The decision to start a book club was one of the best and most unexpected things to come out of our Devon Experience in October. We talked a lot about books during the four days we were there, unavoidable really as we visited the settings of so many of Agatha Christie’s much-loved novels, including her enchanting home Greenway and the enigmatic Burgh Island.
Inspired by a love of the past
I love the past and and I love history. I want to forge connections with those who went before and show respect and gratitude for the treasures they left for us to find. This, I think, I share deeply with the other women on our Devon Experience, a fundamental belief that a love of the past inspires a love of the present and that literature can inspire us to live more joyful lives.
Many of our discussions in Devon centred around three writers in particular: Agatha Christie, Virginia Woolf and Daphne du Maurier. These women lived in a time of enormous social upheaval, a time when women could really begin to live independent lives, forge their own futures and create their own successes. These women were pioneers. They were incredibly successful in their own lifetimes and their legacies, almost a hundred years later, inspire me to be more ambitious: to do more and do better.
There is something I find utterly intoxicating about being able to travel through time. To be able to pick up a book and tug the thread that weaves and meanders back through decades or centuries, right back to the hands of a writer who so generously created stories for us and left them for us to find in the future. I love being able to pull those stories into the present day and carry them around in my pocket and in my head, as an antidote to some of the ugliness and lack of glamour in the modern world.
As a Londoner, it amazes me both how much this city has changed in the last century and how in so many ways it’s barely changed at all. I adore reading about Hercule Poirot’s mindful lunches in tiny subterranean French restaurants in Soho, because sometimes I do that too. I love settling on a quest as trivial as a securing ‘a lead pencil’ as a reason to wander the streets of London in the same way that Viriginia Woolf did. And I want to know the places in Cornwall that Daphne du Maurier loved the most, so that I can frequent them too, like taking travel advice from someone whose opinion you really, really trust. Reading is a way to befriend these remarkable women, to have the chance to hang out with them, for if they were alive today we’d be far too intimidated, I’m sure, to ask them for coffee, but this way we can take them to our favourite haunts and share the intricacies of our lives with them.
The alumnae Book Club
I’ve never felt drawn to joining a book club because I don’t read a lot of current fiction, mainly because I tend to take my inspiration from the past and prefer older books. When Lauren Keim talked about the new book club she had joined in her hometown of Norfolk, Virginia, and told us it was based around reading classics, the spark was ignited and even before we left Devon the plans were being hatched and the book club was born.
The physical alumnae book club is open to anyone who has been on a Bleak House Experience and can attend and host our meetings in and around London. It is a brilliant way to ensure the connections we make on the Experiences continue, that the friendships made will flourish and deepen. I know of people who have been in bookclubs for twenty or even thirty years, those regular meetings weathering the storms of everything life has thrown at the participants. I love the idea that this new book club might be in existence for that long too, and that it came out of those four precious, life-altering days in Devon.
Join the online book club
You are very welcome to join in with reading the books we choose. I will be sharing the books we select, and the thoughts we have here on my blog (and also on Instagram under the tag #bleakhousebookclub). Do join us. We will be choosing one book every month or so and you can share your thoughts by commenting on the blog post for each book. If you post on your own Instagram account or stories, do tag @bleakhouse.london and use the hashtag #bleakhousebookclub so that I can join the conversation.
The first book…
This adventure just had to start with a book by Agatha Christie and our first one is a short story called ‘The Adventure of The Christmas Pudding’. It’s just sixty pages long, an evening’s work. It’s a quick read to get us up and running and it’s ridiculously Christmassy. If you want to watch the tv adaptation with David Suchet too (which I heartily recommend), it’s called The Theft of the Royal Ruby. We will be discussing this book on the 21st December 2018.
You can see all of the books we’ve read and join in the conversation, here.
Agatha Christie’s impossibly festive short story describing the most English Christmas you could imagine.
Virginia Woolf’s much loved classic set on a sunny June day in London in 1923. Clarissa Dalloway is preparing for her party whilst Septimus Warren Smith makes his way through the final day of his life.