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Making lists

Now, I'm a great one for 'to do' lists. I use them to set out what I want to achieve in the year, the week, the day, even the hour on some occasions - yes, really.

But I'm not so keen on book lists.

A friend sent me her 16-year-old daughter's A level reading list this week. It made me feel very inadequate. And all the various book prizes tend to overwhelm me. So many books, so little time.

I'm never short of reading material, but I do like to receive recommendations. And it is good to keep having our reading habits challenged, I think. Imagine the gems we'd miss if we didn't occasionally step out of our comfort zone.

It's fascinating to see what some people are reading. I'm always interested in taking a look at Barack Obama's lists, for example. And Transport for London is hoping to encourage conversation among passengers through introducing a book club with its recommended fiction and non-fiction titles each month.

It's a shame, then, that a number of book prizes have been discontinued recently - the cancelling of the Costa Book Awards came as a shock to the whole industry, it seems, and the axing of the Blue Peter prize seems the end of an era. The Sunday Times Short Story Prize is under threat and the Desmond Elliot prize which recognises debut novelists, will be paused next year as a new sponsor is sought.

With this backdrop, it seemed a relief to learn of the release of the longlist for the Booker Prize 2022 last week - at least it was going ahead! And, of course, there are some interesting novels included. So, once again, by popular demand, we are going to run the Browsers Booker Challenge! 

Participants will agree to read one or more of the titles on the longlist and report back on how they liked it, whether they thought it might make the shortlist, and if it might even win the prize overall. We'll meet together on the evening of Monday 5th September, the day before the shortlist is announced. It will, as always, be interesting to see if our opinions match those of the judges. 

It's always a fun and interesting meeting, so if you'd like to take part, please email me as soon as possible, and I'll let you know which books need a reader. You're also welcome to attend if you wish only to listen to the reviews and perhaps compile your own reading list as a result. I look forward to hearing from you.

Thank you for reading.

by Sam McAlister

I like to read about journalism so was intrigued to hear about the release of this book written by a producer from BBC Two's 'Newsnight' programme.

It's not a great cover, I would suggest, and it's a modest book, but it is fascinating!

Sam McAlister has now stepped away from the BBC, but she gives us some highlights of her career booking interviewees for the programme.

Sam McAlister trained as a barrister after leaving university. She'd always been good at debating, and she followed her friends' lead in choosing a career path. Quickly realising the job wasn't for her she again sought friends' advice and ended up asking for a way in to the BBC. 

She was given an opportunity to work in the 'Newsnight' team and found that on her first day she was briefing Jeremy Paxman on a subject she knew little about. Doesn't give you much faith in the programme, it has to be said. But Sam stepped up to the task, asked for an extension of her contract, and never left.

Her role was to book the key interviewees featured on the programme - people making the news or instrumental in decisions of the time. In this book she tells us about Stormy Daniels, Sean Spicer, Julian Assange and many more.

The key selling point of this book, though, is the account of the interview undertaken by Emily Maitlis with Prince Andrew on his friendship with Jeffrey Epstein. It is extraordinary viewing, even now, and is apparently due to be made into a film. But this takes us through the processes involved in getting to that conversation, and something of the immediate aftermath too. 

Considered by her colleagues to be a 'booker extraordinaire', Sam shares something of her work ethic and how she came to be so successful in persuading people to step up to the intense scrutiny of the 'Newsnight' team. It's a great read. I devoured it in a sitting, but will be dipping into it again.

For recommended non-fiction titles, take a look here.

Peggy the Always Sorry Pigeon
by Wendy Meddour
Illustrated by Carmen Saldana

I loved the illustrations for this book about Peggy the pigeon who says sorry even when something's not her fault. It's an unusual subject for a picture book for young children, I would have thought, but it's rather lovely. 

Peggy is an apologetic pigeon. She thinks she's in the wrong, even when she's not. Other pigeons tell her to get off the bus stop because they want to perch there and a road sweeper tries to scare her off the pavement because she doesn't like pigeons. But Joan, an older, wiser, seagull, tells Peggy to stand up for herself. Instead of saying sorry every time, Joan says Peggy should have another vocabulary! 

In this funny and beautifully illustrated story, children are encouraged to be assertive and are given some ideas for how to respond when they are being bullied. I very much enjoyed it!

Read about more recommended children's books here.

Browsers Bookshop Book Group
at St John's Hall, Woodbridge

Monday 26 September 8pm 
talking about...

by Annie Garthwaite

The first days of the Wars of the Roses through the eyes of its greatest unknown protagonist, Cecily Neville, wife of Richard Plantagenet, mother to Edward IV and Richard III. What will we make of this debut novel?
There's plenty of time to read our current book as we take a break for the summer. Buy the book now from Browsers Bookshop with the book group discount, and you'll have two months' before our meeting in September. There'll be details about how to attend nearer the time. 
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