Burn after reading

Book Groups: seem like a great idea. You take it in turns to choose a book, you all read the book for the month, you have a friendly discussion over refreshments. In this way you are introduced to books you would never have found, or would not have got round to reading; and you get more out of books, by sitting back and thinking about what is good, bad and ugly about them with friends who may have a very different take.

I am now on my second book group, to which I have belonged for around 3 1/2 years. All in all I must have read an estimated lots of books for book group, some of which I have loved, many I haven't; but the one for this month is possibly presenting me with the biggest challenge yet. I'll admit it: I was prejudiced against 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo', by Stieg Larsson, for a number of stupid reasons:

1. Don't like the genre (it's a thriller)
2. Don't like the title
3. Don't like the cover
4. Don't like the fact that it's on the bestseller list
5. Don't like the number of pages (533!)
6. Don't like knowing that, despite all 533 pages, it's still only volume 1 of 3

I have been attempting to get into this book all week, and am still only up to page 37. Part of my problem (and please, try not to judge me too harshly here) is the unfamiliar names (it's translated from the Swedish). Whenever I come across a foreign person or place name I read it as 'bleah' in my mind, which makes for some very tedious sentences with this book: ..." said 'Bleah' to 'Bleah', as they crossed the 'Bleah' to the 'Bleah'" etc etc. I know, I know: I said try not to judge.

Richard thinks I should give up now, but I am loth to do so particularly as I chose a book for last month that several people found very tedious (The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by M Schaffer and A Barrows. I thought it was a nice little book; note that - little - not 533 PAGES!!!). Anyway, it seems only fair that I keep going. In the meantime I shall remember some of the books and authors I have found and loved through book groups:

Skating to Antarctica (see above), and indeed most things I have read by Jenny Diski especially 'After these things' and 'Stranger on a Train'. I find her both touching and sharp, and for a woman who spends much effort shutting others out she manages to include the reader in her intimate circle.

'Half of a Yellow Sun' by Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie, a novel that gives remarkable perspectives on the Biafran war and famine in Nigeria.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley: I suggested this one, but book groups are great for making you get round to reading books and this one was a real surprise - completely unlike its mythology suggests.

'The Suspicions of Mr Whicher' by Kate Summerscale, an account of a gruesome murder that took place up the road from where my in-laws lived though slightly before their time; and how modern detectives began.

'Headlong' by Michael Frayn: difficult to believe that anyone could make the history of Dutch art a breathless page-turner, but he achieved it.

And not forgetting 'One Hundred Years of Solitude' by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, which I would probably never have got to the end of had it not been a book group assignment (there is such a thing as magical realismed-out) but I am heartily glad that I did.

Back to the Floozy with the Painted Shoulder, or whatever it is...


blue hands said…
Interesting. I actually enjoyed The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (who is definitely not a floozy), though I think I'll probably miss out the sequels as there is some quite seriously gruesome violence in there. The girl in question is a very interestingly observed character.

I like Jenny Diski, though haven't read the ones you mention - might have to look out for them.
Tracey Wheeler said…
It is bizarre how different the 'Girl' in question is to the photo on the cover. The film poster is much better. Could just watch the film instead, but might be cheating...I am beginning to like it better now the cahracter of Lisbeth is being explored. It was that awfully slow start, with the corporate legal shenanigans, that I couldn't stand.
just Gai said…
As a child I was an avid reader, but having to read set texts at university put me off books for a long time (that and two children!). It wasn't until a few friends and I got together to form a book group that I started reading again. I don't know which I enjoy more, the intellectual stimulus or the gossip over a couple of glasses of red wine and a bowl of tortilla chips but I look forward to each meeting.

I haven't read any of the books you mention. I started Half of a Yellow Sun but never finished. I don't know why as I remember enjoying it. I'm disappointed to hear your group's reaction to the Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Society as I leafed through it at Waterstones and thought it had potential.

We used to meet every 6 weeks but interest has waned and we're reduced to two monthly gatherings which is a shame. We're currently reading The Vintner's Luck by Elizabeth Knox.

I hope you enjoy your book. I might borrow it off blue hands one day.
Tracey Wheeler said…
I'm up to p80, and still struggling! I think the concept of it being a kind of 'set text' is definitely not helping in this case.
The Guernsey L&PPP society is great little read, I particularly liked their 'take' on book groups - bringing a favourite book, in no particular genre (it could be a cookbook); members took it in turns to persuade other members to read it. in this way they all got to know each other better.
just Gai said…
I once tried to interest our group in an anthology of poetry, but they would have none of it.
Tracey Wheeler said…
Finished TGWTDT on Friday (400 pages in one day; only way the job was going to get done) and still didn't enjoy it. I only got 'into' it by p280, and then found myself reading details about horrible murders. I don't like the way thrillers manipulate me to almost want the next gruesome details.

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