I’m in trouble again because of books.

It’s been a great week for buying books…..but it’s also gotten me into trouble….again. My wife and I agree on many things, but books are not one of those things. My belief is that you can never have too many books, where as my wife says I already have too many books. So to admit to buying another 20 over a 7 day period was like an alcoholic admitting he’s fallen off the wagon again……Not quite the same thing I know.

My 20 book’s in one week purchase.

I guess I should explain how I came to buy another 20 books. Wednesday 14th Nov I had been given a ticket to a book expo at our local library, by my sister-in-law (another self confessed bibliophile). The expo was co-hosted by the library, a book publisher and “Poppies” book store – one of our local independents. Representitives from each of these discussed their favourite books of the year and presented about 40 books to tell us about. All very interesting and especially so for me, being my first ever book expo.

About half way through the presentation, a local author – Linda Trubridge – gave us a talk about her recently published book called “Passages”. A very apt title – about which I’ll explain shortly. Linda, her husband David and sons Sam and William are all very successful in their own fields. David is an internationally renown Artist/Designer and furniture maker and has exhibited his designs all over the world including at the Victoria and Albert museum in the UK and the Pompidou Centre in Paris. Sam is a performance artist, actor and director and William is the world freediving record holder.

Linda is also an artist in pencil, paint and sculpture. One of her sculptural pieces graces the local village square. And now of course she can add published writer to her resume.

The book is partly about the Trubridge’s as a family and also about how after being settled living in the north of England in a rural stone built cottage, they suddenly decided to sell up, buy a boat and spend the next 10 years at sea – visiting the islands of the Caribbean before continuing on through the Panama Canal and down through the South Pacific to wind up in New Zealand – where they finally settled.

So the title Passages – reflects the passage of time, the passage of the boat through the oceans, the passage and development of themselves as a family unit and of course passages of print on the pages of the book. I haven’t gotten around to reading it yet, but just browsing a few pages it’s a very nicely written book – almost poetic really. I will probably give a full review once I have read it.

So “Passages” was book number one of my 20. I was very restrained at the expo and this was my only purchase – bought from the author and signed with a nice little message inside. I first met Linda over 15 years ago when I attended two series of “Life Drawing” courses she was teaching at Adult Education evening classes at the local high school. So it’s nice on a personal level to have a book of hers on my bookshelf.

The next day was my birthday (happy birthday to me…happy birthday to me…). My brother and sister-in-law gave me a voucher to be spent on books at another of our independents “Wardini’s” book shop – who deserve a blog post of their own…and I will get around to it soon….as they do such great work.

On the following Saturday we had the Hastings Lions annual charity book sale. This is where the bulk of my purchases occurred – 15 books in all. One of Stephen Fry’s biographies “More Fool Me”, was the first to go into my bag. I have a bit of a soft spot for Fry. He’s a very intelligent and witty writer.  Two books of photographs titled “The Forties in Pictures” and “The Sixties in Pictures” – each book containing some nice black and white photos of their era – although the 60’s one also had a smattering of colour photos too, were the next books to go into the bag. Being a keen photographer myself, they make a nice addition to my collection of photography books. Next was “Paris was Ours” edited by Penelope Rowlands – 32 writers reflect on the city of lights. If you have read any of my earlier blog posts you’ll know that I am a big fan of Paris and of any writers who write about Paris, so I just had to buy this one. The front inlay of the book begins “Paris is the world capital of memory and desire..” and that really says it all for me. Having visited Paris just the once, for a week in 2016, I have happy memories and a deep desire to return very soon.

The next book is Asne Seierstad’s “The Bookseller of Kabul”. Another weakness of mine are books about books or about book shops or book sellers. This is a true story about a book seller and his family in Kabul who Asne Seierstad lived with for a 4 month period. “For more than 20 years Sultan Khan defied the authorities – be they communist or Taliban – to supply books to the people of kabul. He was arrested, interrogated and imprisoned by the communists and watched illiterate Taliban soldiers burn piles of his books in the street”. It’s not just a story about books though it’s also about censorship and the contrasting views of the value and the place of women in Afghanistan society.

Then comes a book by Mary Ann Shaffer. I’d already seen the movie so wanted to read the book of “The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society” to see how it measured up. I loved the movie – actually watched it twice – so am quite keen to get started on this one soon.

“Almost French” by Sarah Turnbull – subtitled “A New Life in Paris” – It just sucked me right in with the title. Another book about Paris….new beginnings in the city of lights, love and romance….and how the seduction of Paris eventually overwhelms even the strongest soul. According to the blurb on the back cover – Funny, perceptive, poignant, adventurous and magical. We’ll see. 

Next come two books by New Zealander Joe Bennett. I have already read a couple of his books – he’s not Bill Bryson, but he’s pretty good. Wry observations as he travels from one place to the next. He was born in Eastbourne in the UK and “Mustn’t Grumble” is about his first visit home after 15 years as he rediscovers what it really means to be English. The second book of his “Hello Dubai” – is about a trip to guess where? Yes Dubai – with all its opulence and extremes. The subtitle “Skiing, Sand and Shopping in the World’s weirdest City” says it all.

“Vroom with a View” – is another travelogue – another weakness of mine (books about travel). Peter Moore is yet another amusing travel writer. I have read his books before and really enjoyed them so when I saw that – influenced by a late night commercial warning that life comes to an end after 40 – he’d bought a 1961 Vespa to tour Italy “in search of the Dolce Vita” –  I just had to get the book.

Bulgarian born poet and writer Kapka Kassabova, grew up under communism in 1980’s Bulgaria. She got away as soon as she could and settled in New Zealand where she published two novels and several poetry books. Now living in Scotland, “Street Without a Name” is her story of re-visiting Bulgaria and of her muddled relationship with the country of her birth. The back of the book says “With the irreverence of an ex-pat and the curiosity of a visitor Kapka takes a humerous and unflinchingly honest look at Europe’s newest member, and brilliantly captures the absurdities and idiosyncrasies of her own and her country’s past”. Yes I know…another travelogue.

“I am Pilgrim” – Terry Hayes. I know nothing about this book. I had been browsing in Poppies book shop a few days earlier and noticed this book selling at around $40 for the paperback. One of the reviews of it said it was a cross between Jack Reacher and James Bond, AND since it was only $2 at the book sale I thought why not?

I haven’t read much poetry since leaving school, so when I saw W.B. Yeats – “Collected Poems”- I thought it was time to reacquaint myself.  J.B. Priestly wrote that Yeats “was a poet first, last, and all the time. Not only a great poet but probably the greatest poet of this century”. Praise indeed.

My final 2 books from the Lion’s sale were both by Mira Grant and are books 2 and 3 of a trilogy of Zombie books. I enjoy a good fast paced mindless Zombie book every now and then so “Deadline” and “Blackout” fit the bill nicely. The first book in the series is called “Feed” of which reviewers raved “perfect summer apocalypse reading…gripping, thrilling and brutal…”. I am now about half way through “Deadline” and am eager to get back to it tonight. Definitely a book to be read in bed…..with a machete and baseball bat under the covers!

Meantime I had – I am almost ashamed to admit – ordered a book on line. It was one that I had had from the local library but since I am going to visit San Francisco next year I wanted a copy of national Geographic Traveler’s “San Francisco” for myself – one that I can make notes in the margins and deface with highlighter pens in preparation for my trip. It arrived Monday.

My final day Tuesday I had arranged to meet my brother for lunch and thinking that he’d probably be late, decided that it may be a wise thing to pop into the Hawke’s Bay Book Exchange – a second hand book shop, and grab something to read while I waited. I spent some time browsing and was amazed at how expensive some of the books were for their condition. For example, a hard cover Bill Bryson book called “One Summer” – originally priced at a little over $50 brand spanking new, was now slightly worn and dogeared and yet they were wanting $40 for it. No way was I paying that much for a second hand book. Eventually settling for the biography of Norman Wisdom “My Turn” for $6.50 in paperback I scurried off for lunch. Naturally my brother wasn’t late so I didn’t need the book anyway. BUT I will enjoy reading it ….eventually.

So that is 18 in total….leading up to my final 2 purchases. After lunch I headed back to Havelock North village and to one of my favourite book shops “Wardini’s” – with the intention of spending my birthday book voucher. As you would have already gathered, travel is one of my favourite subjects and pastimes, so when I saw Lonely Planet had a very nice picture book out of “Amazing Train Journeys”, I knew where most of that birthday voucher was going. For me, if I can travel long distances by train rather than by car or plane, I will. I simply love travelling via the rails. 

And to round off my 20 books, an oldie but a goodie. A book that I read in school and wanted to re-read – Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four” – just to remind myself of how much he actually got right when writing this dystopian novel back in 1948. The movie staring John Hurt was pretty good too.

Now…I don’t know if this is good news, or bad news, but I just heard that this coming Friday,  The Friends of the Library at Hastings City Library are holding their annual book sale. All discarded Library books are to be snapped up for only 50 cents each. I think I’m heading for more trouble!

Until next time…….it’s time for breakfast – strawberries picked fresh from the garden.

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The tenuous link between NASA and Wigtown….and a book review of sorts.

I promise that this will be my final post about Shaun Bythell and Wigtown, Scotland……at least for a while. This post will hopefully round off and give some sense of finality in the saga of Bythell, Wigtown and Booktowns.

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The above picture shows two books…..separate books….. relating two sides of the same story…..but in uniquely different ways.
Shaun Bythell’s – “The Diary of a Bookseller” – is the story of life in the biggest second hand book store in Scotland. It’s told in diary form….one little section per day and always starts off with how many on-line orders were taken and how many of the books could actually be found on the shelves of the shop. He then takes us through an often whimsical look at the daily interaction between himself, his staff and customers. It’s the awkward or slightly weird customers – and what they say – who provide the humour and interest.
His main staff member ‘Nicky’ is, shall we say….a bit of a free spirit, who certainly has a mind of her own, often disregards Shaun’s instructions and basically does what she feels like doing as far as “shop tasks” are concerned. Her dress sense, time keeping, unique turn of phrase and her penchant for dumpster diving add hugely to the humour found in this book. The blurb on the front of the book states “Warm, witty and laugh-out-loud funny” – Daily Mail…and I couldn’t agree more with that. I managed to annoy my wife frequently – I’m pleased to say – by giggling my way from chapter to chapter.
Speaking of chapters….each month is one long chapter and starts off with a quotation from George Orwell’s “Bookshop Memories”…..written in 1936 about Orwell’s experiences of working in a bookshop. The similarities between Orwell’s experiences and Bythell’s are many and are mostly about how life in a bookshop would be far less complicated if it wasn’t for awkward, annoying customers who often interrupt the bliss of being able to kick back and read a good book.
The book is written like a diary – hence the title – and has taken a bit of stick from some people who say it’s repetitive. Well, days working in a bookshop are to some extent repetitive when you’re dealing with the day to day running of a bookshop – but the customers are so predictably unpredictable that each day, more or less, also brings a moment of hilarity. Each day also ends with a tally of the days takings and the number of customers who bought books. But…..I loved it’s irreverant humour and Bythell’s sense of fun and irony.
He also brings into the story a young lady called ‘Anna’, an American writer and film maker who works for NASA, but who in a moment of personal crisis decided to take a break from life in the fast lane and take a month or two to mellow, in a bookshop (chosen at random partly by luck and partly by Mr Google) in Wigtown, Scotland. Long storey short…..Anna and Shaun fall in love and have an on again, off again, on again relationship. Where that relationship finally goes to – you’ll just have to read the books to find out.
Being British, Shaun Bythell keeps the personal side of the relationship to himself and only tells us as much as is needed in order to explain his daily life both in and out of the bookshop. Anna is not her real name. Whether he changed it to protect her anonymity or to protect himself from potential law suits – you know how Americans just LOVE to scream for their lawyers – is neither here nor there….. and since Anna decided to write her own book about the relationship “Three things you need to know about Rockets” under her real name – Jessica…..it becomes a moot point.
Contrary to the British stiff upper lip – keep your emotional life subdued – way of looking at relationships, the American way…..or at least Jessica’s way… is the polar oposite. Emotions come to the fore and in Jessica’s book we are taken along with her on her emotional roller coaster ride through her relationship with “Euan” (aka Shaun).
The Times says “It’s sweet, it’s charming and it’s funny” and indeed it is all these things in parts. The story of her going for a “special waxing” is particularly hilarious and I had tears of laughter streaming down my face. BUT I would also add the word “frustrating” to the description of the book.
There were times where Jessica’s emotional confusion made me want to give her a hug and there were others where her lack of self confidence and her over thinking of things made me shake my head in frustration. In a relationship where two people know one another, love one another and are comfortable in each others company there can be “a comfortable silence” – a silence of contentment. Jessica is not one who finds comfort in silence and interprets Euan’s/Shaun’s moments of silence as being a sign that “something is wrong…..he’s bored with the relationship and with her…..he’s thinking about some other woman”. She is constantly needing to be reassured and seems hell bent on picking holes in a relationship that is – depending on her viewpoint at that moment in time rock steady yet, at the same time, crumbling on it’s foundations.
Whilst I would love to quote a few passages from each book to give you a feel for the different writing styles and mannerisms of these two writers I don’t want to run foul of the copyright laws – as did Blythell when quoting Orwell in his book. But that’s another story.
Both books are certainly worth a read and Shaun’s in particular – since he signed it for me – will hold pride of place on my bookshelves. Bythell’s book is classed as Memoir/Humour and Fox’s as a Romantic Memoir……you make your choice and take your pick. You really do need to read both books though to get the full picture.
Both books describe life in the small settlement of Wigtown in such a way that makes me want to visit there, someday soon. I feel it’s something that just needs to be done. Call it a pilgrimage of sorts if you will – to the book, the bookshop and the booktown.
AND the good news is that a production company has bought the rights to both books with a view to making a combined movie. Whether they actually take up the option and make the movie remains to be seen. I hope they do.
Further good news is that Bythell’s publishers are now asking him for a follow up book. It used to be that when a customer approached the counter, Shaun would think “Oh no what is this idiot going to ask me?” Now he thinks “Yes…great….a customer – hope he/she says something ridiculous” – eager for new material. Watch this space…..
A final plea. If you’re interested enough in the two stories to want to read these books – and I do hope that you do – please buy the physical books, not e-books/Kindle… and please buy them from a bricks and mortar bookshop….not Amazon….on the internet. It’s the patronage of bricks and mortar establishments like “The Bookshop” by readers like you and me that brought about the writing of both these books in the first place. Without us the bookshop and indeed Booktowns would cease to exist.
BUY THE BOOKS……and preserve a way of life…..please.