Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Read in 2011 - 9: The Reading Group

Now, doesn't this title almost sound like the perfect book for any book lover?

Well, I'm afraid it is not - although it is a nice enough read, and has both its entertaining and touching moments.

The subtitle reads "Where the books end, the stories begin", and so this book is about the lives of a group of women who meet once a month to discuss a book one of them has chosen for all of them to read until next time.

Each chapter is named according to the month, starting with January (obviously), and comes with a short introduction to the book chosen for that month. There are relatively recent books ("Atonement", Ian McEwan, 2001) and one going back as far as 1918 ("My Antonia", Willa Cather). I have read three out of the 12 books listed, but none of the descriptions make me want to read any of the others.

The women meet at each other's houses in turn, and you learn a little more about each book by what they say about it, but as I said, it does not make me want to read the whole lot.
It is a nice touch that not every woman likes every book the others have suggested; sometimes they almost ridicule the monthly read for it being "too intellectual" or too cheesy.

So, mainly, the book is about the lives of the women (and their men) who form the group, and what makes it interesting is that all of them seem to have a good, average, unexciting life from the outside but - of course - with lots of drama going on inside. They are of different age groups and in different situations; some are single mothers, some married happily, some less so, some work, some don't have to, some were friends before the reading group started while others hardly knew any of the others.

And this is what I miss: How did the whole group start? Who started it, and what were the criteria for inviting those who became part of it?
After I'd finished the book last night, I went back to the first chapter to see whether I'd simply missed it, but all I could find was that, apparently, Susan was the founder of the group, and one participant was chosen on request of her mother because she thought it might help to distract her daughter from her problems.
Other than that, there is no clue as to how the women have come to know each other initially, apart from those who already were best friends before, like Harriet and Nicole, and Susan, who made the curtains for one of the women (or was it for their mother?).

Still, it is an eventful year in the lives of those British (upper) middle-class ladies, and not a boring book; I just think the Reading Group theme is neglected and was not really necessary to tell the stories.

A lot - well, actually, the whole book - revolves around love, motherly love mainly, but not exclusively. Family values are held up high, and I imagine it has mothers young and less young nod in agreement and recognition with a lot of what is going on with the kids.

While I definitely do not think of this book as a "must", I can still recommend it to who likes stories about strong and less strong women, their friendships with each other and their lives at home.

Time for some non-fiction now, I think.


  1. Since I haven't read this book I should not voice a comment, but that won't stop me!
    I've never joined a reading group because I find I'm frequently out of step. Often the very things that impress others leave me cold...same with movie critics; I never pick the Oscar winners.

  2. Comments on my book summaries are always welcome, Jill, no matter whether you've read the book or not.
    Like you, I rarely share the hype around a particular movie or book. But the idea of the reading group as such appeals to me: to get to read stuff that otherwise one would not choose, and this sometimes offers very interesting possibilities.

  3. happy to see you at Farmhouse Kitchen...and what an eye you have, my friend

    YES!!!! those ARE julie's plates.
    i just LOVE them !!!!!

    happy to visit here with you today

    kary and teddy

  4. Excellent review. You've given a real sense of what this book is all about. I can't seem to read this sort of book that features many women, usually at different stages of life, usually with one who is ill, usually one with an unfaithful husband. I've tried a few over the years, but they just aren't for me, though I know a lot of women who adore them. So, there you go. Good thing there are lots of kinds of books, eh?!!

  5. Sound like an interesting mix of women! Are you in any reading groups? I often think about joining one . . . but never have!

  6. I enjoyed the review but may skip the book. Then again, I read far less than I used to except I try not to miss your blogs.

  7. Kary, Julie's creations are just so unmistakable, and I was happy to spot them near your sink!

    Nan, I agree 100% - it's like music, isn't it, there is something there for everyone.

    Mary, I am not and have never been in a reading group, but I moderate a small forum called bookpeople on a German website, and I am always interested to find out what the other members like or dislike about what they've read.

    Mark, this book can hardly be called a "must" so you are allowed to skip it and dedicate your precious time to other, more important, matters (such as writing poetry and blog entries...) :-)

  8. What happened here? There were four more comments from readers, plus one of mine to reply to them, and they are all gone!
    Well, I know that blogger has undergone some changes and was offline a few times, but I truly wish those comments are not lost forever but will be visible again soon.

  9. I hope so too. It makes me crazy when 'things' disappear mysteriously into the ether.

  10. They have not come back (the comments, I mean) so I'm afraid they are gone for good...
    At least I have managed to comment again on the posts of other bloggers I am following, because my comments to them had disappeared, too.