I spent about 25 years living in Bristol. I went to university there, and after spending a couple of years after graduation working in London – at Waterstones on Charing Cross Road, where my bookselling career began! – I went back to Bristol in 1990 to work in bookshops and libraries, staying there until I moved back to Kenilworth, where I grew up, in 2009. I am not a city girl; I loved Bristol, it’s an amazing city, but in the end I knew I wanted to come back to Warwickshire, back to a small town, and the lure of Abbey Fields and the Castle proved too much. I miss Bristol, especially its bohemian, creative side, but I love rural Warwickshire and living in a place where everything I need is right outside my door.
The reason I’m telling you about Bristol is because while I was living there, they launched the Great Reading Adventure, as part of their bid to be European Capital of Culture, and it was great. The idea was to get everyone reading the same book: in that first year, we read Treasure Island.
I would love Kenilworth to do something like this, and a while back I tried to launch a similar scheme here. One of the things I struggle with is keeping a lot of plates spinning at the same time, and after an enthusiastic initial response, I failed to follow it up properly, and time has gone on. But summer seems a good time to boost the initiative.
The book I have chosen is My Name Is Leon by Kit de Waal. I chose it for a number of reasons. Kit is local – she grew up in Birmingham and now lives in Leamington (and some of you may have heard her speak at Kenilworth Arts Festival last year – she will be back at this year’s Festival too). It’s a book that can be read by teenagers as well as adults, giving a wide scope. And it’s a book with a lot to think about and discuss. It’s also a wonderful story, written with warmth and humanity. It has an easy, readable style, but it makes you think and it makes you feel.
Leon is an 8 year old boy at the start of the book. His mother has just given birth to his baby brother; the baby has a different father from Leon. Their mother is white, the baby’s father is white, Leon’s father is black, both fathers are absent. Leon loves his baby brother; he loves his mother too. But she struggles to cope, and the book is the story of what happens to Leon when crisis point is reached. You will love Leon; his story will both break your heart and warm it. It’s several months since I finished reading it, and I still think about him often.
So: why not join in our Kenilworth Reads adventure? You can buy the book from Kenilworth Books, or borrow it from the library. I will soon have a sheet that you can pick up at the bookshop or that I can email to you with questions and discussion points. I will create an online forum, and there is a Facebook group already for those on Facebook. If you’re in a book club, why not read it as a group? And we will have some face to face meetings at the bookshop.
I have plans for a Christmas read too, a book that will also appeal to a wide age range, and I will also include a book for younger children at Christmas.
I will post more soon, and let you know when the discussion sheet is ready and an online discussion space sorted. There will be a page on this website dedicated to it as well – you will be able to post comments there, maybe even just let us know you are joining in.
It would be great to get this off the ground and make it an annual event. I hope lots of Kenilworth people will join us!