Telegraph Book Club: Reading Matter
This fortnight we have a double helping of Literary City. Sheffield's literary scene now covers almost every genre, and we hear from Meze Publishing, Kelham Island's very own cook book press, on what it means to them to be based in Sheffield.
And as the festive season approaches, we might consider buying the latest bestseller for our nearest and dearest. But what about those who may not receive a book at Christmas? The Book Flood that aims to buy books for children in Sheffield, and you can help.
As always, I’d love to hear your reader reviews or problems to solve with a book. Get in touch on [email protected] or contact me on twitter @AnnaCaig
Read of the fortnight - Gut Symmetries by Jeanette Winterson
“If we ask whether the position of the electron remains the same we must say no. If we ask whether the electron’s position changes with time, we must say no. If we ask whether the electron is at rest we must say no. If we ask whether it is in motion we must say no.” This quote from the physicist Robert Oppenheimer is a central motif of Gut Symmetries, this 1997 novel by Jeanette Winterson. This is a book that explores the fabric of the universe. Literally. But despite being set in a world of shifting, contradictory theoretical physics, it is a surprisingly conventional story of three people and their intertwined lives.
Jove, an older man, has an affair with a younger woman, Alice. So far, so familiar ground. The twist ostensibly comes when Alice meets Jove’s wife, Stella, and two women fall in love. (Don’t worry, this is revealed early on).
I love Stella in particular, a flame-haired poet with a diamond at the base of her spine. And to be honest I was willing the two women to ride off into the sunset and leave Jove, who is horribly self-absorbed and petty, in their dust from about halfway through the book.
He is frustrated with Stella’s love of art over science; what he describes as her “failure to recognise the primacy of fact.”
The gut of the title refers to the search by physicists for a Grand Unified Theory, and at its heart this is a book that explores the difficulties inherent in unifying anything, particularly people. Winterson’s style of writing is unconventional, but always with purpose. She writes to destabilise our assumptions, and then places her stories in a world where we question everything. She treads the line between a challenging writing style, and a heartfelt depiction of the realities of the human condition, beautifully.
Or maybe it’s not a line at all; maybe the reason her characters and their relationships get us right in the gut is precisely because she makes us vulnerable by pulling the rug of familiar writing conventions out from under us, and then hits us with the sucker punch of real people living real lives. The final sections are superb; scenes of real gothic where reality and the imagined are blurred to brilliant effect. I, for one, enjoy failing to recognise the primacy of fact. Especially when I’m reading a book this good.
LITERARY CITY: THE SHEFFIELD CONNECTION
From The Jolly Postman to How The Grinch Stole Christmas, from Stick Man to The Box Of Delights, the lucky ones among us have magical memories of reading to ourselves, or with our families, at Christmas.
We know that the right book at the right time can make all the difference to a child’s life.
The Sheffield Book Flood is a project that has been launched for Christmas 2017, with the aim of giving books as gifts to children in the city who would not otherwise receive one.
The Sheffield Book Flood is working with the S2 Foodbank and Baby Basics, a charity that provides second hand baby equipment to families in need.
Co-Founder of the Sheffield Book Flood, Sioned Mair-Richards, says: “The idea of the Sheffield Book Flood comes from the Icelandic tradition of giving everyone a book on Christmas Eve.
“We want every child in Sheffield to have a book at Christmas. We’ve already had a lot of support, with our first target of £500 being reached in a matter of days.”
The project has some high profile supporters, including David Blunkett, Lord Blunkett of Brightside and Hillsborough, who says: “Books are great, They are a window into so many other worlds. Borrowing from the library is fun, but having your own book to keep. That’s special.”
There is still time to get involved and help out.
You can donate a new, unwrapped book by taking it to the Central Library or your local library, where there will be collection boxes until 4 December.
You can also take books to the Ora gift shop on Sharrow Vale Road. Or you can make a donation online at
https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/sheffield-book-flood and the Book Flood team will choose books with the money raised.
Sioned says: “It is impossible to measure the outcome of giving a book, but the objectives behind the project are to spread kindness, and happiness, and to hopefully make a contribution, however small and immeasurable, to improving literacy rates.
“Initially we are working with the S2 Foodbank, whose customers have been referred by statutory agencies and voluntary organisations, and the charity Baby Basics.
“But we will identify additional charities to work with if we get more books than they can use.
“We are a small team of book lovers, supported by local author Beverley Ward, and Hannah Peck from Baby Basics UK, who have agreed to audit finances and ensure the funds are used appropriately.
“We are starting small this year, but we hope the project will grow year on year to provide books for children across the city at Christmas.”
To contact the Book Flood team email [email protected] or contact via twitter @bookflooding or facebook @SheffieldBookFlood
Meze Publishers are a small, independent press based in Kelham Island specialising in cook books.
They produce the Sheffield Cookbook, the Henderson’s Relish Cookbook, and now have over 28 editions with recipes from all over the UK.
Phil Turner, the managing director of Meze, says: “What I like about Sheffield is that, broadly speaking, it’s very supportive of small, independent, new, interesting, innovative things - it’s not snobby.
“I first came to Sheffield in 2003, and in some senses, when you looked at the nightlife, bars and restaurants, it was like a poor man’s Leeds. But now it has an identity of its own.
“The stuff that’s cool here is very much Sheffield-y, it’s not a copy of something else. We all have our own vision. That’s the stuff that I like and that I’m interested in.
“We aren’t copying other pla
ces for the sake of it.
“Our first Sheffield cook book is our most successful book, and the second edition is not far behind.
“Bristol, Manchester and Liverpool were also popular, and that’s because their community has a similar vibe and mentality to Sheffield.
“We find it easier to sell copies of books in Sheffield than anywhere else.
“Is that partly because we’re based here? Probably.
“But it’s also because people from Sheffield love Sheffield.”
Meze Publishing cook books are available in local book shops including Waterstones, as well as online on Amazon.
n To see a recipe from the latest Sheffield Cookbook, turn to page 38 of our food section.