Christy Collins

Thoughts on books, writing and life



Saying goodbye to my book club

I recently left a book club that I had loved attending for a good handful of years. A club full of bright, beautiful women in the middle of what will probably be the busiest phase of their lives. The club had shifted focus as people moved in and out of it and as members’ lives changed. I left because I felt it had stopped being book-focused in any real way with people expressing increasing disinterest – both overtly and covertly – not so much in books in general, but in the ones we had chosen to read and discuss in particular.

Michelle, who initiated the club and advertised it on Gumtree, originally proposed we would read books from the ‘1001 books to read before you die’ list, or rather lists as there are a number of versions. Other members were working their way through the 100 books listed by The Guardian so we added this to the allowable book selections and took it in turn to propose either a book selection or, more commonly, to present a shortlist to the group who then helped to make the final decision. In my opinion this was the most successful phase of the book club. Later, craving some more contemporary reads, a better geographical spread and a broader variety of selections by female authors, we all but abandoned this list for a loose, and not always adhered to guideline encompassing any book that had received an award.

But I don’t think the actual book selections are what have let us down as much as our level of commitment to reading them and properly discussing them. Apparently this is not uncommon. The brochure from the Reading Contemporary Book Club suggests this is the main reason people join, claiming that their group’s primary focus is on books and that the social aspect is secondary. And so, my plan is to try joining it this year to see if I can regain the excitement I felt about the book club when it first started.

If I am honest I would actually prefer it was a “Classics” book club. I read and buy contemporary fiction anyway, as well as consuming many literary reviews, podcasts and online articles and attending events and festivals. Part of the appeal, to me, of the 1001 Book Club, in its first form, was the way it helped me to build up my knowledge of the canon. As partial and as problematic as the idea of the canon is, the books that form it are strange and wonderful and when reading ten to twelve of them a year they begin to connect and reflect each other in interesting ways.

So thank you, Michelle and to everyone who has formed part of the group over the years. I never thought I’d be a book club type of person but at its best the group taught me about myself, about the books and about the world. Some nights it was thrilling: a true exploration of the literary as well as the cultural. Here’s hoping I can find some glimmer of that early experience in my next book club.

I’ll keep you posted.

Colin Roderick Award shortlisting

It’s coming up to the announcement of the Colin Roderick Award for which The End of Seeing has been shortlisted. The full shortlist is as follows:

Collins, Christy. The End of Seeing.

Harding, Leslie, and Morgan, Kendrah. Modern Love.

Jones, Gail. A Guide to Berlin.

Kinsella, John. Crow’s Breath.

Niall, Brenda. Mannix.

Winton, Tim. Island Home.

I’m thrilled to see my book on this list of books by such accomplished writers in a wide variety of genres (novels, biographies, memoirs and short stories). In particular, Tim Winton’s work has been important to me since I was a teenager and it is a particular thrill to be listed together with him.

More information about the award, including the judges comments on each of the books, can be found here:


Favourite books (that I read in) 2015

I can’t resist adding another list of books that you might want to consider adding to your Christmas reading list.

If you are wondering which books to buy (or indeed give as gifts) and which to pick up from the library, consider buying the books by authors who are still alive and picking up the classics from the library. This plan has the added advantage that you probably won’t have to wait on long reserve lists for new releases.

  • Outline, Rachel Cusk – in my opinion this is the most interesting of the recent crop of “somewhere between fiction and non-fiction, first person narrative” books making their mark on the literary awards lists this year. The narrator, a creative writing teacher, tells a story about the people around her and it is in the outline left by these stories that we are able to discern her shape as the book unfolds. A perfect summer read as it’s set in a summer-soaked Athens.
  • The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty, Vendela Vida – with many resonances with Cusk’s Outline and Ben Lerner’s Leaving the Atocha Station this book, too, communicates through its silences. A fast, pleasurable read with a quiet intelligence to it.Short Stories
  • The Beggar Maid: Stories of Flo and Rose, Alice Munro – an old-y but worth looking up if you’ve missed it. Linked short stories by an undisputed master of the form.Novellas
    I love novellas and this year has brought me two very different new favourites:
  • Italo Calvino’s Under the Jaguar Sun is an intoxicating, sensual read, I’d feel light headed when standing up after reading it.
  • Another book which had a similar effect for a different reason was Rawson’s Formaldehyde – which requires the reader’s full surrender to its strange alternate universe(s).
    I love racing through a shorter book and both of these are a dream, almost literally, to read.Favourite re-read
  • I re-read Christos Tsiolkas’ The Slap, this time on audiobook.  I greatly admired it once again, especially the interesting structure he manages to pull off with each character given only one chance to speak. A very cleverly told story of a small community that definitely holds up in the re-read.Favourite YA
  • This is not my usual reading fare but I have read a couple of Young Adult books this year and especially enjoyed the freshness of Ward’s Welcome to Orphancorp which I’ve posted about seperately here.Favourite audio book
  • This is a new format for me and I am learning to love a good audiobook for long bus and train trips and lazy afternoons. My favourite so far has been Eleanor Catton’s The Rehearsal which is a complex book, especially given the author’s young age, but which holds up in this format, perhaps even gaining something from the “performance” of the work, which echoes some of the themes of the novel.
    A late addition
  • I’m adding one final novella that I’ve just finished reading: Jenny Offill’s Department of Speculation – an exercise in “telling it slant” and in compression. Offill’s beautiful writing style, and the way she manages to reach out in so many directions at once, puts this book in the “I wish I wrote that” category for me. Highly recommended and a delightfully fast read that will have you wanting to re-read some or all of it even as you are reading it the first time around.

    Happy reading!

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