A few thoughts on Richard and Judy’s latest book club

Richard and Judy, who are two TV "celebrities" in the UK whose programme(s) I have never seen – and whom I have never seen on any programme on TV – have announced a new book club. The couple are famous in the UK for (as well as whatever they do, or did, on TV) revitalising or arousing the interest in reading among a whole swathe of the population, so for this reason they get my vote (for R&J similar reasons, so does Oprah Winfrey, another TV star whom I've never seen on TV to my knowledge though I think I have seen her acting in a film or two in the past).

After several series of their TV book club, Richard and Judy moved to a lesser channel last year, and experienced low ratings and the books chosen, lower sales, than hitherto. Now, the couple have launched a new version of their book club, eschewing the TV part altogether, and opting instead for a selection that W H Smith will sell on special offer (buy one get one free), and for an online review and discussion of one of these books every couple of weeks.

Inevitably, the announcement has drawn criticism and sneers from many, for example this post from The Booksellers' Association, usually a pretty sensible blog but not on this occasion. ("queuing up to cash in on their names and brand" is one of the first statements in the post.) It is not appropriate to sneer or criticise anyone or any venture that sets out to encourage reading. If Richard and Judy make a buck out of the enterprise, more power to them, this is no reason to criticise. Other grounds for criticism include "why an exclusive deal with W H Smith"? Well, it is a free market and if other booksellers, including Amazon, aren't already selling the books for the same amount, or even less, I'll be very surprised. Grounds for sneering include the lack of a TV deal. So what? Online discussion is particularly suited to reading group discussions of books, and the replacement of TV by the internet means that any reader can join in, not just those who have access to the TV channel concerned.

I wish that more "celebrities" and others would undertake similar initiatives. Waterstones have a table of selections in the front of the shop, each month by a different well-known person. So far as I know, a reading discussion is not attached to these, but there is no reason why it should not be.

The choice of books on Richard and Judy's list indicates to me that this is not a bland selection of bestsellers, but books that, as they say, they have enjoyed reading themselves this summer. Here's their website, should you wish to join in.

The Book Club list:

  • Sister by Rosamund Lupton
  • A Place of Secrets by Rachel Hore
  • The Snowman by Jo Nesbo
  • The Wilding by Maria McCann
  • No and Me by Delpine de Vigan
  • Waiting for Columbus by Thomas Trofimuk
  • The Crying Tree by Naseem Rakha
  • Operation Mincemeat by Ben MacIntyre
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    12 thoughts on “A few thoughts on Richard and Judy’s latest book club

    1. Maxine – Thanks for this candid and informative post. I agree that initiatives that encourage people to read are praiseworthy. And the internet really is a much more effective way to reach lots of people than television, especially if one wants to reach an international audience. You really do make some terrific points here.

    2. I must admit I do sigh a bit whenever I see the Oprah book club is off and running again, figuring there’s another few million sales of some godawful tome of misery lit that’ll make everybody feel bad. I read two or three of her selections back in the early days of the club and all the books were of a certain kind and I got disgruntled at the idea women would only want to read about other women being depressed/overcoming enormous hardship of some kind and would care less about story-telling than worthiness. But as long as the selection process for the books is reasonably fair (i.e. publishers haven’t paid huge sums to have their stuff “chosen” above all other books) then I’m fine with celebrity endorsements getting people who don’t normally read shuffling off to the bookshops.
      That criticism you link to just seems snarky and sneery for all sorts of reasons and misses several key points, not the least of which is that human beings are social animals and an online discussion offers scope to turn a solitary hobby into something that can be shared and many people will enjoy that aspect of it. His grumbling about the bypassing of literary review is laughable as there’s so little literary criticism left in traditional media these days that if people only read books that had been ‘properly reviewed’ we’d have about 2 dozen books a year to choose from.

    3. I’ve never watched Richard and Judy either, but I have read and enjoyed some of their book choices. Anyone who encourages people to read deserves praise not criticism, so good luck to them. I’m going to check out their choices and follow their website with interest. Thanks for the info.

    4. Thanks, everyone, for the comments. I have not read any of the Ophrah book club choices (knowingly!) but I have recently read a couple of novels that I’d classify as “women’s fiction” along the lines you describe, Bernadette (Misery and Melodrama!) without knowing, and have been underwhelmed. I know that of the list R&J are currently promoting, I’ve read one (The Snowman) and am already thinking of reading another (Sister). The Ben MacIntyre is a non-fiction WW2 espionage story that was serialised in The Times recently. So on that basis, I’d say these are not “women’s” fiction in this wimpy sense, but probably a range of popular fiction (it isn’t a very literary list, but then fewer people would join in, I suspect.)
      I was heartened that they did not just fill it up with James Patterson, Danielle Steel, Patricia Cornwell type of authors, but went for some that are less well known.

    5. Just an fyi from someone who has seen (somewhat) Oprah’s program, including some book club segments, books are not always superficial and unexciting or uninteresting. Without going through lists or her website, some choices are good literature. Books by the excellent writer, Barbara Kingsolver, have been included, such as “The Poisonwood Bible,” and several by the Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Toni Morrison.
      A few years ago “Anna Karenina,” by Tolstoi was also read. This is just a sample.

    6. A comment: Just read your illuminating review of “A Carrion Death,” at Eurocrime, and will put that book on my now enormous TBR list.

    7. Thanks, Kathy. That one was a good adventure. And I agree about what I’ve read about Oprah’s book club – sometimes she picks classics and other non-current or non-standard books. I believe that Richard and Judy are more commercial/pragmatic and stick to recently published PBs, but am not sure on that point. They certainly do not go for standard bestsellers, though.

    8. Yes, I really will try to read “A Carrion Death.” I had just read RtoR good review of it and it linked to yours, so I will put it on the miles-long list. She wrote a very interesting review today which intrigues me, by Marjie Orford.
      On Oprah’s book club, many books I have skipped, a few I have read, the Kingsolver (all of hers) and the Morrison (most of hers), but have not read “Anna Karenina,” which I suppose I must before I leave the planet–that or “War and Peace.” I might try with something shorter. From what I know of Tolstoi’s writing, I like it in short segments. Helen Simpson wrote a set of stories about motherhood with had a quote from Tolstoi on the inside cover; it blew me away. He was saying that he knew a woman when she had a soul (before she had children). It was a rough section.

    9. I read the first of that Margie Orford series, Kathy, Like Clockwork. I think my assessment was pretty similar to RTR’s of Blood Rose. See: http://petrona.typepad.com/petrona/2010/01/alphabet-in-crime-fiction-orford.html
      I have read Anna Karenina and War and Peace, years ago. Anna Karenina was just so tragic, and that quote you’ve shared just about sums it up. (What male attitudes do to women!). War and Peace — hmm — I liked the “story” parts but found the army campaign parts tedious I have to say. There is a relatively new translation of it which is supposed to be very good. I read the Penguin classic edition in both cases.

    10. Good points on Tolstoi. I have stayed away from “Anna Karenina,” because it is a tragedy and I know how it turns out. “War and Peace,” hmmm. I could skip or speedread through the army campaign parts with no problem. A friend is rereading it. I think I should do it at some point, maybe over several months. Or I could find some shorter works. Now that I read in today’s NY Times that Richard Nixon read Tolstoi’s works, I may steer clear of them altogether!
      Don’t know if you saw “The Last Station,” with Christopher Plummer and Helen Mirren. The acting was superb, worth seeing it for that. However, it vilified Sofia Tolstoi a bit too much, when she was married to him for decades and put up with a lot, on a personal level.

    11. I did not see that film, Kathy, though I read rave reviews of it. I am fonder of Checkhov than I am of Tolstoy, last year I saw good productions of Uncle Vanya and of Ivanov (with Kenneth Branagh). I am not sure if there are any good movies of Checkhov’s plays but I think he gets human nature all too well. Very sad, of course. I read his short stories many years ago and liked those. (I have seen all his plays at the theatre, too, some more than once, but mostly a long time ago!)

    12. According to the Bookseller e-alert today, sales of the selected titles have increased by 180 per cent since this announcement.

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