Friday, October 19, 2012

Postcard from book club

I haven't got on well with book clubs in the past. Too frequently having to read books I didn't enjoy or listen to people who like the sound of their own voice despite having nothing relevant to say had put me off. But when I heard Waterstones on New Street in Birmingham were putting together a group to judge the longlist for The Guardian's First Book Award, I was tempted to have another go.

One reason was the fact the award covers non-fiction, and poetry as well as fiction and the thought of reading well beyond my usual, safe choices appealed. Another reason was an assumption that all the books might be good by virtue of being on the longlist. These things are subjective but, despite that assumption, I quickly ran into one of my problems - I had to read books I didn't enjoy. At all.

It was intense - 11 books in 8 weeks and weekly meetings to collate our opinions. A good challenge for a writer looking to improve her critical reading though. And, here's the real highlight, the other members of the group were great. We didn't always agree, but that was part of the joy of it because we never fell out and had many laughs along the way.

The Guardian will announce the final shortlist based on input from ours and 3 other groups soon but here's my personal pick (and issues - while the point is that these are first books, ie the author has room to grow, none of them got unreserved praise from me):
The China Factory by Mary Costello - moving, tender, beautifully expressed short stories (but there's little light to temper the shade in the collection so I don't recommend reading it in one go and the male characters didn't always ring true to me)
The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers - intense observations from the front line (but this one split our group - some didn't rate it)
Absolution by Patrick Flanery - by far the most accomplished and satisfying read of the list (but perhaps too clever for its own good - it makes the reader work hard for the story).


Timberati said...

I agree with you. It's hard to maintain my attention since there are so many shiny new books about. Why just the other day...oh look at that...

Katharine D'Souza said...

He he. The internet is the worst distraction of them all.

Guy Saville said...

Very interesting post, K. I've also enjoyed read your weekly reviews on FB.

11 books in 8 weeks is some going! I always wonder how the Booker judges get through their list. I remember John Carey saying he had to read a full length novel a day to keep up with the schedule.

Thanks for your own 3 recommendations. One day I will have enough time to read books for pleasure again. One day...

Look forward to seeing your choices on the official list.

Katharine D'Souza said...

Those wouldn't be my top recommendations from everything I've read recently. Can't believe Alison Moore's The Lighthouse didn't make the longlist for this.

Here's hoping you get some free time soon though.