Wednesday 7 December 2011

This year's Booker winner by Julian Barnes may have been a slim volume and much trumpeted by readers and reviewers, but I wasn't drawn to read it. It possessed, for me, a nondescript cover, and the blurb failed to capture my imagination. Only when the shop's last copy was passing through my hands did I think I should cut through my reservations and become better informed. I quickly skimmed through the opening pages before passing back to the customer. It didn't grip me so, when the book came back in stock, I still didn't read it.

A friend insisted I borrow her copy. It sat on my bedside pile for some days. Eventually I picked it up and was surprised to find those first few pages were more interesting this time round. Unfortunately, my enjoyment was shortlived. 

I am never particularly drawn to the angst of a middle-aged, middle class man, and I didn't like any of the other characters either. The narrator reminded me of Engleby in the book by Sebastian Faulks. The reader never knew whether Engleby was telling the truth, nor did we know his motives or capability, and ultimately he proved a deeply troubling individual. Yet he was fascinating. Barnes's narrator left me feeling tainted, slightly dirty, irritated and rather bored by his preoccupations.

I'm concerned at my response to the book. I don't think I've seen anything negative written about it, and customers and friends seem to have enjoyed it tremendously. I'd read it again to be sure of my response - perhaps I just wasn't in a happy place when I was reading it - but there are so many other books I haven't tried...

Tuesday 6 December 2011

For the past few years my father has wanted to give me a Kindle. He knows I love reading, so this seemed, to him, to be the ideal present. I resisted though, believing I needed to stand firm and loyal to the book.

Last week I was fortunate in being able to spend time with the author Sally Gardner. She was wonderful company and seemed to be someone who lived life to the full and grasped every opportunity. She admitted to having bought a number of e-readers, wanting to try them out at each stage of their development. She talked of their benefits and their weaknesses. And when we discussed our leisure time and both exclaimed about the wonders of radio over television, I had that lightbulb moment. Now was the time for me to ask for a Kindle for Christmas!

Reading the newspaper on Sunday, my decision was confirmed. An article in the New York Times reported how parents, converted to e-books themselves, still insisted their children read physical, old-fashioned books. "It's intimacy, the intimacy of reading and touching the world. It's the wonderment of her reaching for a page with me," said one parent. "There's something very personal about a book...something that's connected and emotional," said another.

Director of the Center for Teaching Through Children's Books in Chicago, Junko Yokota believes the size and shape of the book "become part of the emotional experience, the intellectual experience."

And a study commissioned by HarperCollins in 2010 found that books bought for 3- to 7-year-olds were frequently discovered at a local bookshop, 38 per cent of the time.

So e-books don't mean the end of the book as we know it, and nor do they mean the end of bookshops. They are in fact a means of making reading, stories, books, literature more available, valuable and accessible. I'll let you know how I get on in the New Year!

Tuesday 18 October 2011

I'd forgotten what it was like to have a stream of customers coming through the door all wanting the same book, but that buzz is very special.

First, you sense the anxiety as they enter the shop, not knowing if there's a copy left, or whether the person in front of them in the queue will take the last one. Then their expression and mood lifts with the relief, pleasure and excitement of knowing they've got it, they've accomplished their goal.

These customers don't usually bother to try and find the book for themselves. Perhaps they don't even know where to look. They've just heard about the latest 'big thing' and need to be part of it.

It usually happens, if we're lucky, at Christmas. Remember 'Eats, Shoots and Leaves', the punctuation classic by Lynne Truss? Today of course, it was the Man Booker winner 'The Sense of an Ending' by Julian Barnes. 

I confess I was rather disappointed when I heard the announcement last night. I had watched the BBC Culture Show special about the shortlist, where they had invited villagers in Scotland to vote for their winner. They had chosen 'Pigeon English' and I had been willing for that to win.

Sales in our shop started slowly, but gathered in pace during the afternoon. And, as I saw the Barnes book gradually diminish in number on the shop shelves, I thought I would have to take a copy home to read for myself, to have my own opinion on whether it was a worthy winner.

At 5pm we had just one copy left, and all our suppliers were sold out so there were none due in tomorrow. Imagine my horror, then, that a customer should come through the door, see our last copy on the counter and say 'oh, did that win? I'll have that' and then proceed to leave it with me while she browsed the shop. I wanted to hide it away from her, to say that she couldn't have it, and I half hoped that she would forget she'd put it aside when she came back to the till laden with her three other £20 hardbacks. However, while she'd been gone, I'd taken a moment to read the first few pages. And what a relief; I'm sure it's a great book, but I don't think it's what I want to read at the moment.

Monday 26 September 2011

I was on BBC Radio Suffolk again today, recommending A Good Read on the afternoon show. It began by the presenter, Lesley Dolphin introducing her own summer page-turner as David Nicholls' 'One Day'. She warned me before we went on air that she was going to mention it and was surprised when I said that not only had I also read the book, but that I had in fact recommended it on the programme some months ago when it was first published. Later, in the broadcast, I asked if Lesley had been to see the film of the book, and she hadn't realised that there was one. This seemed astonishing for someone so well-informed and who had loved the book. It just shows that you should never assume that messages always get through the radar.

This evening I led the first Browsers Book Group after the summer. Numbers had been dropping off before the break, so I had no idea how many people would come along tonight to discuss Hans Fallada's 'Alone in Berlin'. It was evident it was going to be a busy night when unfamiliar faces started arriving at 7.45, not the usual regulars rushing in breathless at 8pm on the dot. We had 23 people and six of these were men - unprecedented! It was an excellent discussion. I think just about everyone found this a difficult book, although there was an even split in those appreciating the struggle, feeling they had gained something from the experience, and those wishing they could have given up the fight if it hadn't have been a book group book!

Wednesday 3 August 2011

I found out today that Joanna Trollope's latest novel is set in Suffolk - in fact just down the road at Shingle Street. I was on to the case straightaway and polished off the book overnight.

It's called 'Daughters-in-Law' and was a pleasant enough read. But nothing really happened! 

I've only read one other Joanna Trollope so I don't know whether this is typical of her writing. This story dealt with three young wives trying to please their domineering mother-in-law, while at the same time seeking to assert their own way in life. One wife didn't toe the family line and everything and everyone falls into a (mild) state of disarray. Ultimately there is a resolution, although this came about rather too easily for me. But, for a holiday read, or an escape from the crises in the news at the moment, I suppose there's nothing wrong with wanting everything to work out in the end. 

As regards the setting - there was a fair bit of name-dropping for Shingle Street, Aldeburgh and Snape, but no real sense of atmosphere, and I didn't feel the author had a passion for these places. In fact the wives returned to London, and there was a sense that this is where Joanna Trollope is happiest.

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