An appetite for book clubs

This post originally appeared on magickittenblogs, on Friday 29th March 2013

On Wednesday night, I was very pleased to get along to the Appetite Book Club in Colchester, run by the amazing Jo Coldwell. Seriously, this woman never stops – she does an amazing job organising the busiest book club I’ve ever seen as well as doing wonderful things at Tea and Sympathy, an Aladdin’s cave of lovely things, workshops and master classes in Colchester.

The book club meets monthly at The Old Court in Colchester, opening specially for the evening – there must have twelve full tables all looking forward to catching up with friends and discussing the latest read, The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared, by Jonas Jonasson.

I chatted to quite a few very friendly women of all ages (only three men were in attendance; guys (or women), if you like reading and want to meet a woman, go to book group!) and they told me how much they loved the book group. Because it’s such a big group, Jo has it organised with military efficiency. When you arrive, having paid in advance, your name badge is ready on the bar, including your food choices and two numbers. I discovered, while drinking my inclusive glass of house red, that the numbers represent the tables you’ll be sitting at for your main course and then pudding. This way, you have a chance to speak to more people about the book, but also to make friends with more people. And of course there was plenty of time before we sat down to mill around, sip our drinks and chat. A lot of the people there have been coming along for years – I think the longest time was four years – and it’s a great social event.

One of the older members pointed out, quite rightly, that once you get past a certain age, there are not many places to socialise in the evening in Colchester. And, to be honest, I can see her point. There are a couple of nice friendly pubs and some nice restaurants but the town centre isn’t always a welcoming place. Appetite book club provides a safe place, easily accessible without passing larger bars or clubs, good food, a well-stocked bar and plenty of lively discussion. The lady I spoke to about this really felt that the group was a public service, an invaluable opportunity that her life would be poorer without.

I also go to another book group, Book Plate, which is also monthly and based up at Essex University, run by the Literature Society in association with the campus branch of Waterstones. It’s a much smaller group but it’s great fun and I’ve very much enjoyed discussing each book, which have ranged from new releases like The Snow Child or The Song of Achilles to prize-winners like Wolf Hall and older cult classics like The Secret History. We meet at a restaurant on campus during term-time so it’s a very cost-effective evening, too!

Currently, the future of Book Plate is uncertain. The lovely Terri-Jane, President of LitSoc and organiser of the group, is off to higher educational pastures in Edinburgh and we don’t yet know if her successor will want to continue the group. I really hope it does continue. It’s fantastic to have these groups meeting regularly and keeping books alive by talking about them, and hopefully passing on a love of reading too.

The next Appetite book is Capital by John Lanchester. If you’re in the Colchester area and want to join in, tweet Jo at @jojocolchester

The next Book Plate book is Pure by Andrew Miller. If you’d like to join us at Essex Uni, tweet @bookplatebooks


Kate Neilan

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