Operation Book Club, Part 5

My attempts to throw myself into the written word while I search for a new job are going pretty well. I have recently submitted a piece of just over 1,000 words for a brand new project, which I’m sure you’ll hear more about in due course. On top of that, I’m finally reading Nineteen Eighty Four, the next novel Lara, Nora and I will be discussing as part of our book club. It’s taken me six months to get started – according to my notes, I finished the last one on 16 August – but I’ve made good progress, with just over half the book under my belt at the time of writing. And let me tell you, it’s certainly made an impact!

It’s distracting me from my current situation in a couple of ways. Firstly, the hard-hitting material means I’m well and truly immersed, but in addition, it’s nice to take my eyes away from a screen for a bit. I’ve mentioned what a relief that can be plenty of times before. It’s only since leaving Haymarket that I’ve truly realised how much of our lives are consumed by devices, and not just recreationally. If I’m not scrolling through social media (which can be a bad idea if you’re comparing your own situation to that of your much more successful fellow graduates), watching a video or playing a game, I’m frantically scouring the net for employment, and even that’s giving me square eyes. What’s more, it can be hard to strike the right balance between spending sufficient time doing that and getting away from the pressures it can entail, so the book is really helping to provide a different kind of mental stimulation, one that’ll bridge the gap until the next big thing to focus on arrives. Things are a little unpredictable and lonely for me in the meantime, but it’s true what my Mum always says, you know – “as long as you have a book in hand, you’ll never be alone.”

Mason

Operation Book Club, Part 4

As I’m sure I’ve said before, it’s nice to peel your eyes away from a screen and take in some proper paper pages every now and again. The book club I have going with Lara and Nora was meant to facilitate that a bit more often, of course, but that seems to have stalled somewhat for the time being. We were meant to finally discuss A Natural History of Dragons earlier in the week, and confirm Nineteen Eighty Four as next on our list, but thanks to me that plan fell flat on its face (although it should be easier to schedule now that I’ve finished work for Christmas).

Lara’s generosity, however, means that we might have something else to talk about in the meantime. She’d been buying all of my books for the club anyway up to this point, but outside of that she also decided to buy one for each person in our friendship group, after making sure we hadn’t read it before. Ben was thrilled with The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which I also enjoyed earlier in the year, while I received The Growing Pains of Adrian Mole, the second in Sue Townsend’s series of books about a teenage diarist navigating the numerous challenges of adolescence. I’d read the first of those in Winchester too, and was pleasantly surprised to find that while it appeared to be aimed at readers of a similar age to its protagonist, it also contained a lot of humour that adults would appreciate – and that would go right over kids’ heads.

I reckon everyone else in our group might enjoy it. I don’t know if they’ll all read their respective books from Lara, but I hope they do. Not only will it allow them each to discover something new, but it might mean we can collectively review a number of different titles together – and aside from Ben, I don’t know what anyone else got, so it’d be interesting to find out. What’s more, by the time we finish them all, maybe Lara, Nora and I will at last be able to progress to George Orwell…

Mason

Low Blood Sugar

We might have finished university now, but my friends and I will always find an excuse for a chat on Zoom and a quiz, and last Thursday night we did just that, thanks to Nora having the initiative to actually finish writing one (after I started one months ago that’s never materialised). I think many of us would agree that one of the big downsides of uni is that you bond with all manner of people, only to be torn apart and thrown into different corners of the country, so coming together again through technology can make things a little less lonely – especially when you’ve spent all week working from home in your room like me!

At the beginning, we all agreed that we felt a bit rusty, it having been so long since our last quiz, but we quickly hit our stride again. Well, five of us did – Alysha wasn’t able to join us until after we’d finished, and I came straight from my desk at the end of my working day to do it, foregoing my dinner and a shower. I’m nothing if not dedicated to the cause! Unfortunately, what that meant was that by the time we started, I was seriously flagging, and I ended up 15 points away from Deacon, who was ultimately the winner.

You could say my poor performance was down to my lack of knowledge of recently-released films and TV series, but I prefer to solely blame my low blood sugar – an issue I rectified with some cheese and crackers immediately afterwards. Regardless, it was nice to be reunited with everyone, and I’m hoping it’ll serve as a catalyst for regular quizzing again – and for another book club meeting between Nora, Lara and myself. We still haven’t discussed A Natural History of Dragons yet. In fact, I’ve almost forgotten what happened in it.

Speaking of Lara, I must get back to my online shopping – it was her birthday yesterday and there’s still the business of the ideal present to attend to!

Mason

When I Shut My Door

Until sometime last year, when lockdown meant Dad was undertaking an increasing number of DIY projects out of sheer boredom, my bedroom door did not shut properly. By now, you may be aware that I’m a man who particularly values his privacy – so this was a problem. I wasn’t keen on the idea of anyone barging in whenever they wanted, especially as I’m in my early twenties, so when the lock was finally fixed – and a closed door meant a closed door – it was a big relief. Nobody wants to be greeted by the sight of me in my underpants!

More recently, the lock has meant that I have the space I’ve needed to think more carefully about numerous things. I’m still writing reviews for Music Is To Blame – in fact, my first paid review has just been published – and I also recently finished A Natural History of Dragons (not actually by Lady Trent, but Marie Brennan; Trent is the fictional author who narrates the story). Both have necessitated more scribblings in my notebook, and all of these have been added from the comfort of the armchair in my room. If I tilt my head back far enough, I can rest it on the top as I sit there and recline slightly, waiting for the words I’ve read or the music I’ve heard to dance through my head, working their magic. Thoughts and ideas are much easier to process this way, and silence is much easier to enjoy when I just want a moment to close my eyes and drift off.

This works wonders when it comes to clearing my head, and Lord knows I need headspace at the moment. Primarily, this is because of something new and exciting, which I can’t tell you about just yet, but it’s also because there’s plenty of scope for new ideas right now. When Lara finishes her copy, we’ll have to discuss our latest book, but aside from that I need fresh inspiration for my writing. August was yet another bad month for this blog – perhaps I should have set a target of four posts, like I did in July – but as always, I’m hoping this one will be better thanks to what lies ahead. When it is (and it will be, even if I have to force myself to write more nonsense like this), I’ll know that I have the peace and quiet afforded by a firmly locked door to thank.

Mason

Operation Book Club, Part 3

Having all finished To Kill a Mockingbird, the next step at the beginning of the week was for Lara, Nora and I to get together and discuss it. We therefore took to Zoom, but even though we talk to each other all the time, I don’t think any of us really knew how well this particular meeting would work out. I’d used my brand new bright red notebook to record all of my thoughts as I went along, but as we all scheduled our call earlier in the day, I was surprised to find that neither Lara nor Nora had done the same. Since we were all keen readers who had studied Creative Writing together, I had no real doubts about their ability to analyse a book, but I still wondered if a lack of notes was going to make it difficult.

I needn’t have worried. The agreed 7pm start time came around, and to my relief, we all had plenty to say about how much we loved the novel. One of us would raise an interesting point, which in turn would lead to all manner of spontaneous observations. It was such a satisfying chain reaction for us all, and to witness it in action reminded me of what was so great about collaborating in Winchester – watching an idea go from strength to strength as more contributions were put forth. The conversation was fruitful enough, but seeing how well it was working inspired Lara and Nora to make notes in future, so when the second book is complete we should have even more to talk about.

What will the book in question be, I hear you ask? We could easily have followed a classic like Mockingbird with another title of a similar calibre, and indeed, we have several on our informal shortlist, which we hastily typed as we talked. We have designated Nineteen Eighty Four as our third choice, and at some point – when I locate my long-lost copy – we’ll tackle The Three Musketeers too. At that moment, however, we all felt a hankering to try something completely new, and it was Nora who proposed the solution – a book she had languishing on her shelf. It was so unfamiliar to her that I don’t think she’s even opened it up to this point, but this made it an attractive prospect to Lara and I, as we both liked the idea of venturing into totally unknown literally territory. With the three of us in agreement, it was swiftly locked in as our next read. As I write this, I’m waiting for the copy Lara has so kindly bought me to arrive – she’s generously providing all of mine for the foreseeable future, to thank me for proofreading her work at uni. I’m very excited to start it, even though all I know is the title and author displayed on its cover.

Book two will be A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir, by Lady Trent. Watch this space – there’ll be more to come on this one!

Mason

Operation Book Club, Part 2

Last week, Nora finished To Kill a Mockingbird. Believe it or not, this was bad news, because Lara had finished it before her – meaning that of the three who are currently signed up to our book club, only I am trailing behind. It’s now approximately three weeks since I started, and I’m currently on Chapter 18. There’s still some way to go, but I have promised myself that I will definitely finish the novel within a month – giving me another seven days to hit my target. I don’t want to keep the other two waiting, and I believe that getting through each book relatively promptly will make the whole club concept much easier for us to maintain.

Having said that, though, I need to make sure I don’t feel any pressure in reaching the end. I’ve been guilty of that on the odd page recently, and what that means is that I find myself inadvertently racing through, reminding myself to slow down. I wouldn’t exactly say I’ve been scanning, because I still register what’s going on, but I’m focusing on the destination rather than the journey, and that’s not good for my notes. I’ve really enjoyed writing my thoughts down in my new notebook as and when they occur. Not only is this whole endeavour helping to broaden my horizons as a reader, it’s also challenging me as a writer too. Although only my eyes will see them, confined as they are to private paper, each set of new notes is in effect part of a larger review, and this is useful, because I haven’t always been particularly good at offering a balanced or negative perspective of a book, film or TV series.

As I may have said before, I tend to find something to enjoy in most things unless there’s an obvious reason to dislike it, which isn’t completely ideal if you need to write about its pros and cons. Because of this, I’ve found it handy during Mockingbird to force myself to note down what I did and didn’t like about the sections I’ve finished reading, even if it’s just a few lines for each. If I remember correctly, there are at least another 12 chapters to go, so if I do this for every one going forward, I should have plenty of thoughts to collate when it comes to discussing what I thought with Lara and Nora. I can’t deny, by the way, that most of them are positive, and I can most definitely see why the novel is so widely regarded as a classic. Maybe that’s why I’ve been so slow reading it – I can’t face feeling bereft after I turn the last page!

Mason

Operation Book Club

I’m starting this post in Waterstone’s, a place I often frequent even though I mostly have no intention of buying anything. That’s certainly the case today – I already have an outstanding book to finish (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which I bought here last year, and which follows the equally excellent Ready Player One), so there’s no need for me to emerge with any more. And yet the notebooks captivate me. There are all sorts on the shelves, ranging from blank ones, to bullet journals, to those specifically designed for lists or novel planning, and even one containing a Jane Austen witticism a day (just in case you want another reminder that she’s buried in Winchester – I rolled over her grave once).

The possibilities, then, are endless, and every time I’ve bought a new notebook in the past, I’ve done so with the same overriding desire – to make it the starting point for a new, game-changing project. Admittedly, this desire does come with some slight delusions of grandeur. I can’t help imagining myself putting pen to paper on a literary classic for the ages by candlelight like an 18th Century romantic novelist, or scribbling down my memoirs in a book small enough to fit snugly into the sidebag that hangs from my wheelchair.

Judging by my track record with notebooks, neither of those things will happen – and in any case, at this moment I can’t even decide whether I want a big one or a small one. I might have something entirely different in mind for it, though, thanks to a sudden burst of inspiration Lara has unknowingly given to me. In just over a week, I’ll be leaving Winchester – hopefully not for the last time ever – having finished my degree. Over lunch on Monday, Lara, Ben, Alysha, Ryan and I discussed the small matter of how we’ll stay in touch post-uni, and it was Lara who suggested we engage in a book club. I responded very enthusiastically. She said we could put books forward for consideration, and when we’d decided on one, we could obtain a copy, start it on the same day, record our thoughts and share them with each other at the end.

At the moment, only Lara and I are definitely up for it, but I hope others will agree to join, because it could be a great group activity – and it’s given me the perfect purpose for a new notebook. Not only would it allow me to make all the observations I need on what we read, but it’d also mean I could prise my eyes away from a screen for a bit and write the old-fashioned way. I’m sure my handwriting could do with the practice. One of my teachers used to say that reading it was like looking through spiders!

Mason