There’s something about summer, isn’t there, that can make otherwise sensible people throw caution to the wind. And that definitely happened with this month’s Book Group – resulting in a weird but definitely wonderful outdoor evening.
Ann had the inspired idea to hold the July meeting on the beach at Spittal. That was back in the day when the Met Office had rashly predicted a “barbecue summer” – and we all know how accurate that’s turned out to be. The other part to Ann’s plan was to bring along a piece of writing about food and even some of the food itself. It was a wonderful idea – but anyone who’s arranged an outdoor event this month may have already spotted the slight potential for disaster!
In fact, we may have ended up with the strangest meeting ever, but it truly worked well. The rain held off – but the brisk breeze threatened to cover our literary picnic with a fine layer of sand. Undeterred, we took our recommendations and chosen readings down to the prom and arranged our blankets in the 1930s stone shelter. (We’ll leave aside the possibility that the wine may have put us in breach of a few local bye-laws. And we pay tribute to the considerate dog owners of Berwick who veered their pets away from us every time they showed interest in the food).
Clustered around a picnic that my son would describe as “random,” we each read out a piece of food-related writing that we’ve enjoyed. I was so impressed by the variety of these selections and the way everyone rose to the challenge so well.
What was on our Menu for the Mind? Mike started with the wonderful poem by William Carlos Williams, ‘This Is Just To Say:’
I have eaten
that were in
you were probably
they were delicious
and so cold.
Then he read a chunk of James Joyce’s Ulysses – and I think everyone was grateful he didn’t actually bring along the giblet soup, gizzards, hearts etc that the passage described! Staying with the Irish influence, next up was a reading from Beckett’s short stories, More Pricks Than Kicks, with a fantastic description of Gorgonzola cheese – which Mike did provide.
Margaret took many of us back to our own childhood with her choice of Jack Common’s Kiddar’s Luck. This was a great description of Sundays in turn-of-the-century Heaton and what would be cooked and eaten on those days. They were traditions that certainly were kept until the 1960s and early 1970s on many parts of Tyneside. And she made a mouth-watering lemon cake which gave many of us a real taste of our own youth again (with apologies to Proust!).
My choice returned to the cheesey theme with the part of Three Men In A Boat when the author gives his reasons why they should not take cheese on their boat journey. I ignored his advice and brought a selection of cheeses along!
Jill was the only one of us who found a section of very good writing by a real cookery writer. Her reading from the excellent Elizabeth David had everybody drooling.
Ann chose a sure-fire winner with her reading from Joanne Harris’ Chocolat. The extremely chocolately cake that she made lived up to the expectations created by the reading!
Paula also brought a cake – but a very different one. She told us the story of her grandmother’s recipe for what she called Egg Cake (served sliced with butter) and then read a lovely passage from Virginia Woolf’s Night and Day which ended with the perceptive little sentence: “She was a person who needed cake.” (How many of us recognise ourselves there!)
Maisie read a wonderful short story by Helen Dunmore. It was the title story from the collection Ice Cream. And yes, she truly did bring along a coolpack full of a selection of enough ice-creams to put Mr Forte to shame.
The evening wasn’t over. To the background of the crashing waves on the Spittal shore, we then all gave some recommendations for summer reads. I’ll list them all, along with some of the reasons why the group members put them forward!
Stieg Larsson’s The Girl who Played with Fire (the second in a trilogy; very well-plotted Scandinavian crime fiction);
Home by the American writer Marilynne Robinson;
The Leopard by Guiseppe de Lampedusa;
another Sicilian writer, Andrea Camilleri’s The Scent of the Night (a crime novel);
C J Sansom’s novel about the Spanish Civil War, Winter in Madrid;
Wally Lamb’s She’s Come Undone ( a long-time favourite of the recommendee);
Thackeray’s classic Vanity Fair;
Paul Auster’s Oracle Night;
Helen Dunmore’s short story collection Ice Cream (recommended to be read alongside a box of Cornetto or Magnum);
Carol Shields’ Dressing Up for the Carnival;
Sadie Jones’ The Outcast;
Crow Lake by Mary Lawson;
Stef Penney’s The Tenderness of Wolves;
Anya Seton’s historical novel set neat Hexham, Devil Water;
Gary Paulsen’s non-fiction book about observing a sledding race, Winter Dance (exciting and adventurous);
Mal Peet’s keeper, written for the 12-plus age group but a great story about football, ecology and a quest;
Lorrie Moore’s Collected Stories;
Justin Webb’s Have a Nice Day (about America and challenging the European’s lazy habit of criticising the nation).
Wow – that’s quite a list! – and we only have a month before the next season of Book Groups gets under way!
In September the meetings will be back in the safe and wonderful little oasis that is Doolally’s on Marygate in Berwick. The new books for the autumn are being considered now, so watch this space!
Remember, the group is open and new members are welcome, so do recommend the meetings to anyone who may be interested. But be warned – joining the Berwick Book Group may seriously affect your waistline!