This was the first nonfiction book the book group had done, and it was interesting to see the two camps opinions were split into: those who related to the book and shared memories with the author, and those who had serious misgivings about sections, whilst loving other parts.*
The group also included those who knew the author’s prior work (as a music journalist, notably with NME, as a broadcaster with the BBC, etc), and those whose first introduction to his body of work was through this book. Those who knew his work agreed that his ‘voice’ came through in his writing. Those who didn’t still liked the way historical ‘fact’# was blended into personal narrative, peopled by memorable ‘characters’. Some of the histories that came up specifically were those of sport (especially football and rugby, working men’s clubs, and of course, given the title of the book, pies).+
There was a discussion about reactions aroused by Maconie’s summary summing up and dismissal of the ‘south’ of England, ironically, in a book which is arguing the opposite case for ‘the North’. Those who had spent entire lifetimes in the country were inclined to react with more humour: those with roots of shorter standing (and in the south) were a little less easy to please.
There was a lively discussion regarding where the north ‘actually’ starts, and of how the book’s mental map compares with a physical map. Interestingly, once past the border of the north of England into Scotland, the ‘soft south’ may be argued to have reappeared.
The next book for discussion will be: Grimm Tales for Young and Old by Philip Pullman
* The less than edifying comparison between Maconie’s depiction of ‘Charlie Chapati’ (and his subsequent seguing into a description of ethnic violence of the time), but his own virulent (name-dropping) response to his stereotyping by a taxi driver came up. That this may have been sheer thoughtlessness arising out of having been brought up in a specific cultural milieu rather malice or racism was a very interesting and useful point that was made.
+ Who are the target audience for this book? Some of the allusions seemed to be aimed at people with associations and memories of England in the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s. But for those unfamiliar with these intricacies, the book acts as a personalised guidebook, providing ideas for itineraries, following in the author’s footsteps.
# The Peterloo massacre, Ian Brady and the moor murders – pointed to as some of the most chilling and sobering moments.