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u3a - Book Groups

Book Groups

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Many thanks to all the u3a members from around the UK for their book recommendations and comments about running book groups. Most are from book group leaders, but suggestions from all u3a members are welcome, as are your queries on how to make the most of your group.

During the pandemic the most book groups have been meeting online, and some have found ways to include members without Internet access, who have been able to share their thoughts about books by post or telephone.

Before listing all the book recommendations, here are some comments and queries that members have raised about how their groups are run:


Book length and accessibility

Many groups operate a policy of not asking members to read books that are more than, say, 400 or 450 pages long, but most would probably agree that longer books can be considered as long as all members agree.

With libraries still closed members are obliged to purchase books, so it may be sensible not to go for recently published books even if they are available in paperback, unless they are already being discounted by booksellers. For older books, a quick online search will usually reveal sources of much reduced new and second-hand copies – some for as little as two pounds or so.

Subject matter and scoring

Linda Parker Picken of Woking u3a asked whether during these difficult times groups should choose ‘lighter’ books and avoid those that readers might consider ‘heavy’ or ‘gloomy.’ Decisions on this will depend on the group's policy in choosing books, so it’s difficult to offer guidance, except to say the policy should be made clear to all and the choices as democratic as possible.

One advantage of asking members to give a score for each book is that this will help members to decide which books are likely to be most popular. One group I belonged to made a point of choosing books which most members would not have heard of (as opposed to, say, prize-winning and heavily promoted books). This might be a slightly risky policy but I very much enjoyed ‘discovering’ books and authors I would not have found otherwise.

 

LATEST BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS August  2022

Many thanks to the members of the book groups forum who sent me details of books their groups have enjoyed reading. The recommendations are listed below. Apologies if I’ve missed anyone: if so please send your suggestions again and I’ll include them in the next update.

For future reference, it would help me considerably if you could send your book suggestions in this format:

Your name and your u3a

Title of book and author

About 30 or 40 words on what the book is about and why your group enjoyed it.

Please feel free to do this for up to three books. Here are the latest recommendations:

Ann Hopkins (Merton u3a) recommends ‘Where the Crawdads Sing’ by Delia Owens, a recent American murder mystery set in the marshes of North Carolina, following the fortunes of Kya, who is forced to live on her own resources when her family falls apart. “Beautiful, evocative and very popular.”

Irene Ross of Ballymoney u3a in County Antrim suggested "The Art of Hearing Heartbeats’ by Jan-Phillip Sendker: “Beautiful and lyrical storytelling, capturing the culture and character of Burma as you follow the love story of Tin Win and Mi Mi.”

Irene also recommended ‘10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World’ by Elif Shafak, the story of Leila, a sex worker in Turkey who has been murdered. In the 10 Minutes 38 Seconds it takes for her brain to shut down she recalls her life from birth to death. “A beautifully written book.”

‘The Rosie Project’ by Graham Simsion is Steve Cooper’s suggestion from Arun Valley u3a. Don Tillman lives a strictly regimented life and he’s got his love life planned out, although he’s never had a second date. So he devises the Wife Project, a scientific test to find the perfect partner. Enter Rosie - 'the world's most incompatible woman'.

Mary Salinsky’s  Harrow u3a group read and enjoyed Dickens’ Bleak House.’

Often considered Dickens’ best novel, Bleak House is so inventive in its three interlocking plots and two contrasting styles of narration; extraordinary memorable characters; the first detective in English fiction; some of the best landscape and scene settings ever written; reversals of fortune, discoveries of lost parents and children, comedy and sadness, violent and tragic deaths and triumphs of love.

Janice Strand of Hinckley u3a recommends ‘My Cousin Rachel’ by Daphne du Maurier. “I almost envy those people who are about to read this for the first time, assuming there are any such people.”

The choice from Janet Carter of Merton u3a is ‘Girl’ by Edna O'Brien.

“A brilliantly researched and gripping fictional account of the kidnapping by Boko Haram of the schoolgirls in eastern Nigeria.”

Judith Cook of Waterlooville u3a’s Monday Book Group put forward ‘The Promise’ by Damon Galgut. “An interesting look at society in South Africa immediately post apartheid.”

‘The Vanishing Half’ by Brit Bennett is the suggestion from Frank Fisher of North London u3a. Twin sisters grow up together in a small, southern Black community in USA and after running away at age sixteen their lives diverge, raising issues of identity. He also proposed ‘The Dead’ by James Joyce, the final beautifully written short story in 'The Dubliners': “worth reading the rest too.”

Jacqueline Cobb of Chess Valley u3a recommends ‘Nelson's Daughter’ by Miranda Hearn. “It’s about the life of Horatia Nelson and her relationship with Emma, Lady Hamilton (her mother) and Lord Nelson, especially towards the end of Lady Hamilton's life. There is a lot of deceit  about what relation Emma Lady Hamilton is to Horatia Nelson (who always wondered who her real mother was). “A short read but one which leads you on to do some historical research.”

Bob Gaffey of Flintshire u3a give five starts to ‘A Perfect Spy’ by John le Carré .

Gill Willcox of Cranleigh and District u3a suggested four books: ‘Hamnet’ by Maggie O'Farrell - “A moving fictional account of William Shakespeare's family life based upon what little is known about him.” ‘Shuggie Bain’ by Douglas Stuart “- a gritty semi autobiographical novel chronicling a boy's deep love for his alcoholic mother whilst living in the bleakest of circumstances in 1980's Glasgow.” ‘The Painted Bridge’ by Wendy Wallace. “A woman in Victorian Britain, sectioned at the behest of her husband and incarcerated in a lunatic asylum against her will... this story will have you reaching for the history books....a good and enlightening read.” ‘The Beekeeper of Aleppo’ by Christy Lefteri “ a heartbreaking, thought-provoking novel about the plight of the refugee.”

Thanks again to Janine Aldridge of the Third Age Trust for setting up the book groups forum. If you haven’t joined us yet, please email Janine at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. For more information and advice about starting and running a book group, email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Thank you again for all your recommendations and comments. Please keep them coming – and happy reading!

Richard Peoples

Subject Adviser, Book Groups