We don’t have any health events on Sundays as yet, so I can devote time to one of the best parts of my job which is choosing material for the Share a Book Groups. This has to be done on a Sunday morning , in bed , with a cafetiere and pile of books (mostly collections of short stories) and dogs on hand to give their opinions should I need to try reading extracts aloud.
There are, at present, six Share a Book groups in Westminster and I run four of them. Share a Book groups are book groups where the material is read aloud. When a group first starts it is usual for the facilitator to bring along a short story and a poem. Groups run between 1 and two hours. When a group has been running for a while the group often choose a book. Paddington Share a Book group has just started Cakes and Ale by Somerset Maugham. Last week we also read ‘One Art’, a poem by Elisabeth Bishop.
The facilitator always starts the story and then pauses to make space for any observations or comments from the group before inviting someone to continue reading the next section aloud. We try to steer clear of discussions about the author or the structure of the piece, or any kind of self-conscious literary criticism – for these groups, the important thing is the story and the characters and how it all unfolds. Some members really enjoy reading aloud and others prefer to sit and listen and enjoy their tea (we have tea and coffee) and only occasionally will they want to read.
Some of the short stories we have read recently at Church Street, Queen’s Park and the newly opened group in partnership with Open Age (situated at Amberley Clubroom) include: A Pair of Silk Stockings by Kate Chopin, A Bed among the Lentils by Alan Bennett, The Chain by Tobias Wolff, Faith and Hope go Shopping by Joanne Harris, An Anna around the Neck by Chekov and The Supreme Artist by Daphne Du Maurier.
Finding a story of the right length and one that stimulates the group is always a challenge. You never know how people will react – sometimes a story I have enjoyed when reading it silently to myself sounds completely different, or falls flat when read aloud – other stories seem quite meek and mild on the page but spring to life and immediately provoke comment, laughter, a treasured memory, and, on occasion, outrage, sneers or even tears.
Another challenge is choosing a poem to complement the text; there is usually a poem even when the group is reading a book. There is no pressure for the members of the group to attend every week but the usual core of regulars let me know when something disrupts their routine and they can’t attend.
Some group members really miss the group when they can’t attend; one member had a knee replacement and was stuck at home for a while, I and my little Jack Russell took the photocopied sheets round to her (Josefine is on Shirley’s good knee – she is thinking of training to be a therapy dog now!).