The Verdict? Not quite ready yet.

Posted by Guy Pringle, 10th February 2011

We’ve been trying to get a new feature off the ground but early attempts have plunged head first back to earth. The Verdict is meant to recount the discussion a group has about a soon to be published book. So, not a review – although there would be a synopsis to start the spread and it would end with the participants comments with thumbs up, down or in the middle.  And not a readers’ guide – although there may well be a list of discussion questions (but not the Open University style beloved of publishers that I’ve railed against so many times).

No, the heart of The Verdict is the conversation that ensued about the book and the issues it raised – in other words what you probably do at your meetings (without the extraneous information and gossip).

This is a blatant attempt by us and the publisher to give a new author – both we’ve tried so far have been first novels -  a boost to stand out from the crowd and, through our pages, catch the attention of reading groups.

We pitched the idea to a couple of our favourite publishers who, not surprisingly, jumped at it swearing on their mother’s graves that they had the absolute perfect book/author. Which just goes to show how much publishers know about their own books. In what follows the titles of the books and the names of the authors must remain secret.

Debbie Davies, now of this parish, asked her group if they would be up for it, as did I with one of the groups I belong to. Debbie’s group were in complete agreement on one thing – this was the worst book they had ever read together. Quite an achievement for a title that the publisher plans to aim fair and square at you! The only other positive outcome was that they now have the book on their media radar to see if they or the publisher were right. Oh, and they had a fun evening trying to be polite about the book.

Last night, a small but representative group gathered here and we too had a really good evening. The only drawback was that every time we came back to the book it was only to damn it with faint praise. We learnt some of Toni’s back story and I am intrigued (read: nosey) enough to want to know more. She’s not one who holds the floor to declaim her opinions – more of a thoughtfully perceptive sentence or two that makes you reappraise what you were thinking.

By coincidence, each of us last night have two sons and we debated the point at which children become adults and how much you tell them about the mistakes you made when you were their age. Reunions and revisiting old haunts also brought interesting revelations. All of these sprang from issues in the book but you’d never spot which it was from these ‘clues’.

So, a veil has been drawn over our first two attempts but we’re keen to keep trying – all we need now is a publisher who genuinely understands what engages a reading group. And if your group are up for a future project then do let me know.

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