Opinion Comment

Thursday 23 November 2017

Amanda Craig: The golden rules of running a book club? Well, don't choose Middlemarch for starters


AMANDA A website called The Middle Class Handbook has issued some dos and don’ts for book clubs, which are causing great merriment. Middlemarch is apparently to be avoided at all costs. "Attempt anything pre-1900 and over 450 pages, and your book club will shrivel up and die," it cautions.

This warning came as no surprise to me. As a novelist who sometimes gets invited to discuss my work with them, I know that book clubs are full of the most lively and perceptive people – but since they took off 10 years ago, they have also had the potential to be a focus for conflict.

Perhaps the most notorious example of this came when the novelist Rachel Cusk described her reaction to her own attempt to read with a group of women a couple of years ago. With dismay shading into contempt, she recounted the way they “attempted to decode” the kind of book that gets on to prize shortlists, but disliked those that were “heavy-going”. Her disdain was obvious, and so – according to the icy response to her article – was the relief when she left.

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