Many of us have discovered or rediscovered a love for reading over the multiple lockdowns. We’ve escaped to the fantasy worlds of Brit Bennett, Maggie O’Farrell and Sarah J. Maas. We’ve been intrigued by the life of Barack Obama and we’ve learnt new skills from the dusty cookbooks that were long forgotten. But although reading can be wonderful it can be a very isolating experience unless you have someone to share it with…enter book clubs. Many online book clubs have emerged over the past year, so it was unsurprising that The Guardian would join the trend
The Guardian’s online book club is run by their chief books writer, Lisa Allardice. During the book club events, Lisa talks with leading writers, discussing the writing process, current affairs, isolation and, of course, the chosen novel. Book club attendees also have the opportunity to send in questions prior to, and during, the event. The book clubs are run on Thursdays 7-8pm BST, are broadcasted globally, and the cost of a ticket is £5 plus a small booking fee, or you can purchase the book with the ticket for around £14. Though the price may be slightly discouraging for an online event, it is significantly cheaper in comparison to what you might pay to hear an author talk at an in-person event. I certainly enjoyed hearing Margaret Atwood talk whilst sat at home with a risotto and a glass of wine, instead of queueing for hours outside a bookshop in the snow.
The book club I attended was centred around Margaret Atwood’s 2003 novel Oryx and Crake. Though the novel could be considered science fiction, Atwood labels it as ‘speculative fiction’ as the novel does speculate the potential of human evolution, and it does not deal with things that are beyond human capabilities. Although The Handmaid’s Tale is often deemed Atwood’s most prophetic book, Oryx and Crake foretold the biggest disaster of the 21st century, the global pandemic. As Atwood discussed in the book club, plagues are a “very old human story”, and they are even more “definitive in human history […] than war”. Atwood informs her readers to pay attention to Oryx and Crake because it shows “the big picture”, detailing to the reader just how far into chaos the pandemic, and our current habits, could lead us. Certainly, the novel forces the reader to take a long look at the human race.
On the more positive side, Oryx and Crake sees advancement in sustainability. As, in the book the ‘humans’ have evolved to no longer need clothing, meaning that “they do not need cloth”, and they are “not only vegan, [but] they can eat leaves and grass”, thus we no longer need to grow masses of crops or “raise herds of animals”. Indeed, the ‘humans’ have evolved to no longer be “sexually competitive”, lowering aggression and as Atwood notes there would be “no more wife murders”, essentially eradicating domestic violence. Furthermore, one of the most spectacular human advancements is the ability to purr! As Atwood explains, purring is an incredible ability to have as “cats purr to self-heal”. This is scientifically factual as a cat’s purr “has a frequency of between 25 and 150 hertz, which happens to be the frequency at which muscles and bones best grow and repair themselves”.
It is safe to say that Atwood is a hive of knowledge, and although I have not read Oryx and Crake, I still learnt so much from hearing her speak. The Guardian’s online book club is a great way for book lovers to hear from their favourite writers and have the opportunity to ask them questions. The upcoming book club is in conversation with Maggie O’Farrell (22nd April), the author of the Women’s prize-winning novel Hamnet. Hamnet is set in plague-ridden Jacobean England, once again projecting a vision of our current world, and is said to be a heart-wrenching read. Why not give it a read and join me and many others for the next Guardian book club?
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