It was lovely to see everyone who came last night for our discussion of Lance Armstrong’s Every Second Counts and David Walsh’s Seven Deadly Sins. These were very different books from our usual selection, and that showed in the discussion which ranged very widely over the books, sporting ethics and drug use, the psychology of elite athletes, group dynamics and more. I don’t think there was a single person at the table who had much sympathy for Lance Armstrong but there was much respect for Walsh’s tenacity.
His book is a refreshingly candid expose and he has a great story to tell. Several people, myself included, appreciated his insights into pro cycling and particularly the dynamics of team cycling and the psychology of the peloton, which can be bemusing to the uninitiated. One or two confessed to having a tear in their eye when Walsh related the tragedy of his son’s death in a cycling accident such. Walsh could however have done with a decent editor to work with him on his overly-long and repetitious book and hammer out some of his journalistic tendencies.
The consensus was that, despite its repellent aspects, Armstrong’s Every Second Counts, was better-written and more engaging. This is perhaps inevitable as Every Second Counts appears to have been ghost-written by the talented Sally Jenkins, but this raised questions in members’ minds about how much it really reflected Armstrong’s personality and experiences. It reads as a single polemic sustained for a couple of hundred pages. There was also much discussion of how our reactions to the book may have been different had we been reading in when it was first published in 2003, well before the rest of the world had joined Walsh in the belief that Armstrong was a doper and a cheat, when he was still held to be the come-back king, the cancer survivor and the miracle man of the Tour de France.
Personally I’m glad I didn’t because I think I too would have believed him a hero, an iconic example of what can be achieved and a hope-inspiring example for all those afflicted by cancer. And then I would have felt betrayed and let down when it became public and unquestionable that the seven-time winner of the world’s toughest cycling race and the most iconic cancer survivor had systematically cheated and, worse, pressured others to do so as well. Reading the two books side by side was particularly interesting as one could flick between the two, comparing the ways in which the same events and conversations were recorded.
We were delighted to welcome a couple of first-timers, Vicky and Jess, who I hope enjoyed themselves sufficiently to make our monthly Thursday meetings a regular diary commitment.
Keep the discussion going! You can now chatter about our book group and the books we read on Twitter. Follow #SW19Bookclub.
September Read – We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
The next meeting will be on Thursday 25th September (as always at the delightful Light on the Common in Wimbledon Village) when we’ll be discussing Karen Joy Fowler’s Booker long-listed novel, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves. My apologies to those who may have been misled by my mistake when I originally set the meeting up on Meetup.com and selected the wrong date!
October Read – Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick
The book to read for our October meeting is Nothing to Envy: Real Lives in North Koreaby Barbara Demick, which was recommended by one of our founder members, Kath Wells. The synopsis on Amazon says of this book:
North Korea is Orwell’s 1984 made reality: it is the only country in the world not connected to the internet; Gone with the Wind is a dangerous, banned book; during political rallies, spies study your expression to check your sincerity. After the death of the country’s great leader Kim Il Sung in 1994, famine descended: people stumbled over dead bodies in the street and ate tree bark to survive. Nothing to Envy weaves together the stories of adversity and resilience of six residents of Chongin, North Korea’s third largest city. From extensive interviews and with tenacious investigative work, Barbara Demick has recreated the concerns, culture and lifestyles of North Korean citizens in a gripping narrative, and vividly reconstructed the inner workings of this extraordinary and secretive country.
Last year John Sweeney, a journalist from the BBC’s Panorama team, under the cover of joining a group of students from the LSE touring North Korea secretly filmed in the famously secretive communist state. The resulting documentary was troubling. It was also controversial not least because the BBC were accused of putting the students in jeopardy and breaching editorial guidelines. Sadly it’s no longer available on iPlayer but you can find it on YouTube, here, if you wish to watch the Panorama documentary alongside riding Demick’s book.
If Nothing to Envy lives up to the blurb, it should make for a fascinating read and lively discussion in October. It is available on Amazon (including in Kindle format) and of course from all good booksellers. As always, if you’re after a traditional paper copy I’d urge you to consider buying from Wimbledon Books and Music and supporting our fantastic, local independent bookshop. The staff there are endlessly helpful, especially when trying to track down hard to find books. Merton Libraries appear not to have a copy in their stock but you could also inquire at the only local second-hand bookshop I know of – Copperfield’s (on Hartfield Road, two minutes’ walk from Wimbledon Station). Please see the notes below on buying books and book group fees before deciding how to get your hands on a copy.
Wimbledon Bookfest 2014
I promised to send out details of Wimbledon Bookfest which takes place between 3 and 12 October 2014. Alexander McCall Smith, creator of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, will be talking about his forthcoming novel, Emma, a re-imaging of Jane Austen’s classic novel. (Emma is expected to be published in November 2014.). There’s a literary tour of eight of Wimbledon’s literary figures from the earliest travel writer to the first investigative journalist, from a great publishing dynasty to a scandalous female novelist. Other highlights include an evening with Colm Toibin, Alan Johnson on his sequel to the phenomenally popular This Boy, a poetry reading by Juliet Stevenson, a glittering literary lunch with local authors Penny Vincenzi and Sophie Kinsella; David Starkey in the Tudors; Paul Merton; and, for the closing night, Ian McEwan speaking on his new book, The Children Act, a story partly inspired by real life cases of parents refusing treatment for their sick children because of their religious beliefs. A full listing of events can be found at Wimbledon Bookfest.
BookAddiction and Book Blogging
Some of you were kind enough to ask about BookAddiction, my new book blogging site, last night & I promised to send around some further information. The site carries reviews, news and other book and reading related articles which I hope may be of some interest. I’d absolutely, utterly delighted and blown-over if anyone would like to review books, or submit other relevant pieces or snippets –bookish news, views, opinion pieces, reading experiences, pictures, words and clips all welcome. Fresh voices and different perspectives can only be a good thing. I’ll put a page up as soon as I can giving some guidance on how to contribute but in the meantime, you can simply email me – use the contact form to ask for my email addy and I’ll send it to you. I can’t guarantee to publish everything received though (This is not an opportunity to publish photos of your cat or whatever and I prefer appropriate use of sentences and capitals etc!)
The Fine Print
Buying Books and Book Group fees
Wimbledon Village Reading Group is free for all. Unlike many other book clubs, there is no fee to join and no fee for coming to meetings. I hope you’ll agree that the facilities that Meetup.com offer to organise and RSVP to meetings and to keep up to date with book choices etc. are invaluable. But I have to pay £70 a year to Meetup.com to maintain our area there. If you choose to buy your copy of our book group selections (or any other book for that matter) from Amazon, please considering do so following the links in this newsletter. As an Amazon Affiliate, I receive a (very small) commission on the sale. This helps to offset the Meetup.com costs.
Wimbledon Village Book Group Meetings
Wimbledon Village Book Group always meets on the last Thursday in the month, at 7.30pm, at Light on the Common (formerly known as Light Café), 48 High Street, Wimbledon Village, London, SW19 5AX (other than in June when Wimbledon Fortnight forces other arrangements). The restaurant is very relaxed and informal. It serves delicious, often locally-sourced food, does remarkably good smoothies and is fully licensed with a decent wine list, but there is absolutely no requirement for you to eat or drink if you don’t want to.
New members and guests always welcome. Come along – just look out for the table with books on the table, or ask the staff who know who we are! You can join the book group here, but you don’t have to join on line to participate. It is helpful though if you can let me know if you are planning on coming to a meeting so that I can forewarn Light on the Common about number.