Abbey Books Readers Club launches in Paisley
Brian Hannan talks us through what could be the start of a book revolution, introducing the Abbey Books Readers Club…
Coming up with something quite new at a second-hand bookshop sounds like a contradiction in terms. But we may just have stumbled on something that could revolutionise the world of books. As you might imagine there is considerable dialogue between bookshop managers and their clientele. One of the subjects that came up a lot was dissatisfaction with the book group mentality.
Who wants to be told what to read? And then being questioned on a book you might never have chosen as if you were still at school? Sitting in a room surrounded by people with reams of paper about the book in question?
What if, I surmised, the focus of any such meeting about books was the reader not the book? It is readers, after all, who give a book its power, their enthusiasm that encourages not just others to read a particular book but to fire the idea of reading as a tremendous pleasure. And not as a chore, reading a book because you were told to. That might sound a bit unfair on book groups which have done so much to stimulate appreciation of good books.
But book groups don’t encourage the reading of books, they promote the reading of just fiction and yet 90 per cent of all books sold are non-fiction. Many people are as enthusiastic about a biography or historical incident or popular interest as they are about fiction.
So I wondered if there could be an alternative. What if I created something called a Readers Club. Nobody was required to read something under instruction. Members would simply come along and talk about the book – fiction or non-fiction – they were currently reading or perhaps an old favourite.
So I invited a handful of customers along to Abbey Books last Tuesday evening. We’ve got a very nice wooden oval table and plenty comfortable chairs and we provide the biscuits. Nobody had to notify me in advance of the book they planned to talk about. It would all be a surprise. Members had up to ten minutes to talk about the book and then it was open to questions.
Well, for a start, it was as if I had lit a match to enthusiasm. If I could have packaged that excitement, the sheer joy of reading, I would be sitting on a fortune. There was no sign of the normal apprehension of a Book Group, nobody worried that if they secretly hated the book they would feel obliged to say the opposite, nobody worried they had not managed to complete the book, nobody feeling they were somehow there under false pretences and wishing they could get the book part over with so they could lay into the food and wine and have a good gossip.
I kicked off proceedings. I had been mesmerized by a biography by Franny Moyle of the English painter William Turner who not only revolutionised art, but was an extremely savvy businessman. I had been astonished to discover that, in an era before photography and television, paintings of scenic spots often acted as tourist guides, and that Turner’s discovery of Venice created a tourist boom.
Craig had been very taken with Andrew O’Hagan’s Mayflies which had recently been turned into a television series. He had to give a wee bit of a spoiler alert since, although the main subject is male friendship, the narrative drive is assisted suicide. That, naturally, opened up a wide discussion, never mind talking about the quality of the writing and the creation of very believable male characters.
Georgina’s pick was Good Omens, the Terry Pratchett-Neil Gaiman, novel about representatives of Heaven and Hell who have come to an agreement about how to enjoy their time on Earth but found that the arrival of an anti-Christ spoils their cosy pact. I have to confess I’ve read neither author so was surprised to find how intrigued I was by the storyline and the writing. Georgina was able to explain what each author contributed to the book which was fascinating enough in itself, collaborations being notoriously difficult to pull off. Comedy with a touch of philosophy and theology is not your usual combination.
Felicity had read Lucy by the Sea by Elizabeth Strout, a famed pandemic novel, about an older woman, somewhat submissive, divorced woman who quits the bustle of New York for the quieter countryside of Maine and encounters a different kind of life. But it is as political and socially aware book as you might read specially in describing the disparate experiences of the haves and have-nots during a time of tumult. Despite all that, it is extremely moving and never loses sight of the main character and her emotional life.
Last book on the agenda took us through as tumultuous a period, certainly if you were Scottish. John Prebble’s Highland Clearances was Philippa’s choice and provoked considerable discussion about the causes and who was to blame and the reaction of the event on the Scottish character.
So, all in all, a great night, readers to the fore, enthusing about their books, enjoying meeting other readers who had different interests but who shared a common love of reading.
Abbey Books Readers Club discussed: The Extraordinary Life and Momentous Times of J.M.W. Turner by Franny Moyle, Penguin; Mayflies by Andrew O’Hagan, Faber and Faber; Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, Generic; Lucy by the Sea by Elizabeth Strout, Viking; The Highland Clearances by John Prebble, Penguin. All these books are available in paperback and Kindle and who knows your luck we might even have some in the shop.
As a matter of interest I did a hashtag “readersclub” to see if there was already such an idea in existence. But it came up blank, so this must be the first. Well, what do you expect from Paisley? Always to the fire with new ideas.
If you would like to join in the next meeting of the Readers Club, contact me Brian Hannan of Abbey Books at bh*******@ao*.com. We meet on the first Tuesday of every month.