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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Informative, enlightening and enjoyable, 24 April 2009
By 
Kay Cliff (Hertfordshire, England) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Reading Groups (Paperback)
'Jenny Hartley has conducted a survey of 350 reading groups in the UK, and here she gives a
full and detailed report of her findings. Tables of statistics analyse the characteristics of the
groups - their age, size, location, place and frequency of meetings; the age, sex, education and paid work of members; the type of books read (a total of 2,816 titles), with date of first
publication, numbers of times titles recurred in the lists of groups' reading, the nationality and
sex of the authors; the top 50 authors and top 30 books read by groups. These are ontrasted
with lists of UK bestselling and most popular books and authors. It is all quite fascinating.
There are appendices listing publications, guides, websites and sample group booklists. And there are cartoons - but, alas, there is no index.

Six lively chapters comment on the findings, and consider other topics such as what
constitutes a reading group, how they were started, how the books are chosen, how the
discussions are structured and how recent discussions had progressed, other groups around the world, and what members most enjoy about their groups. This central text is full of most interesting information, comments, anecdotes, accounts, descriptions, - but, indexless, they cannot be specifically detected or located. You cannot tell where to find accounts of consideration of standards; reading guides provided by publishers; the strict rules imposed by some groups (`You must have read the book; If you miss the meeting you must send a written critique; All come unless there's a real emergency; No gossip; We never mention domestic circumstances); all-male reading groups, one enjoying `mouth-watering spreads' provided by wives and sisters, another whose host `takes the day off to prepare the meal served, and the next to recover', a third with a strict rule, `the bottle of whisky is opened at ten o'clock and must be finished by the end of the evening'); groups for which `eating is the driving force', such as the one in New Jersey, `Mostly We Eat'; groups in Australia, France or Greece; group leaders (or advisers, co-ordinators, counsellors, facilitators, therapists, and `enhancinators', sometimes in costume - Good Books Lately is a book group consultancy in Denver). You cannot find references to the reading groups of Marks & Spencer's head office; the effect of reading groups on the suffrage movement; to feminism. You can't find the discussion of group favourites, the supper menu compiled from dishes featured in novels, a social historian's definition of conversation, or what a group thought of Jane Austen:

`One member loved Austen, one gave up after two pages, and most people thought it
okay. Didn't go far.'
It would be splendid to be able to look up particular authors and titles, to find various
groups' reactions to them. The names Anne Tyler, Margaret Atwood, Margaret Forster, Ted
Hughes, Proust, frequently recur. Some forthright verdicts would be well worth the seeking.
On Henry James's The Wings of the Dove: `complicated sentence structure made it a real
chore to read - although we all plodded through it, hopefully, but it didn't improve; however,
we liked the cover of the book.'
Beryl Bainbridge attracts particular criticism: `She appears 44 times on lists of books
read recently, with five different novels, so groups are reading her, but protesting as they do'.
Her novel about the Titanic, Every Man for Himself, read by 27 groups, was greatly disliked:

`Not one member of the group enjoyed it; in fact we all thought it was so bad that none
of us wish to read Beryl Bainbridge again. We found it boring and without any substance
whatsoever.'
`We hated the characters and couldn't wait for the Titanic to sink.'
This book should provide all book groups with a fascinating read - and it's full of ideas for such groups. There are suggestions for paired texts - reading Arabella Weir's Does
my Bum Look Big in This? alongside Germaine Greer's The Female Eunuch; a novel by Scott
Fitzgerald next to a biography of Zelda; Michael Cunningham's The Hours with Virginia
Woolf's Mrs Dalloway. Themes are suggested - the Setauket Library Club Reading Group
found `The topic of US presidents and their wives was very interesting ... We devoted two
semesters to these readings. In most instances the wives were more impressive that the
elected presidents. We read updated biographies and hoped the author didn't try to rewrite
history.' The overall favourite for group reading in 1999 was Captain Corelli's Mandolin;
next, Angela's Ashes, then The God of Small Things.
Informative, enlightening and enjoyable - a useful reference work for book groups. And, in itself, an ideal book for group discussion!
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Reading Groups
Reading Groups by Sarah Turvey (Paperback - 10 Mar. 2001)
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