We had a lovely meeting in the garden of The Crown in Berkhamsted on Tuesday after school, so warm and sunny, it seemed exactly the right place to get together. Though the gathering was small, we enjoyed talking about this month’s books: Janine di Giovanni’s Ghosts by daylight and Esther Freud’s Lucky Break. Both books engendered positive and negative comments but it was great to have something completely different to read.
Ghosts by daylight was our first non-fiction read of the year, and proved challenging, at times, in terms of its content. It is always difficult to read about war and, with all of our modern technology, full details being relayed instantly or as close to the moment as possible, it’s in front of our noses all the time. Rarely, however, do we think about those reporting that news back to us. It’s too easy to think that the journalist’s job is the same, whichever news strand they are reporting on but what is clear from this book, is that war reporting affects those whose job it is more deeply and in a much greater intensity than that, say, of a food writer, whose passion for their subject may be equally powerful but, one imagines, more pleasurable with consequences which could not, potentially, expose the writer to such dangerous conclusions. This may well explain di Giovanni’s difficulties when she is faced with a more ordinary, straightforward life back in Paris after the birth of her son. At times, it was felt that this element of her writing was self-indulgent by some members of the group. Nevertheless, her story is well-written and it was easy to travel along her journey with her. We also talked about other war reporters’ books that we’d read: Rosie Whitehouse was another journalist who wrote about the siege of Sarajevo and how she and her husband lived together through that war with their very young family (Are We There Yet?: Travels With My Frontline Family), again life was extreme but somehow manageable; John Simpson’s work is always interesting, and Kate Adie’s books are fascinating and funny as well – I miss seeing her reports on the news but like to catch up with From our own correspondent on BBC Radio 4 when I can! Frank Gardner nearly died when his cameraman was shot dead in Riyadh by Al Qaeda in 2004 and he’s written two books, Blood and sand and Far horizons.
Esther Freud’s Lucky Break, which tells the story of a group of drama students as they progress through their years at Drama Arts (thinly disguised by the author as the Drama Studio, in Camden). Again, we felt that the story was a bit self-indulgent and one member of the group said it almost had the feel of an autobiography and then almost the feel of a novel but not quite fitting in with either. It would have been better, perhaps, either to have written it as a definitive autobiography or made more fictional, since the lines between them have been blurred and this made it less believable. This said, it was also thought that the book was well-written and enjoyable, amusing and a good general read.
Saturday 30th June is National Reading Group Day in the UK – there are plenty of events taking place around the country. The focus for celebrations this year is the independent bookseller, so this is an excellent day for supporting yours. If your reading group is planning to celebrate, let us know what you are doing and let’s start the discussion!