The Fantasy Book Group

Eric over at Lonesome Reader started it, and then my friend and co-editor, Annabel, carried it on (and included George Clooney) and I found I just couldn’t resist putting together a fantasy book group myself. They were both looking for celebrities who weren’t authors but who had bookish interests. Well, my book group members probably aren’t celebrities by normal standards, but I did just about manage to avoid fiction writers (my first, immediate, mental list began Virginia Woolf, Ali Smith…). I also think it will be as much a séance as a book club…


alexandra pringleAlexandra Pringle – currently Editor-in-Chief at Bloomsbury, she began her career at Virago, went on to work for Hamish Hamilton and then became a literary agent for a while. Her list of authors include: Donna Tartt, Barbara Trapido, Michele Roberts, Richard Ford, Esther Freud, Jay McInerney, Margaret Atwood, William Boyd, Georgina Harding, Ann Patchett, Kate Summerscale and Elizabeth Gilbert. I bet she’d have a few pithy things to say about any book put in front of her.


eunice frostEunice Frost – initially secretary to the founder of Penguin Books, Allen Lane, she was at his side when he introduced the much-reviled paperback book. She became an editor in the late 30s and eventually a director of the company (the penguin mascot is named ‘Frostie’ after her). A worrier and a sufferer from bronchial complaints, she was known for her formidable hats. It was largely down to her that Penguin began producing original work, not just reprints. She would have a fine eye for a book, I feel sure.


roland barthesRoland Barthes – French cultural critic who was hugely influential though he never held an orthodox academic post. He wrote a great deal about his theories of reading, and it would be irresistible to have him in the group, asking: ‘So hands up who experienced jouissance when reading this text, then?’


f r leavisF. R. Leavis – I hesitated over including him in my line-up because he was such an opinionated old grump. However, you need a bit of grit in any book group to get traction in a discussion and I would put good money on this formidable literary critic stirring up some fine book talk.


miss marpleMiss Marple – Well there has to be someone there to keep any egos under control, and I felt Miss Marple, with her razor eye and her sweet old lady façade would be just the ticket. The combination of her knitting and her unassuming but devastating one-line put-downs was not to be missed. She’d have a thing or two to say about current crime fiction, I’ll bet.


So that’s my line-up. Who would be in your fantasy book group?

29 thoughts on “The Fantasy Book Group

  1. Trouble is, most of the people I’d like would be authors. I did plump for Paul Morley over on Annabel’s page though – he always has plenty to say!

    • I know – I struggled to think of people who weren’t authors. I had a line-up of pretty men until I thought that it would be interesting to hear people in the trade talk about books. Paul Morley is a very good idea!

  2. Charlotte Mendelson, Mark Haddon and AL Kennedy. And perhaps Philip Hensher – I will see whether I think he is interesting or not when I go to see his talk. All authors, as I don’t know many critics.

    • Those would be fun authors to group together!

      It doesn’t have to be critics – they were the people who came to my mind when I couldn’t choose authors. But have a look at Annabel’s page – she came up with very good celebrities!

  3. Well this was the listed I posted on Annabel’s site and I see no reason to change it 🙂

    Unwoman (Erica Mulkey)
    Mark Kermode
    Rem Koolhaas
    Vivienne Westwood

    Regarding your own choices I was surprised to see Leavis, but if I could stand him long enough then I suspect that he would indeed stir up a storm! Interested in your Frost choice, you might alternatively have chosen my great Penguin fan the incomparable typographer Jan Tschichold (do read Die neue Typographie in the original or English). he is the man who from 1947 onwards really set the style for Penguin books, thus adding the third leg to the vision of Frost and Lane. A complete genius.

    • What an intriguing list! Yes, I was in two minds over Leavis, but then I thought it wouldn’t have to be me dealing with him – I could just sit back and let Miss Marple put him in his place. 🙂 I don’t know anything about jan Tschichold but he sounds a fascinating man.

  4. Well now that group would definitely make for interesting book discussions! I’d say I’d want Margaret Atwood in my group but I’d probably be too terrified to utter a single word so that wouldn’t work at all!

    • I know just what you mean – having been notably silent in the presence of Julian Barnes back in the day. But at a book group you’d at least having something specific to talk about. I bet you’d warm up to it! 🙂

  5. Leavis I think would be a less difficult guest than people imagine. Despite his image in dispute, as a person he was, according to people who knew him, a pleasant and courteous man. If you wanted to stir him up you should also invite F W Bateson. They were involved in a long-running dispute over the nature of literary criticism. If you invited Shakespeare we could get to the bottom of, and lay to rest, the nonsense about who wrote his plays. There’s a thought.

  6. By the way, if George Clooney can’t come to my fantasy book group, I’ll be inviting John Hamm in his place (Don Draper in Mad Men always has his head in a book).

    • Wouldn’t we all! Having run way too many literary discussions in my time, I’m thinking how peaceful it would be not to have to do any of the work at all. You can always join me behind the two-way mirror where I will be sitting with snacks. 🙂

  7. As an introvert, I’m not much attracted to the idea of book groups. There are interesting people around where I live, but I don’t go out and try to get them to discuss what they’re reading with me. The one name that comes to mind, though, is Lewis Hyde. I was in a book group with him once, years ago, and he’s very interesting.

    • The book group I go to is the only mass socialising I enjoy, despite being a huge introvert. I think it’s because we’re all focused on a book rather than each other. You could just have a cup of tea with Lewis and a chat – much less pressure and hassle!

  8. William F. Buckley for certain sure…and Charles Krauthammer, Both for their sharp intelligence and even sharper tongued wit. I like the idea of Jane Marple for all the reasons you give. And then there’s Judith Jones (thanks to her we have Julia Child, Jacques Pepin, Lidia Bastianich and on and on). George Burns for fun, and Gracie Allen for even more fun. And, of course, ME, because if anyone thinks I can pass up a fantasy book group with that crowd has another thing (or another think) coming.

  9. Christopher Hitchens-still not sure he was the real thing although I enjoyed his ready wit and seemingly universal interests. Lionel Trilling for his Old World smarts sublimated to his assumed WASP persona, not to mention his brilliant essays on literature. Also, Walter Benjamin: after unpacking those books, he might tell us what he learned. Elaine Showalter to ensure that feminist thinking was part of the discussion.

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