Issue section: 

Book clubs - new novels

Why have you launched a Socialist Review book club? This is a question I've been asked over and again over the summer. The rise of book clubs is still making headlines, with an estimated 15,000 groups now in Britain. Many articles take a sneery tone - they're just gossiping circles, a literary guise for a dating club, an excuse for one too many glasses of red wine. Of course these stereotypes are far from the truth. People join book clubs not to escape from the world but because they want to engage with it.

As socialists who love reading, we thought the book club would provide a relaxed and stimulating environment for such discussions. Hopefully we defy all the stereotypes. We want to talk about characters and plot, love and revenge as well as colonialism, capitalism and class, which is exactly what we've done at the three brilliant book club evenings we've held so far. We started out with an ad in New Statesman and Socialist Review, and word of mouth and e-mails have done the rest. There's 18 of us now on the e-mail list, with around eight to ten people turning up each time and many more expressing interest. We keep things pretty informal. We get in wine and juice, and one of us introduces a book they have chosen. So far we've discussed the novels Purple Hibiscus, Life of Pi and A Fine Balance, and this month it's Barbara Kingsolver's wonderful novel about colonialism, the Congo and much more, The Poisonwood Bible. The only problem we have with our discussions is knowing when to stop!

We want to hear about Socialist Review book clubs in your area. It's easy to set one up. All you need to do is find a suitable venue - someone's living room, a friendly cafe or maybe a left wing bookshop. Pick a book to kick it off. Put an ad in your local community centre, bookshop or the local paper. Spread the word among local socialists, Respect supporters, and others and you'll be surprised at the response. E-mail me for any advice, and do let me know how you get on.

This month sees the launch of the Sheffield Book Club, in conjunction with Socialist Review. They are meeting on the second Sunday of every month, with the first meeting on Sunday 12 September, 6.30pm, at Café No.9, Nether Edge Road, Nether Edge, Sheffield. Their first book up for discussion is Property by Valerie Martin.

The September meeting of the London Socialist Review Book Club will be on Friday 24 September, at 7pm at Bookmarks Bookshop, Bloomsbury Way, London. We will be discussing Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides. Do come along!

There are some very enjoyable novels out at the moment. The Way the Crow Flies by the Canadian writer Ann-Marie MacDonald is a long but very rewarding read based on a real life case of a 14 year old boy sentenced to hang for the murder of a 12 year old girl, widely believed to be a miscarriage of justice. It's a compelling and atmospheric novel that brilliantly captures the years of the Cold War. Ann-Marie MacDonald is also the author of the equally engrossing Fall On Your Knees, the story of four sisters' struggle through the first half of the 20th century. I have recently discovered the novels of Richard Yates. His Revolutionary Road is a brilliant dissection of the reality behind the suburban American dream of the 1950s. Other novels in paperback definitely worth reading include A Sunday at the Pool in Kigali, Gil Courtmanche's powerful account of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, and Caryl Phillips' unusual story about the meeting of a lonely middle aged white woman and a refugee from an African civil war, A Distant Shore.

Please keep sending your recommendations, ideas and reviews, as well as news of Socialist Review book clubs, to