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Reading room

In the 14 years we've been gathering as the Browsers Book Group, the first meeting of the year has always been popular, and it's been particularly encouraging to see that this is once more the case. The interest has been so great, in fact, that there's only room for a couple more to join us!

If you had hoped to come along please let me know before 10am tomorrow and I'll send you the details of this month's meeting. I'm afraid only those people who have registered with me by email will be allowed entry due to the high numbers and the restrictions in our current situation. But if you're unlucky this time, there's always next month! I'll have details of February's title next week and if you'd like to look back on all the past titles we've discussed click here.

Of course if we were still meeting on Zoom we wouldn't have this restriction on numbers! There are pros and cons with everything aren't there?!

Although online meetings were very different from chatting in person, everyone who took part agreed that we got to know each other a little better through the common experience of lockdown - and with our names clearly printed underneath our faces!

Now that we're meeting in person again, I thought perhaps we might build on this by sharing something of ourselves through our reading experience. This is what I've called Read Me Like a Book.

You may have seen a similar format in the Guardian each Saturday as The Books That Made Me, or as an item on the BBC2 book club programme Between the Covers. We'll see how much we can find out about each other when we answer questions such as 'my earliest reading memory', for example, or 'the last book that made me laugh', 'the book I'll never give away', or 'the book I read every year'. What would your answers say about you?

Thank you for reading.

The Awakened Brain
by Lisa Miller

In the early days of the pandemic, when most of us were in lockdown and only having brief forays into the outside world, we compared notes on the rejuvenating and uplifting power of walking outdoors and appreciating nature, among other newly discovered contemplative pursuits. We had a heightened awareness in our enforced escape from the relentless demands of modern life.
The range of opportunities of this kind, and their effect on us, are not dependent on having a faith or religion, the author of this book claims. It's all about a different mode of living, she says, an innate spirituality.

Lisa Miller has spent many years researching the effects of spirituality on the brain. From scientific studies, she presents an argument that by nurturing our spirituality we can become more resilient, be less susceptible to depression and substance abuse, and enhance recovery in many other clinical settings.

Her findings are well presented and compelling, and her own personal experience is presented without hyperbole. She tells of how, in being desperate to start a family, she felt that elements of her life, the people she was meeting and the conversations she was hearing, all supported and reached into her particular heightened emotions. Seemingly trivial interactions had great significance and she was aware of coincidences. This is the awakened brain she refers to. 

We all have a need and an ability to be spiritual, she says, and, just as doctors are able to identify activity of the brain during periods of depression, she was able to show scans which highlight the brain's activity spiritually.

It's an intriguing book which gives plenty to ponder. I felt nervous at times that the author was pursuing a 'new age' route, but was repeatedly reminded of her battle to be taken seriously throughout her studies. The positive benefits of spirituality, she found, were seen as less legitimate and treated less seriously than the findings in studies of depression. A fascinating and very readable book!

For recommended non-fiction titles, take a look here.
The Summer We Turned Green
by William Sutcliffe

Every time I picked up this book the title caused me to do a double take, but it's nothing to do with eating too much broccoli or meeting strangers from outer space. 

Instead it is a gripping family drama in the context of climate change, activism and community. Alongside a serious message and topical concerns, it's warm and funny!

It's the summer holidays, and thirteen-year-old Luke's life has been turned upside down.

His street has been earmarked for an airport expansion and in the house opposite a community of protestors have moved in. 

Luke's older sister, Rose has left home to join them and his parents are at a loss for what to do.

The family becomes more and more involved in the lives of the 'climate rebels' with some unexpected outcomes. Will they succeed in stopping the expansion? What does this mean in terms of action against climate change globally? And what does it all mean for the family relationships?

Aimed at readers aged 8-12, this is a hugely entertaining and thought-provoking book. It challenges preconceptions about the lives and motivations of activists and delights in the details of family life. The characters are warm, funny and well-rounded and it's a great way of exploring a topical and important issue. (I'm just not sure about the title!)

Read about more recommended children's books here.

Browsers Bookshop Book Group
Monday 31 January 8pm
talking about...

Small Pleasures
by Clare Chambers

Compared to the writing of Barbara Pym or Anita Brookner, this is the story of a local reporter in 1950s east London who has been sent to discover the truth behind a rather unusual revelation. Miracle or fraud, the investigation threatens to turn Jean's life inside out. What will we make of it?

There has been a high level of interest in this month's meeting so if you are unable to join us this time, I hope that you'll come along to February's discussion. Details will follow next week.
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