Friday, 3 December 2010

World Book Night book give-away

This is a very strange (but completely real) promotion.

As part of World Book Night on 5th March next year, British publishers are providing books for people to give away.

They've produced a list of 25 titles, ranging from poetry to fiction. Anyone can apply to receive a package of 48 copies of 1 title, and then give them away.

The titles include 6 of our previous reads - All Quiet On The Western Front, Beloved, Cloud Atlas, Life of Pi, Stuart - A Life Backwards, and Curious Case of the Dog in the Night Time, and one of our futures - One Day.

You need to fill in the application and say why you want the books, and who you'd give them to.
20,000 people will get to give away 48 books each.

See the books here

Apply to be a giver here

More background in this article in the Guardian

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Links for the next meeting - High-Rise by JG Ballard

A quick summary of the novel on Wiipedia

An overview of JG Ballard's work

A review on Ballardian, the JBG fan site

An interview from 1976, the year after the novel came out:

“I'm trying to say something about the anonymity of say, such a huge high-rise building as the one I describe, which plays into the hands of barbarism, but also provides a new set of connections on the other side: what that new order is I leave to the reader to decide. Royal and Wilder are not tuned into the logic of the High Rise. A new type of person is emerging, a neutral, affectless, emotionless character who doesn't mind the intrusion into his life of data processing outfits, credit registers and so on, and in fact welcomes it because it provides a sense of togetherness -- maybe all the togetherness that people need. Laing is at one point in the book reflecting on this new kind of cool, unemotional type who just likes sitting in his room with the TV on but the sound turned down. But it's ironic that at the end of the book he turns into just such a person as he apparently feared. He enters into a rather complex relationship with his sister and this other woman; his whole role vis-a-vis the mad dentist who fools around with corpses; all the aspects of himself he finds himself moving through in the second half of the book: all this is to show the beginnings of a new order. He is a happy tenant of the High Rise. I leave it open to the reader to decide whether it's a good thing or bad; he is not a completely passive spectator of events. After all, according to some research I did, I found that one in ten people in this country live above the sixth floor.”

& one from 1980, talking more generally about his views of science fiction:

“It had been too concerned with the future, right from its origins. I wanted a science-fiction of the present day. I am interested in the technology of the present of this world. I am not interested in imaginary alien planets. I am certain you know that the only alien planet is Earth. It is this world that is the strange one. All the extra-terrestrials we need are walking around in these streets."

An article about a book that's just been published on poor architecture, that taps into 'the high rise' phenomenon of blocks of gated apartment blocks

& finally, a synopsis of a film adaptation, which suggests they've completely missed the point:

"n the midst of a vast ocean stands the Elysium Tower – a glistening vertical city – a sanctuary for challenging times.

Powered by sun and earth, designed by the greatest architectural visionary of the new millennium, Elysium is a self contained world. A world of commerce, cuisine and entertainment, featuring restaurants, swimming pools, libraries, cinemas, even a research hospital. It is not just the tallest and most technologically advanced work of modern architecture, but one that embodies the world's highest aspirations.

Dr. Robert Laing, a new arrival, settles in and adjusts to this hermetic life. But before long he becomes aware of something unsettling in the building. In an escalating atmosphere of unrest the residents break into tribal factions. Laing watches in horror as the myth of a utopian society is shattered."

We met at the Barbican Lounge

Friday, 19 November 2010

Fabulous Penguin Clothbound Classics

Any of these would make a fantastic present for a book-lover.

Featuring 3 of our past reads -

& one of our future reads -

Plus - you can win a set of 6 Scott F Fitzgerald books - watch the video below to see how:

Alluring book titles

A very entertaining idea from McSweeneys - titles of classic books re-written as the sort of attention-grabbing headlines you online to boost website traffic:

How many can you get?

"7 Awesome Ways Barnyard Animals Are Like Communism

The 11 Stupidest Things Phonies Do To Ruin The World

8 Surprising Ways West Egg Is Exemplary Of The Hollowness Of The American Dream

6 Shockingly Evil Things The Turn-Of-The-Century Meatpacking Industry Doesn't Want You To Know

5 Insane Ways London Could Become a Dystopia (And How It's Not That Far From Reality)

1 Weird Thing Caddy Smells Like"

We like!

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Literary Lodgings

This is a set of birdhouses, made from old hardback books. The one in the picture has part of one of our January books The Wizard of Oz as a front.

Very sweet, very creative, but also, strangely, 'Not for out of doors'.

Buy one here.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Any Human Heart on Channel 4

A dramatisation of Any Human Heart, by Willam Boyd, which we read in about 2008, starts on channel 4 next weekend.

The trailer: (Best copy I could find)

A 'making of':

An article about the novel by WB

& an article by WB on the real story of the murder in the Bahamas that features in the book.

It's a four part drama. Let's hope they get it right!

Monday, 8 November 2010

Women Running From Houses

This blog has a great collection of classic book covers from pretty trashy paperbacks.

With the blurbs too - for example:

The Lock by Janet Lovesmith (Paul W. Fairman)
published by Popular Library
Copyright 1972


The lock was huge, rusted, ungainly. It guarded the
tomb that lay behind the old house - the tomb of the
ill-fated Gantry clan. Lyn Courtney, who had come to
work at Gantry Hill, became fascinated, haunted by
that lock. Her fears, her hopes, her fantasies cnetered
around it.

Could it explain the puzzling behavior of good-looking
Christopher Gantry? The mystery of beautiful, volatile
Lila? The invisible creature that even now was stalking
young Lyn? She must find out - if it wasn't already
too late ,,,

QUEEN-SIZE GOTHICS are a new idea. They offer the
very best in novels of romantic suspense, by the top
writers, greater in length and drama, richer in reading
pleasure. Each book is guaranteed to be:


Monday, 1 November 2010

Matilda's Book Club

Matilda's book club is a venture set up by the Royal Shakespeare Company to accompany the new musical version of Roald Dahl's Matilda. It's a virtual club, and features children's books recommended by the great and the good.

You can see it here; these are some of the choices:

David Schneider (& Cathy Cassidy) - Watership Down (which we're doing in January)
Quentin Blake - The Box of Delights
Paul Kaye - The Thirty Nine Steps
Charlie Higson - The Incredible Adventures of Professor Brainstawm
Emma Thompson - The Weirdstone of Brisingamen
Harriet Walter - The Silver Sword
Lisa Hammond-Marty - The Ice Dragon (A Noggin book)
Eowin Colfer - The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Nick Clegg - The Gruffalo
David Cameron - Our Island Story

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Links for the next meeting - The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde

Here are some links to help with the discussion:

A Review at

The Wikipedia entry, which is has a good section on the themes

Plus - a 1 Star review of the 2009 film, in which the plot is changed so that Dorian Gray and Basil Hallwood have sex (& the ending is also different)

(In fact the plot is very different - see the Wikipedia entry for the film here)

We met at Kettner's which was one of Oscar Wilde's favourite places. In fact he was even arrested there.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Is Agatha Christie still relevant?

Thanks to Oli for spotting this article in The Guardian:

"There is little to distract the reader from the sense of information being parcelled out at careful intervals by an unseen but all-controlling hand. Nothing arises organically. In many ways, she reminds me of Enid Blyton. Her characters are ciphers, developed according to Occam's-razor principles – each one developed precisely as far as he or she needs to be for efficient propulsion of the plot, and no further. The dialogue is frequently risible – either purely expository, or banal musings on human psychology – and, for all that the early Christie books are venerated as beguiling period pieces, there is actually very little description in them, let alone any that makes the 20s, 30s and 40s glint in the mind's eye."


Monday, 27 September 2010

Links for the next meeting - Purge by Sofi Oksanen

British cover

American cover

A review in The Guardian

A review in Words Without Borders (Spoiler alert - there's one in the first line of the review...)

A play is opening in New York in 2011

We met at the Baltic Restaurant - a suitably Eastern European venue, with quite a lot of German and Eastern European food in the bar.

Friday, 3 September 2010

Frank Gehry's Treasure Island

Puffin have commissioned a number of special editions as part of their 70th Birthday celebrations.

You can buy this fabulous looking edition of Treasure Island by the architect Frank Gehry for £100.

Limited to 1000 copies only, and an earlier edition of Lady Chatterley's Lover now sells for over £300 on Amazon Marketplace.

Other books include James & The Giant Peach (Anthony Gormley) (already sold out) and Oliver Twist (Sir Peter Blake).

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Friday, 6 August 2010


Packabook is a new(ish) website that provides a list of novels set in different counties.

It's a great resource if you're trying to get inspired pre-holiday, and seems to have a pretty imaginative and varied list.

For example this is the selection for books set in Spain

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Friday, 23 July 2010

Ex Libris book plates

This is a stunning set of Ex Libris (from the library of...) book plates of the famous.

If you want to get your own, and it's very tempting, this would be a good place to start. (Or you can print off your own at this site here)

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Book Group Tours

We've just had an email from this company offering themed literary tours for book groups.

Get in touch with them if you're interested in Agatha Christie, Ian Rankin, JK Rowling or more.

Sadly they don't yet offer James Frey's LA...

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

The Wave Pictures - Sweetheart

How great is this? A music video made entirely out of second hand books. The music's not bad either!

The Wave Pictures - Sweetheart from Ben Reed on Vimeo.

From The Wave Pictures

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Star in a Penguin TV ad

From an email from Penguin:

Calling all readers!

We need YOUR help to star in a TV ADVERT to launch our author on PRIME-TIME NATIONAL TELEVISION.

In October 2010, Penguin will be putting their biggest advertising campaign of the year behind an exciting debut author. We can't reveal who the author is, but you'll be surprised and delighted when you find out!

If you have a passion for brilliantly written, comic women's fiction in the best Readers' Group tradition, or simply have a love of discovering new authors, we want to hear from you.

We'll be compiling a long-list of interested readers who will then be interviewed over the phone, via Skype or in person. A selection of you will get an EXCLUSIVE look at this much coveted manuscript to read and react to.

After second interviews the final 6 readers will be chosen to STAR IN OUR AD, where they'll have a chance to meet and interview our mystery author! We'll also be giving our 6 stars £100 WORTH OF PENGUIN BOOKS and a SIGNED FIRST EDITION of the book.

To enter, write 50 words about why, as a member of a Reading Group, you like to discover new authors. Email your answer to along with your name, age and location.

You will need to be available to come to London for the shoot on 7th September. We will cover your travel expenses but not accommodation.

CLOSING DATE: Friday 23rd July

Monday, 5 July 2010

To Kill A Mockingbird at 50

Don't forget to watch the special programme on BBC4 this week.

Details here

"Marking the 50th anniversary of the influential novel To Kill a Mockingbird, writer Andrew Smith visits Monroeville in Alabama, the setting of the book, to see how life there has changed in half a century"

See also this article on the BBC News website about the enduring appeal of the book.

Monday, 28 June 2010

Links for the next meeting - Down and Out in Paris and London, by George Orwell

Here are some discussion links for the book:

The Wikipedia link gives the background to the book - apparently quite a lot of artistic licence was taken with some events and timing:

The Spike, the 1931 essay that first told of his British experiences

The concept of a 'poverty threshold'

The welfare state

Guardian article from last weekend about a young jobless man in Brighton

Benefits 'have wrecked Britain's work ethic' from the Daily Mail (inevitably)

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

TV Book Club - Summer Reads

The TV Book Club is back on Channel 4 (28th June) & More 4 (27th June) this summer with 8 new books:

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

The Man Who Disappeared by Clare Morrall

The Legacy by Katherine Webb

The Bed I Made by Lucie Whitehouse

Stone's Fall by Iain Pears

Ellis Island by Kate Kerrigan

The Devil's Acre by Matthew Plampin

Weight of Silence by Heather Gudenkauf

The email I've had from them is very confusing though - they don't say whether it's one show, or a new set of 8. In fact the email was more about trying to sell the books than telling you anything about the TV Show. Strange.

They seem to have re-jigged the presenting team too - looks like Gok and Nat are both not in the new series (or single show)

You can see more about the books here.

Monday, 31 May 2010

Superfreakonomics Live

Of all the books we're that would become a live stage show Freakonomics (or rather the sequel Superfreakonomics) is a pretty unlikely choice, but it's happening, and it's touring the UK in June.

Sadly it's only Stephen Dubner, not the double act of Dubner and Levitt that's appearing. Dubner's the journalist not the economist, so it's not the full show that happened in the US.

Superfreakonics hasn't had the same impact in the UK as the original, probably because of the much-disputed 'climate change' chapter.

Also, it's not on in London, which is a bit strange.

Saturday, 29 May 2010

The Ghost Hunter

Too late for last week's meeting on Will Storr Vs. The Supernatural, here finally is the trailer for the show where Derren Brown meets Lou Gentile.

Watch it on Monday at 10pm on Channel 4

Monday, 24 May 2010

Links for the Next Meeting - Will Storr Vs. The Supernatural

Here are a few links to look at before the discussion.

Kelly has already sent out details of the meeting time and location.

This is Will Storr being interviewed about the book by Richard and Judy

This is Will Storr’s website (I particularly liked the story about his bout with TB)

The Skeptic magazine apparently didn’t like the book very much

Here’s an article about Lou Gentile

A clip of Derren Brown with Lou Gentile

This is a blurb on the book from the Independent

& here's a site for the haunted pub in Cornwall - they seem to play quite a lot on the haunted connections.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Derren Brown Investigates

The first episode, showing tonight, should be required viewing for anyone reading Will Storr Vs. The Supernatural.

In the opening episode of the series Brown investigates a spiritualist.

Here's a clip:

Tonight at 10pm on Channel 4

Update - if you missed it you can watch it on 4OD

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Links for the Next Meeting - The Unconsoled by Kazuo Ishiguro

As with New York Trilogy, Wikipedia is pretty sparce, especially considering the book is so long!

Here are some reading notes - including:

"From the moment of his arrival, Ryder discovers that other people, many of them perfect strangers, know a great deal about him. What might account for these characters’ familiarity with Ryder’s affairs? Is the knowledge these characters possess about Ryder actually trustworthy?"

A 5 star review on Amazon

"This brilliant masterpiece is an utterly unique novel - unlike anything I have read among books written in the past fifty years. The story - of a concert pianist arriving in Central Europe only to find himself constantly walking into various unresolved emotional aspects of his life - brings us into contact with great seriousness and sadness, wonderful farce and is unremittingly strange and bizarre. Ishiguro writes brilliantly, and conveys the alienation and dissociation from the world brilliantly in his prose and his unique dialogue."

& a one star review

"Having greatly enjoyed his 'The Remains of the Day', I have to report that 'The Unconsoled' proved a bitter disappointment. I have read a number of favourable reviews and they are all, with respect, utter twaddle. 'The Unconsoled' invites the reader to follow the narrator (Ryder - apparently a famous concert pianist) on an ultimately pointless and curiously nightmarish - or perhaps simply dipsomanic? - visit to an obscure city in central Europe. Ryder's visit is punctuated (and ultimately thwarted) by a succession of long-winded and bizarre interruptions by unsatisfactory characters; his actions are played out against a backdrop of irrelevant recollections from his unhappy childhood. Events unfold in a way that is random and dreamlike - he stumbles between embarrassing encounters like an old maudlin bore in the grip of extreme drunkenness. The reader's attention wonders - what is the point of it all? Reading on, one anticipates some dramatic ending that will make sense of it all - but there is no such satisfaction. The denouement, such as it is, consists of Ryder's concert performance being abandoned, followed by an emotionally detached parting from his shadowy wife and son."

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Politicians' favourite books

To capitalise on the General Election, Waterstones have polled several politicians to find their favourite books.

Here they are -

Vince Cable - including John Le Carre, Graham Greene, and Vikram Seth

William Hague - including Max Hastings, Robert Harris, and Rory Stewart

Peter Mandelson - including CS Lewis, Emile Zola and Alain de Botton

Ieuan Wyn Jones - including William Wordsworth, Antony Beever, and F Scott Fitzgerald

Nicola Sturgeon - including Alice Walker, Herper Lee, and Robert Tressell

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Alice in Wonderland on the iPad

This looks great - a new experience in enjoying a book, as an app on the iPad:

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Links for the next meeting - New York Trilogy by Paul Auster

Wikipedia is surprisingly sparce - just a few lines of background and a synopsis of each story.

City of Glass was turned into a graphic novel in 1994. It's quite easy to see why this would have worked as a GN more than the other two. You can buy it here - currently £5.48.

A collection of reviews on a Paul Auster fan site

From Amazon - A five star review:

"The NewYork Trilogy is that rare thing, a book that will continue to haunt you long after you put it down. Though the three stories it contains are structured and inspired by thriller novels, the work is essentially a meditation on the art of writing. It draws a parallel between a private investigator having to watch the person he has been hired to spy on and a writer attempting to create and capture a life on the page. All the central characters in the three stories hit a black wall at some point, where they feel unable to penetrate through to the subject under their observation. Auster captures this limitation of writing beautifully. This is a gripping, dark and completely original piece of work. Certainly a twentieth century classic. I shudder to think that I was nearly going to pass it over."

A one star review:

"I am not sure which I found more perplexing, the novel or its ecstatic reviews? Three stories based in New York with the thinnest of threads apparently connecting them. The first is a chapter long pontification on Paradise Lost and The Tower of Babel. The second is a pinch me it's Tarantino collection of Mr Blue, Mr Black and Mr White. The third raises crime literature hopes with 'The Locked Room' title but then does nothing to deliver. This is the first time I've read a book and then felt I should read it again; not for pleasure but because I'm sure I've missed something. As a review to help potential readers I am afraid I am truly at a loss. I struggle to come up with any kind of synopsis, quotes or insight. I read it, I really did, all of it, waiting for something to happen. Is that the point? In Star Trek there are often storylines where the crew have their memory erased. Nothing at all can be remembered for a period of minutes or even hours and then life goes on totally unchanged either for better or worse. That's The New York Trilogy."
(You've got to love that Star Trek reference at the end...)

Monday, 8 March 2010

Solar by Ian McEwan

We (generally) loved Atonement, and we (generally) hated Saturday...

Do we dare try Ian McEwan's new one Solar (when it's out in paperback)?

It does sound promising:

"Michael Beard is in his late fifties; bald, overweight, unprepossessing – a Nobel prize-winning physicist whose best work is behind him. Trading on his reputation, he speaks for enormous fees, lends his name to the letterheads of renowned scientific institutions and half-heartedly heads a government-backed initiative tackling global warming. An inveterate philanderer, Beard finds his fifth marriage floundering. When Beard’s professional and personal worlds are entwined in a freak accident, an opportunity presents itself, a chance for Beard to extricate himself from his marital mess, reinvigorate his career and very possibly save the world from environmental disaster."

Monday, 22 February 2010

Beautiful book covers

From a collection here.

I particularly like these two:

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

England Vs. Argentina, World Cup 2002

This is highlights of the match they're watching in Heartland

The Beckham's celebration still feels so emotional!

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Waterstones Book Circle - a virtual book group

Book Circle is a new virtual book group for Waterstones card holders.

Each month one of them picks a book (from the books new out in paperback that month, I'm assuming) and then Waterstones produces a reading guide for you to download.

This month it's Hearts and Minds by Amanda Craig.

You can download the reading guide here, including an 8 page guide, and 12 questions.

In fact Hearts and Minds looks really good!

Monday, 8 February 2010

On The Road, re-told by Google

Another example of storytelling:

This was a book that really polarised the group - the boys liked it, the girls hated it...

Monday, 1 February 2010

Review of the TV Book Club

We wrote about the new TV Book Club in January when it was first announced. Now, 3 weeks in, it's finally a proper discussion of books.

The first two weeks felt pretty weak and frustrating because too much time was spent on the celebs (Chris Evans and Alan Davies) with the book under discussion squeezed into too much time at the end. Also the interaction between the panelists seemed a bit false.

The third week was a lot better, though. Either by luck or design Gok Wan wasn't there, and one fewer person in the studio made it easier for the others to really get stuck into the book. They also seemed more natural together, and acting more like passionate readers and less like celebs ticking demographic boxes. You don't need to people to be famous, just to have strong opinions, articulately expressed.

For example, I really like Newsnight Review (now re-named The Review Show) on BBC 2, and as you get used to the people on it you look forward to seeing what they're going to think of the items under discussion. The classic line up of Tom Paulin, Tony Parsons and Alison Pearson in the late 1990s was really successful despite the fact that at the time none of them were well known before being on the show. I really wanted that for the TV Book Club, and although they've gone the celeb route, I really want people like Nathaniel Parker and Laila Rouass (neither of whom are really known to me) to live up to that. Hopefully by the time they get onto Matthew Quick's The Silver Linings Playbook I'll be anticipating the stands they'll take on different aspects of the story.

Anyway, it's now starting to feel like a real book club, rather than a plugging machine, and I'm actually looking forward to seeing what they make of Juliet Naked, the only one of the books on the list that I've actually read.

For another example of the TV Book Club, have a look at what they do in Australia. They really get stuck in!

Monday, 25 January 2010

Links for the next meeting - Alice, Grimm, and Treasure Island

A few notes on the books for the next meeting:

A few notes for the books:

Alice in Wonderland
Alice in Wikipedia

Alice - from a scientific point of view - article in The New Scientist

Grimm's Fairy Tales
Wikipedia on the context & history

Click on individual stories for development over time and analysis, e.g. this on Hansel & Gretel

Little Red Riding Hood re-imagined (video - warning, music quite loud)

Treasure Island
Again Wikipedia

& a study guide

See you on Wednesday!

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Channel 4's TV Book Club

Starting next week on Channel 4 and More4 is the newest version of a TV book show.

Coming out of the ashes of Richard and Judy's Book Club (it's got the same producer, Amanda Ross), the TV Book Club will use 5 different presenters to introduce readers to ten new paperbacks.

The presenters are:

Dave Spikey
Jo Brand
Gok Wan
Laila Rouass, &
Nathaniel Parker

The books are:

Sarah Waters - The Little Stranger
Belinda Bauer - Black Lands
Sarah Dunant - Sacred Hearts
Nick Hornby - Juliet, Naked
Abraham Verghese - Cutting For Stone
Liz Jensen - The Rapture
Roma Tearne - Brixton Beach
George Pelecanos - The Way Home
Wendy Moore - Wedlock, &
Matthew Quick - The Silver Linings Playbook

(This site is selling all of the books for £3.99 each)

It's on More4 on Sunday nights at 7.30, and Channel 4 on Monday lunchtimes (rather bafflingly - why not put it on on Sunday teatime? Or after T4?), and since it's on Channel 4 I'm hoping it'll be on YouTube too.

It's sponsored by SpecSavers - 'Enjoy a Good Read with SpecSavers' - which is quite clever.

Update - There's a feature on the show in the Guardian.