One or two people have asked about the Summer School I’ve occasionally mentioned, so I thought the best thing to do, rather than clogging up comment boxes with lengthy responses, was to write a dedicated post about it, especially as all the plans for this year are now in place and there is just the small matter of reading the books to schedule.
I’ve always liked the idea of Summer Schools. The thought of spending a week in the company of other readers, exploring books and discussing the issues raised by a series of linked novels fills me with great oceans of anticipatory pleasure. But, and of course there is always a ‘But’ about these things, when I explored the Schools available to me I discovered that the cost was completely prohibitive. The last time I looked, two or three years ago, simply taking part cost anywhere from £400 to £800 and then you had to add accommodation, food and travel onto that. It would easily have been possible to run up a bill in access of £1000. I don’t have that sort of money and I’m not sure I could justify spending it that way if I had.
However, I’m not one to let small considerations like that get in the way, especially when so many of my friends were complaining about the way in which their social lives seemed to come to a halt during August as clubs and classes closed down for the holiday season. So, I suggested that we organised our own Summer School to fill the gap. This will be the third year we’ve done it and our numbers grow annually.
The basic idea is this. We choose three linked books and meet three afternoons in a week (Monday, Wednesday and Friday) to discuss both the individual books and the developing ideas that the commonalities in the novels suggest. We don’t meet every day because some of the members of the group are quite elderly and would find a daily meeting and the associated reading too much. Each meeting is held in a different person’s home and each is led by a different reader. We pay 50p a day to cover tea and biscuits. A week of pure pleasure which takes very little organising and costs just £1.50. What more could you ask?
In terms of choice, round about the beginning of April I will put together five sets of three novels, each set associated with a different theme and ask people to rank them in order of preference. Whichever set gets the most votes is the set we read.
The first year we had a Crime and Punishment theme and read
- The Suspicions of Mr Whicher by Kate Summerskill
- The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins
- The American Boy by Andrew Taylor
Last year under the heading Then and Now we read three books that all take place in both the present and an historical setting;
- The House on the Strand by Daphne du Maurier
- A Secret Alchemy by Emma Darwin
- Ghostwalk by Rebecca Stott
This year, with the Olympics in mind, I put together five sets each based around a particular country, Canada, Italy, Egypt, Australia and India. It was a close run thing between Egypt and India with India winning out as the last choice paper came in. So, come August, we will be reading
- Staying On by Paul Scott
- Heat and Dust by Ruth Prawar Jhabvala
- Such a Long Journey by Rohinton Mistry
This is a very easy blueprint to follow and if any of you have groups of friends who you think might like to do the same thing then do feel free to copy our example. If you want to see the other choices I’ve offered in previous years then let me know and I can e-mail them to you.
There really is no point in complaining about what you can’t have when it is so easy to arrange this sort of Summer School for yourself. I involved people I already knew, but I suspect that if I’d advertised it in our local library I could have got a group together that way. Part of me is tempted to do that just as a way of meeting new reading acquaintances but I would need both groups to read the same set of books and than would be less easy to organise, however, it might be a way forward if any of you are interested in setting up a similar School. If you do please let me know how it goes, I would love to hear.