The Classic Book Club - next meeting January 16th 2013.

Damon Runyon

Damon Runyon - short stories (“ I long ago came to the conclusion that all life is 6 to 5 against.”) His inventive & humourous short stories celebrate the low life of New Yorkers ;gamblers, hustlers, actors ! and gangsters, (“Liver lips Louie”, "The Seldom Seen Kid." etc) in the Prohibition era creating the adjective "Runyonesque" . His distinctive vernacular style is known as "Runyonese" , a mixture of over formal ( for a good self image ?) speech and colorful slang…...….hilarious ! . “Guys & Dolls” short stories by Damon Runyon is published by Penguin at £11.95; you can order it from Hatchards or Waterstones - both in Piccadilly, W1. (but you could probably get much cheaper second hand copies from on or Amazon online)


Meetings are held currently at the Long Bar in the main foyer of the National Theatre on the South Bank at 7.30 pm. It's a big bar, but we are generally in the vicinity of the door to the Lyttelton Theatre cloakrooms. ( £2 donation for meetup fees)

Nearby tube stations are Waterloo, Embankment and Covent Garden


" Nice friendly group & we liked the choice of books ...varied but quality"


"Nice friendly group & we liked the choice of books ...varied but quality" 


Current host Frances Quesnel: “ For books are not absolutely dead things, but do contain a potency of life…..;  they do preserve that living intellect  that bred them. As good almost kill a man as kill a good book.  From John  Milton's ” Areopagitica “ 1644.

On the whole, we believe choosing lesser known or forgotten Classics & current quality fiction  would be of most interest to attenders. We steer clear of hyped up best sellers & “airport” books, though we are certainly not averse to quality humour & entertainment. We will always choose books that are currently available in paperback or can be bought 2nd hand on Amazon.

Selection of some Books Already Read since 2008.

Guy de Maupassant - short stories He was a popular 19th-century French writer, considered one of the fathers of the modern short story and one of the form's finest exponents characterized by their economy of style & mixture gentle humour & tragedy . Several describe the futility of war and the innocent civilians who, caught in the conflict. From the Penguin Classics (A Parisian Affair & other stories) we could read to discuss “Two friends” ,“The Necklace” , “ Lull-a-bye” & the famous “Boule de Suif” & any more you fancy !

marvelously readable "Anna Karenina" by Leo Tolstoy Widely regarded as a pinnacle in realist fiction; Dostoevsky declared it to be "flawless as a work of art", William Faulkner wrote "the best ever written"& Nabokov admired "the flawless magic of Tolstoy's style" . Demonstrated by a recent poll published in 2007 by J. Peder Zane it was declared the "greatest novel ever written". Not just a tragic love story but a ground breaking & intimate study of human behavior , hypocrisy, marriage, carnal desire, class, education reform, women's rights & progress ; in fact a vast panorama of Russian life written in great breadth and depth

" Essais" by Michel de Montaigne ( pub1580 ) A skeptical & refreshinly honest study of human behaviour & motives. Highly influential in it's day & still so; ie acknowledged by Shakespeare, Byron, Nietzsche & even Will Self . His  famous motto, "What do I know?" As there are so many essays we could initially look at his best loved "On idleness " "On solitude" "The art of conversation" " To philosophise is to learn  how to die"

“The Sheltering Sky” by Paul Bowles (1949)The best known  of Bowles' novels ; an unpredictable  book with  a strange , haunting atmosphere ; full of existential  conversations & concerns . An estranged American couple  carelessly explore  a seductive, wild  north African landscape which eventually completely overwhelms them both in different terrifying ways. A classic work that questions  personal identity & how we live in the world.

“Don Juan”by Lord Byron (1818 – 1823) a semi auto-biographical , wonderfully witty  & often hilarious  "Epic Satire" based on the Don Juan legend . Considered Byron's masterpiece , 5 years in the writing ,it was criticized for its 'immoral content', though it was also immensely popular. Our  innocent, noble , handsome hero  is seduced at just 16 years old & experiences farcical adultery , a terrifyingly realistic shipwreck, slavery, cannibalism, piracy,  cross dressing , fox hunting , London street robbers  & of course many love affairs ( the women usually run after him) while travelling through Europe the Orient & England. Byron  also indulges in some naughty  & often scathing barbs at some of  his  contemporaries (Wordsworth, Coleridge, Southey & various politicians ) 

" Ulysses" by James Joyce  THIS IS A BIG BOOK BUT YOU HAVE 3 MONTHS TO READ IT !, pub 1922 .One of the most important works of Twentieth Century  Literature  has been  called "a summation of the entire Modernist movement". However , Joyce wrote it for  “ordinary people” & wanted to include everything about life including graphic sexual episodes & bawdy humour  so it was banned in the U K until the 1930s . Ironically , it was taken up by the Bloomsbury intelligentsia against which it was in fact in open revolt. . It has much to teach us about the Art of Everyday Living - advice on how to cope with grief, death,  sexual desire; how to tell a joke and how not to tell a joke.. The title alludes to the  Latin name for Odysseusof Homer’s great epic poem “The Odyssey” , with parallels between it’s characters and events in Joyce’s contemporary  Dublin. To get background you can search “James Joyce” & “Ulysses” on Wikipedia. Also “Ulysses and Us” by Declan Kiberd , pub 2009 is a lively & helpful  companion to the work

“The Corrections ” by Jonathan Franzen (2001)  His first novel & winner of 2001's National Book Award, Intense ,supremely intelligent & comic ; a big,modern book about a dysfunctional American family  , commerce , education, crime & much more

“The Rainbow” by DH Lawrence (1915)
groundbreaking & ambitious in its day, it was  banned for 11 years ….. radical stuff. It is the first of 3 books about about three generations of the Brangwen family, particularly focusing on the sexual dynamics. The style can be quite intense & succeeds in getting right into the characters powerful & often quirky emotions

Last Exit to Brooklyn by Hubert Selby, Jr (1964) A stunning  & controversial low life classic written in a unique &  unusual jazz influenced street style    

“ The Lady with the Little Dog”  & other short stories by Anton Chekhov, 1896-1904 (Penguin Classics - Paperback) One of his finest stories;beautifully written, intimately observed description of a doomed love affair.

"The Dharma Bums" by Jack Kerouac (1958 ). Following the enormous success of his first Beat generation novel "On the Road " this deals with  Kerouac's  introduction to Buddhism,the duality in his life and ideals, his love of the outdoors, mountaineering & hitchhiking through the West & the "city life" of jazz clubs, poetry readings, and drunken parties

“The Old Man & the Sea” by Ernest Hemingway    (1952)
A short novella that can be read in appx 2 hours….one of his latest, most moving & finest works

 “Moby Dick” by Herman Melville (1851). Considered, by many, to be the greatest  American Novel . An epic & symbolic  work , still strange with an unusual, almost post modern structure; poetic then chatty then scientific in style & some unexpected sly humour. Numerous themes include Providence, obsession, history, philosophy , commerce & , of course, whales & whaling.

“The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea”  by Yukio Mishima  (1952)
“a genuinely perverse book, and worth reading because of the insight it gives into a mindset that is alien to most of us”……“This is Mishima working at the height of his abilities, doing what he always did best: combining believable psychology with an electrifying vision of glory, power and death”

 “Less Than Zero” by Bret Easton Ellis’s first novel (1985); a tale of disaffected, rich 80’s teenagers in  Los Angeles & their descent into the netherworld of the L.A. drug scene & amoral party culture. The ending is quite shocking but in a way inevitable. It is a short novel , written in a flat, almost psychopathic style  which cleverly reflects the emotional alienation of Clay, the main protagonist, who is losing faith in his friends, relationships & his materialistic parents

“Hamlet” by William Shakespeare. The world’s most famous play with action, intrigue, beauty, horror, jokes, philosophy & tons of quotes.

“My Gun Is Quick” by Mickey Spillane (1950)  Master of "hard boiled"  private detective genre .In the Mike Hammer series  which became a world-wide phenomenon,   Spillane created a dark counterpart to the knightly Philip Marlowe. Earthy, gritty low-life fantasies with rough-hewn poetry. Tense, terse, erotic writing : a great read. “Hemingway hated me. I sold 200 million books, and he didn't.”  “I’m the most translated writer in the world, behind Lenin, Tolstoy  & Jules Verne. And they're all dead”. Funny, clever , sexy ; an insight into  the imagination of  the 1950’s. Total escapist reading but  very well written & a great diabolic ending

 "Hangover Square" by Patrick Hamilton (1941) Fitzrovia novelist & playwrite ( he also wrote "Rope") . Set in the seamy demi-monde of Earl's Court between the wars. A strange, doomed atmosphere haunts the book which is also a reflection on the worlds of innocence, decadence & madness

“The Wide Sargasso Sea”  by Jean Rhys (1966)
Her most successful novel acts as a prequel to Charlotte Bronte's famous 1847 work Jane Eyre .. Caught in an oppressive patriarchal society in which she belongs neither to the white Europeans nor the black Jamaicans . , Rhys' novel re-imagines Brontë's devilish madwoman in the attic. The novel deals largely with the themes of racial inequality and the harshness of displacement and assimilation.

"Juilian McClaren -Ross" short stories of the 1940's & 50's. " Immediate, casual ,slangy, laconic, exhilaratingly, hilarious , nfluential , sleazy, effortlessly funny, touch of genius.".......some of the praise heaped on his work by other major writers ( Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh etc)

“The Sorrows of young Werther ”. By Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1774) A seminal & highly influential work of Romantic literature. A philosophical novella about the universal dilemma of reconciling thought & feeling & our earthly existence with our more spiritual & artistic aspirations ( themes also evident in his epic drama “Faust”) Goethe was a giant  among  European  Enlightenment thinkers                   ( playwright, poet, scientist, occultist, statesman) also among a very few who were aware of ideas from the East. He influenced Beethoven, Byron, Balzac, Flaubert, to name a few.

“The Swimming Pool Library” by AlanHollinghurst (1988) “A darkly erotic work; this first novel is a tour de force…deserves first prize in every category… superbly written, wildly funny”…..”surely the best book about gay life yet written by an English author “ Edmund White 

"Les Liaisons Dangereuses" by Choderlos de Laclos. Terrific , written in letters , very sophistocated, wicked , definitely a page turner

 Further suggestions  
CLASSICS   Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne ( the first surreal , almost dada ,text) / short stories Katherine Mansfield /  Edith Wharton / Conrad/ Gogol / Goncharov/ “Rights of Man” Thomas Paine (essay)/ Confessions of a Justified Sinner by James Hogg

20th CENTURY MODERN CLASSICS    We could look again at most of Nabokov / Norman Mailer’s “Naked & the Dead” (1948), the war novel that made him famous / anything by Gharles Bukowski – a true beatnick , HP Lovecraft’s weird tales of horror are a one off & very well written / the hilarious & clever anti -war novel “The Good Soldier Schweik” by Jaroslav Hasek / anything by Flann O'Brien.(just one of his pseudonyms) - surreal,very Irish humour /  Albert Camus / Jack London / ”Brighton rock” by Graham Greene ( the book that made him & a real page turner)/ William Saroyan – short stories / “South Wind” by Norman Douglas-an atmospheric expat’s landscape  / “Under the Volcano” by Malcolm Lowry- the ultimate alcoholic’s demise /”The Jungle” & other works by Upton Sinclair / Marguerite Duras, Francoise Sagan & Alain Robbe-Grillet…..…20th Century angst. Simone de Beauvoir: The Second Sex,The Mandarins, Witold Gombrowicz: Ferdyduke., Agatha Christie ( some of her early work  have great psychological depth “The Hollow” etc ;, Elizabeth Taylor ( a novelist’s novelist – often compared Taylor to Jane Austen & highly recommended by  Kingsley Amis amongst others)Masters of slang:-  The Gilt Kid”by James Curtis , “The Crust On Its Uppers by Robin Cook”,  Colin MacInnes”Absolute Begginners” “Revolt into style” Gerge Melly

CONTEMPORARY MODERN FICTION    “ The Secret History” by Donna Tartt,an atmospheric, clever psychological study of young minds / “London Fields” by Martin Amis - some very memorable, wickedly funny & quite Dickensian moments / Michel Houlebeque…controversially honest & mesmerising. Most of David Lodge - depth & lighteness.

OTHER POSSIBILITIES   Poetry, Comic writing ( PG Woodehouse, Damon Runyon ) History, Essays (Dr Johnson, Norman Mailer, Montaigne ), Practical Philosophy ( Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus, FriedrichNietzsche, Camus) Quality Crime: James Elroy, Elmore Leonard ,

BIG  HOLIDAY BOOKS (We have a 2 month Summer break ; ie you have 3 months to read one of these & at Xmas a 1 month break ie 2 months for reading ) i.e.  .Middlemarch ( George Eliot ) , ” The man without qualities” by Robert Musil, a 3 volume ! masterpiece 


What people have said about our Book Clubs :

“From what I’ve seen the choices of the books aren’t "richard and judy" so it suits me ! Some witty people attended as well, which is always a treat ! ”  Andrea  (Oct 2011)

I like the choice of books; classy, often quirky and always with literary merit….. Frank (March 2008)
The Rainbow “ Quite random discussion , with conversation ranging from the book, to a wide range of

other topics, but lots of fun ”…….. Ray ( Nov ’08)

Confederancy of Dunces :

“ I really enjoyed the book and it was fun to dissect it, and find out what other people thought…… Vron                    ( Dec 2008)

Moby Dick
very interesting discussion as it is such a complex book. Not many people finished it as it was quite long but that didn't seem to matter…  Jamie ( Sept 2009)

“ We all got a lot out of this quite strange book . People seem to like a challenge which Moby Dick certainly is ; a rewarding effort though , & amazing images stay with you ”…. Frank ( Sept 2009)

The Dharma Bums  very lively discussion encompassing social history, philosophy & "what is literature?" Attenders from the US , Denmark & Australia………. Andrea (Oct 2009)


Hangover Square unusual book .........covered many themes . Even though quite fatalistic had a dark humour. We all had a lot to say; a good evening & very nice people!......... Jamie (March 2010)
Hamlet “ we all had contributions to offer about this amazing play - it sparks off a lot of other ideas too - what can you say ?...take a lifetime …….. Nils
Julian McClarren Ross   small group, but we ended up having a lovely natter about absolutely everything………. (April 2010)
Sorrows of Young Werther    strange book. Interesting in historical context & it's influence, but rather flat style  ………..Sean (May 2010)
Swimming Pool Library….liked the book very much . a very personal but universal "history" of the male gay mindset & experiences ……..Frank (June 2010) . 

 My Gun Is Quick The master of cliché…..but he invented them !  Hilarious.You could see it coming , but still very well written . All the tarts have hearts but die & underneath his butch vigilante exterior Hammer is a softie. Total escapist reading but well written. . ( Oct 2010)

Group Hosts

Frances Quesnel  is an artist & artistic director of the London Community Network who set up this club

Nana O Ayim,  is a writer of fiction and cultural history. She has given readings and published at the Poetry Café, , the Statesman, the Dubliner, Revue Noire etc. Her short story ‘The Tightrope Walker’ is currently being made into a film. She has just completed a book on literature for which she received an AHRC Award and is working on her first novel. She studied Russian Literature at Bristol University  and undertook post-graduate research in African Literature at SOAS

Nils Edelman an artist / DJ & aspiring playwright   

 Tim Lewis  ex civil servant & aspiring  playwright                                                          

Ray Guzman – abroad at the moment


Please click here to submit an enquiry about the Salon Book Club & we will forward on full directions with map etc