I often wish that my blog was trending and famous authors would beg me to write a post about their books. Sometimes, however, I think it might be a good thing that hardly anyone reads The Open Book. This will be one of those posts – because last week, I had to host a book club, and we were quite outspoken about the book’s author. Want to know what we read, and what we thought of it? Read on!
(But first, some context: Some time ago, I presented the Best Groningen Book Awards for Noordwoord, an organisation that supports literature and non-fiction books from and about the North of the Netherlands. I was asked to host the night, which, of course, I happily accepted, but I was also terrified: what if I said all the wrong things, or people would think I was terribly misinformed? Well, at the end of the evening I thought I had been too nervous and it didn’t go as well as I’d hoped, which is why, up until now, I have not written a post about it yet. Anyway – Noordwoord have set up a book club to discuss all the books that were nominated for the awards. Last week, I was asked to host the night and think of questions. End of context.)
Last week, we discussed Sellinger by Allard Schröder, who wrote a collection of short stories about a tiny little village, Wenst, in the 1950s. Still traumatised by the War and having to come to terms with the fact that there’s, quite literally, nothing in that village, including a happy future, it should come as no surprise that its inhabitants aren’t a very happy bunch. There’s a woman who reconnects with her childhood boyfriend, but she never knew why he left during the War. There’s a young man who develops feelings for his dad’s lover. There’s a rich man who wants to organise a party, but the guest of honour never arrives. Different people, different stories, but the outcome is always the same: those who are from Wenst will never escape this good-for-nothing town.
In spite of the bleak outcome of the stories, I quite liked the stories. They’re very well written, and somehow the author showed us that even though people from the North are supposed to be very down-to-earth, they can still be quite spiritual. There’s actually a mystical feel about the entire book – and that’s impressive, seeing as Wenst is surrounded by a terribly foul-smelling river. Anyway, so far, so good. But now I had to think of questions we could discuss for this book.
The first question I asked was which story was their favourite. Well, I could’ve thrown all the other questions overboard, because this one elicited so many opinions I could hardly keep track of them: ‘I didn’t like any of them. What a rubbish town,’ ‘I hated how they’re all so depressing,’ and most interestingly, ‘I just felt like this book was written by an old white man, because all the women described in Sellinger were depicted as pretty and mysterious.’ Ok. Enable gossip mode (it didn’t help that there were only women present that night).
I had to interview Mr Schröder during the award ceremony. I asked him a very short question, and he kept talking for quite a while. Then he was allowed to read a short excerpt from his book, and he kept talking for quite a while. I, and the organisers of the event, too, agreed that he was quite pompous, and that he certainly loved the sound of his own voice. Unfortunately, that’s how the book club members read the entire book. Unfortunately for the author, that is, for we had a lot of fun talking about him, and the downside of living in such dreadful villages.
It’s funny how the impression you have of a specific writer can influence your reading experience, isn’t it? Take Stephen Fry, for instance, whom I love so much that I read all his books in his voice, or Virginia Woolf, who was so important to twenty-first century that I hardly dare speak her name out loud. But then this Mr Schröder. While I described his appearance at the awards ceremony, I showed his picture to the book club members, who laughed and said that yes, this was exactly what they expected him to look like (he had even paid a considerable amount of money to have his picture taken by a famous photographer – he so vain).
Last week was the first time I had to host a book club night. I daresay it was quite an unorthodox night. We hardly talked about the book and its technical qualities. We didn’t discuss the reviews I had looked up. We soon discovered that there wasn’t a single character we sympathised with. Instead, we happily gossiped about Sellinger‘s author, we swore we’d never leave our glorious city of Groningen. Life in a village like Wenst is bad.
And that is how a good night was had by us all. Let’s just hope Mr Schröder will never read this post. Thankfully, hardly anyone ever reads my blog.
Which book would you discuss in a book club? Have you ever read any books about tiny villages where you wouldn’t for the world like to live? Have you ever read a book you couldn’t like because of its author? Do let me know in the comments! Also, don’t forget to follow me for more book-related posts!