The North Recommends: ABC Book Club

We started our book club, ABC, about 21 years ago in Horsforth, Leeds. Our children were all at primary school and a group of us decided that we needed some brain training and time out from discussing our offspring. Of the original 10 members 8 of us still meet regularly, every 6 to 8 weeks, each member taking a turn to host the meeting in their home.

We have experimented with different ways of deciding on our reading diet in order to experience a broad spectrum of genres. One of our less successful ideas was for each member to draw a genre from a hat and then select a suitable book. It sounds good in theory but it went down like a lead balloon as certain members were not happy with their allocated genre, leading to Genregate! Now we just take it in turns to choose what to read: simple, but effective.

In the early years we enjoyed a couple of glasses of wine during our discussions but now, in the menopause years, we are more likely to request decaf teas. We did find, especially during the ‘wine years’, that we were often easily distracted from discussion of the book and so we started to download questions for reading groups, to keep us on task. However, we did agree that talking about the film of the book was acceptable!

Our first read many years ago was Hanif Kureishi’s Intimacy, which led to lots of discussion and arguments. The brutal honesty with which Kureishi described the reasons for the break up of the protagonist’s marriage polarized opinions and provoked a lively debate.

Another big hit from the earlier years was My Year of Meats by Ruth Ozeki. It’s appeal for us lay in its provocative portrayal of differences between American and Japanese cultures, addressing themes such as domestic abuse in Japan and controversial claims about the American meat industry, with several quirky recipes thrown in for good measure.

A more recent popular choice has been Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout: a series of stories about characters living in a community in Maine. Olive, a maths teacher, is the common link in each of the 13 stories. First impressions of Olive are not favourable, but as the stories develop we see the complexity of her character and we, as a group, became more sympathetic towards her.

The last book we read which everybody loved was The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne. We are shown the history of Ireland from the 1940s to the present day and what it was like to be a gay man during those years and the hypocrisy of the Catholic Church. At times heartbreaking but also laugh out loud funny, we all loved it.

Some choices have been less popular. Somebody, who will remain nameless, thought we ought to read a classic and suggested Middlemarch. Whilst we have no objection to reading literary classics most of us decided that there were too many pages, the font was too small and, at the end of the day, life’s too short!

Julie Hunt and Carol Fraine