I’ve just read The Death of Lucy Kyte by Nicola Upson and attended my first ever Reading Group meeting.
The book is a cleverly structured and utterly absorbing work of fiction based on the real Suffolk Red Barn Murder of working class Maria Marten by her upper class lover, William Corder in 1827.
The book is set in the 1930s and the main character is Josephine Tey, who inherits a cottage from her godmother, close to the site of where the murder took place. Josephine Tey is based on a real person of that name, a playwright and novelist from the inter-war years.
The story revolves around the cottage and its previous occupants. One of whom is Josephine’s godmother and the other a young woman, who was Maria’s fictional best friend.
I loved the twists and turns, the evocative descriptions of 1930s England and the concept of a story within a story. It’s spooky, atmospheric and highly readable!
The Reading Group has just been formed at a local library and I have volunteered to help with it, along with another lady. Neither of us has experience of any other reading group and everyone around the table just put forward their general feelings about the book (and it was interesting to hear the views of those who weren’t as impressed as me).
But I’d like to hear from all you experienced book group members out there. Do you have a structure to your meetings? Do you go through a list of points for discussion? Does someone lead the meeting or is it a free for all?
It would be good to know how to get the best out of these meetings so that everyone goes away satisfied that they’ve had their say and maybe learned something from what others have said.
#1 by blogaboutwriting on May 29, 2014 - 7:49 pm
Hi Sally! Sounds like a good book! My reading group – much as I enjoy the company (and the wine!) is a little disappointing, as we only ever spend about 10 minutes ‘discussing’ the book, invariably there are always a few people who haven’t finished it (or even started it!) and some people say nothing other than ‘I liked it’ or ‘I didn’t like it’ (and no-one prompts them as to ‘why’!?). I think no. 1 rule should be: if you haven’t finished the book, that’s fine, you can still come to the meeting, but don’t expect everyone else not to reveal or discuss the ending! I think it’s important to give everyone a chance to say something – even if that means going round and taking turns before you open up a ‘general discussion’. Some people find it hard to make their voice heard and might need a little ‘help’ and an invitation to say something. I hope that helps! and good luck with your new venture.
#2 by Sally Jenkins on May 30, 2014 - 11:51 am
Thanks, Helen. I think you’re right about going around the group first. There can be dominate members who tend to hog the floor. There was one lady who hadn’t finished the book but we did discuss the ending anyway -otherwise you can’t give a true opinion.
#3 by Wendy Clarke on May 30, 2014 - 6:31 am
Sorry I can’t help, Sally. One of the only people I know who isn’t in a reading group.
#4 by Sally Jenkins on May 30, 2014 - 11:51 am
I wasn’t until now, Wendy.
#5 by Liz Young on May 30, 2014 - 8:49 am
My daughter in law belongs to a reading group which I attended when I was in UK. They all read one book, then a designated person gave a prepared review and led the meeting in a structured discussion, which dropped into a free-for-all when the tea and cakes came in.
There was a different leader each meeting. Does that help?
#6 by Sally Jenkins on May 30, 2014 - 11:54 am
Thanks, Liz.Your daughter-in-law’s group sounds very well structured. I think a free-for-all is fine as long as what’s gone before has given everyone a chance and covered different sections of the book. I think next time I will make notes before I go on what we might discuss.
#7 by hilarycustancegreen on May 31, 2014 - 1:58 pm
This I will have to read. I am a long term fan of Josephine Tey’s books. If you haven’t read any, do try and find them. Brat Farrar, Daughter of Time, The Franchise Affair, The Singing Sands, A Shilling for Candles, Miss Pym Disposes – off the top of my head. She was also a successful playwrite, but she died young.
I have been part of three reading groups. Our local one is very relaxed and unstructured, we all read the book and all make suggestions about the one for next month (the restriction is that they come from the library, who have to gather enough copies from nearby libraries). Most people say a little about what they have read, sometimes following in a circle, and the discussion often follows one or other path from the reading. This kind of group depends on everyone being more or less equally talkative, if there are dominant people a structure becomes necessary.
Other groups rotate the book choice and the original chooser gives their views first, followed round the group circle, then there is discussion.
Any method can work well so long as the quieter members have a turn and a voice.
#8 by Sally Jenkins on May 31, 2014 - 6:48 pm
Thanks very much for this, Hilary. I had never heard of Josephine Tey until I read ‘The Death of Lucy Kyte’ – and it seems I have been missing out on a whole body of literature!
Thanks for the reading group advice too – probably as the group gets more established quieter people might feel able to voice their views more or we volunteers will know to make sure they have chance to speak.