A belated happy new year….lets talk books.

Already we’re almost 2 weeks into 2020 and I’ve been very tardy about writing my first post of the year. I guess I am still in holiday mode as far as my blog is concerned….something I need to remedy rather smartly. First off though may I wish you all a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year – albeit a belated one.

When ever I commit myself to a rigid reading list for the year ahead, I always fail. So I decided to tackle my reading list month by month instead.

Confessions Of A Booksell
Bythell outside his shop and in cartoon form on the book’s cover.

This month I’ll be dipping into Shaun Bythell’s second book about owning a bookshop – Confessions of a Bookseller. Just like his first book Diary of a Bookseller, it’s written in the form of a daily diary and includes some of the funny, or sometimes frustrating, events that occur each day while running his shop. The good thing about a book like this is that you can pick it up for a few minutes and read a day or two’s happenings and then get back to whatever task needs to be done. It’s an easy, humorous read and gives an insight into the life of a somewhat sarcastic book shop owner – the ups and the downs. I’m already a good way through the book…..maybe three quarters through. I’ve been dipping in and out of it for several weeks but don’t want it to end.

Book Review: Around the World in 80 Trains | Travelrat's ...
Left – The author climbing aboard one of the 80 trains and the book cover on the right.

My second book is one I bought myself for Christmas with the money left over on my Wardini Book Shop voucher I got for my birthday. By Monisha Rajesh, Around the World in 80 Trains is a book I am looking forward to getting started on. As regular readers of my blog will already know, I love to travel and my favourite way to travel is by train. So this 45,000 mile adventure by rail should be a good fit. Michael Palin (one of my favourite travel writers) writes on the cover of the book – “Never too fast, never too slow, Monisha Rajesh’s journey does what trains do best. Getting to the heart of things. Prepare for a very fine ride.” I can hardly wait to get started.

Scrublands - Chris Hammer :: The Book Tree Toowoomba

The next book is one that my sister-in-law leant to my daughter-in law, who then decided that there was no room in her suitcase to take it back to the States with her. A quick look at the blurb on the cover had me interested immediately and I am now about a third of the way through Chris Hammer’s Scrublands. The blurb reads…“In an isolated country town brought to its knees by drought, a charismatic and dedicated young priest calmly opens fire on his congregation, killing five parishioners before being shot dead himself. A year later, troubled journalist Martin Scarsden arrives in Riversend to write a feature on the anniversary of the tragedy. But the stories he hears from the locals about the priest and incidents leading up to the shooting don’t fit with the accepted version of events his own newspaper reported in an award-winning investigation. Martin can’t ignore his doubts, nor the urgings of some locals to unearth the real reason behind the priest’s deadly rampage.” It’s a wonderful yarn set in a very parched Australia and so many twists and turns are happening already. It’s going to be a great read.

Grandi fotografe per il libro di Boris Friedewald: da ...

Of course I am never content with having bookshelves full of book awaiting reading here at home, Oh no not I. We have several wonderful libraries where I live in Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand. In town (Hastings) is the main library and just up the road at Havelock North we have another, smaller but very well set up, library. A recent visit saw me pick up two books to bring home. The first on yet another of my passions, photography. By Boris Friedewald it is simply called Women Photographersfrom Julia Margaret Cameron to Cindy Sherman – and explores the lives, careers and works of the finest women photographers in the world. Eve Arnold, the first woman photographer to be admitted into the prestigious Magnum Agency once said “I didn’t want to be a woman photographer. That would limit me. I wanted to be a photographer who was a woman, with all the world open to my camera.” And as Gisele Freund said “It is the eye that takes the picture, not the camera.” And every picture the eye sees is directly linked to the person who made it.

Insider: Zoe Daniel A Correspondent and A Mother! - 89.3 ...

The second of my library books is the memoir of Foreign Correspondent Zoe Daniel – Storyteller tells the story of how Daniel found herself thrust into the dangerous world of reporting news from some of the most inhospitable places in the world. She is one of the few women to combine the most demanding job – motherhood, with one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. Storyteller is a timely reminder of the bravery and audacity of the men and women who bring us the news – the journalists, the local ‘fixers’, the cameramen (and women) – but above all it pays tribute to ordinary people who find them selves eyewitness to the extraordinary. I meant to read just the first page to give me an idea as to whether I’d enjoy reading this one or not. Suddenly I am 28 pages in and find my mouth is dry as I’ve been reading with my mouth open, completely agog!

So that’s my reading for January. I hope you’re reading something that has you spellbound. Back soon with another post. As always many thanks for reading and any comments, likes, follows and shares are greatly appreciated.

What I’m reading/have been reading.

I’ve not had much spare cash recently….that’s nothing new….so I’ve been borrowing quite a lot more – from my local library – than usual.

Picture below shows the latest batch of library books that have been keeping me entertained.

The Way Home and The Moneyless Man – both by Irish writer and Freeconomist Mark Boyle, I have written about in my recent post titled “After we stop pretending”.

The two books about building the perfect BUG OUT Bag and BUG OUT Vehicle I have written about in an upcoming blog post, still to be published. The remainder I’ll give a brief outline about here. 

The Natural Disaster Survival Handbook is a simple to follow book with lots of pictures and text in straight forward English giving lots of helpful advice about what to do in various natural disaster scenarios – Earthquakes, storms, floods, volcanic eruption  etc.

Hazards In Hawke’s Bay is about the natural hazards of concern in my immediate locality and is more in the format of a magazine than a book. The town that I live on the outskirts of is only a few kilometres from the ocean, on the southern edge of Hawke’s Bay. Just off the coast we have the Hikurangi subduction zone – a fault line where two tectonic plates meet…one dips down under the other producing what is known as a “slow slip fault”. These faults move almost imperceptibly until they stick for a time and then move suddenly in a jarring motion producing a large and potentially devastating quake of between 8 and 9 on the Richter scale, similar to the one that produced the disaster in Fukushima, Japan in 2011. The book covers other hazards, but understandably concentrates on earthquakes since this area was hit by a devastating quake in 1931 flattening both cities of Hastings (where I live) and Napier.

Building Small is a nice little picture and plan book about building tiny houses. Some of these are smallish houses, others really are tiny – a little larger than a garden shed – all are cleverly designed to optimise both living  space and storage areas. It’s a nice book with some good designs for tiny houses. On a personal note, my wife and I are considering downsizing our home size, but increasing our land size….moving away from the town into the countryside and living as self sufficiently as possible on a small-holding (small farm), so this book was of particular interest.

The two remaining books My Year Without Matches and Londonistan I started but didn’t finish as they just didn’t do it for me. Didn’t hold my interest at all. My Year Without Matches is about living in the bush for a year without any sort of technology, making your own shelter and surviving in the wild. There were a few interesting aspects to the book, but nothing that made me want to get from cover to cover. Londonistan was too much of a divisive racist rant about how Muslims are taking over the UK. I understand how some Brits may feel – that their way of life, British customs and traditions are under threat from immigration and multicultural society….and to be honest, I do share those concerns to a certain extent. BUT I think that this book pushes the boundaries a little too much and it becomes more of a rant rather than a balanced look at immigration versus the traditional British way of life.

Although I have not had any extra cash available to buy books, last month it was Father’s Day and my youngest son sent me a card with a book voucher inside, so I happily toddled off to Unity Books in Wellington (the NZ Capital) and purchased Shaun Bythell’s second book Confessions of a Bookseller, in hardback. In an earlier post I covered meeting Shaun, who lives in Scotland’s Booktown, Wigtown – where he owns the largest second hand bookshop in Scotland – when he was in New Zealand promoting the release of his first book Diary of a Bookseller, which was frankly hilarious. The second book follows on where the first left off, telling us in diary form about Shaun’s life in the book trade and the ups and downs of owning the bookshop….the insanity of some of his customers, the sometimes bizarre behaviour of his staff….and the trials and tribulations of his own personal life. Shaun’s humour can be rather sarcastic and caustic at times, but having met the guy I can tell you that he is a very nice person, despite his quest to prove otherwise in his books. 

The second book, I bought with the remainder of my voucher, was a paperback by Wendell Berry titled The World-Ending Fire – and features a number of his essays dating from 1968 up until 2011. I happened upon Wendell Berry after reading about him in one of Mark Boyle’s books and from a reference in a video by former environmentalist Paul Kingsnorth…who just happens to be one of Boyle’s neighbours. It’s funny how one book leads to another and then another. Berry is an American novelist, poet, essayist, environmental activist, cultural critic, and farmer. Wikipedia tells us – “He is an elected member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers, a recipient of The National Humanities Medal, and the Jefferson Lecturer for 2012. He is also a 2013 Fellow of The American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Berry was named the recipient of the 2013 Richard C. Holbrooke Distinguished Achievement Award. On January 28, 2015, he became the first living writer to be inducted into the Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame.” It’s probably his absolute love of the natural world that attracted Boyle, Kingsnorth and now myself to his writings.The back of the book says – Wendell Berry lives and works in the old ways on his farm in rural Kentucky. He is also one of America’s most powerful radical voices. In the pieces collected here he writes about the peace of nature, the food we eat, and, above all, why we must care for the land we live on.

I look forward to reading Berry’s book after I finish Bythell’s. 

Getting myself out of a reading rut….

While there is nothing wrong at all in finding something you like to do and sticking to it, it does tend to narrow your options – and in turn narrow your mind…..or I should say it doesn’t help you to expand your mind.

I love to travel, love photography and love to read. So to become sort of addicted to travel writing…..travelogues and travel guides….or the pictorial splendor of glossy photography books was an easy trap to fall into. It’s what I like, so what’s wrong with that?

Spoken like a true addict right?

It’s funny sometimes how you stumble across something, apparently by chance, that just happens to provide another view – another option. And it seems to happen right at the time that you need it.

I’m not sure exactly how I came across “The Bookshop – Wigtown” – it may have been a YouTube suggested channel, I’m really not sure. But here was a guy – Shaun Bythell who ran a bookshop – the biggest second hand bookshop in Scotland. He was explaining how, when sales of books were at a low ebb and he had a glut of books of all types, he decided to start “the Random Book Club”.  Customers would sign up to receive one book every month, mailed to their door…..but it would be a book selected at random . It could be fact or fiction, poetry even. The Random Book Club has, against the odds, been a great success and he has been inundated with emails from people wanting to join. The on-line recruitment campaign was so successful that he’s now spending more time than he initially expected to, selecting and mailing out a hundred and fifty books each month. It was getting too popular so he decided to cap it at 150 members.

I didn’t sign up with the Random Book Club, but it did spark an idea.

I didn’t, and indeed still don’t, have much in the way of spare cash – or any cash if I’m completely honest – to spend on books, so decided to have a rummage around the charity shops/thrift shops/Op shops (depending on what you call them in your part of the world). I’d go into a shop and spying the books in a book case at the far end of the shop I’d pick 2 numbers…..say 3 and 8…..and I’d select the book which occupied the 8th space from the left, on the 3rd shelf – regardless of what it was. I repeated this on other book cases and in other stores, until I had amassed an interesting pile of a dozen or so books (for the grand total of less than ten dollars). OK I admit that one of them turned out to be a travel book…..but the rest were a mix of novels, biographies and other non-fiction that for the most part I wouldn’t usually read.

I’m slowly reading my way through them…..and will share my thoughts on each book in another post…or posts. The main thing is though – I have been entertained and I have learned things that I otherwise wouldn’t have done, had I stayed with my usual travel or photo books. AND it has made me more willing to deliberately browse the shelves of new and used books and to expand my library further – much to my wife’s displeasure.

I’m not sticking religiously to my random pile of books though. I am also reading other purchased books and library books in between including several books by the Australian writer (now residing in Paris) – John Baxter – who I will do an in depth post on later and I have recently finished Shaun Bythell’s book “The Diary of a Bookseller” and am half way through Jessica Fox’s book “Three Things You Need To Know About Rockets”. More on both these books in future posts.

My long suffering wife thinks that I already have too many books….and in all honesty I probably do. Although my taste in genres has changed over the years since I first became interested in books at primary school……as an adult, I’ve gone through detective and crime novels…..Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Richard Laymon, Shaun Hutson and other “supernatural” authors….my beloved travel writers, particularly Bill Bryson…..the classics…..art and photography….gardening and D.I.Y. etc etc. I rarely get rid of any of them. So they gather dust on any of my six book cases or languish, discarded, unloved and hoping to be rediscovered, in any number of banana boxes in my garage. I’ve even considered opening a “pop-up” second hand book store in a tent on my front lawn to off load a few books and give me a much needed cash-flow……to buy more books of course.

I could call it “Intent books – for books within tent“…..

Hmmmm. Certainly something to think about.

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Above – my dozen random books.

Featherston Booktown is now official.

I’m very pleased to report that as of October 2nd 2018 the small, lower north island, New Zealand town of Featherston has become a full member of the International Organisation of Booktowns (IOB). This makes Featherston the first Booktown in New Zealand and the 22nd Booktown internationally.

A Booktown is a small rural town or village in which second–hand and antiquarian bookshops are concentrated. Most Booktowns have developed in villages of historic interest or of scenic beauty. They have usually had a hard time economically and have turned to the Booktown idea in a bid to turn around the economic downturn.

Gunnel Ottersten, President of the IOB said: ”The IOB has observed with great interest the successful growth of Featherston Booktown over the last four years. The Featherston Booktown Board of Trustees and the Featherston community have done a fantastic job taking Featherston Booktown forward to its current impressive stage – and the IOB voted unanimously to make Featherston Booktown a full member of the IOB.’

Peter Biggs, Chair of the Featherston Booktown Board of Trustees said that the whole of Featherston had been behind them 100% in their bid to become a Booktown and it is a proud moment to finally achieve their goal.  It will also give Featherston the opportunity to promote itself internationally as a Booktown and add significant value and innovation to all of the other Booktowns around the world.

Featherston is currently home to six bookshops and now it has become officially accepted into the family of the IOB, could well attract more potential booksellers.

The concept of the Booktown was initiated by Richard Booth in Hay–on–Wye in Wales. Hay has a population of only 1500 people, yet is home to around two dozen bookshops. In comparison, the population of Featherston is over two thousand so the potential to add more bookshops is not simply pie in the sky.

Booktowns have proved extremely popular with book lovers and tourists alike overseas. The Hay–on–Wye Literature Festival now attracts over 80,000 visitors across ten days in May-June every year. A phenomenal number when the usual population size is considered.

Similarly, Scotland’s Booktown, Wigtown – population of less than one thousand people, yet around a dozen bookshops, have benefited increasingly over the 20 years since being hailed as Scotland’s Booktown. The 10 day festival held in 2017 was said to have generated over 3 million UK Pounds. This years is just finishing and figures are expected to be up on last year.

I was in Featherston at the end of August this year to attend an authors event at which Wigtown’s unofficial Booktown Champion Shaun Bythell – owner of Scotland’s biggest second hand bookshop – was promoting his own book “The Diary of a Bookseller”. The book takes a look at a typical year in the life of a bookseller (Shaun) – recording the daily and often humorous exchanges between himself, his staff and customers.

I loved the book, met the writer and found him to be a charming, witty and intelligent human being, with the voice of a 1950’s BBC presenter, a very casual sense of fashion style bordering on “op-shop” and a mop-top of unruly orange hair. He’s a very likable sort of guy – self depreciating, yet confident. The event received an audience of over a hundred and twenty people eager to meet the man and to listen to readings from the book, listen to rib-tickling tales of book-shop life and to take part in a question and answer time. Bear in mind that this was on a cold winter Monday evening in a tiny rural town. The weekend before, he had been in Auckland and had a smaller audience. It goes to show that Featherston is ready to step up in literary circles.

Featherstons next literary festival runs from 9th to 12th of May 2019. I for one will make sure it’s on my calendar. Achieving the title of Booktown along with the upcoming festival and other events throughout the year should help to put Featherston firmly on the tourist map.

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Above photo – the writer (on the left) with author Shaun Bythell