Senior Projects partner John Greig has been a welcome, albeit unlikely, addition to a Brisbane-based book club currently convened by Associate Claire Watson in a year where we've all craved connection.
Claire: Our book club was started by India Gharris a couple of years ago, with the support of our Sports and Wellness Committee.
While initially really popular, lockdown saw our meetings stall. One day, with India moving to another firm, John asked if I'd convene a meeting of the club. So with the regular encouragement of many other members, I'm now the one who gets the invitation out for our monthly meetings, which have become a much-loved feature of the Brisbane office social calendar again.
I like to think of John as a kind of mascot for our book club. Though the only bloke who regularly attends the meetings and twice the average age of our members, he's such an enthusiastic contributor to our wide-ranging discussions and his love of books is something we all share.
At the height of our COVID lockdown, with John wanting to support Brisbane institution Folio Books, all our members were invited to pick up a book of our choice. It sparked our shared love of reading again in a time when everyone needed a little boost.
We all know that it can be hard sometimes to switch off and make time for things that don't feel urgent or important. Often book club rolls around and I don't feel I can fit it in. But I collect the wine and cheese, sit down with friends, and for a few hours we talk about a book or two and I stop carrying on about how busy I think am…it is never time wasted.
John: An email came around from India asking who'd be interested in a book club. I've always loved reading, and I've never been a part of a book club, so I thought 'why not?'
There are about 50 people on the official list, and 10 or 15 who show up each month. At present, I'm the only bloke who attends regularly. Those who meet are mostly women under 30. After my first meeting, I did wonder whether I should fade gracefully into the distance so as not to cramp the style of the rest of the crew. But I was set straight pretty quickly – being enthusiastically encouraged to continue. I've been going along ever since.
Unlike other book clubs I've heard of (you know who you are), we actually discuss the books we read – but don't ignore the wine, cheese and chit chat. Most, being lawyers, are opinionated and only too willing to share their views and critique the text. We've read widely – everything from Rodham and Song of Achilles to Northern Spy and The Secret History. Hell Has Harbour Views is next on the list, a recommendation from Julie Barber, a Melbourne refugee, who dropped in on a few of our meetings recently.
Being a 60-year-old bloke discussing some fairly personal topics with a group of young women hasn’t been as challenging as I thought it might be. In fact, book club has been a great leveller. It reminds you that we're all just people with our own quirks and perspectives. I think it's helped to foster respect and understanding among people who might not otherwise have a reason to connect other than as fellow workers, which is a great thing.
What we're reading this summer
At the time of writing I'm reading Commonwealth by Ann Patchett, and probably still will be when summer officially starts. So far it's a great read, nothing too suspenseful but stylishly written and with enough intrigue to keep me squeezing in just a few more pages.
One of our next picks for book club is Trent Dalton's new book Love Stories. Being a beloved Brissie boy, this is our second Dalton book for the club (Boy Swallows Universe was an early read – I loved it) which this time is a non-fiction collection of love stories collated by Dalton from members of the public who sat down with the author and his typewriter in the Brisbane CBD and told their stories (preview here).
After those are finished I'll likely disregard the building pile of half-finished or recommended and borrowed books sitting on my bedside table, in favour of shiny new(ish) releases with pretty covers, probably including: Magpie by Elizabeth Day, The Paper Palace by Miranda Cowley Heller, The Guest List by Lucy Foley, Love & Virtue by Diana Read and The Weekend by Charlotte Wood.
I am working through the P. G. Wodehouse canon (of 99 books). Will it be Jeeves, Blandings Castle, Psmith, some golf stories (which have little to do with golf) or something else? Whatever, as Stephen Fry has said, it will be 'sunlit perfection'.
The Colony: A History of Early Sydney by Grace Karskens. Cited by Jock Serong, author of Preservation (a great novel recommended by Kate Axup) as his main source of background to late 1700s/early 1800s Sydney, the background to the novel.
Every summer break, I search for something that looks interesting and out of the usual. Past examples include Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts; Bonfire of the Vanities (much better than the movie!); and Birdmania: A Remarkable Passion for Birds. What will this year bring?