The North Recommends: Book and Brew Reading Group

Book and Brew is a book group based in Newcastle. It’s been going since 2015 when its founder, Dawn McGuigan, set it up from her sofa one Saturday night in December. A month later, she waited in a cafe to see if anyone would turn up to the first meeting – to read Jessie Burton’s debut novel, The Miniaturistand was pleasantly surprised (and relieved!) when several women turned up to share their views of the book.

Many of those women still attend the book group and new members have joined in the years since, taking its membership up to nine avid readers. They meet monthly in the Tyneside Coffee Rooms, the beautiful art deco cafe on the second floor of the Tyneside Cinema, to talk books and, as their name suggests, drink lots of brews.

Book and Brew has done some amazingly bookish stuff in its first few years. In partnership with The Reading Agency, the group has shadow judged four major literary prizes: the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2016; Man Booker Prize 2016; Man Booker International Prize 2017; and the Man Booker International Prize 2019. As judges, they reviewed a shortlisted title for each prize and shared their experiences with fellow readers to encourage them to explore new authors and translated fiction.

The group was also enlisted by Hachette, one of the biggest publishing houses in the country, to pick the paperback cover for Laura Barnett’s Greatest Hits. The members’ years of book buying experience certainly came in handy when thinking about what attracts readers to buy novels in a bookshop.

In February 2019, Book and Brew were chosen to feature on the BBC Radio 2 Book Club. They reviewed Tracy Chevalier’s Girl with a Pearl Earring and considered the impact of the book 20 years since publication.

Book and Brew read a wide range of books, including classics, sci-fi and historical fiction, but their favourite genre is literary fiction. Their recent reading highlights include:

The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary

This debut novel’s uplifting rom-com plot and quirky characters was a hit with the group and this book proved to be a cheerful and enjoyable read.

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

A really interesting book with interwoven characters, plots and timescales that has some really profound insights on life and how to live it well. It got top marks all round.

The group is also made up of proud and loud feminists and they enjoy reading fiction that challenges the patriarchy and champions women. The Power by Naomi Alderman, Red Clocks by Leni Zumas and Vox by Christina Dalcher have generated lots of debate in recent book group meetings. The group is very excited for Margaret Atwood’s (the grand dame of the genre) new book The Testaments release in the autumn – and they’re planning a trip to the Sage to see her live when she visits the North East in October.  

Twitter handle: @bookandbrew