Use the navigation links to discover what we are reading now, what we have read and what we plan to read.

This is the website of the Books on the Broad reading group which meets in the centre of the city of Oxford, on the first Monday of each month. 

We first met in January 2005 at Blackwell Bookshop on Broad Street, in a room overlooking the Old Bodleian library, an ideal place for broadening our bookish horizons.

In 2007, we won the then Penguin-Orange Broadband Prize for Readers’ Groups for the originality, energy and breadth of our approach to reading, which remains unaltered. 

A few of us write as well as read and you will find on this site some of our book reviews. You will also find lists of the books we have read and the books we plan to read.  

We read (mainly) serious fiction across the genres, including literature in translation, but we also keep an eye on the latest bestsellers. Occasionally, we invite a published author to come and discuss their work with us. 

We are open to anyone who enjoys reading, thinking and talking about books. We now meet in the Library at the Friends' Meeting House on St. Giles, usually on the first Monday of each month. Contact us for details.

Latest book reviews:

A Complex Fate: The Life and Art of Henry James

With special reference to Washington Square, the Portrait of a Lady and The Golden Bowl

by Kate Wilson

Click here

  Henry James

Nymphs, Nenuphars and Naomi Alderman's The Power when is feminism on the wrong side of history?

A review by Kate Wilson

On the 29 January 2018, the pre-Raphaelite painting of Hylas and the Nymphs by John William Waterhouse (1896) was removed from public view by its custodians, Manchester Art Gallery. more

Hylas and the Nymphs by John William Waterhouse

Up the garden path

A review by Kate Wilson of Graham Swifts's Mothering Sunday

This artful, short piece of metafiction has won Graham Swift the 2017 Hawthornden Prize. Forming a departure from his much longer previous novels in its crystallization around one central character, the story opens on the life of twenty-two year-old orphan Jane Fairchild, a young woman in service, who on this, what we now call Mothers' Day, October 30, 1924, having no mother to visit, is going to a secret assignation with her lover of seven years, local rich boy, Paul Sheringham. We soon learn that this is to be no common story. Paul is shortly to make a suitable marriage with heiress, Emma Hobday, and both lovers know this must be their last meeting. But what is to follow, no-one would have dreamed of ... more

Ladies bicycle circa 1920

Kaleidoscope Eyes

A review of Paul Beatty’s The Sellout 

by Kate Wilson

What has the Lennon-McCartney song Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds got to do with Paul Beatty's 2016 Man Booker Prize-winning novel1? Well, for a start, they are both introduced by a drug-fazed narrator/protagonist; in the case of Beatty, it's Me, an honest black citizen who, apparently on charge for some heinous crime, is sitting in the Supreme Court of the United States smoking pot under cover of an air-freshener - brand-name Tropic Breeze - and getting high in the highescourt in the landmore

In May 2017, we discussed The Sellout by Paul Beatty. 

Title page signed by Paul Beatty "To Books on the Broad"

Penguin-Orange Broadband Readers' Group Prize

The Books on the Broad Reading Group won the 2007 Penguin-Orange Broadband Readers' Group Prize.

After visiting the group, author Naomi Alderman wrote in The Guardian:

Oxford. A quiet room overlooking Broad Street, with views of theof Sheldonian Theatre and the Bodleian Library. I am surrounded by academics, teachers, publishers, a school governor and several graduate students all posing searching questions, asking me to justify a piece of my writing. They have notes in front of them, outlining points of weakness, possible strengths. It feels like a flashback to university days, to tutorials for which I hadn't done quite enough reading, at which it transpired that I hadn't honed my arguments quite well enough. Read more

Read Our Most Recent Reviews Below

Previous Book Reviews

Much Ado about Nothing

A review of Jesse Burton’s The Miniaturist by Kate Wilson

Before she became an author at the age of 33, Jesse Burton had trained as an actress[1] and it certainly shows in her debut The Miniaturist, one of a number of contemporary novels set in the Netherlands of the 17th century [2]. With her penchant for performance, there is plenty of sexed-up melodrama, plus the entire gamut of human feelings at a pace to make your nerves tingle- the ones in your teeth, that is. The novel is mixed genre, boasting a combination of period romance, supernatural thriller and moral tale, and true to its theatrical influences, progresses scene by scene with several sensation-inducing set pieces along the way to its awkwardly choreographed tragic conclusion. more

Dancing in the White House

Civil Rights now and in To Kill a Mockingbird

A Review by Kate Wilson

It’s feels like a sad coincidence that Harper Lee should die three days before a remarkable 106 year- old black woman, Virginia Mc Laurin, got her chance on 22 February 2016 to dance in the White House and make her mark for black history. Things have really changed for blacks in America, avows Ms McLaurin, there were places I couldn’t go, and now I go everywhere. She might be the one to know. As a little child she could have sat in the lap of a great grandmother, who whispered to her astounding stories from 1861 of upheaval and change, courage and sacrifice.  This is the stuff of which myths are made. And what would Harper Lee have said to the dancing lady in the White House, as a writer who herself has become a part of the American psyche and created a myth of her own?  What Obama has referred to as “the steady expansion of human rights and dignity and justice for all” [1] is what we soothe ourselves into thinking is a validation of Lee’s iconic message in To Kill a Mocking Bird (1960)  - that the only way to understand the meaning of freedom and equality is to put yourselves in the shoes of those who have neither. more


A hero for the modern world? 

Changing attitudes to men and masculinity in

Far from the Madding Crowd

All Hardy’s stories are love stories. Far from the Madding Crowd is Hardy’s first and only love story with a happy ending. In no other novel of his do we have such an impression of light and life and rising sap, of tragedy and death brushed aside for a season, as the green shoot might shoulder away the dead leaves on the floor of a Wessex Wood. Hardy needed a clean sweep after the relative failure of A Pair of Blue Eyes and in this, his fourth, yet first fully-realized novel under his own name, there is the sense of his going all out to show his strengths and to please his readership, even at the expense sometimes of his own aesthetic judgement.  And what most  certainly pleased Hardy the man as well as the writer, was to have in his sights the vision of a beautiful young woman. read more

With a new film of Hardy’s ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’ released this year, it’s time to reassess what keeps people revisiting this author. 
His relatively overlooked third novel A Pair of Blue Eyes (1873) and his best-seller Far from the Madding Crowd (1874) appeared back to back as the first two novels he had enough confidence to publish under his own name. From one to the other, as he moved through his early thirties, his socially critical stance and his sexual politics sharpened. A slight young man from a poor Dorset hamlet, on the inside he was angry, full of class insecurities and testosterone (between the two books, he got married to Emma Gifford whom he thought was his ‘maddest dream’s desire’). He was brim-full too with the sensuous beauty of the English countryside. And above all, he had a keen eye for human foibles. read more

Orange Award Winner
Francesca Kay, visits Books on the Broad

Francesca Kay visited the Books on the Broad Reading Group in Oxford on Monday, 3 November, 2014, to discuss her debut novel An Equal Stillness, which won her The Orange Award for New Writers (2009). read more

New Generation Writing from the Iraq War

... war is just us
making little pieces of metal
pass through each other.
Kevin Powers,
from a poem in the Collection:
Letter Composed During a Lull in the Fighting
Sceptre, 2014

TheYellow Birds is Kevin Powers’ debut novel, written out of his experience of the war in Iraq where he was deployed as a machine gunner in 2004-5 to Nineveh Provence. The book brought him immediate recognition in the shape of a lucrative advance from Little, Brown and a whole raft of literary prizes, notably  The Guardian First Book Award 2012, The Hemingway/PEN Award 2102, and several significant Book of the Year Awards. Powers has been likened to Hemingway, Norman Mailer, Cormac McCarthy and –a more recent connection- the war writer Tim O’Brien, Pulitzer Prize finalist for his collection of short stories about an American platoon in the Vietnam War The Things They Carried(1990).

read more

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Earlier Reviews

 What makes a Good Novel?
 Can you predict a Classic?

Call it reader ego, but I like to think that what I as an individual find ‘memorable’ in a book will generally align with what is thought about it collectively, because we all have similar cognitive processes and aesthetic instincts. If after six months I can’t remember anything about a book I have spent several hours reading, except for maybe part of the title and a few vague

impressions, then that shouldn’t bode well for the book in the long term.

Read more

August Review

Life after Life

Kate Atkinson

Just to set the record straight, since the nature of Time is the inspirational idea behind the storyline of Kate Atkinson’s new book, Life after Life,  (or to be more precise, the central character, Ursula Todd’s idiosyncratic experience of Time during the course of her hapless multiple deaths and re-births),  I’d like to begin, in the manner of Bill Bryson, with a clear statement of what we all know, viz, that each of us has run a circa four billion year-long evolutionary gamut of risk and opportunity to be here and, however much we might lament it or deny it, we are here only once.

From 2007

The Great Gatsby

F. Scott Fitzgerald

For first–time readers of The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald’s story about ill-fated love in the nouveau riche community of Long Island around 1922 is as startling and compelling and relevant today as Fitzgerald himself intended when he said that he wanted to “write something new, something extraordinary and beautiful and simple and intricately patterned.”

July Review

The Ladies' Paradise

Au Bonheur des Dames

Emile Zola

With a wave of his pen Zola turns products of the textile industry into objects of desire, and you will find your our consumer gullibility tested as he points out an endless choice of silks, taffetas, velvets, chiffons, muslins, fine cotton lawns and satins of every texture and hue from the milky white of petunias to the tender blush of a young girl's skin, to bold pinks and blues and geranium reds to the deepest velvet black. There is yet more! The clever displays under the artful fingers of the window-dressers, magic up delicate silks folded into shell-shapes or provocatively draped round the arched torso of a mannequin whilst, on another counter symmetrically arranged gloves, ‘creaseless and virginal’ in their newness impress with their untouchable perfection.

June Review

May Review
Margaret Drabble
Jerusalem the Golden

No sense of an ending
A review of Margaret Drabble’s ‘Jerusalem the Golden’ and ‘Possession’ by A.S. Byatt 
by Kate Wilson
Click here

March Review

Hans Fallada

You will need to take a deep breath before reading this book... 
Click here

February 2013 Review


J.M. Coetzee

Click here

January 2013 Review


Patrick White

Click here

Check Our Earlier Reviews
Reviews -

What were we 

reading in 


Find out here

Authors read

Chinua Achebe
Kingsley Amis
Martin Amis
Paul Auster
Pat Barker
Julian Barnes
Saul Bellow
Peter Carey
Lewis Carroll
Angela Carter
Joseph Conrad
Anita Desai
Kiran Desai
Charles Dickens
JP Donleavy
Ralph Ellison
F Scott Fitzgerald
E M Forster
Elizabeth Grant
Graham Greene
Kate Grenville
Ernest Hemingway
Alan Hollinghurst
Khaled Hosseini
Yasmina Khadra
Barbara Kingsolver
Matthew Kneale
DH Lawrence
Stanislaw Lem
Doris Lessing
Marina Lewycka
Amin Malouf
Hilary Mantel
Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Carson McCullers
Ian McEwan
John McGahern
Andrew Miller
David Mitchell
Vladimir Nabokov
Irène Némirovsky
Jeff Noon
Ben Okri
Orhan Pamuk
Annie Proulx
Philip Pullman         
Ian Rankin
Philip Reeve
Philip Roth
Jean-Paul Sartre
Gillian Slovo
Wesley Stace
John Steinbeck
Kurt Vonnegut
Paul Waters
Evelyn Waugh
Jeanette Winterson
Virginia Wolf
Richard Yates

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