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Behind the ‘gram

This week, we interviewed book blogger Emily Park.

By Bekki Ramsay

You started ‘The Avid Readers Book Club’ at the beginning of the lockdown. Why did you start the book club? And how are you finding it running an online book club?

Over the last couple of years, I’d started posting about my favourite reads on my personal Instagram, but it was starting to become really obvious that half the people following me were only there for the books, and the other half really couldn’t care less about them. For at least six months, I’d been thinking about making a completely separate ‘bookstagram’ account where I could just focus on that kind of content, but I’d never gotten around to it.

When lockdown hit, I missed talking to people about the books I was reading. I also noticed that friends and family who had barely picked up a book in their lives were starting to read because they didn’t have anything better to do. And, since I had little else to do on evenings and weekends, I figured there would never be a better time to go for it. Almost 600 people have joined us on Instagram so far, and I’ve just launched The Avid Readers Book Club website!

I’m having a really lovely time running the book club, and I’ve already made some great friends through it. Every month, I pick two books — one fiction, one non-fiction — and then set a date and time to discuss them over in our Facebook group. We have some regulars, and we also see a few different people at each chat. I read 70 books last year, and am on track to read 80 in 2020, which often means I’m just jumping from book to book, and maybe leaving a quick review with a score out of five. But hosting one of our book club chats is a really lovely way to spend a Sunday evening, and I like that it actually makes me think a lot more deeply about the books I read. 

Now let’s go back to the beginning – what were your reading habits as a kid? For example, what is the first book you ever remember reading? Did you have any favourite authors? And did you read as much as you do now?

I don’t actually remember reading that many books as a kid, but I did love newspapers and magazines, and I’d read any that I could get my hands on. My auntie used to collect all of the trashy mags like Chat and Take A Break so my grandad could do the crosswords. Then, when I went to stay on a weekend, I’d read them all cover to cover. 

You really live up to the expectation of being an ‘avid reader’ yourself after managing to read 70 books last year! So, with that, I ask you – do you have any tips for those who would like to read more?

I really fell out of love with reading when I was at university studying ‘Magazine Journalism’ because I would do so much research for my essays that the last thing, I wanted to do was to pick up a book in my free time. And it was only a couple of years after graduating that I managed to get back into it. My main tip is to build time for reading into your routine. This is something I’ve actually had to think a lot about in lockdown, because my bus rides to work used to be my designated reading time, but they’re obviously on hold for now. Instead, I’ll typically read during my dinner break, in the hour after I finish work, and before I fall asleep. I’ve also been known to run a bath for the sole purpose of forcing myself to make some progress on a book I might be struggling with.

I also like to set myself quite an ambitious goal on Goodreads, because it tells you when you’re falling behind. There’s nothing like a scolding from my app to make me finish that novel I’ve been avoiding. 

What are the top five books you have read in the past year, and why?

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid – I read this in a day when I was on holiday, and I recommend it to everyone. Taylor Jenkins Reid is such a clever author, and all of the stories she writes have a really interesting twist, but I think this is her best work. 

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo – I think everyone’s heard of last year’s Booker Prize winner at this point, but it’s an absolutely exceptional book. I was lucky enough to see Bernardine talk at last year’s Words Weekend at the Sage Gateshead, and she’s such an interesting person, too. This book tells the story of 12 Black women and non-binary people, whose lives all intersect in some way. It really is a masterpiece. 

Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado-Perez – It took me months to finally finish Invisible Women because there were so many facts and figures to take in, but it was so worth persevering. It looks at a lot of the ways in which the world we live in is actually built for men as standard. Everything from the way they test drive cars to how snow is cleared off our paths and roads is affected by the fact that men are often seen as the default. This book is fascinating and infuriating in equal measure. Certainly, not a light read, but it’s a worthwhile one. 

Know My Name by Chanel Miller – *CW: sexual assault & rape* Chanel Miller’s memoir, Know My Name, tells the story of how she spent years as the nameless rape victim of Brock Turner, who was ultimately given an inadequate prison sentence of just six months (of which he only served half) for his crime. It’s such a brutally honest, heartbreaking, and important read. 

Difficult Women: A History of Feminism in 11 Fights by Helen Lewis – I’ve read a lot of books on feminism and forgotten women from history, but this one is different in that it doesn’t shy away from the fact that most heroines are also pretty problematic. It tells the whole stories of the women we need to remember from history, and I learned so much from it. I think it’s a book I’ll reread for years to come.

That’s such a good mix of books! Which brings me onto a question about mixed opinions. Controversially, what is one book that everyone seems to love but you didn’t get the hype about? For me, it’s Sally Rooney’s Normal People. I hated the book but loved the TV show.

I rarely enjoy a classic and, as much as a lot of people adore it, I’ve never been able to get into The Great Gatsby. There’s also at least one book on every prize shortlist that I don’t really get the hype about. I still don’t really understand why John Lancaster’s The Wall was so widely celebrated last year, for instance.

I know this would surprise some people, but I also didn’t love The Handmaid’s Tale, although I am a huge fan of Margaret Atwood as a person – I also really enjoyed The Testaments. 

And finally – where are your favourite places to buy books in the North East?

My two favourite shops are Forum Books in Corbridge and Barter Books in Alnwick. The former has a great collection of brand-new books, including a “blind date” section where you can pick out your next read from a tiny description, without seeing the cover. And Barter Books is the best place to go for second-hand books. I’ve picked up so many gems there, and you can often trade your old books in for credit!

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