Monday, 6 April 2009

Keeper of the Book List

I am the Keeper of the Book List. It was decided last night in a brief ceremony at the close of book club that involved a few cheers, gulps from the wine glasses and, I'm sure I overheard, remarks along the line of, thank God someone else is mug enough to do it. 

Yes, I'm in a book club. You mean you're not? Then pop along to your library or bookshop and find one immediately; grovel on your hands and knees when you ask to be let in or, failing that, get a few friends together and start your own. Mine is in its tenth year and going from strength to strength. I'm still not sure who is going to like what and I am often surprised by people's choices but the fact that I have now read umpteen books that otherwise I wouldn't have even registered, let alone read, has been...well, darlings, I have to say, it's been marvellous.

This weekend I read one of Patrick O'Brian's sea faring tales. I only knew of his existence because of the movie, Master and Commander, I hadn't realised that the movie was based on a compilation of several of the twenty books O'Brian wrote starring Jack Aubrey and his doctor pal, Maturin.

Now, there's only so many technical terms for bits of sailing ship that I can take. Minus a map and with my woeful knowledge of C19th history I nearly baled out several times, but the knowledge that I would be attending the group without having read it kept me going. And guess what? On P113, I suddenly started to like it. By the end, I was quite taken. It was a very odd read though. During discussion I realised that reading the previous eighteen books might have helped understand the big story, but it didn't matter really. It didn't matter that I had to re-read bits owing to their obscurity, that I didn't understand half the plot or most of the minutiae concerning the navy and sailing ships either. What I did like was the oddity of the construction and the focus on the humdrum lives, their clothes, food, manners and the description of natural history and scientific discovery. 

Riveting, I can hear you thinking. No, it isn't exactly that, but it does cast a spell and an unexpected one. I might read another, and I suspect that's how a little obsession starts. Patrick O'Brian was completely obsessed, no question. All that research, twenty books (written in longhand) with the same two characters? Perhaps that's why I like it, because from in between the lines shines forth a lifelong passion for his subject. A dull glow to begin with, by the end, I felt positively illuminated. I was very surprised. 

Good old book group. Thanks, Penny, good choice. I'll add it to the list right away and if I work out how to copy it here, I will.


  1. I would have spelled it as 'bailed'. I would like to do a book group. I find them interesting. Mostly I just find out what book groups are reading and I take a look at it, and if I am interested, I read it. The trouble is, I haven't the ability to make the book group meetings, and that, I think, is the best part of the book group.

  2. Hey, we're both right about the spelling! I looked it up and it seems you can spell it either way. Reminds me of an argument between my sister and I, about angora wool, I thought it came from a goat, she thought a rabbit and guess what? :)
    A book group is a great but I can imagine it is difficult for you. We used to try to change the date to suit everyone but it became too complex and now it's always on the first Sunday of the month. Much better like that.

  3. Oops, forgot to change my name.

  4. You mean angora doesn't come from a goat?!

    I knew who you were. ;-)

  5. Gets even more mad. I just looked up angora and it can be a rabbit, a goat or a cat! Angora wool is a mixture of sheep's wool and angora rabbit hair. This is the Oxford Reference Dictionary's definition. Clear as wool.

  6. Have you tried the Sharpe stories by Bernard Cornwell? I got into them not through Book Club, but because it was about the only thing my son would read at the time. Now I know lots about 19th century battles...and they were pretty rivetting. There are far too many of them though...

  7. No, I haven't read them, although I've occasionally admired Sean Bean looking good in uniform. I can see why a series of books is attractive but I'm loathe to get stuck into one, especially as there's far to many books on my heap as it is.

  8. Bernard Cornwell says he owes his female readership almost entirely to Sean Bean! The story is the same in every book, more or less, so you only have to read one or two. Ars longa, vita brevis, indeed.