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Our theme for this month was ‘Books on the nightstand during Covid what ‘rubbish’ and escapism kept you going? Four members met on Zoom and Louise has written up what was discussed:

Last night the reading group (at least the four of us who could make it) discussed books that kept us going through Covid. It was a wide-ranging conversation. We confessed to our reading sins and tried to agree on the respective virtues of being a fast reader (Margaret) or slow readers (Tim and Louise). Tim and I both professed envy of fast readers. Margaret tried to demur but rather unsuccessfully. She had to admit it was a useful skill. All three of us blamed our respective professions. Ted did not reveal his habit!

On the actual topic for the evening, Margaret opened with a statement that she had 20 books in four categories sitting on her bedside table (categories being things like ‘recommended by friend’; ‘gifts I want to read’; ‘gifts I don’t think I will enjoy’). Her actually recommendations were three books by Shaun Bythell, owner/manager of the largest second-hand bookshop in Scotland, who has published three delightful treatises that Margaret would commend to anyone: Diary of a BooksellerConfessions of a Bookseller; and 7 kinds of people that you find in a Bookshop.

She also outlined her habit of reading ‘good cop’ fiction in the middle of the night; but refused to name any, saying that she was accustomed to reading ‘all sorts of rubbish’ to keep her going at the 3am dead awake slot. This is a habit she has apparently passed on to her son, and they share books of this genre (you can read all about it on the Good Reads website, under Crime or Police Fiction).

Ted took things in a different direction with Lonesome Doveby Larry McMurty, published in 1986. It was, he said, an 843 pages long, beautiful and sensitive depiction of the great American West. I quailed at the thought of tackling 843 pages of anything (see confessions of a slow reader, above). However, Ted was very persuasive. We talked about ‘Western novels’ and, given that I am getting seriously into country music right now, I just might tackle it. Margaret took down detailed notes. She is thrilled at having such a long book to keep her happy. Tim was silent.

Ted’s second recommendation was The Shortest History of Germany by James Hawes. We were chatting about world history at the time – I am finding this of great comfort during lockdown, because it reduces the pandemic to a mere dot in the passage of time. My current book is The Christians by Bamber Gascoigne, written for the long-ago TV series of the same name, which I am finding exceptionally well written and easy to read – maybe it’s the profuse use of photos, illustrations and maps/diagrams, which shorten the number of words on most pages. I had also been reading Originsby Lewis Dartnell, subtitled ‘How the Earth Shaped Human History’, which deals with huge geological timescales and rocks, rivers and seas which still determine how we as humans respond today (Tim thought this was a load of bosh) but I am back to my ‘Covid is a dot in time’ comfort blanket. Ted thereupon picked off his shelves Prisoners of Geography  – 10 maps that tell you everything you need to know about global politics. He was ardent in his support. That is already on my reading list. Several people have recommended it.

Ted’s final comment concerned Blood Meridianby Conrad McCarthy, which he did NOT enjoy.

Tim asked about the latest Julian Barnes. It took as all a while to remember/find out what it was. It is The Man in the Red Coat but I am not sure whether Tim was actually recommending it.

By now we had moved swiftly to books that are not to enjoy. Margaret has been given a task by Doreen to read Britannia Unchanged written in 2012 in support of Brexit. We are all agog to hear how she finds it and expect to enjoy a diatribe when we do.

We finally moved on to the very variable Ian McEwan. Margaret considers A Child in Time to be his best book. I support this. But we all agreed that an exhaustive reading of IE’s body of work will bring many ups and downs.

And so passed a very enjoyable online get-together. Thank you everyone!

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