Hide the Sauvignon, "forget" to invite your loudmouth friend and don't, whatever you do, mention Middlemarch. These are the golden rules to abide by if you want to run a successful book club. According to a post on the Middle Class Handbook blog this week, one should also scorn novels that are readily available on DVD (too easy to cheat) and avoid over-ambitious theming – cooking Jamie Oliver's rabbit ragù for When God was a Rabbit night, holding your meeting in a locked cellar when it's Room week, that sort of thing, one imagines.
"Book clubs are fragile entities. It's easy to kill them," advises the blog. The first killer is too much wine – everyone gets maudlin, competes over how much they wept at the end of The Kite Runner and wakes up with an unedifying mid-week headache and a vague suspicion they may have been a bit much the night before.
Far more dangerous than that is the Book Club Bore, whose overbearing presence can unbalance an already perilously competitive social occasion. There is always one show-off who studied some literary theory once, has "read around" the topic and sees Marxist allegory in every other line of Nigel Slater's Toast. Sometimes, it's good to let your friends' hidden depths remain hidden.
The final piece of advice runs: "Attempt anything pre-1900 and over 450 pages and your book club will shrivel up and die." Of course, it will – because book clubs aren't about books at all. They are social occasions and there is nothing wrong with that, except that they are not about socialising either. They are socialising with homework attached, strictly delineated conversation topics, and a mild air of intellectual one-upmanship. Truly, there is no fun like organised fun.
Here's another piece of advice about book clubs: don't join one. It's not a matter of being snobbish or unsociable. I formed a film club with friends once – we'd watch a classic movie together and discuss it afterwards. Of course, we never did discuss it but it was good fun and at least watching a film is a communal activity. Books are a private matter, an opportunity to retreat from the chatter of modern life and take refuge in one's imagination. A compulsory splurging of thoughts afterwards is a cruel wrench, and, at worst, a terrifying reminder of school or university and of that frantic rooting around for something, anything, to say about the book in one's lap, even when there is nothing original left to add.
Should I feel the need to share my theories on Alan Hollinghurst's sentence structure or to discover my friend's view on the significance of the goat in Captain Corelli's Mandolin, I'll start a conversation. In the meantime, life is too short to read what someone else orders you to – I'm still getting over the four days I lost to The Time Traveler's Wife.
The architect left off the guest list
If you build it, they will come. Unless you are Zaha Hadid and it is a ticket to the Olympics, that is. The architect, whose elegant white wave of an Aquatics Centre is the highlight of the Olympic Park, claims she hasn't been invited to a single event – not even a paltry qualifying round of the synchronised swimming duets. "Which I think is just rude," she says. "When you've designed a building like this, you want to see how it's used." It's not an unreasonable request. Perhaps those in charge of the budget felt that, having already splashed out £269m on the giant swimming pool, they couldn't also stretch to a couple of freebies. For her sake, I hope that Hadid has kept the blueprints safe and manages to sneak into the Men's 100m Freestyle, perhaps through one of her own beautifully designed fire escapes.
Unmask yourself, Banksy – it's time
Banksy's back. Probably. A piece of graffiti thought to be by the anonymous artist appeared on the side of a Poundland store in Haringey, north London this week. The king of street art, rather like Prince Philip, wheels himself out only for the big occasions these days, to ensure maximum exposure/embarrassment. This time, he has come up with a charming vignette of a child bent over in a sweatshop sewing patriotic bunting. Happy Diamond Jubilee!
Sadly, I can no longer look at Banksy's rebel-rousing stencils in the same way. Not since watching Cardinal Burns, a hilarious new sketch duo on E4.
Their spoof documentary sketch reveals the faceless street artist to be a mild-mannered, middle-aged Brummie in an anorak and a Groucho Marx fake nose-and-tache who drives a Ford Focus, takes his troublesome teen stepson on his dawn missions ("Would you like to come with daddy to do one of his street pictures?") and is terrified of the police. It's so good, I found myself hoping that it was true. Such are the perils of anonymity. Banksy, wherever you are, it's time to unmask yourself – before your mystique is gone for good.Reuse content