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We recently had a theme of Books we’ve most often lent and why? and we reflected ruefully that had more of the books we’d lent been returned we’d have a bigger list !

A unanimous choice from all present at the discussion was The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa.  A classic tale of love and life with a backdrop of the unification of Italy. This is one we’ve all promoted to other people.

Here in no particular order are the rest of our favourites.

Riddle of the Sands – Erskine Childers (Novel)

Pre-first world war (1903) and early example of an ‘invasion’ novel about how a German landing was stopped by two young men on a sailing holiday. Writer was in the Navy. It’s a grown-up Famous Five (though there only 3 of them)

On Broadway  – Damon Runyon (Short Stories)

This is an omnibus of Damon Runyon’s short stories written about gangster life in New York – Broadway to be specific – during the Prohibition Era.   Full of lovable rogues and skullduggery. Narrator writes in the vernacular of the period. It’s the sort of book you can just dip into at any point and start reading, so very specific and so sums up character it works.  The musical Guys & Dolls was based on it.

The Last September – Elizabeth Bowen (Novel)

The story of a big house in Ireland before its demolition.  Set in the early part of the twentieth century during the Ascendancy – time of the Black & Tans.  It’s notable for the way it captures that time and how the house seems to mould characters. (very good Wikipedia entry about this book)

The Tortoise & the Hare – Elizabeth Jenkins (Novel)

Story just unfolds in a rather grand commuter village.  Excellent characterisation. This was one of the novels we read in May 2014.  Here is a review written at the time

Glass Room – Simon Mawer (Novel)

Such different uses for the same house set in the very interesting central strip of Europe.  It belonged at times to the Nazis then Soviets and finally to the Czechoslovak state.  The house is built for a young couple and the story opens as the wife as an old lady goes back.

The Third Policeman – Flann O’Brien (Novel)

Fantasy, ridiculous but very funny

The Innocent in Erendira – Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Short Stories)

The Innocent of the title is a non-person, a sort of Cinderella without the happy ending.

The Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad (Novel)

Really dark story of a trader and his passage down a river in Africa.  A psychological journey not a light read – a deeply questioning book

The Company She Keeps – Mary Mccarthy (Short Stories)

Set in bohemian New York literary/political circles not long after Mccarthy’s best known novel, The Group and using some of the same characters.

The Ice Age – Margaret Drabble (Novel)

Terrific state of the ­­­­nation novel, very atmospheric about a developer in the North East (based on John Poulson). Gritty atmosphere of the time.  Echoes of 2008 and echoes of now.

South Riding – Winifred Holtby (Novel)

The writer was a great friend of Vera Brittain.  A winter book set before WW2 – the characters are all very real.  The heroine is a young headteacher who has come from elsewhere.  All human problems are here; it shows the terrible poverty that existed before the Welfare State.  Chapter headings are grouped under various committees of the council.  Well intentioned and very much of its time and useful to read now with the retreat of the the state. Shows genuine insight into the past as written contemporaneously.

In Montmartre – Sue Roe (Non-fiction)

Subtitled Picasso, Matisse and Modernism in Paris 1900 – 1910 it gives a good idea of who knew who and how they interrelated. Also a very good description of what Picasso was trying to do artistically through this period

Revolution in the Head – Ian MacDonald (Non-fiction)

Subtitled The Beatles’ Records and the Sixties.  The introduction is a very good (if left-leaning) account of the history of the Sixties followed by a listing of every single track recorded by The Beatles looking at musical construction, musical influences, particular instruments used. Finally at the back of the book is a useful glossary of musical terms.

And finally an email choice sent in by a member unable to attend

My choice for tonight would have been  Miss Garnet’s Angel – Salley Vickers (Novel), which was lent to me when I set off on my own to Venice in 2006 and I’ve since lent to a number of other people when they tell me they are going to Venice. However, it’s less about Venice (although it gives a wonderful sense of Venice and you can trace some of the settings in the novel) and more about love and loss, friendship, self-discovery and of course angels and miracles. I enjoy Vickers’ novels for her insight into her characters and relationships – she’s a Jungian therapist – but they’re not heavy reading.

Thank you to everyone for sharing your enthusiasms and giving us food for thought for our free-reading month of August.