I have been part of a book club in the past, but despite the best efforts of our conscientious leader, we were a bit of a shambles. In the glory days, we even maintained a spreadsheet of scores, but often books were not read on time (I was one of the worst culprits) and eventually we fell. It didn’t help that we always met in the pub, and I think that alcohol ultimately contributed to the club’s dramatic and untimely demise.
The Southend-on-Sea Big Readers are different. They actually read their books, and they read a lot. The group have reviewed over 200 books since 2003, and are currently attempting to discuss 2 books a month. They even have a website – http://southendbigreaders.info/
So when they reviewed my book, The Path of Good Response, and I was invited to join the Zoom meeting, I was terrified.
I somehow managed to join the meeting as Hannah Frogley, an excellent start. Seeing everybody’s faces on the screen was initially quite intimidating. It was also a revelation that nobody else on the call appeared to be drinking, or they hid their glasses well.
I needn’t have worried though. Everybody was really nice and supportive. The overall feedback was positive, and though, no doubt, there was an element of cutting me some slack face to face, I found their comments very encouraging. It was also great to receive some constructive criticism of the book, and I found their observations to be insightful and on the money. Some aspects of the book had bothered me, and they cut straight to these areas. It was very helpful, and I didn’t cry.
The discussions went far beyond the book itself though. I have seen some of the points discussed raised independently on social media. Should books have a certification, or a least a warning about their content? My book does contain adult content, and I would be horrified if it offended anybody. One view expressed was that if you are old enough to read the book, you’re probably old enough to handle the content. However, when the question was partially flipped, some recalled the negative impact a few books had made earlier in their lives (if I remember some of the examples correctly, Pan horror stories, and some Ray Bradbury novels had been found to be disturbing at an early age). I think I was still a rabbit in headlights during these discussions, but in hindsight, I remember reading James Herbert novels at quite an early age. The horror scenes had little impact, but if I stumbled across a love scene when my parents were in the room, I couldn’t hold the book close enough to my chest.
On that point, love scenes in novels were also discussed. Are they necessary? We discussed the “Bad Sex in Fiction award”. Later in bed, I desperately tried to recall how we got on that subject…
But it was also observed that avoiding a love scene altogether is equally amusing. The example of the novel, ShantaraIm was specifically raised, which I had also noticed avoided a love scene – perhaps because little else was avoided in that really good novel. It was all very funny.
So how did, The Path of Good Response fare? I’d like to pretend that I was indifferent to the result, but I immediately downloaded the scoring page into a spreadsheet, and sorted the numbers. It currently sits 106th out of the 201 books read, if you are interested.
Even as I write this, I acknowledge that is more than a little flattering, given the amazing books on this list. As I said, there was a lot of goodwill shown to me on the call, and though I would love to believe the positioning, I’ll take that scoring with a pinch of salt.
Perhaps, more telling are the reviews that were left by the book club on Amazon, for which I am very grateful.
Overall, I loved feeling part of a book club for a few hours again, and speaking to different people during lockdown. They were really nice. Nobody was shouting anybody else down, and it was a great group discussion. The best and worst thing about being in a book club is that you are forced to read books that you wouldn’t necessarily choose. There was a great thread on Twitter asking the single word or phrase that would put you off a book. We asked the same question on the call, and there was a wide variety of answers, including “science fiction” and “romantic”. My own is “heart-warming”. However, I completely understand that some people are looking for exactly that in a book, when the world outside is a little unsettling.
But that’s the whole point of a book club. If you ask one hundred people their ten favourite books, you’ll get one hundred different lists. I can’t recall reading many books where I haven’t enjoyed something about them, and it’s rewarding to try to see something from somebody else’s perspective.
Having said that, I was just plain relieved that they weren’t horrible about The Path of Good Response.
Thanks Southend-on-Sea Big Readers.