At a loose end? Fancy a chat about books, a coffee and some home-made cake? Pop round to the NorthernReader stronghold for one of our monthly meetings. In the summer we walk and talk, in the winter we prefer to sit. If you would love to come but don’t know where, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
NEXT TIME: Friday 29th April 2016 at 11 o’clock: (who else?) William Shakespeare.
Coffee, cake and which-is-your-favourite-play: what more could one ask?
Friday 18th March 2016: The Film I’d Make. Which is the book to which you would most like to own the film rights? Who would you cast? Where would you find your sets and locations? Full-scale models, costumes, scores – all welcome but none required!
Friday 19th February 2016: Heores, Heroines and Villains On a morning suspended between winter and spring, with sunshine, snowdrops and showers, the craic was as good as ever and there were lively discussions about favourite goodies and baddies in fiction (with some highly enjoyable digression into real-life heroines: Eizabeth Tudor has a big fan club here in the north of England, in turns out, and we have added Jerrie Cobb the would-be astronaut to our pantheon of living heroines). Cruella de Vil takes some beating as the arch-villain, with (dis)honourable mentions going to Mr Todd in Evelyn Waugh’s A Handful of Dust – who reminded us of Mr Tod in Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Jemima Puddleduck – Iago, Othello’s nemesis and Richard Parker in Yann Martel’s Life of Pi. Flora Poste in Stella Gibbon’s Cold Comfort Farm, Dorothea in Middlemarch, Precious Ramotswe in Alexander McCall-Smith’s No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, Anna in When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit and Anne, she of Green Gables fame, all have passionate advocates as heroines, and the chaps were well-represented with Sidney Carton from A Tale of Two Cities, Gilbert Blythe – Anne of Green Gables again – and Paddington Bear among those avdly discussed. The number of children’s books we talked about is no coincidence: what we read, or have read to us, when small resonates with us for life.
Friday 15th January 2016: A New Year’s Resolution What is your bookish aim for 2016? To read something you’ve never tackled; to try a new genre; perhaps to get writing? We settled down with coffee-and-walnut cake to share our hopes and dreams. Most importantly, we unanimously rejected the self-flagellating demand for getting a new year off to a thoroughly miserable start – just at the season’s lowest ebb when everything (except, sadly, oneself) feels a little thin – by inflicting some loathsome confessional of Things We Ought To Be Doing and Things We Ought Not To Be Doing. ‘Cut yourself a little slack’ turns out to be our extremely sensible January motto, and there is nowhere better to begin than with a determination to stop fretting about the Books-I-Should-Have-Read. If nothing else, the untimely deaths of those two most grace-full men, David Bowie and Alan Rickman, reminded us of the possibility that the lights might go out before we have read every last word there is to be read. So if you haven’t read Proust, so what? It seems singularly unlikely that St Peter will meet you at Check-In with a tick-list of required reading.
Read for pleasure, not for posterity or because you think someone is watching. Try anything once, but be happy to cast aside anything that is really not for you. Geography alone dictates that we cannot all be NorthernReaders, but we could make 2016 the year we liberate ourselves to be Happy Readers.
Friday December 4th: Three Books What book would you like to receive for Christmas? What would you like – or are planning – to give to someone? And what is your all-time favourite Christmas (or Christmassy) book? A grand gathering of Northern Readers shared ideas, passed treasured copies of old favourites round and whetted the appetite with readings aloud. And lo, there was much rejoicing, as one person’s recommendation became someone else’s Christmas shopping list or letter to Santa. We want books! We love novels – Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant and Kate Atkinson’s A God in Ruins stand out as the most-coveted new publications of 2015, and several of us are off to read John Grisham’s Skipping Christmas and AS Byatt’s The Children’s Book as well. Talking of books for children, it turns out that for many of us Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without Little Women; and KatePonders’ copy of The Jolly Christmas Postman was greeted with little cries of recognition and joy, leading us on to fond memories of CS Lewis’s Narnia novels, Lucy M Boston’s Green Knowe series, Beatrix Potter’s The Tailor of Gloucester and John Masefield’s Box of Delights. There was strong support for non-fiction, too. Mary Beard’s SPQR, Robert MacFarlane’s Landmarks (that’s one I can’t wait to read) and Ben Fogle’s completely essential Labrador all have fans, and so does Neil MacGregor, whose Shakespeare’s Restless World is a must-have – as is, for one of us at least, The Profession of Violence which is about the Kray twins and will certainly act as a counterbalance to too much seasonal sweetness and light.
Thursday14th May: Talking Politics
We met in May to talk about politics. Call us suckers for punishment, but we thought we might have a government of sorts by then, a week after the General Election on 7th May. Trollope, political biographies and autobiographies all got discussed, but with our customary shining good sense we spent much more time putting the world to rights: and, of course, eating cake.
Thursday 16th April: Books and the North-East
We are developing a slight and pleasing tendency towards a secret life as the NorthernReader Great Baking Club, and our morning swapping ideas about books with a local provenance or setting provided food for the tum as well as the mind. But goodness me, this part of the globe has inspired some fabulous books. Sitting here an inch or so from Hadrian’s Wall, we thought, of course, of Rosemary Sutcliff and her Eagle of the Ninth series. Mary Stewart’s suspenseful romance, The Ivy Tree, shares our turf as well, while Anya Seton’s Devil Water comes highly recommended to you by us all as a glimpse of the turbulent past of these Debateable Lands. And we celebrated a whole host of local authors, from David Almond and the late Paul Torday to Catherine Cookson, James Kirkup and Sarah Stovell. It gave me enormous pleasure to tell my lovely fellow-readers about the great John Lilburne, a local boy whose passion for human rights caused his seventeenth-century contemporaries to call him ‘Freeborn John’ and whose bravery, tenacity and sheer bloody-mindedness should make him a much better-remembered hero of the guardians of free speech.
Thursday 5th March: Science in Fiction
Doesn’t time fly when you’re having fun: a remark too often used sarcastically, but today’s NorthernReaders ate up the time (and the delicious cakes – thank you Sheila) as we shared our favourites and introduced each other to new books. Homage was duly paid to Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett (whose death a week later is much lamented}. We realised how little science features in children’s fiction and took our hats off to Arthur Ransome, who lets his characters learn and explore a whole range of scientific disciplines, from geology and copper-smelting to the physics of salvage. For adults, the genre that does most to represent the life scientific is detective fiction. From Arthur Conan Doyle, who used his own experience as a doctor to create a sleuth who uses scientific observation to come to a diagnosis, to the popularity of gruesomely detailed forensic police procedurals, crime fiction has made us all familiar with reasoning based on evidence. And we noticed, too, the way fiction uses scientific discovery to tease out big moral and philosophical questions. Brecht’s Galileo and Michael Frayn’s Copenhagen, his wonderful play about the wartime meeting of physicists Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg, emerged as must-reads: or, better still (National Theatre and the splendid streaming to a cinema near us please note), must-sees.
Thursday 5th February: Books for All Seasons
Coffee, cranberry and cinnamon muffins, wood-burner, and piles of books: the recipe for a perfect morning get-together in the NorthernReader stronghold to chat about books that magic up a real sense of a season of the year. Among our favourites were Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose, which permeates its sense of winter’s cold deep into its readers’ bones, and JL Carr’s A Month in the Country, a wonderful novel full of heavy English summer (and I’ve just discovered that there is a film of the book, starring COLIN FIRTH!!! and KENNETH BRANAGH!!! I feel a NorthernReader Film Club coming on). Kathleen Jamie is the recommendation I am looking forward to reading: I had not heard of her, and clearly both Findings and Sightlines are treats in store. We all fell on the Ladybird What To Look For series with little cries of remembrance of things past. And, in the way of all good conversations about books, we strayed and meandered and took unexpected paths towards, around and away from our topic. So we ended at Eleanor Farjeon (by way of her brother Herbert’s Cricket Bag: not quite as odd a remark as it seems and a highly recommended book) and Easter because we were thinking about springtime, and Edward Thomas because we had just been talking about his wonderful lyrical writing about the English countryside. And that took us to the poem that she wrote when she heard about Thomas’s death, ‘Easter Monday’. If you happen not to know it, here it is.
In the last letter that I had from France
You thanked me for the silver Easter egg
Which I had hidden in the box of apples
You like to munch beyond all other fruit.
You found the egg the Monday before Easter,
And said, ‘I will praise Easter Monday now –
It was such a lovely morning.’ Then you spoke
Of the coming battle and said, ‘This is the eve.
Good-bye. And may I have a letter soon.’
That Easter Monday was a day for praise.
It was such a lovely morning. In our garden
We sowed our earliest seeds, and in the orchard
The apple-bud was ripe. It was the eve.
There are three letters that you will not get.
Our Walks and Books in 2014
Inspired by EmilyBooks, who runs a book club that treks across the unmapped wasteland of Hampstead Heath while chatting about books, Northumberland can now proudly boast of the NorthernReader Walking Book Club. Each month, we meet somewhere comfortingly near a source of coffee and cake, go for a walk in our unfailingly gorgeous countryside while sharing our thoughts about books – what we’ve loved, what we’ve loathed, what to read next – and find ourselves mysteriously back just in time for a little something. Do come and join us: we would LOVE to meet you.
In July 2014, friends and neighbours gathered at my house for coffee, cake, and that much-postponed chat about books with A Sense of Place. What are the books that have made somewhere come alive for you, we asked ourselves (when we weren’t busy swapping recipes, or gardening tips)? We quickly realised that Italy wins hands-down when it comes to effective evocation on the page. Donna Leon, EM Forster, Andrea Camillieri …. the Aeneid was no slouch either, now we come to think of it. Gerald Durrell and Ellis Peters may not sound as if they have much in common, but both create their world – Corfu especially for Durrell and Shrewsbury for Peters – that we hesitate to visit their present-day incarnations for fear of disappointment. Because one of the things we realised was that many of our favourite scene-setters also transport us to another time (the Thirties for Durrell, the twelfth century for Peters: you can see why all those lorries thundering through startled me when I actually went to Shrewsbury).
In May 2014, the plan was to meet at St Mungo’s Church Simonburn, walk in the glorious North Tyne valley and celebrate with coffee at Simonburn Tearooms. Our theme this month was Children’s Books. OK. It rained. A lot. And the tearoom was closed. But were we defeated? Of course not. A quick relay by car to the Riverside Tea Room at Chollerford Bridge (mmm, yummy cakes) and the conversation sparkled as always (we know no other way). Fond memories of very first books – Ladybird’s Baby’s First Book, Baby’s World and (slightly less obviously) Debbie Bliss Baby and Toddler Knits– led us to wonder at the way tiny children acquire language, as we recalled happy hours weaving stories around the pictures and grasping the whole idea of the colour red. We all agreed that, a few Russian oligarchs apart (and how many of them are seriously investing in the collected works of Mick Inkpen?), no parent can afford to be without a good public library. When we turned our thoughts to books for slighter older children, the truly great – Carroll, Grahame, Milne – were duly celebrated, but there were strong votes for the glory that is Arthur Ransome (never patronises his readers), Alan Garner (makes boys keep reading), and Tales of the Arabian Nights (pure magic). Above all, and very cheeringly, we rousingly maintained that there are no ghettoes in the world of books: all children can read whatever takes their fancy, and all adults are allowed to keep reading children’s books. Hurray!
In April 2014, our meeting place was Bardon Mill Village Store and Tearoom and our theme was Writing History. No-one could call that rain! We had a splendid stroll across the South Tyne and up the hill to the enchanting hamlet of Beltingham: some soft weather, but no actual wetness. And, as expected, a free-wheeling, wide-ranging discussion as we walked. Divided opinons on Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies and strong recommendations for the Horrible Histories to grip small imaginations (forget the grandeur and the glory: what little people want to know about is blood, death and poo). Mary Renault, Alan Hollinghurst and Penelope Fitzgerald were all widely praised. The best historical novels, we decided, are the ones where the novelist has a theme – love, redemption, the usual suspects – and explores it in a specific setting, rather than the over-faithful and dogged recounting of a past age or a past life. We like our research well-digested, thank you, not regurgitated for paragraph after relentless paragraph. And we like our choclate hot, our coffee served with a smile, and our cakes scrumptious – all boxes ticked at Bardon Mill Village Stores and Tea Rooms, where the Walking Book Club and its darling baby walker were greeted warmly and made brilliantly welcome. We’ll be back.
Our first-ever walk was in March 2014, from Wall Village Hall to St Oswald’s Tearoom. Our theme? I love this book.
See Week 30 for what happened
(we had a lovely time, thank you)