Weekend Miscellany

It’s been a busy week – but now I have half term – although nothing planned, as my daughter is revising and has her Duke Of Edinburgh Bronze expedition next weekend. I ought to start work on the summer edition of the school magazine, but it’s also a time for catching up with blogging. So here’s a miscellany of my bookish week:

Firstly, a huge thanks to Vintage Books (and Will Rycroft) for picking my name out of the hat to win their latest newsletter competition. It was all about writers who have worked for the New Yorker and their links to another author who was editor of the magazine for a long while. My prize was a set of Vintage classics by that editor – William (Keepers) Maxwell.

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I must admit I’ve never read Maxwell, and before I looked him up to enter the competition I had never heard of him! He had a long life, being born in 1908, dying in 2000, and appears to have had an equally long writing career. Will tells me I’m in for a treat, and I’m looking forward to getting stuck in… But which to read first?

  • They Came Like Swallows (1937) is a family drama
  • All the Days and Nights (1965) is an anthology of short stories
  • The Folded Leaf (1945) is a coming of age tale set in 1920s Chicago
  • So Long, See You Tomorrow (1980) is about jealous farmers in rural Illinois
  • Time Will Darken It (1948) turn of the century Illinois
  • The Chateau (1961) An American couple holiday in France.

I’m drawn to The Chateau or The Folded Leaf, but do tell me if you’d particularly recommend any of the others.

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Secondly, it’s time for a little non-fiction Shiny Linkiness…

All I Know Now by Carrie Hope Fletcher

All I Know NowThis book is part memoir, part advice guide from the young star of Les Miserables who is also a Youtube vlogger and younger sister of Tom from McFly.

Aimed squarely at the teenaged girl market, I snaffled a proof copy to write a ‘Mum’s-eye review’ of it for Shiny New Books – it’s stuffed full of relentlessly cheerful good advice from an obviously lovely girl who wants to be your ‘honorary big sister’. Unlike Zoella and co, Carrie has only herself to plug, and she makes it clear that hard work is required, but tells it with a lot of good humour whilst trying to be a comfort too. If you have a younger teenaged daughter, buy it for her and get in her good books!

Click here to read my full review.

Naked at the Albert Hall by Tracey Thorn

naked at the albert hall Tracey Thorn is back with another book which allows her to explore in detail one area which didn’t fit in the first book, specifically the art of singing.

She serves us up an enticing mixture which includes snatches of memoir, interviews with other singers, singers in literature, the mechanics of singing, ruminations on what it means and its power. She also talks frankly about her stage fright, which has prevented her singing live now for many years.

As with her brilliant memoir Bedsit Disco Queen, this volume is shot through with wit and wonder; she writes beautifully and I really enjoyed reading in her company again.

Click here to read my full review.

Shiny New Books now has an affiliate link to The Book Depository, so if you want to find out more you can click through at the bottom of my full reviews. SNBks remains totally independent though, the affiliate account is just to help pay for the webhosting.

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mostly_booksThirdly, I was shocked to find out this week that the owners of my favourite bookshop – the amazing Mostly Books in Abingdon – have put the business on the market, so they can concentrate on their kids and other things. The good news is that they’re not in a particular hurry and are hoping to sell to the right kind of person.  Could I?….

Despite having no experience of proper retail or bookselling, I do have ideas, and have always had a dream of owning a bookshop. I can’t afford to buy it outright without downsizing my house, which I wasn’t planning to do until my daughter goes to university. But, if I had a business partner, that would give half the financial risk, double the ideas, the ability to have holidays and not necessarily work six or seven days a week. Anyone interested?

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Wandering in Wantage …

If you go SE from Abingdon, you get to Didcot – go SW and you reach Wantage – a town I very rarely visit. It has an historic association with Alfred the Great and his statue graces the market place. After having dropped my daughter off at King Alfred’s School – the starting point for her DoE Practice Expedition this weekend, I headed into town to look around…

P1020366 (1024x554)I’ve wanted to visit Regent Books for ages – which is a huge cave of a second-hand bookshop which also sells furniture upstairs. One of those musty rabbits warrens absolutely crammed full of books (right), it was presided over by a moustachioed old chap and his two younger sidekicks – not traditional booksellers – they are traders in books. But they do know their stock, and what they can sell it for! Having purchased £15 worth of mostly old penguins, I enquired about bringing some of my excess in to sell to them … ‘I’d have to sting you for them,’ said the old chap, ‘Got to make a living.’ Sad but true – I don’t know if I’ll be going back though.

Then, wandering around a bit more – I came across this place in a side-road…

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The door said ‘open’ – but it didn’t look like either a bookshop or a library from peering in – so I didn’t go in! When I got home, I googled it and came up with this piece about the place – turns out there is a Betjeman connection (although not surprising as he was local). If I go to Wantage again, I’m going to be brave and go inside.

Have you been to any interesting second-hand bookshops lately?

Penguin Fiction Showcase & a fangirl moment with William Gibson

penguinLast night I was privileged to be invited and able to attend Penguin’s General Fiction Showcase event at Foyles in London.

It was lovely to meet several good blogging friends again there – Sakura, Kim, Simon my Shiny pal, Simon S (good luck with the Green Carnation prize tonight) and Luci from Curious Book Fans. Knowing that several other blogging friends had been invited but were unable to go, we all vowed to think about having another book-bloggers meet next year … Suggestions please for venues!

Penguin, as always, had brought together a lovely band of authors to introduce and read from their new books to us – in this case, three established and three debut authors and six wonderful sounding books.

First came Claire Fuller – her first novel, Our Endless Numbered Days, sounds rather dark – starting in the mid 1970s when a survivalist father takes his eight year old daughter from London to a cabin in the middle of a forest in Europe telling her the world is disappeared. She is not seen again for nine years. Claire read a passage where they’d been looking for acorns, but the squirrels had got them all… I rather like forests in novels – I shall look forward to reading this one (out in February).

Next was Paul Murray who had such a hit with Skippy Dies a few years ago. He described his new novel The Mark and the Void as a banking comedy! He read a passage to us at breakneck speed complete with accents which had a Frenchman (the banker), a writer called Paul, an Australian and a Russian amongst others. It promises to be very funny (out in July).

Julia Rochester, another debut novelist, brought the first half to a close, reading from the start of her novel The House at the Edge of the World set in Devon, which starts with Morwenna witnessing her father’s death as he topples over the edge of a cliff while drunk and having a piss. It’s no comedy though – all about family and roots. (out in June).

Turkish novelist Elif Shafak began the second half, introducing us to the architect Sinan who designed most of Istanbul’s most iconic domes and structures in the sixteenth century. Her novel The Architect’s Apprentice tells his story through the eyes of those who worked for him. As at a previous event, she beguiled us with her mellifluous tones and philosophical take on this historical novel.

The last debut novelist of the evening was Emma Hooper, a Canadian who is also in a band. Etta and Otto and Russell and James is set in Saskatchewan – in the middle of Canada and eighty-two year old Etta decides to walk to the sea which she has never seen. You’re thinking a Canadian Harold Fry, right? However, this book promises something different and is laced with humour- the section she read us in which neighbour Russell who is on Etta’s trail stops at a diner to breakfast finding it is run by a ten-year-old girl and her little brother who does the dishes, was great fun, but I gather it’s not all so sunny. (Out in January).

The final author of the evening was William Gibson – yes that William Gibson! The one who created the cyberpunk genre of science fiction beginning with Neuromancer in the 1980s, and also being a founding father of steampunk with his wonderful novel, co-authored with Bruce Sterling, The Difference Engine. Over the years I have read and loved quite a few of his novels, but not managed any more since I started this blog.

His more recent books have tended to be set closer to the present, and his latest is (partially) no exception to that. The Peripheral has a double time-line (one near-future and one way in the future), Gibson read a chapter from the near-future one which featured a typical Friday night at a pub in a Southern town ravaged by unemployment and disenfranchised youths which he described as being ‘Like Winter’s Bone, but with better cell-phones’. Being a huge fan of Daniel Woodrell’s novels (see here) I knew what he meant.

P1020255 (739x800)Now, I don’t recall ever having seen an author’s photo or potted biog of Gibson  – I wasn’t sure what to expect. In my head I imagined him as a well-built Californian in his say mid fifties. He is actually 66, from South Carolina, has a real drawl and is very tall and very slim.

In my fangirl moment with him after the reading – he was the perfect Southern gentleman and I can’t wait to read The Peripheral (out now).

Thank you to Penguin for a lovely evening.

Celebrating IBW with the Inky Fool & a Giveaway

Last night I was at my local indie bookshop and spiritual home Mostly Books for an event to celebrate Independent Booksellers Week. Each year the IBW people commission an essay to be sold as a little booklet only in indie bookshops. Previous authors have been Julian Barnes and Ann Patchett.

ibw2014Mark Forsyth, author of The Etymologicon, The Horologicon and Elements of Eloquence, and blogger at The Inky Fool, who has been to Abingdon a couple of times before (see a previous report here) has written this year’s essay entitled The Unknown Unknown after Donald Rumsfeld’s famous quote.  It’s about the joy of discovering books that you didn’t know you wanted to read when browsing in bookshops amongst other ‘state of the book’ discussions.

I have two extra copies of this great essay, which Mark kindly signed for me, to giveaway – details at the bottom of the post.

mark forsythMark (left) is on tour throughout IBW, and last night came to Abingdon to talk to us. The previous night he’d been at a big event at the new Foyles ‘The Great Bookshop Debate’.

Mark and Mark from the bookshop started off the evening talking about the essay and its main theme of ‘Discoverability’ – it’s difficult to google or search amazon for books you’re not aware of – but walk into a bookshop and you’ll find all those books you didn’t know about and didn’t know you wanted to read – it’s the joy of browsing. He told us how this very afternoon he found a book in a bookshop that he didn’t know he wanted – Peter Rabbit in hieroglyphics!

They talked about how the publishing industry appears to think the physical book is ‘doomed!’ (in Dad’s Army pronounciation of course), but Forsyth thinks they are whingeing a bit and it’s not as bad as all that. Actually it’s going alright he said, especially when you think about how the younger generation are communicating in text – you have to craft a text or tweet. He thinks the world is getting more literate in this respect. Also, surprisingly, he said that ‘e-books have made books beautiful again.’  Publishers are working harder on covers etc to attract readers of physical books.  He’s also not a fan of bookshops turning into coffee shops with a few books – people have to pick up the books to discover they want them.  Forsyth is a very engaging and refreshingly honest speaker which made for good conversation.

Browsing in the bookshop after the talk, I did find an ‘unknown unknown’ book that I just had to buy …  In Times of Fading Light by Eugen Ruge (trans from the German by Anthea Bell).  Which brings me to the…

* * * * * GIVEAWAY * * * * *

It was a lovely evening and I bought two extra copies of Mark’s essay to give away to you lot, which he kindly signed for me.  These are limited editions and can only be bought in UK indie bookshops.  I will happily send them worldwide.  You have until UK tea-time on Wednesday.

To go into the draw, please tell me about the last ‘unknown unknown’ book that you purchased (preferably in an independent bookshop – and give the shop a plug).

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To explore further on Amazon, please click below:
The Elements of Eloquence: How to Turn the Perfect English Phrase by Mark Forsyth. Icon books 2013. 224 pages, hardback.
The Tale of Peter Rabbit (transcribed into Egyptian Hieroglyphic script) by Beatrix Potter.
In Times of Fading Light by Eugen Ruge. Faber paperback.

My Independent Bookshop

Yesterday I opened Annabel’s House of Books at the home of a new initiative from Penguin Random House in association with Hive called My Independent Bookshop.

Hive logoYou all know Penguin, but you may not be familiar with Hive. It is a UK online book retailer that links to independent bookshops. Each indie bookshop registering with them gets a storefront for their recommendations and they get a percentage from any orders.

My Independent Bookshop takes it one step further… Anyone can open up their own shopfront and link to an independent bookshop who’ll get the benefits of any sales generated, and the owner will get rewards too.  Hive are able to offer decent discounts, so hope to compete a little with that other giant e-tailer…

The only downside I can see is that you can only have a dozen books on your shelves at any time – so sales may be slow – however, anything that generates a little extra income for indie bookshops is probably a good thing.

Below is what my shopfront looks like. I’m supporting Abingdon’s other indie bookshop The Bookstore through this initiative … do pop over and if you like what you see, why not buy a book.  I’ll be ‘changing stock’ frequently, so do come back.

Capture My Indie Bookshop

Weekend Bits and Bobs

I was in the middle of drafting a post setting out my own stall about where I get my books from etc after all the toing and froing on the subject lately. But, Simon Savidge’s impassioned post, (written after Gav and he got attacked on Twitter over where they got their books from), beat me to it, and I decided that he’s already said most of it. Instead I’ll just add a couple of comments below on my personal stance rather than a full (and potentially repetitive and boring) post:

mostly_booksI buy more books than I can really afford from my local indie bookshop Mostly Books in Abingdon, whom I am always very happy to promote. However, I’m a single mum on a part-time salary – so charity shops, second hand bookshops, the supermarket, bookshop chains, and online through Amazon, the Book People etc. will all get my custom from time to time.

Having been blogging for several years now, I’m lucky enough to be sent books from publishers and authors, and I review for Amazon Vine – Thank you.  I’ve only ever requested two books directly from publishers and felt guilty about doing that. These days, I purely respond to titles offered for review, only picking those I’m genuinely interested in reading.  I do not sell on any review copies that I receive. 

I have monetized (horrid word) my blog, with affiliate links to Amazon and The Book Depository.  I hope I make the links clear, and I am not forcing anyone to click through – it’s just there if you want to.  In nearly five years of blogging, I’ve received £29.80 in Amazon vouchers through referrals resulting in sales.  Part of me says I should drop the affiliations, as they promote the company only making treat- money for me, but if I find it useful to click through occasionally elsewhere so may others – I’m undecided on this though…

Mini-rant over now …

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I’m still working on gradually updating my blog’s indexes, but I’ve been toying with the sidebar too lately.  I discovered a great new widget to highlight posts I’ve ‘liked’ elsewhere. See the ‘Posts I Like’ section over there.

Sadly it only works with other WordPress powered blogs, so please, all my Blogger, Typepad and other service blog-friends don’t feel left out and see my bookish blog-roll for lots of other great blogs.  (Arrow image credit)

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crane wifeLastly, I’ve just finished reading The Crane’s Wife by Patrick Ness.  It was a lovely book and my review will follow.  It did make me cry (again – something Ness is good at!).

I often shed a little tear when watching TV or films and reading – am I over-sentimental, or is it something you do too?

Do tell me about the books that have made you cry …

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Enjoy the (long in the UK) weekend.  

Cheers!

Books in Bath and a French Farce

Yesterday my daughter and I went to Bath, it’s only an hour and a half from us, and the delights of the city are many. Yesterday was all about shopping, dining and theatre – we’ve done the heritage bit on previous visits.  We arrived in time for lunch (Nandos), then got stuck into shopping…

One of the key shops to visit was Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights, a rather wonderful and well stocked bookshop, where I indulged a little of course, buying Daniel Woodrell’s new novel The Maid’s Version, and an American import paperback Smonk, by Tom Franklin – a western that’s been on my wishlist for ages.

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Dinnner was at Jamie’s Italian in Milsom Place, which is one of those posh little arcades of eateries and design shops.

Then our evening entertainment was at the Theatre Royal, a small but lovely theatre which has a formidable reputation for staging pre-West End runs of plays with top actors. Our mid-stalls seats turned out to be about the best in the house…

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The play we went to see was A Little Hotel on the Side by Georges Feydeau, adapted by John Mortimer (of Rumpole fame). Feydeau was a prolific author in the Belle Époque era, and was famed for his farces.

This was not the first Feydeau/Mortimer farce I’ve been to. Back in 1989, I saw a production of A Flea in Her Ear at the Old Vic starring Jim Broadbent. It was hilarious. Flea, which is widely regarded as his masterpiece, was written in 1907 and involves: mistaken identities, affairs, a seedy hotel, servants and speech impediments amongst its plot elements.

Feydeau HotelHotel, meanwhile which was written in 1894 is about: mistaken identities, affairs, a seedy hotel, servants and speech impediments.  OK, they’re standard farce ingredients – just shuffle them about!

It’s about two couples, the Pinglets, and the Paillardins.  Mr Pinglet (Mr P), a builder, is rather hen-pecked by his domineering wife – he calls her the ‘hornet’, whereas Madame Paillardin feels ignored by her architect husband. Mr P and Mme Paillardin decide to have an affair and as Mr Paillardin will be away on business and Mme Pinglet is going to visit her sister, they set up their assignation at the Free Trade Hotel.  Before all this is to happen, Mathieu, a ‘friend’ of the Pinglets from their holiday turns up hoping to stay with them, and having brought his four daughters with him. Mathieu has a stutter, but only when it rains (loads of scope for f, f, fu, fu*, functioning type laughs there).

Needless to say, with his brood unwelcome at the Pinglets, they decamp to the hotel, where the Paillardin’s nephew Maxime is also planning to lose his virginity with the Pinglet’s maid, and Mr Paillardin has been legitimately hired to investigate poltergeists and ghosts.  So everyone, except Mme Pinglet, is in the same place at the same time. Mathieu and his girls are mistakenly given the same room as Mr Paillardin, who sees the girls in their nightdresses as ghosts and runs away.   There is much door-slamming – and Mr P and Mme Paillardin never manage to get a kiss before the police arrive on a raid and a lively chase ensues. Caught, Mr P says his name is Mr Paillardin, and Mme Paillardin gives her name as Mme Pinglet to the police. Mr P pays FFr5000 bail.

The next day, we’re back at the Pinglet’s house, and Mme Pinglet arrives back from her trip in a real state – her carriage’s horse had bolted and she ended up in a ditch. She declares her love for Mr P, saying ‘You nearly lost me!’ – only nearly he thinks.  Then a writ comes from the police for Mme P saying she must confirm her identity, and similarly one arrives for Mr Paillardin – of course neither were there at the time – how will this all be resolved?

An all-star cast was led by Richard McCabe, fresh from his Olivier award opposite Helen Mirren in The Audience, and maybe familiar on TV as one of Ken Branagh’s Wallander crew.

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In the late 1980s McCabe was at the RSC, and I will forever remember him as Puck in John Caird’s 1989 punky tutus and bovver boots staging of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, (far right, with John Carlisle as Oberon).

Now in his early fifties, he made a wonderfully fleshy Mr P. His comic timing, facial contortions and asides to the audience were brilliant.  He was aided by Hannah Waddingham (whom we last saw as the Wicked Witch of the West in the Wizard of Oz), was his toweringly tall and overbearing wife – a very scary woman!  Robert Portal and Natalie Walter played the Paillardins, he all brusque, she suitably histrionic, Tom Edden was manic as the stuttering Mathieu and, in what is little more than an extended cameo, Richard Wilson (familiar to many as Victor Meldrew in TV’s One Foot in the Grave), was the rather downbeat seen-it-all-before hotel manager.

It had some hilarious moments of slapstick and double-entendre, and everything happened at breakneck pace, yet there was something slightly not quite right about the ending, which was a little sudden.  I wasn’t sure that everything had been resolved satisfactorily – but that was deliberate on Feydeau’s part commenting on the Parisian upper classes habits of bending the rules to fit themselves apparently.

All in all this was a really fun performance in a great little theatre. We had a good time and it made a change from the unaffordable West End at less than half the price, and we were home before midnight.  A great day out.

Get thee to an Indie Bookshop!

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In the UK, it’s Independent Bookseller’s Week. Indie bookshops all over the country are running special events and promotions.

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As part of the celebration in said bookshops, for £1.99 you can buy this essay by author Ann Patchett, who started her own indie bookshop when the last one in her town closed down.

SUPPORT YOUR INDIE BOOKSHOP
BUY A BOOK THIS WEEK
BUT DON’T FORGET TO GO BACK
AND BUY ANOTHER, ANOTHER TIME!