Róisín Ingle on . . . book clubbing

Sat, Apr 19, 2014, 01:00

At the book club recently, something unusual happened. As a group, consensus is not something we usual dabble in. Usually, it’s cocktail sausages flung across the table in disagreement and some of us (me) can get a bit heated if H has brought along good wine, which he almost always does.

I had chosen the book this time and it was my book everyone was agreeing about around my kitchen table. I had recently bought an oilskin tablecloth covered in a colourful owl print which I’d hoped might get some praise because what’s the point of doing something to your house if you don’t have people around to notice and “ooh” and “aah” over it a bit. If nobody sees it, your home improvements are up there in the realm of the tree falling in the forest question: if there’s nobody around to hear it, does it make a sound? Or is that a bear?

Anyway. “I call it an owl-skin tablecloth,” is what I had prepared to say, casually, as though I had just come up with it off the top of my head when the inevitable compliments came. But not one person commented on the table covering which goes to show how diverting the discussion was.

Appalling and badly written, declared S, our newest member. In the hands of someone else it could have been an acceptable read but the author didn’t have the skills for the job.

As anyone who has joined an already established book club like ours – one with a secretary and an annual newsletter – your first salvo as a new member is important, vital even when it comes to your future standing in the club. S is in another book club and since most of us can just about manage membership of one, he was to be admired even before he uttered a word.

Over mini-pizzas S issued an erudite, wide ranging explanation as to why the book had, in his opinion, failed. Just when we were beginning to be slightly in awe and let’s be honest a bit jealous of his book knowledge, he ended his contribution in self-deprecating manner by recalling at his other book club how he was the only member who wasn’t a fan of Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch . The same Goldfinch that won Tartt a Pulitzer this week. S, the Pulitzer judges will be fascinated to know, found it “meandering” I think or “unsuccessful”. Anyway, he hated this latest book with an eloquence you might hear on Radio 4 any day of the week and that pretty much set the tone of the evening.

Normally when you choose the book and everyone thinks it is the world’s worst, it’s a bit of a toe-curling experience for the chooser, but the discussion was so interesting, and it was the first time in our eight-year history we had all agreed on a book, so I felt almost proud to have been the instigator of the chat. The book I chose was riding high in the best seller lists and after counting the many ways in which none of us enjoyed it (“unbelievable” “cliched” “clunky”) we got to wondering why it was proving so popular outside of our book club. The answers ranged from from the intense marketing around the book to a point of view that suggested people were reading it because it was so bad it was somehow good. Dan Brown’s name was mentioned in vain here.

I have no time for literary snobbery. Just because someone has spent years on a book and just because the average person needs a dictionary beside them to get through it, doesn’t mean it’s any good. My own contribution that evening, apart from my monthly declaration that I want to pat the back of anyone who has written a book just for finishing the thing, was a spirited (H’s wine was very good that night) appraisal of popular women’s fiction and the reasons why Marian Keyes is the John Banville of this genre.

I’m with those people who believe there are only two kinds of books. Well written ones and badly written ones. And I know this has all been a bit negative, so I’ll just tell you I’m reading A Model Partner by Dubliner Daniel Seery at the moment, and that it’s great. Seery is a fresh, funny, original Irish voice who if there were any justice in the world would be bothering the best seller lists now and for years to come. If you are looking for a book to read over the Easter break, this could be it. Though don’t take my word for it. Obviously.


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