Foraging for food for thought

© C A Lovegrove

We’re just about at the end of a few days break in Bristol and, pending a book review, I’m just posting a few items of bookish news for now.

First off, in between visits to friends and old haunts I’ve taken in a few bookshops. Let me list them: one Oxfam bookshop, The Last Bookshop (which, paradoxically, was the first one I went to on a second outing), a second Oxfam bookshop, and Bristol’s remaining Waterstones — it used to have three — or, as I still prefer to think of it, Waterstone’s.

Also, since I’m currently rereading Diana Wynne Jones’s Archer’s Goon, I revisited some Bristol sites that I’m certain inspired a few of the fictional places in the fantasy. After a review I shall be putting together a few photos and speculations for a related post.

Continue reading “Foraging for food for thought”

Bookish thoughts

Book-ish, Crickhowell

You may remember that I made a conscious effort to resist acquiring books new to me for as long as possible, bearing in mind the many, many unread titles that I already had teetering on my shelves.

As we’re now a quarter of the way through 2020, you bibliophiles out there may (or, more likely, may not) be wondering how well I’m resisting.

The brief answer is, not bad, as I’ll explain. But I’m now in a quandary.

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Broken resolve

Huh! It’s a couple of days into January and I’ve already broken my blogging New Year resolution.

You know, the resolution I declared on 31st December 2019 that I would not to do any bookish challenges for 2020. Here on this very blog.

What a loser, fallen at the first hurdle! And what is this heinous oath-breaking I’ve committed? You’ll gasp with shock when you’re told. It’s — I can barely bear to say it — something that will freeze the blood of every bibliophile who ever tremblingly anticipated entering a bookshop, taking a book off a shelf, opening it …

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Bookish town

Today, 7th March 2019, is World Book Day in the UK and Ireland: “The main aim of World Book Day in the UK and Ireland is to encourage children to explore the pleasures of books and reading by providing them with the opportunity to have a book of their own.”

This post has a twofold purpose: to mark World Book Day and, as part of Dewithon — the Wales Readathon — to celebrate the contribution of Book-ish bookshop in Crickhowell‘s High Street to the literary life of Wales. As a resident I’m quite happy to blow the trumpet and bang the drum for this small market town!

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Pre-owned, pre-loved

Display in The Rye Bookshop, East Sussex


Inverted Commas 4: Used Books

I have always enjoyed reading, but I’ve never been sure how to select appropriate material. There are so many books in the world — how do you know which one will match your tastes and interests?

Thus writes the titular character in chapter 32 of Gail Honeyman’s excellent Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine (2017). A Latin graduate, she clearly has no problems with factual works but fiction confuses her.

The covers are of very little help, because they always say only good things, and I’ve found to my cost that they’re rarely accurate. ‘Exhilarating’ ‘Dazzling’ ‘Hilarious’. No.

For her, I suspect, novels may provide clues as to how ordinary minds work, because Eleanor is no ordinary person. The thought processes of most people are largely a mystery to her.

The only criterion I have is that the books must look clean, which means I have to disregard a lot of potential reading material in the charity shop.

I sort of understand that squeamishness. Luckily for me the secondhand books in the charity shops I frequent are often as good as new, but that’s not always the case.

I don’ t use the library for the same reason, although obviously, in principle and in reality, libraries are life-enhancing palaces of wonder.

Eleanor is anxious about library books touched by unwashed hands, read in the bath, sat on by dogs, or body effluvia and excess food wiped on pages. I’ve worked in suburban libraries in the past and can understand those worries, though she does exaggerate them: “I look for books with one careful owner.”

Is that the case for you too? What are your tolerance levels for pre-owned, even pre-loved reading materials? Is your motto secondhand bad, firsthand good? Or is the book’s condition a matter of indifference to you?

Another book display, The Rye Bookshop

Book lover’s day’s today?

Book-ish bookshop book van, Crickhowell, Wales

9th August is apparently Book lover’s day, according to some anonymous and apparently self-appointed committee who decide these things.

This is despite the fact that there is no end of special days for bibliophile and bibliomanes.

World Book Day is celebrated worldwide (early March in the UK and Ireland — aimed at younger readers — 23rd April for Catalunya and most of the rest of the world) and Independent Bookstore Day on the last Saturday in April for the US. There are even weeks dedicated to the acquisition of books, for instance Independent Bookshop Week in June for the UK.

As far as I’m concerned every day is Book Lover’s Day: remember, giving or receiving a book is not just for Christmas…

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Not dead yet

Independent Bookshop Week 2018 will take place 16 – 23 June. IBW is part of the Books Are My Bag campaign, and seeks to celebrate independent bookshops in the UK and Ireland.

The death of bookshops — and in particular independent bookshops — has been announced several times in the last few years, but it seems to have been a premature pronouncement. The steady decline in the UK has at last been arrested, and new independent bookshops have even been opening. It’s nothing to be complacent about, though, as indies can of course only survive if they get paying customers through the doors.

This trend has been matched by another development reported last month, the conclusion of a University of Arizona study being that millennials may prefer physical books over eBooks for reasons of “ownership, limiting usage experience, and value perceptions”. What this boils down to is this:

Readers have a constricted sense of ownership of digital books versus physical books; there are restrictions on sharing eBooks with friends, or gifting or selling the books, thus reducing their value.

Then there is the sense of being more emotionally attached to physical books, with physical books helping to establish a sense of self and belonging. This appears to be related to nostalgia for certain childhood books.

The sensory aspect of physical books is important: smell, feel, sight. Books collections are also used to express identity to visitors. While minimalists prefer digital books because they take up less physical space, many US participants in the study said eBooks felt more like renting than buying.

Significantly, many older readers prefer certain aspects of ebooks, for example e-readers are lightweight compared to physical books and enable the reader to zoom in on text.

For longtime fans of physical books little of this comes as a surprise. It just seems curious it has taken academics until recently to obtain the data that seems to confirm what many of us knew.

Of course this doesn’t guarantee that booklovers will get their stash from indies when they could get the same cheaper elsewhere — from bookshop chains or online, for example — so independents have to work hard to entice bibliophiles in, for example with cafés, book signings, book-related events, themed displays and the like.

Sadly, not all of us happen to live, as I do, just a hundred metres from the nearest indie. But if you do, please support it, especially during this year’s Independent Bookshop Week. You know the old adage: Use it or Lose it. And remember that INDY is also an acronym for I’m Not Dead Yet . . .

I’m Not Dead Yet. Strictly speaking, the phrase from Monty Python and the Holy Grail is “I’m not dead,” but in the musical Spamalot this gets transformed into “I am not dead yet…”


University of Arizona press release
https://uanews.arizona.edu/story/why-your-ebook-might-not-feel-yours
Academic abstract
Helm, S.V., Ligon, V., Stovall, T. et al. Electronic Markets (2018) 28: 177.
https://doi.org/10.1007/s12525-018-0293-6

Independent Bookshop Week is not to be confused with Independent Bookstore Day in the US, “a one-day national party that takes place at indie bookstores across the country on the last Saturday in April” every year.

Independent Bookshop Week

An unashamed plug for independent bookshops, to be celebrated this coming week in the UK and Ireland. Much of the following comes from the IBW website at https://indiebookshopweek.org.uk/

Independent Bookshop Week (24th June – 1st July 2017) is part of the Books Are My Bag campaign, and seeks to celebrate independent bookshops in the UK and Ireland.  They do this with events, celebrations, reading groups, storytelling, author signings, literary lunches, even face painting!  Your local bookshop will have their own way of celebrating, and IBW encourages you to visit to celebrate with them.

For those active on social media the campaign has a Twitter account for updates @IndieBound_UK and also another account @booksaremybag for all things IBW and bookshops. BAMB is also on Instagram and Facebook.

We’re also told that IndieBound is their umbrella independent campaign, which helps “promote healthy high streets, shopping local and the benefits that a diverse high street — with a bookshop at its heart of course! — can deliver to a community.”  IndieBound was started by the American Booksellers Association in 2008 as a “marketing movement”  for independent bookstores, part of a campaign for “fiscal localism”.

After you’ve let your fingers do the walking, following the links and so on, it must be time to use Shank’s pony to wend your way to your local bookshop — though that’s assuming you still have one. But hurry! By patronising it you may help to ensure it continues to survive and thrive. Use it or lose it!

The Joy of Books (1)

There’s something about book anticipation that gets to this particular bibliophile. When I was a kid I remember being intrigued by the packaging of Fry’s Five Boys chocolate bar with its fivefold image of one lad in various stages: Desperation, Pacification, Expectation, Acclamation and Realization. Maybe I won’t quite go through all five stages before acquiring the desired object — in my case, the book rather than a bar of chocolate — but that stage of expectation is one that I especially relish. Even the image of books (as in a watercolour of vintage paperbacks hanging on our wall) is enough to have me salivating.

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A very serious matter

old books

Mark Forsyth The Unknown Unknown:
bookshops and the delight of not getting what you wanted

Icon Books 2014

As Donald Rumsfeld, the former Secretary of Defense in the Bush administration declared — and I paraphrase —
1. There are known knowns: things we know that we know.
2. There are known unknowns: things we now know that we don’t know.
3. There are unknown unknowns: things we do not know that we don’t know.

On the basis of the last category Mark Forsyth, author of The Etymologicon, has penned this 24-page essay, here published as a booklet, on the delights of lighting on books you had no idea existed. He declares early that there are “books that I’ve never heard of; and, because I’ve never heard of them, I’ve no idea that I haven’t read them.” He’s read Great Expectations: that’s a category 1 book, a known known. He hasn’t read War and Peace, so that’s category 2, a known unknown. And, though he’d love to name some books that he hasn’t heard of, he can’t — because he’s never heard of them. They’re the unknown unknowns of the title.

Continue reading “A very serious matter”

Strange wistfulness

vellichor
One in a series of Word of the Week outside Book·ish bookshop, Crickhowell

Book·ish, my local bookshop, has been highlighting a Word of the Week for the last few weeks, and among those featured has been

hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia

— which ironically (or probably deliberately) means “the fear of long words”. The online Urban Dictionary tells us that “sesquippedalio” relates to long words while “phobia” is an irrational fear. As for “hippopoto” and “monstro” (which are derived from hippopotamus and monster) they’re both included to exaggerate the length of the word. If such elongations are not your thing then perhaps the synonym sesquippedaliophobia (which means exactly the same thing) will easily substitute.

Another word featured is one I suggestedabibliophobia, or the fear of having no books to read. I also have high hopes of them including one of my recent neologisms, selidodeiktology, which you may remember is the study of bookmarks.

In the meantime a recent-ish meme has found its way onto their noticeboard. This is vellichor, as defined by — and possibly invented by — the online Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows as

the strange wistfulness of used bookstores, which are somehow infused with the passage of time—filled with thousands of old books you’ll never have time to read, each of which is itself locked in its own era, bound and dated and papered over like an old room the author abandoned years ago, a hidden annex littered with thoughts left just as they were on the day they were captured.

The pedant in me assumes that what is meant by a “used bookstore” is actually a shop containing many used (that is, secondhand) books, though the Dictionary definition could equally mean a bookstore that is well frequented. Perhaps both are implied. But no matter; more interesting to my mind is, whence this concoction?

WorldWideWords.org suggests that it is a compound of ichor and vellum. “The former is the stuff that was said to flow in the veins of the Greek gods in place of blood,” while the latter refers of course to parchment made from calfskin, such as was used in medieval manuscripts. “For lovers of books, there is nothing more distinctive and melancholy than the sight and smell of old books, redolent of dust and decayed hopes.” They add that the term deserves to be more widely known — so here I am trying to spread the word, though I’ve no idea in what context I’m next likely to use it.

Anyway, all this is a preamble to my lauding of Book·ish which — wouldn’t you know — is hosting the second Crickhowell Literary Festival, or CrickLitFest for short. This year sixty-four events are being staged over nine days, from October 1st to October 9th, featuring talks, literary dinners, workshops, children’s events, film showings and other delights. As festival directors Emma Corfield-Waters and Anne Rowe write, a recent Saturday edition of The Times made reference to Crickhowell’s ‘renowned Literary Festival’ which had, at that point, had only one outing, its inaugural appearance! CrickLit aims again to focus — though not exclusively — on Welsh connections such as authors (like its new President, Owen Sheers) and topics (history, culture and, of course, rugby), but anniversaries such as the quatercentenary of Shakespeare’s death, the bicentenary of Charlotte Brontë’s birth and the centenary of the Battle of the Somme will all also be commemorated.

Clearly this is intended as not just a nine day wonder to be forgotten once it is over but a celebration of books and writers that will resonate until at least the third festival in 2017. May that strange wistfulness that envelops well-used bookstores continue well into the future!

500-posts
My latest milestone, as advised by WordPress …

 

Every book is a world

bookshop window
Bookshop window display (Book-ish, Crickhowell, Wales)

Gabrielle Zevin The Storied Life of  A.J. Fikry Abacus 2015 (2014)

A book about books, the love of books, booklovers, selling books, writing books, quoting books, reviewing books, talking about books — what’s not to like? Add to that memorable characters whom you can get to love and care for, a few who either achieve a kind of redemption or get their just deserts, who live and breathe and die and live on; and what you glimpse is a little world, a kind of microcosm of the greater world we all inhabit — or would like to inhabit.

A. J. Fikry is the owner of Island Books, a bookstore on the fictional Alice Island off the coast of Massachusetts, only reachable by ferry from Hyannis. He is a curmudgeon, true, but a curmudgeon with good reason — personal tragedy has touched his life and coloured his world view. After his loved one dies book sales flatline; a valued book of his — an edition of Edgar Allan Poe’s early poem Tamerlane — is then stolen, an irritatingly pushy new agent from Knightley Press appears and, to cap it all, a two-year-old orphan is left in his care. Not only is he out of his comfort zone but there is little prospect of him finding his way back again. What’s a man to do?

I shan’t be spoiling matters by suggesting that he finds a kind of redemption and a new sense of purpose when he decides to adopt Maya, the bright young toddler who enchants him with her love of books. Through her he reconnects with family, makes new friends, cleans up his life, revitalises his business, even learns to love again. But there is unfinished business still awaiting him at the end of a dozen or so years, one that adds more than a touch of poignancy to this tale.

I found The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry absolutely delightful. Each chapter is headed by a book title and a short discussion by A.J. addressed to a teenage Maya; the title itself or an aspect of the book usually relates to what happens in that chapter, but I found I didn’t need to know much about any of the books to appreciate the thoughts and ideas that A.J. expounds, reflections that clearly indicate his belief that books are not an escape from life but a vital spark that makes life worth living. There is too a metafictional parallel: the stolen Poe edition dealt with the regret Tamerlane felt at the end of his life after forsaking true love for worldly power and success. As one of the strong themes in this novel, it is a message perhaps for us all; and it is echoed by the Rumi quote prefacing all: come on, sweetheart | let’s adore one another | before there is no more | of you and me.

There is a fascinating cast to discover peopling this book, which helps to underscore the message on the faded “sign over the porch of the purple Victorian cottage” declaring No Man Is an Island; Every Book Is a World. Reminding us of our interconnectedness with others it also emphasises that through books we may experience a wider life; and through writing we can speak as if by magic to future generations, even allowing them to love us when we are no longer in this world.

No man

This is my Massachusetts entry for Lory’s Reading New England Challenge at Emerald City Book Review, which may be a bit of a cheat as Alice Island doesn’t exist, but one or two scenes actually take place on the mainland — even straying to Rhode Island — so I hope it just squeezes in!

Author alphabet 2016: Z for Zevin

The Quest for Books

durer

I was interested in the results of a Goodreads online poll listing responses to the question “Where do you usually buy books?” — interested for two main reasons. First, for the fact that physical books were clearly still very much popular; and secondly because a good third still rely on their local bookshop for their purchases.

True, internet giant Amazon accounts for a hefty quarter of the total, though since many other online booksellers do some business through Amazon that seeming exclusivity may be mitigated to some extent. The category “online, elsewhere” is clearly a catch-all though: does ‘elsewhere’ include charity shops, shoplifting, housebreaking, book piracy, secret presses and so on?

Local bookstore 31,674 (32.3%)
Amazon 26,230 (26.7%)
Online, elsewhere 21,583 (22.0%)
I don’t. I have a library card and friends who like to share 17,903 (18.2%)
Direct from the publisher 732 (0.7%)
As of 3rd January 2016 98,122 total votes

Source: https://www.goodreads.com/poll/show/112459

A total of nearly a hundred thousand responses is not to be sneezed at, and I’m guessing fairly representative of English-speaking book buyers. I’m also heartened by the numbers of those who borrow or share books, especially where public libraries are concerned. As I’ve recently noted, over the last year a quarter of books I’ve read have come from the library. Over the same period I’ve only acquired four books online, not tackled yet because only purchased just before Christmas with Amazon gift vouchers; it’s actually exceedingly rare for me to order anything over the internet.

The rest of 2015’s reading comes from a total mix of sources — borrowed from friends or family, bought from charity shops or genuine book outlets, and rereads from my own bookshelves. Years ago I used to get review copies direct from a British publisher of scholarly Arthurian titles, but that fount has long since run dry; this year I’m aiming to include a handful of independent titles sent to me for review.

Every reader is different, of course we are. But though I’d like to think that many, perhaps most, of the followers of this blog would plump for buying their books at their local bookshop (if such a one indeed exists for them) I suspect the results may yet surprise me. Feel free to input your response here — but don’t delay, the poll closes in a week!