Erdington Library Crime Fiction Reading Group
As you can see from the title, the reading group at Erdington Library is no ordinary reading group. Not for us the literary classics or modern chick-flicks novels, no, we dive into the murky murder infested worlds of leading crime fiction writers from home and abroad.
It all began, seven years ago, when starting reading groups was in vogue and the tv series Ellen, set in a fictional bookshop with a successful reading group, was proving popular with some of the library staff. The three instigators, Elizabeth, Kevin and Terry, acquired an Arts Council grant of £200 to set up a reading group. As all three really enjoyed crime fiction and the crime fiction section was one of the most popular in the library it was felt that there was a market for a crime fiction group.
Initially the sessions were held fortnightly with the first one attracting one member of the public. After six meetings, a core membership had developed and the frequency was dropped to once a month. The meetings, which are held on the first Wednesday of each month, now attract between 10 and 25 attendees, depending on subject, weather and football matches! The group attracts all ages, from thirty-something to post retirement.
To attract more members, it was decided that the discussion sessions would feature three or four titles based on a theme, rather than offering a sole title which might discourage the members who didn't want to read it. Occasionally, one of the 'big' books like P D James' 'Death in Holy Orders' is read by all.
The themes are suggested by the group members at the beginning of each year and for 2001 included: American Noir, Elizabethan Intrigue and Faraway places. The sessions are informal and fun and you can almost guarantee opposing viewpoints on the same novel. There's only been one exception that springs to my mind: 'River of Darkness' by Rennie Airth which was loved by all who read it.
Some of the most lively sessions have occurred where the group has been able to read the same title, for example Thomas Harris' controversial 'Hannibal' prompted a very heated and lengthy debate.
In addition, visits from authors supplement the regular meetings. Erdington library has seen a lot of writers pass through it's doors; internationally acclaimed authors like Lawrence Block, Simon Brett and Val McDermid together with well known Midlands authors Janet Harward, Betty Rowlands and most recently first time author Maureen Carter, whose book is set in Birmingham.
The Christmas meeting always offers a bit of a challenge. In 1999, after several years of running a successful quiz, an alternative was sought. It so happened that Priscilla Masters, author of the Joanna Piercy series, offered to give not only a talk but would also supply a 5 minute play, featuring Joanna, for some of us to act out. A number of anxious weekly dress rehearsals ensued but on the night we gave a respectable and I hope enjoyable performance to about thirty people.
The group has been fortunate to receive some 'lottery money' and this has funded a number of the author visits together with a leaflet called 'Killing Time' where members of the group reviewed and recommended their favourite books of the year. The leaflet was available in all Birmingham Libraries and also proved very popular at the local prison.
As far as I know, we are the only library reading group focussing on the crime genre and one wonders why given the outstanding popularity of fictional crime both in print and on the television. Strange though it sounds, reading crime fiction can be a lot of fun!
Interested? For further information on the group, contact Jill or Pat on 0121 464 0798 or email them on firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the homepage.