Treat Yourshelf: Why I Joined The Conduit’s Book Club

Sharon Garfinkel shares what inspired her to sign up for the Conduit Book Club and gives her impressions of Zadie Smith’s short story collection, ‘Grand Union’.

It’s a new year and so, of course, along with thousands of others, I must be wanting to shed those excess pounds, get fit and do all those things I assured myself I would do in 2010.

Well, not exactly.

So, why is this year different to the previous ones?

Well, rather than falling into the trap of making endless resolutions, I want to commit to a handful of more realistic and manageable goals, which should – hopefully – be possible to keep to.  

One of these is reading.

Pre-university, I would devour books. But, as I moved into adulthood, I tended to only read during the holidays. Somehow the pure joy of reading has disappeared from my daily life.

Keen to reignite this passion, I leapt at the chance of joining The Conduit’s monthly book club. Each month, Conduit members suggest books of any genre and style, before voting on the shortlist. We then gather together to discuss the chosen book, debating themes, narrative choices and anything else that came up during the process of reading it.

As with all Conduit activities, the evening promises lively discussion on thought-provoking ideas and an opportunity to meet other members – a stimulating way to spend a couple of hours.

Since its inception last October, there have been three meetings (of which I have attended two). The first meeting, focused on The Book of Joy by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, with Douglas Adams; the next examined the best-selling Three Women by Lisa Taddeo; and at the most recent meet-up, held in early January, we discussed Grand Union – Zadie Smith’s collection of 19 short stories.

Best known for her novels, including White Teeth and Swing Time, as well as successful essay collections, Grand Union is Smith’s first short story collection. Largely set between London and New York, the stories cover topics including race, gender, celebrity and class, with a wide range of styles and narrative techniques on display.

At the January meet-up, we had an initial discussion on the themes, mood and characterisation of the book and exchanged our takeaways in small groups, before a spokesperson from each group shared the group’s views with the rest of the room.

I was one of a few in the room who had not read the whole collection of Smith’s short stories. I put this down to not being attracted to the short story style. This put me at a slight disadvantage as I felt unable to fully participate in the full discussion in a meaningful way.

I am, however, aware that the beauty of a book club is that it forces one to read books one would not normally pick up, and I am determined to pull my socks up and do better for future meetings!

At only 147 pages, I am pleased to say that I am ahead of deadline and have already read Agatha, by Anne Cathrine Bomann, the choice for February. I hope to see you there.

Sharon Garfinkel is fundraising manager for The Resurgence Trust – an environmental educational charity which publishes Resurgence & Ecologist magazine, runs The Ecologist website, organises event and runs the Resurgence Centre in Hartland, north Devon. More information can be found at www.resurgence.org .

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