Archive for July, 2011

STOP PRESS!!! September book and author visit!

The September book choice is Silent Voices  by the acclaimed crime novelist Ann Cleeves . It’s the fourth novel in her series about Vera Stanhope, which many of you may have seen on TV recently (filmed in the North-East). It’s also one of New Writing North’s Read Regional selections for this year. And here’s the best bit: Ann Cleeves is coming to talk to the group! It’s a real coup to bag Ann for the Berwick group so don’t miss it – first Tues in September (that’s the 6th) at 6.30pm, in our favourite haunt of Doolallys.


From Huxley to Hogwarts: Berwick readers see how their favourites stand the test of time

As there’s never a set book for the July meeting, it always has something of a party feel about it. So instead of shivering on Spittal sands this year, we stocked up at the bar of the Kings Arms and then had the run of the Dickens room, where the great novelist himself read aloud from A Christmas Carol back in 1861. With a rather strange looking figure of Charles Dickens looking on (see picture – thanks Ann!), members read selections from books that they’d loved as a child or some years ago and talked about how it felt to re-read a treasured text.


Janet kicked off with John Wyndham’s The Chrysalis, reminding us that for those of us who grew up in the 1960s there was no such thing as Young Adult fiction, so teenage readers tended to leap from Enid Blyton to adult crime or science fiction. Janet really enjoyed re-reading this novel, set in a post-nuclear society, and found it “beautifully written” and a commentary on some bigger themes such as religion and tolerance. (Janet, where were you last month when we struggled with Iain M Banks? Oh, yes…)
Helen passed around a beautiful copy of Mary Norton’s The Borrowers, which she first read at the age of ten. She was enchanted by the simple magic of the story and the way readers never quite know if the story is real or not. She wondered whether today’s child readers would be as attracted by the simplicity of the story as she was at a young age.
Ann C brought Sheila Burnford’s The Incredible Journey, which she read at the age of around eight or nine when going through that apparently compulsory childhood phase of loving anything to do with animals. Although the book is marketed at young people, Ann noted, it is not written as if for child readers. But she was still moved by the book and its themes of loyalty and friendship.
Margaret read Little Women at the age of nine and approached it again with some trepidation, concerned that it would be “ghastly” with a too-perfect family, full of piety and religious forebearance. “But as I was reading my critical faculties went out of the window and I was nine again,” she said – an experience that many readers also had when revisiting their much-loved texts.
Mike was convinced his favourite novel was Middlemarch, last read when he was 18 – until he tried to re-read it and found it “awful.” He gave up after 60 pages. But his second choice – Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World – proved more satisfactory and he found it still highly relevant today.
Many of us enjoyed being reminded of Anne R’s choice, Ian Serrallier’s The Silver Sword. Anne remembered “devouring” the book at the age of around 11 and because all her family read it, it held many personal memories for her too. Even though she was struck by the lack of writing about emotion, she enjoyed the humour and felt it still had messages for today. “It still had the magic.”
For Hannah, growing up in the 1990s meant that there was only one possible choice – a Harry Potter book. No other book caused such huge excitement when it came out – even among sixth formers who were aged around 18 when the last in the series was published. She still finds the Potter books engrossing and it is a testament to the detail in Rowling’s worlds that “every time I read one I notice something different.”
When Rose was at school, an American teacher blew into the classroom like a breath of fresh air and insisted on reading American novels, which is how she came to study John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. This Pulitzer Prize winning novel is, she says, one of the best portrayals of American society during the Depression.
Paula’s favourite book from memory was Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook, and it reminded her of a time when she was gaining her own independence. Sadly, she felt it was an “in the moment” book and although only part of the way through, she has yet to find out what gripped her so much about it at the time.
I re-read the book I’d studied for French A-Level, Alain-Fournier’s Le Grand Meaulnes. At the time I’d loved it – perhaps because I was 17 and it was such a romantic story. But Margaret, who also studied the text, shuddered at the sight of “The Big Moan.” I expected to find the plot overly-sentimental, but in fact I was very impressed by its sophistication. Unfortunately, my French is now so poor I couldn’t re-read it in French and used a rather clunky English translation, so the quality of the writing was a disappointment. There’s a lesson – if you learn a language, don’t let it go to rack and ruin!
It was a fascinating evening which showed just how passionate readers can be about their favourite books. Sausage rolls and chocolates (thanks Janet!) not bad too.
Here’s hoping for some happy afternoons involving deck chairs, drinks and good chunky novels. Then watch this space for the autumn and winter reading list, which is not yet confirmed but is looking very exciting – and may even, dare I say it, please everybody. At least some of the time.

About the book group

The Berwick Book Group meets on the first Tuesday of every month at the First Class Passenger Lounge on the platform of Berwick Train Station at 6.30pm.

If you would like more information about what the group is reading, please visit

July 2011
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