“Let us read, and let us dance;
these two amusements will never do any harm to the world.”

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Sharing Stories 2014 - Blurbs

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Our Book Choices 

The Shock of the Fall - Nathan Filer

‘I’ll tell you what happened because it will be a good way to introduce my brother. His name’s Simon. I think you’re going to like him. I really do. But in a couple of pages he’ll be dead. And he was never the same after that.’ 

There are books you can’t stop reading, which keep you up all night.
There are books which let us into the hidden parts of life and make them vividly real.
There are books which, because of the sheer skill with which every word is chosen, linger in your mind for days. 

The Shock of the Fall is all of these books.
The Shock of the Fall is an extraordinary portrait of one man’s descent into mental illness. It is a brave and groundbreaking novel from one of the most exciting new voices in fiction.
Marbles - Ellen Forney
Shortly before her thirtieth birthday, Forney was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Suffering from (but enjoying) extreme mania, and terrified that medication would cause her to lose creativity, she began a long struggle over many years to find mental stability while retaining her creativity. Searching to make sense of the popular idea of the 'crazy artist', she finds inspiration from the lives and work of other artists and writers who suffered from mood disorders, including Vincent van Gogh, Georgia O'Keeffe, William Styron, and Sylvia Plath. 
She also researches the clinical aspects of bipolar disorder, including the strengths and limitations of various treatments and medications, and what studies tell us about the conundrum of attempting to "cure" an otherwise brilliant mind.Darkly funny and intensely personal, Forney's memoir provides a humorous but authentic glimpse into the effects of a mood disorder on an artist's work, as she shares her own story through black-and-white graphic images and prose.
The Rosie Project - Graeme Simsion
Meet Don Tillman. 
Don is getting married. 
He just doesn't know who to yet. 
But he has designed a very detailed questionnaire to help him find the perfect woman. 
One thing he already knows, though, is that it's not Rosie. 
Absolutely, completely, definitely not.
Elizabeth is Missing - Emma Healy
'Elizabeth is missing' reads the note in Maud's pocket in her own handwriting, and the one on the wall.
Maud's been getting forgetful. She keeps buying peach slices when she has a cupboard full, forgets to drink the cups of tea she's made and writes notes to remind herself of things. But Maud is determined to discover what has happened to her friend, Elizabeth, and what it has to do with the unsolved disappearance of her sister Sukey, years back, just after the war.
A fast-paced mystery, an unforgettable voice: you will laugh and cry but you'll never forget Maud.

The Examined Life - Stephen Grosz
Sunday Times bestseller

Longlisted for the Guardian first book award
A Radio 4 Book of the Week 

This book is about learning to live. 

In simple stories of encounter between a psychoanalyst and his patients, The Examined Life reveals how the art of insight can illuminate the most complicated, confounding and human of experiences.
These are stories about our everyday lives: they are about the people we love and the lies that we tell; the changes we bear, and the grief. Ultimately, they show us not only how we lose ourselves but how we might find ourselves too.
Stranger than Kindness - Mark A Radcliffe
There is a fine line between madness and magic. It is 1989 and Community Care is about to reboot the industry of psychiatry. In a soon-to-be-closed asylum a bruised nurse, Adam Sands, is feeling less like a purveyor of kindness and more like a concentration camp guard with every passing drink. Years later Adam has got used to the quiet life when his past finds him. Maybe this time he can do some good. Even make a difference. But redemption, like magic, can come from the strangest of places.

* * * * *
JAN - FEB: The Shock of the Fall - Nathan Filer
MAR - APR: Marbles - Ellen Forney
MAY - JUN: The Rosie Project - Graeme Simsion
JUL - AUG: Elizabeth is Missing - Emma Healy
SEP - OCT: The Examined Life - Stephen Grosz
NOV - DEC: Stranger than Kindness - Mark A Radcliffe

Feb: The Silver Linings Play Book - Matthew Quick 
Mar: The Psychopath Test - Jon Ronson 
Apr: I had a black dog - Matthew Johnson 
May: Why be happy when you can be normal - Jeanette Winterson
Jun: Poppy Shakespeare - Clare Allan
Jul: 01 - Birthday Letters - Ted Hughes
Jul: 02 - Ariel - Sylvia Plath
Aug: Tender is the Night - F Scott Fitzgerald 
Sep: Day - A L Kennedy
Oct: Notes from an exhibition - Patrick Gale
Nov: A life too short - Ronald Reng 
Dec: Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte  

* * * * *
Table of Contents - Guest Stars

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Sharing Stories 2014

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Leeds Book Club will be participating in the second Arts and Minds Network's Sharing Stories Project - to raise awareness of mental health; learning difficulties and autism through the use of fiction. 

Every two months, we'll read one of books listed below and pay special attention to descriptions, characters and plot that include those facing mental health issues. Hopefully, we will then take part in a vibrant discussion online, on social media and IRL at book clubs.

We'd be delighted to invite you to join us - if you'd like to offer a review of one (or more) of the books on the list, please drop me a line at leedsbookclub@gmail.com or via twitter (@leedsbookclub) or contact the ever-cheerful Tom via @ArtsMindsLeeds 

Where indicated, I’ll happily post blog posts anonymously – I appreciate that not everyone will want to discuss their personal reflections on a sensitive topic on a public forum like this. Obviously, on the other hand, I'll also include links to twitter names, your blogs and so on if so desired.

Also, read any books that feature mental health? Then let us know - the good, the bad and the ugly!

* * * * *
JAN & FEB: The Shock of the Fall - Nathan Filer
MAR & APR: Marbles - Ellen Forney
MAY & JUN: The Rosie Project - Graeme Simsion
JUL & AUG: Elizabeth is Missing - Emma Healy
SEP & OCT: The Examined Life - Stephen Grosz
NOV & DEC: Stranger than Kindness - Mark A Radcliffe

Feb: The Silver Linings Play Book - Matthew Quick 
Mar: The Psychopath Test - Jon Ronson 
Apr: I had a black dog - Matthew Johnson 
May: Why be happy when you can be normal - Jeanette Winterson
Jun: Poppy Shakespeare - Clare Allan
Jul: 01 - Birthday Letters - Ted Hughes
Jul: 02 - Ariel - Sylvia Plath
Aug: Tender is the Night - F Scott Fitzgerald 
Sep: Day - A L Kennedy
Oct: Notes from an exhibition - Patrick Gale
Nov: A life too short - Ronald Reng 
Dec: Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte  

* * * * *
Table of Contents - Guest Stars

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Sunday, 19 January 2014

Sharing Stories - Notes from an Exhibition - GUEST

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Leeds Book Club has been participating in the Arts and Minds Network's 2013 project on raising awareness of mental health issues. 

Now Fiona actually provided me with this MONTHS ago and it was lost in the wilderness that is my email inbox, languishing, wilting for lack of attention. I'm so glad that this review has finally found it's place in the sun as it's fantastic! Huge thanks to @MindFiona


BLURB (from Amazon)
From the author of A Perfectly Good Man, the bestselling story of an artist tormented by depression and the toll of creativity.
When troubled artist Rachel Kelly dies she leaves behind an extraordinary body of work – but for her family there is a legacy of secrets and painful revelations.
Rachel exerts a power that outlives her. To her children she is both curse and blessing, as they cope with the inheritance of her passions – and demons. Only their father's gift of stillness can withstand Rachel’s destructive influence and the suspicion that they all came a poor second to her art.
Piecing together the clues of her life – as artist, lover, mother, wife and patient – takes the reader from Cornwall to Canada across a span of forty years. What emerges is a tender story of enduring love, and a portrait of a family coping with the sometimes too dazzling brilliance of a genius.

When I volunteered to review one of the Sharing Stories books I ended up picking one that I knew nothing about. As the subject matter was quite heavy, I might not normally have chosen to read it. So it was with some trepidation that I started reading ‘Notes from an Exhibition’.

I was expecting to struggle through the book, however I found couldn’t put it down. 

The focus of the story is Rachel Kelly, an artist, her husband Anthony, and their children, Garfield, Morwenna, Heldley, and Petroc. Rachel suffers from bi-polar disorder and much of the story focuses on the tangle of her that, her art and family and the shifting pressures of them all. Though Rachel has the greatest share of the narrative, the story is seen from the perspective of all of the family members. Each chapter is prefaced with an ‘interpretation card’ from a posthumous exhibition of her works and items from her life -Hence, notes from an exhibition.

The book begins with Rachel at the end of her life and about to embark on a series of paintings we later learn are some of her greatest works. From there, the book follows the aftermath of her death for her husband and now grown-up children, whilst flashing back to significant points in all of their lives. I quite liked the structure. At first I found it a little disorientating but by the end appreciated the different perspectives. 

They rounded out the characters and showed the differences between how they behaved and how they felt. I also felt it gave the book more of a sense of hope. All the ‘notes’ say who donated which item in the exhibition, and the fact that the donors were able and willing to contribute is promising. 

The family isn't always a particularly likeable one; as individuals they are all flawed in some way, and all struggle to communicate with one another. Though Rachel undoubtedly loves her children, 
‘art was the one thing that stilled and focused her  impossibly restless personality; art won through where her family failed.’ 

Though art offers her respite, but it is occasionally her focus over everything else. She herself isn't sure of her motivation for coming off her medication whilst pregnant. It exposes her to a greater chance of post-partum depression but 
‘the glorious ascent before the fall and the work she could achieve in climbing made it worthwhile. Perhaps.’ 

She can be quite cruel at times; the incident on Morwenna’s tenth birthday stands out. However it is counterbalanced by chapters told from Rachel’s perspective. Though she herself admits she isn't always kind (‘she ignored him, and used to it, poor sod, he went away’) these chapters gave me more of an insight to the fragility she feels. 

One part that stood out for me was the account of a costume ball that Rachel attends with her friend/doctor Jack. She has finally been diagnosed, in part because of the support from Jack, and the (admittedly imperfect) sense of relief she feels really struck me 
‘She was not mad. She had a chemical imbalance that was controllable.’
The book isn't an easy ride, but I found it was worth it. I felt it gave me more insight into the complexities of living with mental illness. Gale presents all of the character’s as complex individuals, complete with flaws and virtues. As ‘Notes from an Exhibition’ made me want to read more by Gale I would definitely recommend it to others.

* * * * *

Chat with Peter Bullimore
Mental Health Reading Challenge
Blurbs for the books!

Podcast with Tom at Arts and Minds Leeds

The List
Feb: The Silver Linings Play Book - Matthew Quick 
Mar: The Psychopath Test - Jon Ronson 
Apr: I had a black dog - Matthew Johnson 
May: Why be happy when you can be normal - Jeanette Winterson
Jun: Poppy Shakespeare - Clare Allan
Jul: 01 - Birthday Letters - Ted Hughes
Jul: 02 - Ariel - Sylvia Plath
Aug: Tender is the Night - F Scott Fitzgerald 
Sep: Day - A L Kennedy
Oct: Notes from an exhibition - Patrick Gale
Nov: A life too short - Ronald Reng 
Dec: Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte 

* * * * *
Table of Contents - Guest Stars

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Guest Post - Evan reviews Russian Roulette by Anthony Horowitz

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 Leeds Book Club are delighted to present one of our most popular writers - Evan Shelton. Evan happens to also be the youngest on our writing team.

Evan is an avid reader and enjoys reading and writing about books.

As always, huge thanks!



Russian Roulette is a spin-off of the hugely popular Alex Rider series of books, which I have read and are extremely good. It is about the life story of a Russian contract killer by the name of Yassen Gregorovich and what it would take him to kill. The way it fits into the Alex Rider series is that Yassen is hired to kill a fourteen year old Alex Rider.

It is a thrilling story of how a boy lived in poverty in a tiny village, saw everyone he loved die, turned to a life of crime in Moscow, had been in slavery and joined a worldwide crime organisation.

I think, in the book, Horowitz gets across perfectly that with Yassen (or anyone in fact) taking other people’s lives is the least natural thing anyone can do – it takes a great many horrific things for someone to become a killer.

I would highly recommend this book to an eleven to fifteen year old. All in all, I think this is a real page-turner style book which is certainly worth reading.

Other Posts by Evan
- Russian Roulette by Anthony Horowitz
Percy Jackson
Interview with Michael Morpurgo

* * * * * 
Table of Contents - Children's Corner 
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LBC 3Reads - Book 07 - The Wapshot Chronicles

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Date:  19th of January 2014
Time:  11am - 1pm
Address: Unit 2
Munro House,
Duke St,
Leeds LS9 8AG

Book the 7th:


This write up was contributed by one of our regulars from memory as I was unfortunately unable to attend! Huge thanks!!

Based in part on Cheever’s adolescence in New England, the novel follows the destinies of the impecunious and wildly eccentric Wapshots of St. Botolphs, a quintessential Massachusetts fishing village. Here are the stories of Captain Leander Wapshot, venerable sea dog and would-be suicide; of his licentious older son, Moses; and of Moses’ adoring and errant younger brother, Coverly. Tragic and funny, ribald and splendidly picaresque, The Wapshot Chronicle is a family narrative in the tradition of Trollope, Dickens, and Henry James.

A few notes on our discussion today:

All of us were rather underwhelmed by Cheever, the book felt very disjointed. We all felt it was obvious that Cheever was more of a short story writer as the book was more a series of loosely connected episodes.  

We all felt that the story suffered from some of the authors personal issues with the women in his life & his conflict over his sexuality.

We felt that the descriptions in the book were good & that Cheever was good at evoking the sense of small town America.  

It was also felt that some of the blurbs on the book cover were rather misleading. The Wapshot Chronicle is not 'uproariously comic' as one claimed, but we felt is had a very dry black humour in places.  

The difference in book covers was also commented on, the most recent edition had an illustration of a scene that wasn't really in the book and again implied the book was more amusing & light hearted than it is. It was commented that if they had got the earlier edition with the black & white photo of a New England house they would have had different expectations going into the book.

SCORE - 5/10

Next Read - 

Find fellow members on twitter by searching for #LBC3Reads.

Follow @Cafe164 for details on the deliciousables!

Let me know your thoughts by either tweeting me @LeedsBookClub, commenting below or emailing me at leedsbookclub@gmail.com


07 - Jan - The Wapshot Chronicle - John Cheever
06 - ??? - Their eyes were watching God
05 - ??? - Mason and Dixon
04 - ??? - O Pioneer
03 - Jan - The City and the Pillar - Gore Vidal
02 - Aug - The Paris Wife - Paula McLain
01 - May - The Hound of the Baskervilles - Arthur Conan Doyle

An Idea Is Born - It's Book Club Jim, Just Not As We Know It

* * * * *
Book Club - Table of Contents

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Thursday, 9 January 2014

Giraffe LBC - Children of Men Write Up

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Giraffe LBC

Date:  Tuesday 7th of October 2014
Time:  6pm - 8pm
Address: 6 Greek Street, Leeds, LS1 5RW
Tel: (0113) 244 1500



* * * * * SPOILERS * * * * *
* * * * * SPOILERS * * * * *
* * * * * SPOILERS * * * * *

Huge thanks to the wonderful @AlisonNeale for providing this write up and co-ordinating the return of the Dystopian book club for 2014!

The Children of Men is a story of a world with no children and no future. 
The human race has become infertile, and the last generation to be born is now adult. Civilization itself is crumbling as suicide and despair become commonplace. Oxford historian Theodore Faron, apathetic toward a future without a future, spends most of his time reminiscing. Then he is approached by Julian, a bright, attractive woman who wants him to help get her an audience with his cousin, the powerful Warden of England. She and her band of unlikely revolutionaries may just awaken his desire to live . . . and they may also hold the key to survival for the human race.
No children. No future. No hope. In the year 2027, eighteen years since the last baby was born, disillusioned Theo (Clive Owen) becomes an unlikely champion of the human race when he is asked by his former lover (Julianne Moore) to escort a young pregnant woman out of the country as quickly as possible. In a thrilling race against time, Theo will risk everything to deliver the miracle the whole world has been waiting for. Co-starring Michael Caine, filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron's Children of Men is the powerful film Pete Hammond of Maxim calls "magnificent...a unique and totally original vision.

We read the book and watched the film in this case, and unusually, they both have merit in different areas, although they bear little resemblance. It was noticeable that those of us who read the book first preferred it, while those who knew the film beforehand enjoyed its bleaker story line and cinematic beauty. It was also felt that the film was more representative of its time in terms of politics and attitudes, while the book was somehow timeless, or perhaps more accurately old-fashioned. The film felt more global, the book more local. In the film the baby needed to escape the UK, and thus Theo’s (the protagonist) role at the end had been played out; the book, conversely, kept the baby in the UK, so Theo had a new part to play, as protector.

This may have to do with the altered setting:
  • the film shows the country in a violent and dangerous flux after the discovery of the fertility problem, 
  • whereas the book seems to be set much later, when the ageing population has calmed somewhat and just wants to ensure a peaceful, safe existence, free from boredom.

One reader suggested that the book would have been more interesting without the baby, simply telling the tale of the demise of the human race until the lights went out. Certainly the disturbing idea of the Quietus - not used in the film - gives a glimpse of the brutal possibilities. So to a major criticism of the novel: coincidence. It was felt to be somewhat unrealistic that Theo just happened to know someone at the Quietus he attended. In a rather larger example, how fortunate that of all the women who could get pregnant, it was one of the rebel group. Some book clubbers pointed out that in the novel the population has shrunk significantly and society is very insular, so it is less unrealistic. The film does not suffer from this problem. In the novel, it is men who have become infertile - a clever device, as it narrows the window to recover the human race in a way that infertile women does not. The latter is the case in the film, which some felt disempowered women and at the same time changed the dynamic of the rebel group. The characters in the novel are thoroughly unlikeable, be it unpleasant or completely devoid of personality, and none of us felt any sympathy for them. Some readers pointed out that this would not have been a problem had they been interesting. Sadly, so often not the case. We agreed that the one character we really wanted to know more about was the Warden, whose motives were never entirely clear. Both novel and film were felt to be hyper-realisations of immigration policy. The film, with its detention centre, took this to extremes, while the book only mentioned in passing the trials and treatment of the ‘sojourners’. A good point was made that this element of the story could not have worked anywhere but on an island. British society has fought to retain the country as a last bastion of civilisation and hope, resigning itself to dictatorship in order to retain order. We had an intriguing conflict of opinion about Theo’s actions at the end of the book. Some of us felt that unpleasant as Theo was, it was only when he donned the ring at the end that he lost his morality and humanity; others disagreed, claiming that the ring was a temporary measure and his actions redeemed his earlier crime of wilful blindness. You’ll have to read the book yourself to decide! Criticism of the author’s repetitive style also caused discussion, with a few readers feeling that it built in atmosphere and emphasised the religious tone, while others claimed that it made the book more difficult (in one case impossible) to read. The religious theme and references throughout the book annoyed some readers (partly owing to recognising vaguely, but not fully understanding them); however, it was acknowledged that the author and any readers with a similar viewpoint would enjoy their significance. We felt that this dystopia was a realistic imagination of events that could genuinely come to pass, with some nifty nods to long-term British political issues. Our criticism was more of writing style than storyline, and this is reflected in our scores. The film probably won out in the end, though.



Our next read is Divergent by Veronica Roth!

Find fellow members on twitter by searching for #GiraffeLBC.

Follow @GiraffeTweet for details on the deliciousables and their projects nationwide.

Let me know your thoughts by either tweeting me @LeedsBookClub, commenting below or emailing me at leedsbookclub@gmail.com

* * * * * Giraffe LBC * * * * *

10 - FEB - Divergent - Veronica Roth 
09 - JAN - Children of Men - P.D. James GUEST

08 - OCT - High Rise - J.G. Ballard GUEST
07 - JUL - The Miracle Inspector - Helen Smith GUEST 
06 - APR - Logan's Run - Book and Film GUEST
05 - FEB - Watchmen - Comic and Film

04 - NOV - Brave New World - Aldous Huxley - GUEST
03 - OCT - The Iron Heel - Jack London - GUEST
02 - AUG - The Running Man - Stephen King
01 - JUL - Fahrenheit 451 - Ray Bradbury GUEST

How I learned to continue worrying and love the dystopian - GUEST

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