Nine years in the life of a book club


We present some thoughts on ten years in the life of a book club, as we also presented to students of English in Perm.  The poster above sensibly avoids using the term ‘book club’, which might at one stage have been a way of buying books cheaply by post.


The rules above may seem more elaborate than many book groups, but they are actually quite sensible. Having someone responsible for the book tends to result in better choices than when it just emerges out of vague discussion–I’ve known a number of book groups to be killed of by a couple of poor choices that way, while giving marks out of ten leads to slightly more focussed discussion than merely saying ‘that was nice’.


The generally female, middle-class and younger-middle-age composition of the group will come as little surprise, though the ‘younger’ here may be more of a London thing.


What was chosen tended to be novels by male English-language authors set in the UK or the US more or less in the present.


The top 3 choices (in terms of average mark) were as given above…


…while some other things were less successful.  What you need is books that will engage readers’ interest just because they are people.


And the overall points were as given above. J. G. Ballard once said that when he was young what got published depended on male taste, since they were the ones with the money, whereas now it was women in book groups who generated sales. English-language countries do seem to be resistant to translated literature but they constitute a very large market which means one can be a professional writer and do nothing else in a way which is very difficult elsewhere.

Of course, one also has to respond to the demands of the market, which can lead to caution, conservatism and conformism whereas if one has some other source of income one is freer to write what one likes. Russian naming conventions as in Anna Ivanovna, Anya, Anyushka and so on all being the same person in different registers caused problems, as did the background especially in Bulgakov, which was of course not the Soviet Moscow of Bulgakov’s time but rather something that might hopefully be allowed for publication…

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