I know book groups run on all manner of successful formats and much depends on the needs of everyone there, but I have to say, for anyone thinking about starting a reading group or even just getting a group of bookish friends together, you can't go wrong with themes as your central organising method.
No having to read a book you don't quite fancy, no running out of things to say about it after thirty minutes, and descent (or in our case ascent) into off -track nattering is perfectly permissible because with themes anything goes, you can talk about whatever you want.
So where would this month's theme of Scandal take us?
October was also our third birthday so we raised a cup of tea and a chocolate biscuit to ourselves and the evening we all look forward to so much. I had pondered the dusk as I drove in realising that we are now heading into winter mode with no gorgeous views to set the scene, somehow we'll just have to cope with log fires and Georgiana's Birds of Paradise wallpaper as we tuck up into our cosy salon room.
So onto Scandal and we threw the chairing task at A.
It's just that you need someone who walks in looking full of beans and wide awake to keep things ticking along and A always looks wide awake and up to the task because she's usually spent the weekend before running a marathon through the Lakeland Fells in pouring rain or something, while I'm exhausted after a weekend in the armchair.
I had done a quick dictionary check for a definition of the word scandal and that proved quite useful because our choices ranged across the centuries and led to much debate about what would be considered scandal then but might be quite acceptable now, and where have our tolerances taken us and how and why might that be.
Madresfield - The Real Brideshead by Jane Mulvagh got us off to a fantastic flying start, I woke up very fast.
This is purported to be the real-life story behind Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited. Waugh was a regular visitor to the ancestral seat of the Lygon family which had been in the family from 1196 to the present day.
Earl Beecham the patriarch was a pillar of the community, a friend of King George V until revelations about his private life and homosexuality were exposed for reasons various by the Duke of Westminster whose sister was married to Earl Beecham.
The fifty-nine year old Earl fled to the continent in 1931 and the family's fortunes predictably took something of a turn for the worse. Beaverbrook connections kept everything out of the press but the family and particularly the Earl's children were shunned and rejected by their peers and forever paid the price. Golden futures replete with opportunities melted into dust overnight.
Well we went to town on this one and to my chagrin I was the only person in the room who hadn't read Brideshead Revisited so I must schedule an appointment with it very soon, but nevertheless, the tea trays had arrived and we were off to a great start.
Next Lady Worsley's Whim An Eighteenth Century Tale of Sex, Scandal and Divorce by Hallie Rubenhold. The presenter of this book had gone into the local bookshop and asked what they'd got on scandal to which the owner had replied
'Are you from THAT book group?'
So our reputation grows apace.
Lady Worsley's whim was actually Captain George Bissett even though she was married to Richard Worsley, things went from bad to worse for Lady W with a child, an elopement and no friend in the Beaverbrook family to control the media, so salacious treatment in the press. Having brought her fortune to the marriage Lady W lost the lot and the children too and presumably the very nice Appuldurcombe House on the Isle of Wight.
We went to town on that one too.
I threw in a play which I had been really looking forward to reading but which hadn't quite met my expectations, Gethsemane by David Hare first performed in November 2008.
A critique of New Labour though David Hare denies the remotest connection, family scandal promising to throw it all into chaos, but to be honest I think we're getting harder to impress these days, perhaps we're becoming immune to it all?
It hardly felt like scandal, more like every day news of ministerial duplicity so at times like this it's always good to look to the Westend Whingers for a definitive theatre-goers assessment. I was interested to see they thought likewise after seeing the play at the National Theatre, being more impressed with the standard of the roasted peanuts and the space for your bag behind the seats in Row T than the play itself.
Mixed in with the real life scandal, plenty of made up scandal too, though the scandal itself often seemed more in the eye of the beholder than the sole purpose of the novels.
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert and great debate about just how scandalous can it be to race around full speed in a carriage with the blinds drawn, actually just how uncomfortable was it in there and how often is the scandal all in the mind of the reader.
The L Shaped Room by Lynn Reid Banks
And a signed first edition copy was flourished. Loved in the 1960s but which now made for slightly uncomfortable reading, times and attitudes have changed and the book reflected that.
Lolita by Nabakov...oh dear.
Loathed and then loathed some more by the reader, turgid writing, dodgy themes and even debating the social mores of the time didn't really help us figure out just why this one is a classic.
It did all made us think carefully about what we now class as scandal and thoughts progressed through each book debate about what we now see as depravity and how those definitions might have changed across the centuries.
Anthing Goes by Lucy Moore had been read specifically following a recent Sunday magazine article about Harry and Caresse Crosbie, the couple who made the 20s roar and we proceeded to find out how. Harry would go out minus a hat on for starters which was enough of a scandal, but all made much worse when he took the married-with-two-children Polly Peabody as his lover. Changing her name to Caresse seemed a minor detail in the end.
Peyton Place by Grace Metalious was last and in the new Virago edition. I have a copy and have been looking at and wondering when to start.
Well now I will because apparently it's a remarkable read.
Written in 1956 and evoking a benign conformist world but with much ugliness beneath the surface, Grace Metalious was villified for telling it like it was. Most of us could remember our mums watching the TV series but not a lot else.
So what a brilliant evening we had, next month Adventure which I will miss which all gives me time to gear up for South America in December.
Incidentally we often sit in our room and wonder at that wallpaper's survival.
It's listed now so can't be touched but how often in the past might someone have thought it looked a bit grubby and stood in front of it with brush and emulsion poised?
Now that would have been a real scandal.