Books recently read by the bookclub

‘The Stopping Places’ by Damian Le Bas

Tricia writes “A lovely meeting on Monday with all in agreement that The Stopping Places was very well written and evoked the romanticism and nostalgia of the travelling life style.”

Waterstones Review

Viewed romantically in their traditional Romani form yet excoriated frequently in their modern guise, Travellers occupy a complex place in the national psyche. Descended from gypsies yet embarrassed at his lack of knowledge about the culture, journalist Damian le Bas sets out on an instructive tour of the ‘stopping places’ of gypsy lore in this eye-opening and beautifully written work.

The Book of Form and Emptiness (2022) by Ruth Ozeki

Waterstones review: As everyday objects start talking to fourteen-year-old Benny in the wake of a family bereavement, he seeks refuge in a library populated by unforgettable characters in this breathtakingly original and compassionate novel from the author of A Tale for the Time Being.

Prisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall (2015)

Waterstones review : In this runaway bestseller, the former Sky News Diplomatic Editor Tim Marshall offers a panoptic view of how geography has shaped the history of the world – and why it continues to do so.

A Waterstones Non-Fiction Book of the Month for 2016

Fahrenheit 451′ by Ray Bradbury (1953)

Tricia says “Very good discussion of Fahrenheit 451. It seems that more unites us than divides us as our meeting proved.” Click for Waterstones review

The Gathering’ by Anne Enright (2007)

Waterstones Review: Winner of the Man Booker Prize 2007

The nine surviving children of the Hegarty clan gather in Dublin for the wake of their wayward brother Liam. It wasn’t the drink that killed him – although that certainly helped – it was what happened to him as a boy in his grandmother’s house, in the winter of 1968.

The Gathering is a novel about love and disappointment, about thwarted lust and limitless desire, and how our fate is written in the body, not in the stars.

Tricia says “We had a nice meeting on 19th Sept to discuss ‘The Gathering’. We sat in the pub’s sun flooded and very glamorous conservatory with a huge TV screen behind us recording the sad event of the Queen’s funeral; so those who wanted to touch base with the event were able to.

The consensus was mainly that we found The Gathering to be brilliantly written if a little confusing chronologically speaking. Some people also felt it to be too depressing. We somehow managed to divert into discussing Dignity in Dying with some illuminating discussion on the legal ins and outs. Some of us had attended the session at Daniel Hall so it was fresh in our minds. “

‘Passing’ Nella Larsen (1929)

Waterstones Review

Clare Kendry has severed all ties to her past. Elegant, fair-skinned and ambitious, she is married to a white man who is unaware of her African-American heritage. When she renews her acquaintance with her childhood friend Irene, who has not hidden her origins, both women are forced to reassess their marriages, the lies they have told – and to confront the secret fears they have buried within themselves. Nella Larsen’s intense, taut and psychologically nuanced portrayal of lives and identities dangerously colliding established her as a leading writer of America’s Harlem Renaissance.

Tricia writes “We had a delightful lunch at the pub today; very jolly indeed. We all agreed that ‘Passing’ was a really interesting novel and gave us food for thought re racism today compared to the past.”

‘The Fear Index’ Robert Harris (2011)

Waterstones Review
Meet Alex Hoffmann: among the secretive inner circle of the ultra-rich, he is something of a legend. Based in Geneva, he has developed a revolutionary system that has the power to manipulate financial markets. Generating billions of dollars, it is a system that thrives on panic – and feeds on fear. And then, in the early hours of one morning, while he lies asleep, a sinister intruder breaches the elaborate security of his lakeside home. So begins a waking nightmare of paranoia and violence as Hoffmann attempts – with increasing desperation – to discover who is trying to destroy him – before it’s too late …

Go tell it on the mountain’ James Baldwin (1953)

Tricia says: “A delightful lunchtime meeting today to discuss ‘Go Tell It on the Mountain’. As usual we were divided with some of us considering the book to be brilliantly written and illuminating and others finding the many religious references to be overwhelming and off putting.”

‘Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky’ by Patrick Hamilton (1935)

Tricia says: We had a really lovely meeting (with lunch!) yesterday at the re furbished pub. A really glamorous and healthy venue now!
It was nice to have a guest along who offered much positive and informed comment on Patrick Hamilton. This author proved to be more divisive than Brexit: a real Marmite choice! However whether we liked him or not we spoke almost continuously about Twenty Thousand Pavements under the Sky  which is unusual for us!” 

‘Piranesi’ – Susanna Clarke (2021)
Book club meeting January 2022

Tricia writes “We enjoyed a really lively meeting at the Spotted Cow last week when we discussed ‘Piranesi’. I have never known a book provoke such a wide divergence of opinion! However we all agreed it was brilliantly written and some of us were going to read it again after accepting different interpretations!”

Waterstones review
Weaving a rich gothic atmosphere, the author of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell mines a darkly fantastical vision with a tale of a very singular house and its mysterious inhabitants.

Winner of the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2021
Shortlisted for the Costa Novel Award 2020

Piranesi lives in the House. Perhaps he always has. In his notebooks, day after day, he makes a clear and careful record of its wonders: the labyrinth of halls, the thousands upon thousands of statues, the tides which thunder up staircases, the clouds which move in slow procession through the upper halls.

On Tuesdays and Fridays Piranesi sees his friend, the Other. At other times he brings tributes of food and waterlilies to the Dead. But mostly, he is alone. Messages begin to appear, scratched out in chalk on the pavements. There is someone new in the House. But who are they and what do they want? Are they a friend or do they bring destruction and madness as the Other claims?

Lost texts must be found; secrets must be uncovered. The world that Piranesi thought he knew is becoming strange and dangerous. The Beauty of the House is immeasurable; its Kindness infinite.

‘VENGEANCE’ – George Jonas (1984)
Book club meeting December 2021

Waterstones review
The gripping true story of the Israeli-led hunt for the men responsible for the massacre of eleven Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics in 1972, which has inspired Steven Spielberg’s forthcoming film epic ‘Munich’.

‘Avner’ was an agent of only twenty-six when he was summoned out of relative obscurity to head a specialist Israeli team crack team and track down the men responsible for the massacre of eleven Israeli athletes at the Munch Olympics in 1972.

Vengeance is the awesome account of this operation: it retells how the team set about their task with ruthless application, stalking their Palestinian targets and carrying out precisely timed executions. But it also reveals the other side of the coin: the terrible paradox that results when those in power, in a desperate bid against terrorism, resort to the very tactics of their enemies.

Kim’ by Rudyard Kipling (1901)
Book club meeting November 2021

Media Reviews
No summary can do this marvellous, rich and unforgettable novel anything like justice — Philip Pullman
The greatest of all Kipling’s books — E. M. Forster
I’m a passionate fan of Kipling. I think Kim is a singular and extraordinary novel, one of the greatest in English — A. A. Gill
I don’t just admire, I adore Kim — Mark Tully
The great adventure of identity, intrigue and India, and several other things too, including the extraordinary potency of words * Guardian *

‘Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises’ Ernest Hemingway (1926)
Book club meeting October 2021

Tricia writes: “We had a really jolly meeting yesterday with ‘The Sun Also Rises’ being a surprisingly controversial choice. Always good to disagree and our discussion was stimulating.”

The Waterstones Review says “The novel that made the literary icon’s name, Fiesta reeks of the macho, bohemian Spain of the interwar years and contains some of the best writing about bullfighting in twentieth century literature. Crisp, intense and unmistakably Hemingway, this is an enduringly great early work from a master craftsman.”

On Chapel Sands’ – Laura Cummings (2019)
Book club meeting August 2021

The Waterstones review says
“On Chapel Sands is a book of mystery and memoir. Two narratives run through it: the mother’s childhood tale; and Cumming’s own pursuit of the truth. Humble objects light up the story: a pie dish, a carved box, an old Vick’s jar. Letters, tickets, recipe books, even the particular slant of a copperplate hand give vital clues. And pictures of all kinds, from paintings to photographs, open up like doors to the truth.
Above all, Cumming discovers how to look more closely at the family album – with its curious gaps and missing persons – finding crucial answers, captured in plain sight at the click of a shutter.”

Hamnet – Maggie O’Farrell (2020)
Book club meeting July 2021

Tricia Wallis says “Everyone at the meeting, on the whole, thought ‘Hamnet’. well written but some of us worried about the supernatural elements of the novel and wondered what Shakespeare really had to do with the novel at all!!”

The Waterstones Review says “Hamnet is a novel inspired by the son of a famous playwright. It is a story of the bond between twins, and of a marriage pushed to the brink by grief. It is also the story of a kestrel and its mistress; a flea that boards a ship in Alexandria; and a glovemaker’s son who flouts convention in pursuit of the woman he loves. Above all, it is a tender and unforgettable reimagining of a boy whose life has been all but forgotten, but whose name was given to one of the most celebrated plays ever written.”

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
Book club meeting May 2021

Review by Waterstones

“An international bestseller and a modern classic, this suspenseful epic of one family’s tragic undoing and their remarkable reconstruction has been read, adored and shared by millions around the world.

This new edition for 2017 features a cover design by award-winning fashion designer, Tina Lobondi. This story is told by the wife and four daughters of Nathan Price, a fierce, evangelical Baptist who takes his family and mission to the Belgian Congo in 1959. They carry with them everything they believe they will need from home, but soon find that all of it – from garden seeds to Scripture – is calamitously transformed on African soil.”

Machines Like Me by Ian McEwan 2019
Bookclub Meeting April 2021

Tricia Wallis writes “We all enjoyed seeing each other again for last night’s Zoom meeting and agreed that ‘Machines Like Me’ was an interesting, speculative fiction which led to discussion on the nature and value of AI. Most of us agreed that although the central story was engaging and provocative the frequent anachronisms and playing with the order of historical events was rather irksome.” 

Review by Waterstones

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
Bookclub Meeting March 2021

Tricia Wallis writes “Lovely meeting last night and we actually spent a good part of it discussing Gilead. Once again a variety of opinions so an interesting discussion.”

Review by Waterstones

Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope
Bookclub Meeting January 2021

Tricia Wallis writes “We had a nice cosy session on Monday discussing Barchester Towers. We hadn’t all read it but what does that matter! Good to hear others’  opinions and have a friendly chat.”

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo
Bookclub meeting November 2020

Tricia Wallis writes “I think that we all enjoyed ‘Girl, Woman, Other’ in spite of a few reservations. Lively, warm and engaging and we all felt an empathy with the many voices in the novel.”

The Darkening Age’ by Catherine Nixey (2017)
Bookclub meeting October 2020

Tricia Wallis writes “Most of us loved the book and found it stimulating and memorable. Thank you to Alan for suggesting it! It is a joy to find a non fiction work so beautifully crafted and such a complete pleasure to read.”

Three men in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome
Bookclub meeting September 2020

Tricia Wallis writes “We had a really successful Zoom book club meeting to discuss ‘Three men in a Boat’ probably the longest and most engaged remote meeting yet. Most members thoroughly enjoyed TMIAB and saw it as a wonderfully diverting frolic in the increasing gloom of lockdown and social isolation. There was some dissent however, and a few members, more politically correct maybe than the rest of us, felt it to be offensive and too elitist for current times. So as usual we were divided which always makes for better debate and critical analysis.”

Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons
Bookclub meeting August 2020

Tricia Wallis writes “We all agreed that this was a comic gem of a book and lifted our spirits during the dark, depressing days of lockdown. Gibbons acerbic wit and the refreshingly feminist heroine made this novel ahead of its time.”

Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction: ...

Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction by  Dan Gardner and Philip E. Tetlock (2015)
Bookclub meeting June 2020

Tricia Wallis writes “We had a very lively and engaged Zoom book group last night when we discussed Superforecasting. Those who read it were pleased they had made the effort and found it interesting. Most thought the book could have made its points more clearly if it had been shorter and more concise. Another criticism was that it relied too heavily on male based evidence and research(!).”

A personal view from John Cregan:”I was somewhat disappointed, given the rave reviews by Kahneman and Pinker. I suppose you should be suspicious of anything with “super” in the title.

I think he established the case that there are some people that are better at certain types of forecast than the norm. They are judged by their estimated percentage likelihood of a defined future event occurring against whether or not it did occur. The problem I think is that in order to make this testable, the forecasts that they are asked to make are not very interesting. He rather admits this late on in the book when he has a diagram showing an interesting forecast with the multiple testable sub-forecasts that would be required to make it.

He investigates what attributes a superforecaster needs to possess. I certainly won’t make the grade as a necessary attribute is to be able to distance yourself emotionally from the forecast being made. Another chapter found supeforecasters constantly reading new information about the topic and making minor adjustments to their forecasts.

There’s one quote that I find very disappointing – “a majority of atheists said they believe in fate, defined as the view that ‘events happen for a reason and that there is an underlying order to life that determines how events turn out.'” I looked up the source of the quote (an article in The New York Times) and it claims that this has been found in both US and British studies.”

A good quote from the book picked by David Savage (P127):‘…beliefs are hypotheses to be tested, not treasures to be guarded’.

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