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.
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!
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.
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.
Book·ish, my local bookshop, has been highlighting a Word of the Week for the last few weeks, and among those featured has been
— 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 suggested: abibliophobia, 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!
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.
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!