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Nottingham Castle

Book Clubs

12 May 11 words: James Walker
"Not all book clubs are run by deformed men who've been run over by public transport. Apart from the one I joined"
The first rule of book club is read the damn thing - surfing through wikipedia doesn't count.

There isn't a politically correct way of saying this so I’ll just be done with it. The first book club I ever joined was run by a man with a club foot obsessed with death and his dwarf/midget girlfriend. The man with the club foot received his injury after being run over by a council vehicle (back in the days before they said ‘this vehicle is reversing.’) He went into a coma, was pronounced dead numerous times, but eventually lived to tell his tale – which he told me over and over again. ‘You ever faced death? I have. It’s an ugly bitch.’ It is true, sometimes life is stranger than fiction.

At this point his dwarf/midget girlfriend joined us. (I can see now why Tom Sharp, in Ancestral Vices, came up with ‘porg’ - person of restricted growth). I’ll stick with this for the rest of this rant, it all ties in eventually. His porg had not been run over or squashed. She was just incredibly small. He was six foot tall, despite losing a few inches under the vehicle. Together, they made an intriguing visual illusion that still haunts me today. 

They both liked fantasy fiction, particularly stories involving flying horses and people with extra limbs. They both believed in an afterlife and thought ‘this’ world was ugly. They had a list of ten or so books they wanted the group to read over the next ten or so months. There was nobody else in the book club apart from the three of us.

I politely indulged them in their fantasies – both literature and lived. I agreed that council vehicles were incredibly dangerous and that having a near-death experience must have been traumatic. Fortunately the man had been handsomely compensated and never had to work again. His dream was to open a bookshop and have a book club. He lived that dream for a short while, but the book shop closed down after a year and I never returned to another meeting. In fact, I completely stopped drinking in that area. Although it is highly unlikely that there is another man out there who has had a near-death experience courtesy of public transport who is also dating a porg, I’m not going to state the city. I just want to forget it all.

Ten years on, I’ve plucked up the courage to join my second book club. I’ve had enough time to recover. It’s exactly as I hoped. All the members are of reasonable height and all have only interacted with public transport as passengers. They are a wonderfully varied bunch, coming from Russia, Germany, Italy and America - as well as a variety of professions. This means the books get a comprehensive analysis and I leave feeling as if I’ve learned something, or at least see things from a different perspective. 

I only have two requirements for this book club. Firstly, people need to read the book. Passing comment when you haven’t read it (and Wikipedia doesn’t count) is a bit like ordering food, not eating it, then saying it doesn’t taste right. Secondly, when it comes to books I like them to be a ‘borg’ – book of restricted growth. I haven’t got time for self-indulgent sprawling behemoths. If you can’t say it in under five-hundred pages then I’m not interested.

The key to happy reading is a 'borg' - books of restricted growth.

My reading list is already piled high and so as far as the book club is concerned, size matters. Talking of which, Jim Crace is the absolute master at this. His novels are slim, precise and completely immerse you in the narrative. He can say in one hundred pages what others fail to do in a thousand. He’s reading from his new novel All that Follows at Nottingham Library on 23 May. I urge you to witness this beautiful event and to support your local library at the same time. 

Jim Crace May 23rd 7pm. Tickets cost £3 (concessions £2.50) and are available from the help-desk at Nottingham Central Library. For more information, please call 01159 152828.
If you fancy joining a reading group, please see the council website
James Walker’s website

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