u3a - Book Groups

Contact the adviser

Thank you for visiting my Book Groups advice page, which aims to provide information and advice to anyone who is running or thinking about running a U3A book group.

Since my last posting to this page I’ve agreed to become chair of Edinburgh U3A, which will keep me even busier than usual, but I will try to keep this page up to date with your latest book recommendations (and some of mine – see below).

Richard Peoples
September 2020

Online groups

Many U3A groups, including my own, are currently meeting online, using Zoom, Skype or other software. I’ve recently compiled a report giving information and advice on best use of online technology for groups and will be happy to send you a copy if you email me at via my contact form

Setting up and running a book group

I can provide help with any of the following:

  • Defining the purpose and scope of your book group
  • Agreeing themes, book types, length, availability and price
  • Agreeing on meeting frequency and venue(s)
  • Setting guidelines for members to nominate books to read
  • Structuring discussion and ensuring full participation
  • Enabling members with disabilities to take part, e.g. with large print, audiobooks etc.

Book recommendations:

Novels and Short Stories

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman, recommended by Salford U3A:

‘Eleanor describes everything in great details as she narrates the story. Through her loneliness she becomes obsessed by a singer and decides to change her appearance to make herself more attractive hence she has waxing, manicure and make up session. She also buys new clothes in an attempt to attract her man. The book is very moving in parts. eg. when she describes her telephone conversations with her mother on a Friday. It’s also hilarious in parts as she describes her experiences and conversation with people.’

Durham U3A’s choice is The Blackhouse by Peter May:

‘May writes sensitively and evocatively about the landscape of the Isle of Lewes, its beauties and its challenges. The murder is a particularly gruesome one. Finn, investigating the case has been sent from the mainland because he both speaks Gaelic and is a former inhabitant of the island. Finn is a tortured soul with a past that he knowingly and unknowingly shuts out.

The island is a place of secrets where everybody knows each other and where the past is ever present. The murder has its roots in the past and Finn’s life is intricately involved with this past and that of his childhood friends. The solution involves his facing his own darkest fears in bringing the case to a conclusion.’

Potters Bar U3A suggest Warlight by Michael Ondaatje, The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides and An American Marriage by Tayan Jones. Here’s their review of Warlight:

‘This is an interesting insight to an aspect of the underside of Britain at the end of World War 11. Two teenagers are left in the care of a lodger whilst their parents go abroad to Singapore. The reader is introduced to shady visitors to the house and the exploits the youngsters experience at night on trips. The conclusion ties up the loose ends of the characters and their unusual activities.

I found this an excellent read with plenty to discuss.’

From Winchcombe (Glos) U3A come two recommendations: The Secret History by Donna Tartt and The Go-Between by L P Hartley

Great Glen U3A in Scotland particularly liked Take Nothing With You by Patrick Gale and A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

Edinburgh U3A recommend Gun Island by Amitrav Ghosh, Regeneration by Pat Barker and Mrs Paltry at the Claremont by Elizabeth Taylor.

Hastings and Rother U3A have a group specialising in short stories. Their latest choice is That Glimpse of Truth: 100 of the Finest Short Stories Ever Written, chosen by David Miller.


Loretta Bellman of Tunbridge Wells U3A is a co-writer on a fascinating (and very topical) book: Nursing Through The Years. She describes it thus:

‘This book is a social history, a treasure chest of recollections from nurses who trained in the 1940s to the present decade. It will appeal to a wide readership. The book follows the training and changing role of nurses over eighty years. The socio-political and historical changes that have impacted on nursing are clearly illustrated. This oral history research project is informative, entertaining, inspiring, enlightening and also controversial, often challenging the myths and misconceptions that can surround nursing today. If you are curious about nurses and their lives, this is a good read.’

For those with an interest in theatre I would recommend Nicholas Hytner’s Balancing Acts: Behind the Scenes at the National Theatre. It’s a witty and absorbing account of Hytner’s years I charge of the NT, where hi many successes included Warhorse and One Man Two Guvnors.

In Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion is a witty and insightful attempt to answer some of the most compelling questions about human relationships.

If you would like to nominate a book which you and/or your book group have enjoyed, please email me with details: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Where to buy books

Some book groups read books provided in sets by public libraries, so it may be worth checking with your local library to see what is available.

If you and your book group members are buying books, you may well wish to use local independent bookshops – especially in the current situation where many small businesses are under threat. They may be willing to offer a discount if you buy multiple copies.

If keeping the cost down is the main priority you can buy second-hand copies of many books through online booksellers such as Abe Books and the Book Depository. You might also consider classic novels, for example, which you may find in second-hand bookshops, charity shops and market stalls.

If you have an e-reader such as a Kindle or Kobo you can often download classic books for free. Contemporary books are usually cheaper too. One disadvantage of e-readers is that they have different page numbering from printed books, which can make it more difficult to refer to particular pages during discussions.