Comrades, fellow-readers, brothers and sisters.
Owing to the ongoing world situation and following a discussion here that you may or may not have seen, it is my duty to tell you that there has been a temporary suspension of democracy on the Reading Group. For the next month, your unelected representative, which is to say, I, will be choosing what we read – and what we read shall be Lawrence Durrell's Alexandria Quartet.
The reasons for this are fivefold:
• First, February saw the centenary of Lawrence Durrell's birth and since Dickens got in the way then, March seemed the best time to celebrate.
• Second, because of the centenary, there have been all sorts of interesting releases relating to Durrell, including a new edition of the Quartet with an introduction by Jan Morris, a Lawrence Durrell spoken-word CD from the British Library, and Joanna Hodgkin's excellent Amateurs In Eden, a recounting the history of the author's first marriage. Oh, and there's even an opera on the way later in the year.
• Third, there are some fascinating exhibitions and events relating to the author taking place in the summer, and now seems like a good time to get primed for those.
• Fourth, Faber and Faber have kindly donated a mighty 20 copies of the book for us to give away. If you want one, please shout out below the line. The first 20 to ask will get.
• Fifth, Durrell is a wonderful writer who is currently underrated and should be read by far more people.
That last point is the most important – and possibly also the most contentious. During the month ahead I'll be hoping to make the case for Durrell's excellence – or at the very least, having a good debate with those that disagree. I hope you'll join me.
One quick warning: the Quartet is not short. But don't be put off. As the title suggests, it's split into four chunks and we'll go through them at an easy pace – possibly even forgoing the final volumes if time seems to be against us, although I'm willing to wager that once we get going, we'll be eager to continue. One of the best things about this series is the way each book reflects upon the other … but that's a discussion for the month ahead.
In the meantime, I also want to reassure you that Reading Group democracy is not dead. In April it shall return with a bang, and a theme (yet to be revealed) specially chosen for the cruellest month.
Furthermore, since we shan't be voting on a book this time around I thought this would be an excellent opportunity to take stock of the Reading Group so far and have a discussion about what you'd like to see in the future. So, what do you think? What else would you like to see on these pages, both in terms of content and theme? Do you want more author interviews, for instance? And do you have suggestions for ways we can make it even more interactive? Also, are there any themes and authors you'd like us to cover over the coming months? And what sort of hat should I pull the nominations out of? Over to you.
(Oh yes, one more thing. In case you haven't already heard it, here's the Guardian books podcast about Durrell's centenary. Hope it whets your appetite.)
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