I’m still feeling my way round getting back to writing here, but as the hours of daylight get longer so the problem with my eyes becomes slightly less of an issue and while I don’t think I’ll ever get back to posting as regularly as I used to the need to be part of the book blogging world is beginning to outweigh the discomfort.
Are you all well? I do hope the winter months have treated you kindly. The Bears would like you to know that they are thriving, although they could have done without the freezing temperatures during the nights and were observed to be channelling Queen Victoria when the snow forced them to cancel an outing last week.
Life has not been entirely bookless. I am, however, having to be rather more discriminating in what I choose to spend my reading time on. At the moment I’m coming to the end of Kamila Shamsie’s Orange shortlisted novel, Burnt Shadows. This reinforces the value of a good book group, because I doubt I would ever have read the work had it not been selected by another reader for discussion this coming Wednesday. Starting with the horror of Nagasaki, it charts the life of Hiroko Tanaka, a nuclear survivor, who then finds herself caught up in further international conflicts as her life takes her to the India of partition, the subsequent subcontinental nuclear confrontation and the aftermath of the twin towers. If this sounds depressing reading then I suppose in one sense it is, but the very fact that through all these troubles Hiroko is able to maintain supportive friendships with people who should stand firmly on the other side of the political divide gives grounds for hope that at some point in the future we might find a way of co-existing with those who are ideologically in the opposite camp.
We will be glad to get back to a ‘proper’ group meeting this month. December and January were given over to an experiment to bring several reading groups together to discuss the same novel and explore it in greater depth through the involvement of an academic who had studied the work and might thus bring a different level of insight to the conversation. We read the book for our individual meeting in December and then met with the other groups in January. This would have been really interesting had it not been for the fact that the book chosen was, to put it bluntly, poor. Or at least, we thought it was. All the other groups loved it and I know that a lot of book bloggers did as well. However, I think that was because of the subject matter, which was always going to appeal to those who are interested in the book world. What no one ever asked was ‘is this a well written book?’. And we just didn’t think it was.
You will have noticed that I am being very circumspect about the title of this work. I’m pretty certain some of you will have enjoyed it too and I don’t want to alienate you all and have you scream at me to crawl back under my winter stone just as I’ve stuck my nose out to smell the daffodils. It is interesting, however, what different groups demand of the books that they choose to read. Are we just attracted by the themes or do we look for quality in the writing as well? Someone said to me that having two literary PhDs and a Professor of English Language amongst our number does make us a rather unusual group, but surely you don’t have to have formal qualifications to be interested in the quality of an author’s writing? What do you focus on in your groups? Do you question the writer’s ability to write with skill as well as to tackle interesting subjects? Surely we are not alone in this?