“I wish someone had told me” is a series of posts that feed into our inquisitive nature at CN&CO. Each week we hear from someone in our network about something interesting or surprising that’s recently happened or occurred to them – or lessons they learnt. These blogs are a way to pay it forward and form part of CN&CO’s belief that the world can be a better place – and we all have a responsibility to make it so. This week’s post is by book nerd Colin Ford.

I always had a sense that book club was like Vegas. What happens there, stays there. It was a bunch of old ladies with a list of rules who gathered in earnest to discuss Hemingway. Or a bunch of (possibly) younger ladies looking for a reason to drink lots of wine. And real men didn’t do book club. They did fight club. And we all know those rules.

Our Penny Hickinbotham has been in a book club for 40 years. Each month the same six ladies gather at the home of one of the ladies (there is a roster) to swap books, eat delicious food and, yes, drink wine. In Penny’s book club, everyone brings a book that they fancy to go into the “pool”. There is a list of the books, who they belong to, when they were put into the pool, who has each book and how long she has had it.

“We impose fines on laggards who take too long to return books,” she says, “almost like a library. And yes, the books do form part of the club, but in honestly it’s mostly about old friends getting together regularly, trying out new recipes, drinking a bit of wine and having fun.”

My friend Caroline used to belong to a book club that was much stricter.

“The person who was hosting would decide on a book to read and we are all instructed to purchase a copy,” she says. “We then read the book and discussed it as a group.  This way of doing things made for much more active reading as you had to think about points to raise at the club gathering and try to guess who would bring up which issues in the book of the month.”

This is a similar format to the one adopted in the local TV series Die Boekklub, of which I am an avid fan. The story centres on the members of a book club in the small Karoo town of Merweville. Watching the show, I quite fancied the idea of being in a book club. Theirs had men in it, which smashed that stereotype for me.

Sidebar – the protagonist in Die Boekklub, Tom Niemandt, is played by Armand Aucamp, who recently released a banting cookbook called Armand Kook Kaal. CN&CO will be hosting a dinner-and-drinks event with Armand at So Yum Hemelhuijs in Hyde Park on 31 July. Tickets cost R300 and include food and wine – and the chance to meet Armand and buy his cookbook (which he will gladly sign for you). If you’re keen to join us, drop the aforementioned Penny an email: penny@cnandco.com.

Commercial punt over. Let’s get back to book club…

Inspired by Merweville se boekklub, I decided I liked the idea of a regular gathering with my mates to talk about and exchange books before settling into an hour or two of socialising. And so, after much faffing (one of my special gifts), the Thursday Next Book Club* was born. Each month a few of us get together at someone’s house to talk about what we’re reading and to swap books with each other. 

We don’t really have rules, and we’re not really sure that we qualify as a book club in the strictest definition of the concept, but we don’t care. Attendance is not compulsory. Each person who attends brings a book or two on a pretty-much ad hoc basis, and then tries to convince the others why their book is the best in the pile. We then each choose a book or two to take home and formalities are over.

It’s been a great incentive to read. So far this year I have worked my way through 14 books:

  • A Man Called Ove, Fredrik Backman 
  • The Eyre Affair, Jasper Fforde
  • The White Tiger, Aravind Adiga
  • The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman
  • A Ladder to the Sky, John Boyne
  • If She Did It, Jessica Treadway – pedestrian holiday book
  • Sold on a Monday, Kristina McMorris
  • Killing Commendatore, Haruki Murakami
  • The One Man, Andrew Gross
  • The Light Between Oceans, M L Stedman
  • Dead Before Dying, Deon Meyer 
  • Identity Crisis, Ben Elton
  • Bird Box, Josh Malerman
  • The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer

At the moment I’m busy with The High Mountains of Portugal by Yann Martel and The Reckoning by John Grisham (when I need something lighter), as well as a book of poetry – I read one or two poems when I get into bed at night.

Of all these books, I only bought three. Given the price of books, this has resulted in massive savings. Last year, for example, I read 25 books – all of which I bought. Yes, many were ebooks, but they can cost more than paperbacks these days.

Kakselfies are de rigeur at the Thursday Next Book Club

What’s also exciting (for me, as a book nerd) is how many of my friends have rekindled their love for reading. One friend in particular, Angus, says he has read more this year than in the past 10 years, and he’s loving it. He recently read in the queue at the licensing department and got upset when his number was called and his reading was interrupted.

“I always thought there was no time for reading,” he told me the other day. “But now that I’ve started again I realise that it’s important to make time for things we enjoy.”

Obviously the books in our club are paper books, as opposed to ebooks. We are not clever enough to work out how to share ebooks (and some still read them in addition to book club books). The nice thing about paper books is they’re easy to share and we plan to donate the books we’ve read to a retirement home at the end of the year.

I have loved every minute of book club and highly recommend getting one started if you’re not already in one.

*Thursday Next is the name of a literary detective in the amazingly quirky “Thursday Next” book series by Jasper Fforde, which starts with The Eyre Affair and spans five more instalments. We decided, since our book club is on the second Thursday of each month, to name it in her honour. Thursday Next has a pet dodo, Pickwick, which we have adopted as our mascot.

Note: Not all book clubs need names or mascots. There really are no rules.