Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Spoilt for Choice: Reading Groups at Lewisham Libraries

Joining a reading group seemed a good idea when I was turned off by the chick-lit and celebrity biogs on bookshop shelves. And I'm in just the right place. Lewisham is a big borough, stretching from Blackheath to Forest Hill, with twelve libraries. Most seem to host reading groups.

It's two years since I joined the crime reading group at Lewisham Central Library. We meet on the third Saturday of the month, attendance depending on how popular the book is. Last month's choice, The Dragon Tattoo attracted twelve but the usual group is 6-8 people. There's a suggestions list, but choice often depends on current library holdings, eked out with loans from neighbouring boroughs. Books are kept between meetings for new members to request.

The host isn't always the same librarian, but the role is much the same: replenishing the drinks and biscuits supplies, updating the comment file and prompting discussion. Not that it's necesary - tastes vary and most people are ready to give opinions.

A big advantage with the crime genre is the range. The more predicatble British and American writers like Ian Rankin, Val McDermid, Lynda La Plante, Nicci Gerrard and James Elroy take turns with 'literary' works, such as Kate Summerscale's The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, Jasper Fforde's The Eyre Affair and Case Histories by Kate Atkinson.

More recently there's been a spate of Scandinavian authors: Arnaldur Indridson's Silence of the Grave; Hakan Nesser's The Return and of course Stieg Larsson's The Dragon Tattoo It's prompted interesting discussion about national characteristics and representation in crime novels.

The current choice is a blockbuster called Homicide: a year on the Killing Streets which like Mr Whicher blurs the boundary of fact and fiction.It's written by David Simon, famous for the TV adaptation of The Wire.

Most discussions progress from the book in question to other works with similar themes/settings/ characters to comparison with film and TV series. It's a way of getting to know writers I wouldn't have read otherwise.

Maybe in reaction to all these murders, I've gone back to 'straight' literature. So for Blackheath Village and Manor House Library groups respectively I read Antonia White's Frost in May, a fascinating account of an Irish convent boarding school in the 50s that I read years ago, and Sean Longley's The Hartlepool Monkey, a recently-published subversive historical novel with an eighteenth century setting which made me laugh. Next Blackheath choice is a favourite, Graham Greene's The Quiet American, which I've seen as a film starring Michael Caine.

On Saturday I learned there's now a writing group that meets at Lewisham library. It makes perfect sense to me but I can see that's another interruption to my writing intentions.

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