The day we moved into Tiverton from Buckinghamshire one of our new neighbours knocked on the door to introduce themselves while we surveyed a mountain of boxes and furniture off-loaded by the removal men.
We cleared a space, made a cup of tea and had a wonderful chat. Just before departing she said: “Oh, we have a small book group, you’d be welcome to join.” No second invitation was necessary and so began our journey building up a wonderful network of friends in the town.
The group ran its course a couple of years ago, with some having moved out of town. We met once a month on a rota at each other’s houses with a meal, wine and then a long chat about our ‘book of the month’. We quickly learned that we had a wide range of tastes between us and so were introduced to some books that were well off our radar. They were all fiction and I do not recall any being new releases being chosen.
Stand-out books for me were The City & The City (China Melville), 1Q84 (Murakami), Ghostwritten (David Mitchell), Ash on a Young Man’s Sleeve (Dannie Abse), The General in His Labyrinth (Gabriel Garcia Marquez), A World of Strangers (Nadine Gordimer) and All Quiet on the Western Front (Erich Maria Remarque), which of course is back in the news with the recent release of a new film. The book is exceptional.
Which ones didn’t I like? Well the two that really bombed for me were Lanark (Alasdair Gray) and Naked Lunch (William Burroughs).
Apart from the friendship, what was interesting about the group was the discussion about the books. How it opened them out and how you got to see the novels from different perspectives. It also introduced you to authors you had never considered reading and it led me on to read several other books by some of the mentioned writers. And that, for me, is the key point of a book group. It takes you somewhere new.
This all came back to me on a day out to Exeter this week. I visited, as I always do, the Oxfam second hand bookshop ~and it was the first time I came out of there without a book! I also went into a large bookshop – and was confronted by a wall of new fiction! I wanted to treat myself to something, but didn’t even know where to begin. The choice was overwhelming.
I mean its great for books in general that so many new ones are being published, but parting with your hard-to-come-by-cash on a punt can turn into to an expensive mistake. Of course, browsing the shelves of new books is an entertaining experience. It’s just that sometimes back-up is very helpful. And that’s where book groups and the likes of Twitter’s Devon Book Club (@BookDevon) – which features an hour long book discussion on a Monday night – help to open some doors for you.
Of course I didn’t leave empty handed, I’d be seriously concerned about myself. I picked up a non-fiction book, The Treeline by Ben Rawlence.
Born in North Wales, poet & writer Paul Mortimer has lived in Tiverton for 13 years. His first poetry collection, Fault Line, was published by Lapwing in 2015, followed by Wind Voices from the same publishing house in 2019. He has appeared at several literary festivals and headlined at a number of poetry events in recent years.