Group report

As members of a reading group we have varied interests and tastes: how, therefore, to choose books that satisfy us all?

We like biographies, so read two over the past year, but though interesting books, neither of the subjects appealed to us. “Sheila” by Robert Wainwright, chronicled the life of a beautiful Aussie socialite who married into the British aristocracy and was rumoured to have had an affair with the future King George V!. (There was a Hayling connection – one of her lovers was the ex-husband of the Russian princess buried in St Peters’ churchyard). In “Spilling the Beans” well-born Clarissa Dickson Wright (one of the two fat ladies of TV cooking fame) told of her abusive childhood and descent into drunkenness. We thought her at times too boastful and economical with the truth and found some of her views abhorrent.

Choosing books by authors we have previously (separately) read and admired does not always guarantee a popular read. Robert Harris’ “The Fear Index” (topically about Artificial Intelligence) and Eric Newby’s “Departures and Arrivals” (snippets from his extensive travels about the world) were agreed not to be their best works.

Reading classics has been an aim of our group, and Daphne du Maurier’s “The House on the Strand”, deemed an example of a modern classic, was thought to be a very good read. Far more sombre, “The Awakening” by Kate Chopin, published in the USA in 1899, and described as the first feminist novel, was rated rather dull and tame. (The author’s beautifully crafted prose went unappreciated!) Taking as its subject the growing sexual feelings of a married woman for another man, it was thought scandalous in its day, ending its author’s novelistic career.

Comedy novels were surprisingly unpopular. Chosen as lighter summer reading “Mapp and Lucia” by E F Benson (between-the-wars social rivalry) and “Hitman Anders and the Meaning of it All” by Jonas Jonasson (a Swedish satire from the author of ”The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared”) proved flops. Taste in comedy is very personal, and it may be best to steer clear in future!

So, does it matter that some books are not liked by some of the group? We feel that the challenge of trying books we would not otherwise have come across, thus widening our reading experience, is what a reading group is for.

Now it is time to choose again for 2020 ………..

Jen Cayley

This is an article published in the Summer 2019 edition of the Hayling Island U3A newsletter