The Hobbit by J R R Tolkien

The Hobbit or “There and Back Again” was written by JRR Tolkien in 1937 as a children’s fantasy. As Many of you may have read this book as a youngster or in later years, you realise you are reading a classic in our time. You may also have been following the visual production of The Hobbit on the TV recently. It is interesting to see if the visual sometimes when reading a book enhances or confirms our imagination? A tale of dwarfs on a continued adventure seeking gold. Our main character, Bilbo Baggins, someone we all know in real life enjoys comfort to the extreme, but is also an accomplished burglar and full of good fellowship!

Tolkien’s life was most interesting. He had a rocky childhood, living in Switzerland, Oxford and Birmingham. His marriage eventually to Edith Bratt in 1916 brought forth 4 children. Also in 1916 he was sent to the Somme and out in the trenches he suffered trench fever which recurred over the next two years. He was a lieutenant until the Armistice. He then worked on the New English Dictionary at Oxford, worked at Leeds University and back to Oxford. His works were well known as The Hobbit in 1937, Lord of the Rings in 1955. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and Beowulf.

His inspiration for The Hobbit cam particularly when as a child he lived in Birmingham – Moseley Bog, Sarehole Mill, Lickey Hill and Bilberry Hill.

Ros Pleasted

The Collected Short Stories of Somerset Maugham

The book for November was “The Collected Short Stories of Somerset Maughan” volume 2.

Somerset Maughan was born in 1974 in Paris, he died in 1965. He studied medicine before turning to writing. Besides being a novelist he was a playwright, an essayist, travel writer and a short story writer for which he is probably most remembered.

Maughan was widely travelled and based many of his stories on life in the British colonies. His writing is descriptive, colourful and exotic. It was agreed the stories were ‘of their time’ however they did not lose their appeal. all ending with a twist and enjoyed by everyone.

Staying On by Paul Scott

Staying On is a novel by Paul Scott which was published in 1977 and won the Booker Prize. Staying On focuses on Tusker and Lucy Smalley who were briefly mentioned in the latter two books of the Raj Quarted, ‘The Towers of Silence’ and ‘A Division of the Spils’ and are the latest British couple living in the small hill town of Pankot after Indian Independence.

We learn about life as an expat in Pankot and see the new life that is replacing the British Raj. We meet the Bloolabhoys, owners of Smith’s, the hotel where Tusker and his wife Lucy occupy an annex – or small bungalow. There are many interesting characters including Ibrahim and Joseph. Scott gives each character a voice so real that each personality is firmly etched in your mind. Both funny and deeply moving, Staying On is a unique engrossing portrait of the end of an empire and a forty year love affair.

There was plenty of discussion about the book which gets better and better as it progresses through the life of the two main characters.

Pam Owens

The Public Confessions of a Middle Aged Woman by Sue Townsend

This book contains a series of 800-word magazine essays, originally printed monthly over the course of several years covering a wide variety of topics ranging from the homely to the then topical and from amusing to somewhat heartbreaking. They cover a wide range of subjects such as travel, writing, food, vodka, family, shopping, politics and much more. I found this collection to be filled with light hearted reflections on everyday life which ranged from laugh out loud to deeply thought provoking. You can’t fail to identify with many of the topics – been there, done that! Her writing is sharp, perceptive and engaging. Leave it at your bedside and enjoy daily with a cuppa.

Pat Mutton

The Selected Poems of Emily Dickinson

Our choice for the July meeting was ‘The Selected Poems of Emily Dickinson’. She was an American poet, the daughter of a lawyer from Massachusetts, and was born in 1830. She died in her 50’s relatively unknown, in fact only seven of her poems were published prior to her death in 1886. She was initially a vivacious teenager, but gradually over the years withdrew into a reclusive existence. This was apparently a very deliberate choice ‘to live is so startling, it leaves but little room for other occupations’. Ted Hughes describes her poetry ‘she has an ability to see a vision of timeless, vast Nothingness, whose only resolution is Death’. This sounds very stark, but reading some of her poems she seems to me to have a had a very vivid imagination especially describing her physical and mental struggles. Most of us had chosen one of the poems to read to the rest of the group, and they provoked an interesting discussion. Few of us read poetry regularly, and probably most of us heaved a sigh when we knew the choice, but having a read a little of her poetry recognise that she was an immense talent and her poems worth dipping into occasionally.

Chris Fisher

The Button Box by Lynn Knigh

Most of us have a family button box collected over the years, not very often looked at and used even less, but we all remember special buttons that have memories for us. This was an unusual book with fascinating bits of social history, fashion and life styles over the last one hundred years up to the 1970s all to do with buttons.

Attractively presented and with short chapters each dealing with a specific type of button or fastener, this book is full of interesting snippets of information. It is also good for dipping in and out of and is a very accessible read.

Wendy Crownshaw

Every Man for Himself by Beryl Brainbridge

A very moving account of the privileged few aboard the doomed first and only voyage of Titanic – the unsinkable ship. It was written through the eyes of an orphaned-turned-rich upper class man in his early twenties. The group were split on this book. To some it was boring. Other were left curious about some of the details of the Titanic. The characters were not compelling. The last few pages have you drawn into the despair, and for some that were still convinced the ship wouldn’t sink and just carried on.

Have a read and see what you think!

Pam Owens

The Water Babies by Charles Kingsley

TheWater Babies was published in 1863, a fairy-tale dedicated to Charles Kingsley’s youngest child Grenville, and became his most widely read book (apart from ‘Westward Ho!’ which I had not realised he had written!)

I suggested reading this book as I had very fond memories of reading this when I was a mere child of 10/11. My brother used to buy me books for every birthday and Christmas, green leather bound volumes, and I have them still. On re-reading, I was amazed that I had remembered so much and at the same time so little. I did not remember the lists of adjectives, those now meaningless references to old controversies, the personal prejudices etc. which I must admit I skipped through without reading in their entirety. What I did remember was the magical bare bones of the story, and the characters of Mrs. Doasyouwouldbedoneby, Grimes, and of course Tom and Ellie. Some of the group who had read the book in their youth, said they thought they must have read a childrens edition, and very much enjoyed it, but did not enjoy the original text. Others started to read, but were put off by the language and did not finish it.

Some of the descriptive passages in the book, particularly about the countryside, are wonderful ‘clear and cool, clear and cool’, ‘Mother Carey’s Haven, where the good whales go when they die’, and the names too, ‘Peacepool’ ‘Shiny Wall’ and lots of other examples ‘those that wish to be clean, clean they will be; and those that wish to be foul, foul they will be’.

I think you might gather that I still think this is a great book, and well worth reading, (having the choice of what to leave out) although very much a product of its Victorian past and very moralistic (Charles Kingsley was after all, a minister!). Although very much in the minority in the group, I would encourage others to read or reread if only for the wonderfully descriptive passages, especially of the river, and forgive the platitudes and dogmas, and just enjoy the fairy story.

Chris Fisher

The White Tiger

This book was the Reader’s Group choice for their Book of the Month in January.

First published in 2008 and winning the 40th Man Booker Prize in the same year. It was a debut novel by Indian author Aravind Adiga.

The novel gives a humorous, although dark side, sight into the Indian class struggle in these times. Balram Halwai tells of his wish to escape his “birth” village to improve his lot in life. He escapes from his family’s expectations by journeying to Delhi. He works for a rich master as his chauffeur learning much about the underworld.

He then flees to Bangalore after killing his master and stealing his money!

The novel explores the Indian issues of religion, caste, loyalty, corruption and poverty.

Balram eventually achieves his ambitions to leave his sweet making caste and becomes a successful entrepreneur establishing his own taxi service.

The novel catches the atmosphere of India, the impoverished areas and the spirit of the diverse classes and castes. It’s a revealing and educational book and is, in turns, amoral, irreverent, deeply endearing and utterly contemporary.

It was loved by most of the group, but not all of them.

Janet Penn

Inspector Montalbano books by Andrea Camilleri

The group’s choice in April was the Inspector Montalbano books by Andrea Camilleri. We each chose which story we wanted to read and the group was split, with some really enjoying them and some not at all. Inspector Montalbano is a quirky, very Sicilian detective with a unique way of attacking each mystery using intuition, knowledge of local people and good old fashioned police work in equal measure. Montalbano is a gourmet when it comes to his food and he insists on eating in silence, to get the full enjoyment, yet another quirk! The plots are rather complicated but offset by beautifully descriptive passages of Sicily which made most of us want to jump on a plane and go there right away! I for one shall be reading more of these mysteries.

Wendy Crownshaw