New Monthly Members’ Night

August 11, 2014

pile of books

Frontline BookNights

The idea is to have a thoroughly good time, encourage reading and discussion of reading, and to end the night happier and wiser than when it began. The notion is further to harvest and focus some of the best ways in which the club has developed over its decade of existence, but also to recapture some of the atmosphere of the ‘old days’ of its outset – a sense of ‘hard core’; dare one admit it, a guilty elitism. All we’d miss are the Romeo Y Julieta, sadly.

There would be no format as such – apart from the fact that there will be a limited-menu prix-fixed dinner of three courses (costing about 25 quid per head), with alcohol paid for separately on top. Numbers would start at five, and go to about 25 – first-come, first-served for a popular night. The number needs to be small enough for discussion to be introduced, presented or very informally ‘chaired’ at the outset – ergo, there should usually be only one conversation going on, not a fragmentation of satellite discourse, as happens at ‘dinner parties’, which these are decisively not.

The idea would probably be to gather for drinks on foot to socialise, then sit down for a starter and start discussing the book(s), which all present will have read and be ready to discuss, sometime during main course.

The events would be ‘led off’ – before main course – by the nominee of the book, or the author if present. It is not the idea to become a group for discussion of ‘Frontline fare’, or war reporters’ books, though of course there will be exceptions to that.

Future engagements will include:

Jon Lee Anderson – after a reading of his epic masterpiece by the group – on Che: Beyond Biography and Behind the T-Shirt, which would result in a discussion of his research – branching into historical reporting, politics, writing on an epic scale and whatever JLA has cooking next. . . .

In Deserters, we have a very exceptional book by a friend and member – Charles Glass will lead off a fascinating evening to discuss it, and the issues it raises as anti-war history and historical reporting.

There will be, we hope, a night on crime writing – led by Duncan Campbell, novelist and former crime correspondent of The Guardian, and Frances Fyfield, author of some of Britain’s stranger and more horrendously violent murder mysteries.

Robert McCrumm is heading towards the half-way mark in his vast 100 Best Novels of all time list for The Observer, and will come to discuss the task when he reaches the 50 mark. For that, we’d perhaps better read our own separate choices from his list, and try to recall others we will have read.

Edna O’Brien – regarded by many as the best living novelist in English – is a fan of the Club (or at least she enjoyed a dinner I bought her) and what an evening she would lead, if she were agreeable, introducing, perhaps, her new collection of short stories.

We would bring in authors when we felt like it, but that is not the point – we might suddenly decide we want to talk about Homer, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, James Ellroy or ‘Macbeth’.

Our overseas members might like to introduce their work on different occasions: David Rieff’s Against Memory rails against the very idea of commemoration and cenotaph-ery; John Hooper has a book out in the autumn on the Italians past and present, to which we might adapt our food and wine that night.

There are no boundaries: writers alive or long dead; famous or virtually unknown; writing in English or any other tongue. Fiction, reportage, poetry, drama, history, philosophy, science, high-brow, popular. . . . The only aim is to generate discussion, forge ideas, roll up our sleeves, exercise our grey matter a bit and enjoy good writing, good company, food and wine together.

As we gather pace, regulars can volunteer to nominate books and ‘lead’ discussions.

The important thing is to have some kind of occasion, however modest or major, every month – taking into account that there will always be apologies, last-minute cancellations, etc. because that is who we are. The plan will be to convene, roughly monthly.

Yours, with very best wishes,

Ed Vulliamy