The library’s sets of books for reading groups commendably include many that have been long- or short-listed for prizes, or won them. Many of our choices have been from this pool. Recently there has been criticism of the listing process for its lack of diversity and tendency to select established writers. Amends are now being made and shortlists have begun to feature exciting new talents. We have played our part in reading over the past year an autobiography of a Chinese writer, whose first novel we had already read, and three very different books by black or mixed-race authors – a London primary school teacher, an Afro-American and a Nigerian, all women publishing debut novels.
Our reading, as always, has been diverse in other ways, featuring fiction and non-fiction, lighter and more serious books, and a variety of locations and eras. We read contrasting autobiographies – featuring a severely impoverished and unloving upbringing in rural China (“Once Upon a Time in the East” by Xiaolo Guo) and a conventional background for the son of a violin-playing Yorkshire butcher (“A Life Like Other People’s“ by Alan Bennett). An Edwardian-set mystery novel involving a rising star politician forced to resign after his fiancé suddenly broke off their relationship without explanation (“Past Caring “ by Robert Goddard) contrasted with a modern day small-town American tale of a girl’s killing and its consequences (“Parting Shot” by Linwood Barclay): both books involved murder, blackmail and well-plotted story twists. Modern-day America featured also in “Such a Fun Age” by Kiley Reid, contrasting with a tale set in Nigeria 40 years go: (“Stay With Me” by Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀): both concerned children, the former in a wealthy white family employing and attempting close friendship with their black childminder, the latter featuring the heartbreak of childlessness and the desperate remedies employed to overcome it. Again, both books contained surprising twists, forcing the reader to re-evaluate the preceding storyline. Very different was “The Butchering Art” by Lindsey Fitzharris, the account of how 19th century surgeon Joseph Lister transformed gruesome and dangerous surgical and hospital conditions by introducing antiseptic methods: although not for the squeamish, it proved largely popular.