I recently headed up a book group at work and I must confess I approached it with apprehension. Those who attend the group are well loved regulars through the Emporium doors so it was not this that fazed me, no, it was the book. Up for discussion was a firm favourite of mine, Red Dust Road by Jackie Kay. This book has pitched up and took claim to a corner of my heart, with no intention of moving. What if somebody didn’t enjoy it? Readers out there will know how personal it can feel when somebody takes umbridge with a book you love, it is like an attack on your own choices and character. I steeled myself to face the comments that would come, poured myself a glass of wine and settled down amongst the table of friendly faces to get going.
Before the discussion got into full flow we had a brief chat about how this book had came to be this months choice. Now I’ve worked at the shop for some time but I’ve never been the bookshop representative at the group, so I’ve never had input into the monthly decision, so in theory this book had nothing to do with me but…it would seem it very much did. My mum was also at this book group meeting, she has never attended before and as she happened to be visiting our corner of the country for a few days she decided to join us (I like to think it was to see more of her darling daughter *halo shines over head* but realistically I think it’s because she is a big as Jackie Kay fan as me). Now when I was younger and couldn’t afford to go out and buy my own literary goodies I would often be found raiding my mums numerous bookshelves (I’d say this has stopped but she’ll read this & point out every time I visit I do just the same). During one such rummage I happened upon a paperback with the most glorious photo featured on the cover I have ever seen, a sulking young girl in a bright and cheerful two piece swimsuit was utterly beguiling, I was turning to the first page before I knew it. We now fast forward many (urgh, it really is many) years to the current day and my job in the bookshop. Never slipping from my mind as some reads do, I regularly recommend Red Dust Road to those popping in for a great read, so much so that it appeared in our current ‘top 6 selling non fiction’ list 5 years after publication. Now at our shop we hold book spa experiences, and in my first couple of weeks I was to be the bibliotherapist for a real regular of the shop who is now more of a friend, loved by everyone who works there. I was TERRIFIED. What if I let everybody down?? She might not enjoy it and report back how rubbish the new girl was, she might think every book I suggested was just bloomin’ awful. But NO – I had the ace up my sleeve, I had Jackie Kay, she would go home with at least one good book! So, we come full circle, I pull my seat up at the book group table, my mum to the left of me and the lovely regular in front, as she put down the book & told us it had been her suggestion. This would be like face to face book spa feedback – live and die by the sword and all that.
Reader, can you take the tension…?
They only well blummin’ loved it didnt they?! Relief washed through my body, I became more secure in my conviction that maybe I can choose a good book for somebody, took a gulp of wine and into the discussion we all jumped.
What the whole group seemed to find pleasing was that this was the first book that everybody had enjoyed that still provided enough material to have a full discussion about. I think the nature of book groups lends itself to texts that can cause something of a heated debate or topics that can be approached in a variety of directions. This was a book where everybody seemed happy to simply revel in the beauty of the writing and praise the writer for her sound and measured approach to talking about difficult situations.
For those who are not familiar with this memoir it tells the story of Jackie deciding to trace and meet her biological parents, after being adopted as a baby. It also looks at her mum and dad proper, who provided an utterly glorious environment to be raised in and bathed her in love, no matter how difficult some experiences were in her youth.
Throughout the evening we found that most of us when hearing about the story thought that it might turn out to be something of a misery memoir, but each agreed that this was never the case. When I talk about this book to people I always feel I have to stress how it warmed my heart and left me with a ready brek like glow. A member of the group made a pertinent point saying how interesting (and truly sad) it is that the minute we hear the word adoption we assume the story to follow must be a negative one.
Kay was repeatedly praised how she handled the meeting of her biological parents, and the subsequent fallout, on the page. Never one to give into name calling or finger pointing, she was endlessly sensitive in situations where many would have struggled to do similar. It was much agreed by the group that Kay seems like a level headed, gem of a woman and also a clear shining example of the ‘nurture’ side of the coin as her mum and dad provided her with the nouse to get on in life in a way to be so admired.
And oh her mum and dad, how we all adored them. Her mum especially just leapt off the page for me as such a vivid personality who I would love to sit down with for a drink and a good old natter. Kay has mentioned previously that this book is really a love letter to her mum and dad, I can’t imagine what they must have felt upon reading it, the love shines through every single word and leaves the reader with nothing but praise for them, never have I read a love letter more moving.
So it was with a happy heart I packed up the room once the book group had dispersed, feeling like I’d knocked it out the park. Question is, do I stop there on a 100% success rate or risk a meet up in which another favourite is discussed?!
If, after reading about Red Dust Road, you decide you want to see what all the fuss is about yourself, I really advise looking up a clip of Jackie Kay reading out her poetry on YouTube. I’ve been fortunate to see her perform live and I found I could almost hear her reading the novel aloud to me in my head because of this, it added to the whole experience.
If you’ve read the book or go on to do so, please tell us your thoughts in the comments below – let the book club continue! And remember, if you’d like to sign up to alerts when new content appears on Dog Eared Reads just email ‘subscribe’ to firstname.lastname@example.org
Red Dust Road by Jackie Kay £8.99 (Picador)