Monthly Archive for September, 2008


Where you read a book can alter completely the way you regard, enjoy and remember the words on the page.  On holiday recently I read ‘Middlemarch’, a housebrick of a book, written when people, the middle and upper classes at least, had leisure enough to read weighty novels.  I had time in my two weeks to read uninterrupted for hours at a time, even through the night as I did on one moonlit Hebridean evening.  But events in recent weeks have reduced my span of concentration to a fraction and I am choosing books to suit.  The reason is that my youngest daughter, just nine, has been diagnosed with a serious medical condition which needs surgery, not just an operation where you’re out of hospital the next day, but eight hours on the slab, two weeks in hospital and then a year’s recuperation. So in the past few weeks I have been up and down the road to the spinal unit in Middlesborough, sitting for hours in a series of waiting rooms, or in x-ray departments, or by the side of an MRI scanner where my little girl lays motionless as it takes detailed images of her backbone and I am trying to read.  I do not feel like reading.  I feel like crying but I know that I cannot.  Everything seems trivial.  Words are either too light or too heavy and I lose their thread too easily, reading over and over them not managing to make sense.  Then a thoughtful friend, whose child too has been through tough times, gave me a copy of Mark Cocker’s ‘A Tiger in the Sand’ a compilation of his articles written about the natural world for ‘The Guardian’ over the last twenty years.  These beautiful pieces are as arresting as a photograph or a painting, as carefully worded as the best of poetry and each one is less than 800 words.  My mind, already fragmented and refusing to be stilled, can cope with each piece knowing that it will not demand too much of me.  I can read it, then look up to check my daughter is still there, still in one piece.  But the beauty of his writing is that long after events have dulled me to the point where I feel as if I’m in a fog, a stray sentence will come back to me like a shaft of sunlight breaking through the heavy clouds.

Details of forthcoming writers events linked to our books

Just to let you know, because I so obviously didn’t when we last met, that there are some important writers’ events going on, linked to two of our books.  Next month’s book is Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist, which is on the 7th at the usual times.  He’s then coming to read/take questions on:

  • 11 October 3pm-4 pm: Moshim Hamed with Kamila Shamsie and Nadeem Aslam, £6, £4, £2 @ The Sage Gateshead
  • Then on Monday 13 October @ 7.30pm: Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche, £6, £4, £2 @ Northern Stage.  To book, call 0191 230 5151.  She’s the author of the wonderful Half of a Yellow Sun and Purple Hibiscus, which were linked to this month’s book Things Fall Apart.
  • Hope to see you all there.

    Happy Birthday!

    We’ve been going a year now, and as someone pointed out to me last night, twelve books and not a laugh in any of them! It made me think about my choice of books and how I like dark subjects and, let’s face it, we’ve covered them all this year – an 11-year-old with a rape fixation, a psychopath who guns people down with a stun gun used to kill cattle, castration and cannabalism, mass rape against German women in the 2nd World War and child mutilation in 19th Century Nigeria. What would any psychologist make of my choice of books, I think?

    But despite loading you with all these heavyweight subjects, you just keep coming back for more and I really enjoy seeing you all on a Tuesday, hearing what you’ve got to say and seeing you get a buzz out of talking about books. And I also love it when people come up to me and whisper conspiratorially, “I haven’t read the book yet but…” but still come anyway. Above all, I want the book group to be a good get-together and judging by the amount of people that have become regulars, I guess you do too.

    Now a confession moment for me – I’ve changed my mind three times on next month’s book. It was going to be John McGahern’s Amongst Women until I realised that it’s the story of a Hard Man’s downfall and, er, this month’s book was Things Fall Apart, the story of a Hard Man’s downfall. Then it was going to be Jane Smiley’s Thousand Acres, another cracking book but perhaps a bit like the tale of a Hard Man’s downfall. Oh God!  I did think of a ‘compare and contrast’ thing, but then thought, sod it, save them for another time. So we’re reading The Reluctant Fundamentalist (a huge groan went up from one of our lunchtime regulars and I almost wobbled again! Please don’t desert us!) by Mohsin Hamid, who is also going to be coming to Newcastle a few days after our next meeting (more details about this shortly on the NWN website). In the meantime, if you come across any books that you think we’d all enjoy – probably not about a Hard Man’s downfall, I have a stack of those waiting in the wings – then do email me as I’d love to read them.