interesting about them that makes you want to know what happens to them next (mainly because you hope they’ll get their come-uppance), but i found all the characters unlikeable, pretty much unbelievable and I couldn’t actually care less what happened to them.  If I had got to the middle pages, and found they all died in a freak ‘satellite dropping from space’ accident and the rest of the book was in fact blank pages, I would have felt relieved.

There were also whole long rambling sections about specific conservation issues which were relevant to one of the characters – but not in so much detail!!  If I had wanted to read a conservation book, then I would’ve picked one up.  It didn’t move the story on at all and only served to annoy me even further!

Another thing that irked me was how Patty’s sections were written using the phrase “…the autobiographer…” far too often (I have just done a search on my Kindle and apparently it is mentioned 85 times!  Far too many in my view…or should that be in the autobiographer’s/reviewer’s view?).  There were also a lot of current references that seemd to have no bearing on the story, but felt like they had been included to make it feel very ‘now’.

And everything seemed to be wrapped up too neatly and conveniently and without much explanation in some cases.

All in all, there was some nice writing, some memorable scenes (eg searching for the wedding ring) and it wasn’t the absolute worst book I have read.  However, it was far more annoying than enjoyable, and I don’t like being annoyed by something that is meant to be entertaining me.

Overall, it felt smug and opinionated, wasn’t a patch on The Corrections (which wasn’t even an outstanding book itself) and grated on me more than I felt was acceptable!

And it was too long.

Of course – everyone else in Book Club absolutely loved it with a couple saying that it was the best book they have read in a very long time/this year etc.  So, whatever you do, don’t let my opinion sway you! 😀

american gods – neil gaiman

American Gods

Ever since I have been with The Man, he has been trying to get me to read American Gods, but I have steadfastedly refused (I like finding little ways to annoy him).  Daft I guess, as Good Omens is one of my favourite books of all time, and I have read Neverwhere about 10 times over the years!

This year so the tenth anniversary of American Gods first being published, and we were also looking for a book to reading August for the E17 Book Club, so I thought I would suggest it as it has had such fantastic reviews all over the place – including a massive 4.05/5 on Goodreads (from more than 58k ratings) and inclusion in World Book Night’s Top 100 Most Popular Books.  The rest of the group agreed!

The story starts with Shadow, a convict who is just being released from prison.  All he wants to do is return to his beautiful wife Laura, and get on with carving a better life for them.  However, soon after receiving some disturbing news about Laura, his life seems to take a turn for the more surreal.

He meets Mr Wednesday, who could be a God (if he is to be believed) and is offered a job with some rather strange stipulations.  Feeling that he has nothing to lose, Shadow agrees to the terms of the verbal contract and begins a road trip across America with the enigmatic Wednesday, meeting his ever stranger cohorts on their way, coupled with the intensifying feeling that something bigger than all of them is really going down!

If the book had been about 150 pages shorter, I could have very easily said “I LOVED IT!” – end of story!  But I can actually say that I really enjoyed it.  Shadow was a fantastic character – I really felt for him, and he was extremely easy to like – and when you like a character (especially if they are the protagonist), it makes you buy into the story that much more.  Wednesday was also a fantastic character – extremely visual.

Gaiman is a real story-teller, you get lost in his descriptions and ideas.  You just have to let yourself be taken along by him to where he wants you to be!  There were so many strands to the narrative, so many little incidents that seemed unimportant at the time, and then later became key or even vice versa – whole beautifully written mini stories that were almost seperate from the main text, and were never again referred to within it!

However, there seemed to be a crucial incident about 3/4 of the way into the book that lost a lot of us in the group.  We almost all lost interest at that point, and some found it rather gruelling to get to the end after it.

But don’t let this put you off of reading it, it is a truly magical story, and certainly makes you think about religion, contemporary worship (ie, are we all praying at the altar of consumerism and media?) and the morals of mankind.  Well, it made ME think anyway.

I think we should go back to the old ways, make a few sacrifices. Build more beautiful temples. Have more swordfights. Regain some magic and mystery.

the lost books of the odyssey – zachary mason

The Lost Books Of The Odyssey

This book was chosen as our monthly book for the E17 Book Club in May.  It is not a book I had heard of, or even would have picked up, but that’s what being part of a book club is all about, isn’t it?

As the title suggest, it takes its inspiration from Homer’s The Odyssey, and is a re-imagining by American-born (but now Oxford-based) author Zachary Mason – I think this is his debut.

It’s rather a compact book at just 240 pages (one of the reasons it won a vote at Book Club – it also had a pretty cover!), but is made up of 44 stories.

These stories take various parts of the original story and tell them from a fresh perspective, often the same part of the story (Odysseus returning home to Ithaca and Penelope) – for example in one, the place is deserted, in another, Penelope and his family grow far older than him.

Overall, I quite liked the book, but with 44 stories, I found it was a little hit and miss.  The chapters I really enjoyed were the ones that were a little longer (eg, they build a fortified town but build it downwards rather than upwards, or where Odysseus meets himself) as some of the shorter ones I thought “What was the point of that? Am I missing something?”

Overall, I think I probably WAS missing something, as I have never actually read The Odyssey (but then who actually has?).  Most of my knowledge of the story came from short excerpts and (more likely) Ulysses 31 (although there is no robot called Nono in this book, and the catchy but trashy 80s theme tune playing in my head rather jarred with the flowery, poetic language that I was reading!)

One of my fellow Book Clubbers actually managed to find a good translation of The Odyssey which is actually scripts by Simon Armitage from a Radio 4 play, so FAR easier to read, and it sounds like it added a lot to his experience of the book.  I may well give it a go!

I enjoyed the old-fashioned style – but then I have always liked Greek Mythology stories etc and this felt a very similar style.  I just wish that there had been more of an overall story, as it would have made it easier to follow.

The next book we will be reading for Book Club is The Elegance Of The Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery.

Interview with Zachary Mason.

shades of grey – jasper fforde

Shades Of Grey

“Rule  All children are to attend school until the age of sixteen or until they have learned everything, whichever be sooner.”

I have no idea why have never read a Jasper Fforde book before this – and I am sure to be adding as many as I can to be Wish List as I absolutely loved this book.

Although firmly planted in the realm of Science Fiction, there is very little science in it, and the world in which the story is set is a very simplistic technology-bare world, even though it is about 500 years in the future , hundreds of years after the ‘Something That Happened’!

This is a colour-centric world, but not colour as in skin-colour as we know it.  This is a world where people are judged by their sight.  A world where people have lost their ability to dilate their pupils, so nighttime is scary, and people do not go out in it.  A world where everyone can only see one predominant colour generally, and everything else is ‘shades of grey’.  A world where their ability to see these colours and the degree of which they can see them dictates their class and social standing.  A world without enough spoons.

Our hero is Eddie Russett, a low-level Red who has a half-promise of marriage to the up-hue Constance Oxblood, but has been sent to East Carmine on the Outer Fringes with his father as punishment for questioning the ‘Word of Munsell’ – a set of rules which is absolute, completely comprehensive and dictates all aspects of life.  Eddie’s suggested ‘Numbered Queuing System” has no place in The Collective, so he has been cast out temporarily Jade-Under-Lime in order to do some ‘Useful Work’  in his case, a chair census.

But in East Carmine, Eddie meets Jane, a lowly Grey, and realises that there may be more to life than securing a good marriage.  Jane could be more trouble than she is worth though, and when they start uncovering the truth of the world in which they are living, he wonders whether it would have been better to have remained ignorant.

It took a couple of chapters to get into the story as you are literally dumped into the middle of it.  You have no idea what’s going on with all the colours, you can’t get your head round why spoons are so important to people, and the whole merit/demerit, reboot and Leapbacks are just a foreign language!

I’m not a great sci-fi reader, and sci-fi certainly wasn’t what I was epxecting from this book – but it was gentle, easily-accessible sci-fi.  The world is so simplistic with its lack of technology that it doesn’t FEEL like sci-fi, even though it obviously is!

The last 15% of the book is absolutely amazing – when the explanation comes to some of the underlying mysteries, it is like a beam of light suddenly being shone, and suddenly it all makes sense.  I raced through the final pages.  And I didn’t want it to end.  I didn’t want to leave these fantastically written characters, who seemed so real.

So, I rushed home to see when the next book in the trilogy is due to be out…and imagine my horro when I read ‘likely to be released in 2014’.  2014??  that’s at leats three years away!!  and I am NOT liking the sound of that ‘likely’.

Please Mr Fforde – I need more Eddie & Jane.  I need more East Carmine.  Please!?

Other rules from the Word of Munsell:

Rule  The raising of one’s voice is permissable only at sporting events, and only from the spectators.  At all other times, speech is to be kept to a polite volume.

Rule  The cucumber and the tomato are both fruit; the avocado is a nut.  To assist with the dietary requirements of vegetarians, on the first Tuesday of the month a chicken is officially a vegetable.

Rule  Approved words to be used in oaths and chastisements can be found in Annexe 4 (permitted exclamations).  All other Very Bad Words are strictly prohibited.  fine for non-compliance:  Prefect’s discretion, 100 demerits maximum.

i want to do nothing

I guess it's not quite this bad for The Man...yet 😉

I seem to have been having quite a busy time recently, and I’m not quite sure how that happened.

On Friday, as The Man was going back to Middlesbrough for the weekend, I had to arrange to get The Girl over to Chigwell Row for her night-time ‘Woodland Walk’ with the Guides.  Yes, in this weather, someone thought it would be a good idea to get about 40 small girls together and tell scary stories and scream and giggle for a couple of hours.

Luckily the guide camp is about 10 minutes walk from my parents…(quick aside story:  when *I* was in Brownies, I remember getting totally and utterly over-excited because we were going on a camping trip when I was about 9 or 10.  I remember trying to pack my sleeping bag, mat etc and then the complete disappointment I felt when I realised that it was this same Camp Site.  The one I used to walk past near enough every day!)

So, me and The Girl spent the night at my parents.  I hadn’t seen much of them for ages, and haven’t slept there for a very long time.  however, sharing a bed with The Girl, although warm was not great with my insomnia.  she tends to twitch,  you can’t see it, but when you’re in bed with her, you can feel it.  it was really creepy. Strange creature that she is.

So, Saturday we spent some more time with my parents, and then came home and had a bit of a housework blitz (with no boy to ruin it), ordered pizza (to annoy The Man as it’s his fave, and he was hating being in Boro and just wanted to be home).  i felt exhausted and had called off my mate coming down (sorry Jo) and then had to turn down my other mate who rang me to see if he could come round.  it was only about 6.30pm but I was already in my PJs under the duvet watching crap TV!

On Sunday, me & The Girl got on the bus and went off to watch Megamind 3D – which was actually really good.  I can’t decide which I prefer out of that and Despicable Me!  When we got back, The Man had got home (with snow still on the roof of the car from Boro!) and we were really happy to have him back 🙂

Monday night, was the E17 Book Club at The Nags Head, where we talked about The Corrections – really nice as we drank mulled wine in front of the roaring open fire.

Last night was the Walthamstow Library Reading Group, and we actually went to the pub and bought a coupel of bottles of wine as our ‘pre-Xmas drinks’ and discussed Fasting, Feasting.

Tonight i’m out to see a show with my friend, and then I get a night off (hopefully for good behaviour) and then friday night I’m off to Brixton Academy to see Leftfield.

I feel worn out already!

fasting, feasting – anita desai

Fasting, Feasting

I read this as part of my Reading Group with Walthamstow Library.  It was very definitely a book of two halves – or more like a book of two-thirds and then one third, LOL.

The first part of the story centres around Uma, a (now) middle-aged spinster, living in India with ‘MamaPapa’, her parents who never leave each other’s side, thus seemingly one entity.  Uma is the oldest of three children.  Her thick glasses, plain looks, below-average intelligence and lack of knowledge of how to attract the opp0site sex has meant that she has lived almost her whole life in the family home.

The second part of the story follows her little brother Arun, who has gone to study in America.

To be honest, I wish that the story had never split.  I was loving Uma’s story.  The writing was so colourful, so well-crafted, the scenes drawn so vividly that it kind of disguised a lot of how totally depressing Uma’s life was.

In contrast, we are suddenly thrown into Arun’s life where he is staying with an american family during the summer break.  he is quiet and not exactly likeable.  the family are dysfunctional and he doesn’t really enjoy being there.  everything is based around food – the father who BBQs everything, the mother who decides to be a vegetarian with Arun, the health freak son and the bulimic daughter.  It was all very odd.

I couldn’t care less what happened to Arun, there was hardly any reference to his family back in India and there was absolutely no resolution to Uma’s story which had been far more enjoyable and which I had really bought into!

I would really recommend reading the first part of this book, but would suggest people didn’t bother with the second!

Why it was shortlisted for the 1999 Booker Prize is beyond me.

book group whore

Typical book group? There's no beardy-weirdies at the library one!

I’m feeling slightly slutty.

Tonight, I will be seeing another Book Club for the first time – behind my Reading Group’s back.

I am a little nervous, as this is ‘stranger danger’ as I will be meeting new people, and although according to Twitalyzer I am a ‘Social Butterfly’, meeting new people does always give me a case of the bowel cramps, so to speak.

I am really enjoying being part of the Walthamstow Library Reading Group – and I went along to our meeting on Tuesday and we had a brilliant discussion about That Old Ace In The Hole and I picked up my copy of our next book, which is Fasting, Feasting by Anita Desai (which I had never heard of).

However, before I had gone along to my first Reading Group meeting, I had in fact contacted someone from a group that meet at The Nags head in Walthamstow Village – but they break for the summer, and tonight was the first meeting they have had since.

So, I have convinced my friend to come along with me, and we have both read the book (luckily it was a very thin book – but also a very weird one…Andrew Kaufman’s ‘All My Friends Are Superheroes’ – I will review it later).  I am just crossing my fingers that a) other people actually turn up and b) that they’re lovely.

Is it wrong to belong to two groups?

talking in the library

This just amused me when I was looking for a pic 😉

Seems wrong, doesn’t it –  having a discussion in a library?  But that is what I did last night.

OK, all is not quite as it seems – I decided to go and see whether the Reading Group at Walthamstow Central Library was something I might find interesting.

They meet at 7pm on the last Tuesday of every month, and it appears I went on a night when they had the least number of people turning up ever (probably the summer holidays – everywhere seems to be a bit sparse at the moment).

It’s quite good as they provide the library with the name of the next book they want to read, and the library provide enough copies for everyone, and then they hand it back at the next meeting, and pick up the next lot.

They had just finished reading The Time Traveller’s Wife, which I had read and enjoyed – but when it first came out, so I could barely remember any details at all.  It was really interesting to be able to discuss everyone’s different takes on the book – and especially one person who didn’t like it at all and hadn’t finished reading it – but then she had already decided how it was going to end…and it doesn’t.  After listening to the rest of us discussing, she realised that she might find it interesting after all, LOL.

So, I came home with my copy of Ben Okri’s The Famished Road, which I have to be honest, I had never heard of, but am looking forward to reading.

Just thinking about going again in a few weeks though has made me realise that I am going to tackle the book differently.  Knowing that I am going to be discussing it makes me think I should take notes etc – which seems a bit ‘bookish’ to me, and something I haven’t done since school – which was a LONG time ago!

There’s a Walthamstow Book Club that I am also interested in going along to – but I don’t know when they are next meeting.  Is two book clubs just greedy??

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