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London Book Club
Time Out goes to the boozer to talk prostitutes, dogs and monsters with the capital‘s least pretentious bunch of bookworms
‘It bored the tits off me,’ grins Bernadette, a forthright Irish lady with her hair in bunches. ‘Yes, everyone hated it,’ adds Jo, happily.
‘To read it on the tube –we were so embarrassed!’ says Sharon, a dead ringer for Rachel Weisz. The book in question is ‘Belle De Jour’, the memoirs of a high-class London prostitute, and tonight finds us at the Sunday meeting of the London Book Club – which only reads London-based books – in an old pub off Piccadilly. The first books they read as a group back in 2002, were Martin Amis’s ‘London Fields’ and Ian Sinclair’s ‘M25’, which both went down well. But it’s not always the way…
‘There was a story, with a bit of pace…’ offers Sharon of ‘Belle De Jour’.
‘Yeah, but it was rubbish!’ counters Justin, a doctor of infectious diseases.
This isn’t what I expected a book group to be like. I thought it’d either be really prim, full of obsessively bookish people who didn’t actually live life, or that it might be like some of the book clubs my friends have tried to organise that ended in dissent and anguish after the first meeting.
‘I would never have been to one, and I couldn’t imagine anything worse,’ says Justin, who is in his mid-30s – they all are – and is sitting next to his pregnant wife, Joanne, an economist.
‘We got this round robin email from Sarah saying you might like to come along, and I came with some trepidation, expecting some sort of… discourse on English literature,’ he shudders. ‘But it’s nothing like that, it’s fantastic. You just enjoy the book, and talk about what it means to you.’
It’s very democratic: everyone gets a turn at choosing a book, and whoever picks the book, picks the venue and organises the next meeting (roughly every six weeks). But Sarah is the common link; she went to work in New York a couple of years ago, not really knowing the city, and ended up joining a New York Book Club, where all the books had to be about New York (‘A good way to see the city and meet people’). Returning to London, she decided to set up the same thing here.
‘The idea originally was that we wouldn’t just do pubs; like the New York group, we’d do cafés and restaurants,’ she explains. ‘But of course, being Brits…’
Today’s pub is Ye Grapes, a Victorian establishment just off Piccadilly. With its maroon velvet drapes, stuffed animals and wooden floors, it’s a suitably olde-worlde venue for this evening’s book, ‘The London Monster: A Sanguinary Tale’. It’s the story of a real-life London criminal who terrorised the city in the late eighteenth century by slashing women’s petticoats. As the assaults became more common, well-to-do ladies even started wearing protective copper covers over their bustles…
‘And there became a kudos to being attacked,’ says Sarah, ‘it meant you were beautiful, so women would make it up.’
A media frenzy kicked off, there were copycat attacks and some men even started wearing badges that said ‘No Monster Club’, to show they weren’t him.
‘And that whole bundling thing!’ says Bernie gleefully. Eh? Bundling, in the eighteenth century?
‘Well, every time someone shouted “Oh, the monster!”, everyone’d run after them in the street.’
‘And what pickpockets used to do,’ says Phil, ‘is rob somebody, then shout, “The monster!”, point to the victim, and make their getaway!’
Eventually, this particular ‘monster’ was apprehended: an unfortunate young dancer named Rhynwick Williams from Wales, who was, according to Sharon, ‘a bit wet’. London was disappointed, she says: ‘They wanted him to be scary and he was just a pathetic wimp.’
The reason the book club works, it seems, is that this lot talk about books in the same way you’d talk about shopping, a funny dog you’d seen in the park or a terrible meal out. That is, they talk about books like they’re normal things; it’s totally informal, and the conversation splinters off into little side avenues, people chatting to each other, rather than making weighty declarations across the table. There have even been book club ‘liaisons’, as Sarah puts it: ‘Nobody that’s still here but one guy had a good hit rate; once with another member and another time when some women spied us in a pub. I think they thought: Ooh, new man, he’s a bit geezer but he reads books so he must have a sensitive side…’
At Christmas, the club picks a posh hotel as its venue. Other top meetings have been held at the Wimbledon dog track for ‘Man Buys Dog’, where the author David Matthews attended and gave a talk, and the National Maritime Museum for ‘Latitude and Longitude’.
‘It’s about getting something of the atmosphere of the book,’ says Sarah, Sharon, hopefully putting forward a suggestion of George Orwell’s ‘Down And Out In London and Paris’ with one eye on a weekend away.
But there is a serious, intellectual aspect to book club. ‘It’s not just about the history of London,’ says Bernie, ‘it’s the whole thing, the culture and the art…’
And the pubs. As more drinks are bought, Justin hopefully proposes ‘101 Dalmatians’ for a meeting in Primrose Hill. ‘That’d be a nice summer one, actually…’ ponders Bernie, as conversation switches to who is going to bring the Pimm’s.
- Add your comment to this feature
A friend of mine runs the Wimbledon Book Club which meets twice a month. http://www.wimbledonbookclub.com
Tina Moran, it's maybe too late, but I am desperately looking for a book club and i don't know where to start from... We could start one up together... Write to me: email@example.com
I'm thinking of starting up a book club in central London (Victoria) and I am looking for anyone who might be interested. Please post your email addresses for further info. Thank you Tina
I'm read the occasional a science fiction and found a book club just to read these types of books. http://www.sciencefictionbookclub.org Only meets once a month which is a pity but its better than nothing.
Hello, Like Jenny on 1st September 2010, I am also looking for a fun bookclub. I live in central London and would like something convenient. Thanks Denise.
Hi Guys, I run an online book club (of sorts) where you can share your work and review others. Check it out www.circalit.com Thanks, Raoul
I've just started going to a pretty good Book Club down in Wimbledon. http://www.wimbledonbookclub.com Nice bunch of people and they read a really varied selection of books. JJ
Hey, I'm really keen to join an informal, fun, lively, friendly and not pretentious (not too many people wearing dust) book club! Anyone know of one that would suit me? Pretty intimidated by the thought of suddenly being involved in Marx's theory of alienation, but I LOVE the idea of a cosy book club filled with banter! Please let me know if you know of any. Thanks, Jenny. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Hello I'm interested in joining a book group!!! I live W9, but can travel. If anyone knows of any I could join I would be very grateful..... Thanks :-)
This group sounds fun, just my cup of tea. Could someone please send me details on how to join? thanks
Hi everyone - I would be interested in joining a book group, I just don't know where to start! I live in SW16, but am willing to travel (a bit) to get to meetings. If anyone has any info of book clubs in the area, please drop me a line! Thanks.
Hi everyone, I would be very much interested in joining this book club, if someone could email me details, that would be marvellous! (email@example.com) Thanks A
If anyone is interested in joining a book club, I am setting one up now and I have 6 members so far. We are just arranging our first meet, so please email firstname.lastname@example.org if interested. Cheers Toni
Hi, i'd really like to join too, been looking for one, can someone send me the details (email@example.com) many thanks
Hi, I'm planning to start a book group meeting in the Holborn area on the third Thursday of every month. If you're interested, please get in touch.
*****Please follow me on Twitter (distella) to join discussions on forming a new book club, using hash tag #londonreads*******
Hi Kate, Did you find out an information about this book club? I am looking to join one in London. But if you would like to organise one with me, just send me an email. firstname.lastname@example.org cheers Toni
Hi there I'd be really interested in attending this book club, would much appreciate info on how to join. Thanks Nicky (email@example.com)
Hi, anyone catch the title of the book featured on london tonight on Monday. I t was about british soldiers that stayed behind in france after the first world war.
Thanks Shelley...Will email you directly.... In the mean time here's my email also: firstname.lastname@example.org Colette
Hello ladies I hae been trying to post this address for ages now but Time out was not having it - sorry for being difficult. email@example.com is the address to contact me on Thanks so much Shelley
Hi I'd be interested in joining to. It would be great if you could let me know when you are next meeting and where. Claire :-)
Hello All I love to read and have been looking to join a club for a while. I also happen to work at a london pub with a book club friendly function room email me if you would like to make it happen
Hello I love readin gand have wanted to join a club for a long time. I also happen work in a london pub with a function room. send me an email if you would like to make it happen
Sounds great....I'd like to join please..... Maybe a bigger pub is needed !! Do let me know if you have room for a wee one.... Thanks
Hi! Would be great if you could send me the details of the book club. Sounds like exactly the kind of thing I'd like to get involved in! firstname.lastname@example.org Thanks a lot, Fiona
Hi All, I am also setting up an online bookclub for readers and writers. We are currently testing, but if any of you would like to be involved with testing, do drop me an email - email@example.com Have a great day Raoul
Hi! My name is Kaitlin and I recently just moved from America and would love to be part of your book club. Let me know if you still have room, if not then could you direct me to another one. Also if you are going to do the internet book club instead I would be interested in that as well. Thanks so much, looking forward to hearing from you!
I would love to join your book club. Is there a way to do this please? Could you please e-mail me? I would really appreciate it. Many thanks, Kat
Any chance of joining the book club sounds like a lot of fun! Is there any room left in the Pub? Cliff
I am an Irish writer living in London and I have just finished a novel (Stealing Chicken) which has been published by a New York publisher. I am interested in providing some copies to London book clubs for general review. If anyone runs a book club in the London area is interested in this, please let me know. I am based in North London but can send all over London.
I am an Irish writer living in London. I have just finished a novel which has been publsihed by a New York publisher and would like to give some copies to some book clubs in the London area for general review. Anyone who runs a book club and is interested in this, please let me know. I am based in North London but can post to anywhere in London.
Hi, If anyone is interested in joining an online based book club, drop me an email. Especially if you enjoy reviewing and writing. I am about to launch a free online site where any aspiring author can chat about their work or others. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org - the site should be up and running in about 2 weeks and it's called Libboo
Errrr.....forgot to give my my contact details in order to receive info about the London Book club: HusseNuv@aol.com