Once every month, we’ll share the motivation and passion that drives one book club — it could be yours! — from across the globe. These are the people who have combined the solitary pleasure of reading a book with the joy of sharing, discussing, and debating it in a social setting.
For the month of October, we spoke to Natalia Gameson, who runs the Surbiton Book Club just outside of London, England (and clearly likes dressing up and wearing crowns).
What was the inspiration for starting the Surbiton Book Club?
The book club actually started in a town about four miles away, in Epsom. It gradually got moved over to the quintessentially English spot of Richmond, where it stayed for about two years. Then last year, Richmond became a bit of a trek for me, so I closed the book club for a bit. When I moved to Surbiton, I decided it was the perfect opportunity to open it up again — it’s such a good way to get to know people in the local area and to make new friends.
In terms of members, Sophie and Suzanne have been with the club since Richmond, and the rest is made up of people who’ve found the club through Twitter, and my friends who live in the area. I’ve used [UK-based classifieds site] Gumtree and Twitter to publicize the group. I also tried using Meetup.com, which didn’t work as well as it attracted people who never read the book.
I certainly read a lot more because of book club, and when I shut it down, I missed it. I’ve met some lovely ladies through it, and it’s been a nice thing to organize.
How does your group select each book? Is there specific criteria?
It varies! Last month, we read Goodbye, Mr. Chips by James Hilton because it’s short, whereas this month, we’ve gone for something longer. If someone comes across a book they think they’d like to read, they suggest it and then we take it from there.
There are a few reasons I picked Jane’s Fame by Claire Harman, which discusses the growth of Jane Austen’s popularity, how she wasn’t very popular in her own time, and the birth of the romance genre. Most people who come along to a book club have a bit of a thing for Jane Austen — or rather, a thing for Mr. Darcy. I thought it would be interesting to have a think about exactly what her appeal is, and to find out more about her actual writing. We’re all so familiar with the stories, but very few of us have read the original texts. I’ve certainly told my friends how much I enjoyed this book, and tweeted about it quite extensively!
For the meeting, I might ask everyone to bring along a prop, either a book or an item of clothing or something Regency-esque, that shows what influence Jane Austen’s had on their lives. Louise, a new member, has already said she wants to bring along a very old copy she has of Pride & Prejudice. I wonder how many will turn up wearing bonnets…
If you could invite any author (or even just any person) to join one of your meetings, who would it be and why?
I did invite an author once about two years ago — the novelist and psychotherapist Lucy Beresford, who wrote a book called Something I’m Not about a woman who didn’t want to have kids. In all honesty, I wasn’t terribly keen on the book, but having her along kicked off a brilliant discussion. Ideally, I’d love to invite the author along every time. Maybe I’ll start working on Claire Harman and see where she’s based…
Of all the books your club has selected, which is your favourite?
My favourite book club experience was probably reading The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon. I’d already read the book on a work trip to Italy, and I’d hated it — mostly because I’d just skimmed it and not bothered paying much attention to it. When I read it for book club, I got so much out of it, and came to see what a fabulous novel it really is.
To be featured in a future Book Club Spotlight, email firstname.lastname@example.org with a brief description of your club and what makes it stand apart from the rest.