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A book is a gift you can open again and again

Librarian Emma Minter provides her top book recommendations for the summer holiday break and discusses the introduction of Bryanston’s staff Book Club…

England’s third national lockdown proved to be an ideal opportunity to begin a staff Book Club. The idea was welcomed by the Bryanston community and members of staff from a variety of departments signed up, all united by a love of reading. We held our first online meeting one winter’s evening in January 2021, and with that our Book Club was officially launched!  

We agreed to read a selection of books nominated by members of the group, which initially included an eclectic mix of contemporary fiction, non-fiction, biographies and young adult fiction. More titles were added once we got chatting.

Feeling enthused, we went about obtaining copies of the books, either by purchasing our own or borrowing from the local library ­– e-books or physical copies. Local libraries offered an order and collect system, following public health guidelines, and Dorset libraries continued to provide customers with free access to e-books, which proved to be a good option during lockdown. Also, we rediscovered excellent independent bookshops, many of which were going the extra mile for customers during the pandemic.

In the pre-pandemic world, many of us struggled to find the time to read. And if there’s any sort of positive to be taken away from such a difficult time, it could be said that the pandemic forced us all to slow down. And from spending more time indoors, especially during the colder months, many of us, myself included, found comfort and escapism in books rather than technology.

Reading was, and is, one of the few pursuits that could continue, unchanged. And in spite of lockdowns and self-isolations, immeasurable joy can be found from immersing yourself into a book.

Research has shown that it’s not just adults that benefitted from reading during the pandemic. Children found comfort in reading during lockdown, with a report from the National Literacy Trust demonstrating three in five children said reading made them feel better during lockdown (4,141 pupils were surveyed across the UK).

The beauty of setting up a Book Club, was seeing participants pick up books that they wouldn’t normally choose. It encouraged us to try something outside our comfort zones, and many of our members were surprised at what they found themselves enjoying.

The first book that we read and discussed was The Mermaid of Black Conch: A Love Story by Monique Roffey, winner of the ‘Costa Book of the Year Award 2020’. We agreed that there was a depth to the writing that we hadn’t expected. The themes of the story included love, hatred, injustice, friendship, freedom, control and colonialism. The mermaid, Aycayia, communicated her thoughts and feelings through poetry which gave the story a beautiful rhythm. The use of English Creole and patois as the language of the main characters worked well. A part of the narrative was told through David Baptiste’s journal, and this helped the reader to believe in a love story between a mythological sea creature and a man. At times there was humour, particularly when the mermaid began to lose her fish tail and sea creatures that inhabited her hair and body. The vivid images and mixture of realism and dreams helped bring the book to life. Everyone in the Book Club found different aspects of the book engaging and emotive. We would definitely recommend this book and would read more books by Monique Roffey in the future.

We went on to read three more books over the coming months as we eased out of lockdown. They were, Exit West by Mohsin Hamid (shortlisted for the ‘Man Booker Prize 2017’), Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (‘The Man Booker Prize 2009’) and Love After Love by Ingrid Persaud (‘2020 Costa First Novel Award’). We had some lively discussions at our meetings as we all had differing views on the writing styles, character development and themes covered by these novels.

Our summer reading choice is highly recommended by Bryanston pupils, The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness (‘Guardian children’s fiction prize 2008’), the first in the Chaos Walking Trilogy. We are looking forward to meeting up one summer’s evening to discuss this book over a cold drink or a cuppa. Reading is the perfect portal into a slightly less anxiety-ridden world.

If you have any book recommendations that you would like to share with the Bryanston community then I would love to hear from you, at:

Tagged  Life in Lockdown  Values