I’ve been a member of Glasgow Women’s Library pretty much for as long as I’ve been in Glasgow. Over that nine and a half years, I’ve endured the most brain crushing boredom of being paradoxically unemployed whilst in a full-job; sobbed with the grief of a failed relationship and skipped through the butterfly tingles of a new one; wept at the difficulties of breast-feeding; had half a dozen different hair cuts/ hair colours/ glasses; delighted in the neighbourliness of our street; shed tears at the school gates on the first day of primary one and tried a plethora of different diet regimes but largely stayed the same size. In sum, I have lived my thirties as many women do – it’s been a decade of change. Possibly the one thing that has stayed constant over this time has been the Glasgow Women’s Library Book Group. Friends, addresses, priorities and ambitions have all morphed, but the last Thursday of each month predictably and solidly is our Book Group.
The Book Group and the 107 books I’ve read with it have intersected with my life in many ways since landing in Glasgow. Ten thoughts in particular keep occurring to me:
1. The First Meeting: I arrived in Glasgow in winter. I didn’t know a soul. Going along to the Book Club was part of my efforts to acclimatise. At this time the Library was housed in an old building along a very stinky alley off Argyle St. It was up several flights of stairs, or you could use the lift that had a manual metal grille for a door and which only worked if you had the knack. That evening maybe eight or so very cool, very sassy women sat on old couches around a wood burning stove and discussed Hotel World by Ali Smith. There was no pretension or intimidation – I loved it.
2. Attending a Creole Food Event at Parnie St: When I told my new relationship person that I had been ‘to a Creole food event at Glasgow Women’s Library’, he laughed kindly: ‘You really do some niche stuff’.
3. The Book that Upheld My Sanity: unbelievably, this gong goes to Assassin’s Quest: ‘first in a trilogy of fantasy novels dealing with Fitz, the bastard son of an heir who trains as an assassin‘. When else could this be such a perfect read except when nursing a two month old baby? I didn’t make it to this meeting but I did read the entire trilogy.
4. The Baby Sick on My Shoulder Moment: Like a moth from a chrysalis I remember the moment when I emerged from my baby bubble. Not only had I read that month’s book, I made it along to the meeting. We were discussing Jonathon Strange and Mr Norrell (the book is much, much better than the BBC production; that scene in York Minster still rumbles around in my brain). I was so utterly thrilled to be out of the house and having adult conversation, then I noticed the inevitable baby sick.
5. The Book I Most Hated: The Woman Who Went to Bed for A Year. You’d assume that the author who gave us Adrian Mole could do better, but this book was utter rubbish. At this meeting I spat vitriol.
6. Discovery of Ali Smith and Denise Mina: I’d like to think I’d have come across these Scottish authors without the help of GWL, but I’m glad it wasn’t left to chance. The End of the Wasp Season is one of my favourite books; Mina totally nails Glasgow. How to be Both is a book written to be talked about with people smarter than you. Which is what I did.
7. The Book with the Most Descriptions about Bodily Fluids: Wetlands by Charlotte Roche. You’ve got to read it to believe it.
8. The Book that I Learnt the Most From: We read Behind the Beautiful Forevers just before the Commonwealth Games last summer. Amongst the details of poverty and corruption in Mumbai, it had only a fleeting reference to the endemic bribery surrounding the Indian Commonwealth Games, but it made me think more than once about the parallels to poverty in our ‘flourishing’ city.
9. The Book that I Can Barely Utter the Name of: Unlike Wolf Hall which I’m smug about having read, but would never ever read again, A Girl is a Half Formed Thing is the only book I wish I’d never read. I’m pleased that someone published it and that many people have read it. I just wish I wasn’t one of them.
10. The Tea; the Cake: Fair trade, organic tea that empowers you as you drink it; cake that comforts and mulled wine at Christmas. Along with smart, witty, sometimes awkward, sometimes gregarious, proudly feminist women, GWL’s book group has been a friend for a decade. Thank you.