Bookaholics Anonymous

From age 16 to 26 I was an active member of the Stockholm Tolkien Society (est. 1972). This charming association is organised around a schedule of annual feasts and a roster of themed activity guilds. There’s the Medieval Dance Guild, the Gaming Guild, the gluttonous Hobbit Guild, the erudite Friends of Daeron and many others. My favourite was — and is — the Book Guild.

Though I have long since dropped out of the Society’s main activities, I still gate-crash the monthly Book Guild now and then. Last night it convened at my place for dinner, tea and conversation about books. Many reading groups have all the members read and discuss the same book. This rarely works very well, since there are always a few participants who haven’t read the book and so can’t really take part. Back in the early 90s I became Guild Master and instead introduced a meeting format that is still in use: Bookaholics Anonymous.

“Hey everyone, I’m Martin, and I’ve read a few books since last time.”

“WELCOME MARTIN!”

What we do is that everyone in their turn confesses what they’ve read since the last meeting. No holds barred, no thematic restrictions, and everybody gets to chime in with comments as you talk. Though the guildfolk of course like Tolkien, it has turned out that the Guild’s most popular author is in fact Jane Austen. (Several core members are very well-read women.)

I usually participate only two or three times a year, so I tend to mention only the best reads I’ve had since my last visit. These are the good books I talked about last night:

  • Will in the world. How Shakespeare became Shakespeare. Stephen Greenblatt 2004.

  • Casino Royale. Ian Fleming 1953.
  • The Enquiries of Doctor Eszterhazy. Avram Davidson 1975.
  • Collected Short Stories 1. (Penguin 1963.) W. Somerset Maugham 1920-45.
  • The Yiddish Policemen’s Union. Michael Chabon 2007.
  • The Spook’s Apprentice. Joseph Delaney 2004. (This book was recommended to me by my 10-y-o son! I’m getting good reading advice from my kid!)

What about you, Dear Reader? Are you in a reading group? Got any recommendations to share?

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Comments

  1. #1 David
    October 10, 2008

    No reading group I´m afraid but I´d like to be in one!! These are my Top 5-books of 2008 (so far):
    The Road, Cormac McCarthy
    Anathem, Neal Stephenson
    The Enchantress of Florence, Salman Rushdie
    Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides
    What I Loved, Siri Hustvedt

  2. #2 ReH
    October 10, 2008

    I can hardly wait to have leisure-reading time again. Right now it’s all textbooks, yarr… But here’s a couple goodies.

    Gentlemen and Players – Joanne Harris
    The Golden Spruce – John Vaillant

    and, of course,

    The Republic of Plato – Plato (It’s good, really! If you don’t mind the fact that it’s a gigantic collection of allegories. The man was ahead of his time)

  3. #3 Pamela Morgan
    October 10, 2008

    The best read so far this year “Mr. Pip” by Lloyd Jones. I am afraid it is the book I set my reading standards by, nothing so far has come up to this wonderful read…Loved it Loved it

  4. #4 dveej
    October 10, 2008

    Here in the States it’s sold under a slightly different title (Why do publishers do that with kids’ books more than with adults’ books? They did it with the Harry Potter books, too…): Revenge of the Witch, which is Part One of the series “The Last Apprentice”, just to save any of your readers who might be interested the search I went through…

    I teach piano and and it is always worthwhile (for me as well as for my students) to inquire what they read this week: kid lit gets better and better as the years go on. But the very best kid lit always seems to be British (why is that?)…maybe it’s just my taste, nurtured as it was on Tolkien, Farjeon, Susan Cooper, Nesbit, the Green Knowe books, etc., etc.

  5. #5 Thinker
    October 10, 2008

    Currently no reading group, although it is a frequent topic at work – with some of my colleagues, discussion over lunch somehow always gravitates to either books or food/wine.

    Recent reads for me have been:

    The Right Attitude To Rain , Alexander McCall Smith
    1421: The Year China Discovered the World, Gavin Menzies
    The Liar, Stephen Fry (yes, the British actor)
    A Thousand Splendid Suns, Khaled Hosseini
    The Colour of Magic, Terry Pratchett

    Very different, but all of them enjoyable!

  6. #6 Martin R
    October 10, 2008

    A lot of interesting tips! I like (early) Stephenson, Rushdie, Cooper, Nesbit, Fry and Pratchett, and I haven’t heard of most of the others you guys mention.

    ReH, I agree, when you’re studying for exams you don’t much want to spend your evenings reading fiction.

  7. #7 DianaGainer
    October 10, 2008

    We have a mini-group at the local library once a month that’s like yours, very eclectic, called “Books Sandwiched In.” We meet at noon and bring bag lunches and much while we talk about what we’ve read — or moan about not having time. Last time, to be different (I’m always being different/difficult) I brought my Kindle, Amazon.com’s new electronic book. It’s a pricey little gadget, but it’s easier for this old lady with trifocals to read, since I can size up the print in whatever I buy, and it never gets any heavier, no matter how much is in it (I have the Bible, a French newspaper, “Le Monde,” and half a dozen books so far). They were all very doubtful about it, but I explained that with arthritic hands I find it hard to hold a hardback book open very long but love to read and I can see the print in the average paperback. Plus, and here’s the really good part, the average book on the Kindle only costs me $10 whereas the average paperback is now about $20 and the kind of hardbacks (which is what I mostly buy) are around $70 to $100+. So it’s already paid for its little self.

    They kept saying they were sure nothing THEY would read would be available for it, so we went shopping on it during the meeting and found something for everybody. And we ended up running out of time for everybody else to talk. OOPS! Didn’t mean to do THAT.

    I recently bought a new edition of Herodotus which has loads of maps and footnotes and appendices. Found out what the old man saw that convinced him gold-digging ants were real! I’d always wondered about that! It’s “The Landmark Herodotus: The Histories” edited by Robert B. Strassler, a new translation by Andrew L. Purvis, put out by Pantheon Books in 2007. No, I couldn’t get it on Kindle at the time, the more’s the pity! But I did get my last installment of the Bronze Age quadrilogy out for the Kindle, based on the Iliad, Odyssey, and Aeneid. I probably won’t make a cent, but it was lots of fun. I’m editing a 5th volume and may write a sixth. What would that be?? A sextilogy??

  8. #8 Martin R
    October 10, 2008

    Hey Diana, that’s great, you have five novels out on Kindle! Well done!

  9. #9 Christina
    October 10, 2008

    I recently took out a book that I thought might be OK, but that ended up blowing me away. It’s called The Ancient Tea Horse Road and the author it Jeff Fuchs. Other than that, I’m in the middle of P A Säve’s Hafvets och fiskarens sagor, which I like a lot, but I don’t think most people would enjoy.

  10. #10 Keith
    October 10, 2008

    I belonged to a book club for a while a year or two ago. We read Jose Saramago’s Blindness and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. A few others also.

    But, here are a few that I recommend, in no particular order, off the top of my head:

    A) The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky (Pevear/Volokhonsky translation)

    B) One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (latest Willetts translation)

    C) Good-Bye to All That by Robert Graves (second edition)

    D) The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco (Weaver translation)

    E) Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

    F) The Plague and The Fall by Albert Camus (latest translations/versions)

    G) Incompleteness by Rebecca Goldstein

  11. #11 JSB
    October 10, 2008

    Hi Everyone! I’m Jackie and I’ve read a few books this year.

    I’m currently reading “The Horse, the Wheel, and Language” by David W. Anthony. It’s pretty good, with many interesting ideas to think about.

    Some of the better books I have read this year include:
    “Ancient Wine” by Patrick E. McGovern – archaeology and chemistry! A fine vintage.
    “Agriculture in the Middle Ages” edited by Del Sweeney. Like all collections some articles are better than others, several are excellent windows into the medieval mind.
    “Woven into the Earth” by Else Østergård. Made a dress based on one of the garments featured in the book, and now it’s my favorite article of clothing. The book features many excellent photos.
    “A Good Horse has No Color – Searching Iceland for the Perfect Horse” by Nancy Marie Brown
    “Cruisin’ the Fossil Freeway” by Kirk Johnson and Ray Troll. Ray Troll is one of my favorite artists and this book is packed with his illustrations plus it’s a fun travelogue.

    And of course anything by Terry Pratchett, most recently “Wintersmith”, “Making Money” and “Thud!”.

  12. #12 Paul Lamb
    October 11, 2008

    I recently read “Explorers of the New Century” by Magnus Mills and liked it very much. Allegory about racism, colonialism, misogyny, compassion? I’m not sure but quite the interesting read and worthy of discussion.

  13. #13 David
    October 11, 2008

    Martin, since you liked Chabon´s Yiddish Policemen try out one of his books set in your period of interest, late 1st Millenium AD: The Gentlemen of the Road.

    It´s the story of two swindlers caught up in a Khazarian succession crisis where they have to contend with Vikings, elephants, Radanites and Askaris all!!

  14. #14 kutlu akalin
    October 11, 2008

    I am not a reading club member either. But nowadays, upon recommendation from my housemate, I have been immensely enjoying the Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde [sic], The Eyre Affair et al. For everybody that has read good (and bad) fiction, I believe these are a real gem. I found myself giggling/chuckling at certain pages, which does not always happen before.
    Before these, I enjoyed Miles Harvey’s The Island of Lost Maps. Would love to re-read it some time soon.
    Thanks for sharing your booklist.

  15. #15 kai
    October 13, 2008

    Well, my book list is in my sidebar as usual :-) But, I myself just got tipped off to a recently-published children’s book by Lindenfors & Schelin, Gud finns nog inte (“God probably does not exist”). I’m a bit surprised by there being a market for such a book in Sweden, but I guess the culture wars have arrived here too. You, with younger children, perhaps could have a look at it?

  16. #16 Mantelli
    October 13, 2008

    You really ought to read Jo Walton’s Small Change series, Farthing, Ha’Penny, and Half a Crown, an alternate history/mystery series, set in a Britain where the Nazis won on the Continent, the US never came in on the side of Britain, and Pearl Harbor never happened. I’ve really enjoyed it. The last book in the series has just come out. It’s fascinating seeing how different the world could have been.

  17. #17 Magnus Reuterdahl
    October 13, 2008

    Right now I am re-reading some books I loved the first time around, though it’s been a few years, right now I’ve started on Ayn Rands the Fountainhead, next in line is most probably Profession of Violence: Rise and Fall of the Kray Twins by John Pearson.

    The other day I finished Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon’s masterpiece Preacher (9 paperback comics), strongly recommended.

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