At the beginning of August I spotted an advert in the Guardian Review asking for readers to take part in a group to assist in choosing the recipient of the Guardian First Book Award 2011. One of the locations selected was Nottingham, so I thought I’d go along to the initial meeting at my local Waterstones, who are operating in partnership with the Guardian in this endeavour, to see what would be involved.
A total of 22 people attended the event, seated in a semi-circle in the Alan Sillitoe Room on the top floor. The evening began with a brief explanation of the process from a Waterstones’ threesome of Anthony, Chris and Maddie, who informed us that 8 readers would be chosen to form the reading group and they would be required to read a total of 10 books in 8 weeks, and meet up once a week to discuss each one.
Then the selection process began. We were asked to tell the group about our individual favourite book we’d read from this year, and also our favourite book of all time. Anthony, Chris and Maddie kicked things off, and then we began to go round the semi-circle, at which point 2 people walked out(!)
As someone who has engaged in online writers’ websites such as YouWriteOn and Authonomy and talked informally with friends about books and literature I was confident in my opinions, but this was different! There I was with real people, in a group, being asked to talk about books . . !
Slowly but surely, we went around the group, and many titles were mentioned, classics such as 1984, Wuthering Heights, Far From the Madding Crowd, Little Women and while I agreed with some of the other group members that it’s difficult to choose your favourite book of all time, I wanted to be decisive – to make a choice and explain why.
So, eventually my turn came and I talked about how I was enjoying Everything Flows by Vasily Grossman, and then gave the reasons why Ham on Rye by Charles Bukowski was my all-time favourite – the strong narrative voice, the streamlined delivery and wonderful flow, with snatches of poignant humour.
Once we’d all given our views, Chris asked us to write a 200 word review of our individual favourite book of the year, on an application form which was provided, and send it in to the Manager at Waterstones. Well, for me, that was the easy bit – I wrote the review and dropped it into the store before the deadline of 15th August.
This weekend, I found out, via an email, that I’d made it onto the group, so was delighted to have been successful. A closer look at the email revealed that the group would comprise 7 members rather than the expected 8, which did make me wonder whether they’d received enough completed application forms.
Anyway, I’m looking forward to the challenge, and with 10 books to read in 8 weeks, I know I’ve got to get my reading boots on . . .