Thursday, August 31, 2006

Humour Me...

As a bookseller there are some things I love being asked (Read anything good recently? Do you accept credit cards?) and other things that are more problematic (Do you have that book, you know, the sort of green one...)

Perhaps my least favourite thing to be asked is "Can you recommend a funny book? Something that will make me laugh?"

Why? Hardly ANYTHING that is supposed to be funny makes me laugh. (Even my infant son has a perma-frown after just two months!)

But this made me roar out loud. Then I cried with laughter reading it to my wife...

Fyodor is a Russian emigre living in Berlin. He dreams of being a writer and hangs around with other literary aspirants. The following takes place at an evening meeting where people read things they have written to an audience of their peers.

" the idiotic symbolism of the tragedy became ever deeper, more involved and less comprehensible, the painfully repressed, subterraneously raging hilarity more and more desperately needed an outlet, and many were already bending over, afraid to look, and when the Dance of the Maskers began in the square, someone - Getz it was - coughed, and together with the cough there issued a certain additional whoop, whereupon Getz covered his face with his hands and after a while emerged again with a senselessly bright countenance and humid, bald head, while on the couch Tamara had simply lain down and was rocking as if in the throes of labour, while Fyodor, who was deprived of protection, shed floods of tears, tortured by the forced noiselessness of what was going on inside him. Unexpectedly Vasiliev turned in his chair so ponderouusly that a leg collapsed with a crack and Vasiliev lurched forward with a changed expression, but did not fall, and this event, not funny in itself, served as a pretext for an elemental, orgiastic explosion to interrupt the reading, and while Vasiliev was transferring his bulk to another chair, Herman Ivanovich Busch, Knitting his magnificent but quite unfruitful brow, jotted something on the manuscript with a pencil stub, and in the relieved calm an unidentified woman uttered something in a separate final moan..."

I'll leave it there.

Did you laugh?

BTW Can you guess the author?

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Memory cul-de-sac

Anybody remember the Gin Blossoms? Arizona band of the early nineties? I've been seeing the trailer for some medical drama on 5 or 4 or somewhere that has a song from those ulster MOR rockers Snow Patrol over the top. An inoffensive enough tune but it seriously reminded of a great country rock album that was one of my favourites from years ago. Couldn't remember the band or album for the life of me but I did remember that the guitarist/ song-writer was an alcoholic depressive who shot himself at 32 which was more than enough for google...

...New Miserable Experience by the Gin Blossoms, 1992 (yikes) and probably one of my top5 played records that year. Not ground-breaking or terribly rock and roll but definitely hook-tastic and with some great all-time depressing lyrics about being a depressive alcoholic in your 30's. Thanks to iTunes I've got it again after a gap of 12 years (I tend to clear out all my stuff now and again) and it rocks and pops. 'Lost Horizons' and 'Hey Jealousy' are thumping great drivin' down the highway tunes. Which reminds me I have to go and seek out some of the early Springsteen small-town classics - Nebraska, The River. J'adore l'americaina.

As I write this I am listening to Kelly Clarkson. File under Guilty Pleasures. Anybody noticing a theme here in some of the music I like...

(The Credibility Barometer: The last thing I downloaded was a compilation of Ethiopian funk/reggae/soul/blues from the 70's - Ethiopiques vol. 13. The Golden Seventies. Does that cancel out Since You Been Gone?)

Any other cred-busting guilty pleasures out there?

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Finn and the Bird in the Tree

One evening dad took Finn in to the garden to check on the beans. While they were at it they admired the bright red Bishop Dahlias and dad brushed the dark foliage against Finn's face, making him grimace. The flowers were very red. They held the small but large headed hero's attention for a moment or two...

...and then it happened.

A sound cut through the evening noises of Camberwell on a Friday night. Through the shouts of joy and pain, the yells of excited children, the circling police helicopters, the reggae music and hip-hop blasting from distant car stereos. While all these man-made sounds were harsh and grating this was a sound that caressed the inner ear, that cooled the brain and made thought clearer.

Finn hadn't yet mastered the art of speech but his telepathy was pretty good. He looked at dad with his big eyes. Then he looked in the direction of the beautiful sound. He concentrated.

"Oh That's a bird" said dad. "I think it's a wren. Sounds big but that loud sound comes from a teeny tiny little bird".

Finn stared up into the tree where dad was pointing. An aeroplane passed overhead. The bird was speaking!

"Isn't this a lovely evening?" said the bird. "Aren't we all lucky to be here on this lovely evening?"

Finn smiled. He chortled. He sucked dad's neck.

Wonderful that such a little bird could make such a big difference.

Terrible that they seemed to be the only two people nearby to even notice his song.

It's saturday so it must be football. (Bad language can be heard on the terraces)

Wow! On Matthew's recommendation I've started The Damned Utd. by David Peace. I'm only 50 pages in but it's a staggering work that is quite simply the best novel I've read in ages. It's also like nothing else I can think of. It feels like a completely new, groundbreaking form that Peace is writing here but with overtones of the epic prose poems of the past. It also manages to be a work that can evoke and awaken so many of your own memories. Peace's turn of phrase is so clear, so pointed that sentences can send you into a reverie of your own past. I also can't think of a novel where all the characters are real people and all the situations are real. It is about Brian Clough's 44 days in charge of Leeds Utd in 1974 yet Peace really transcends any docu-drama elements to create a complete world. This has been called the greatest football novel yet. I'd say it is that but it is also a novel about men and one of the greatest I've come across that really gets what it means to be male. Take this passage. A paragraph that encapsulates the british male in all his grubby, boozy, leering, frightened, posing glory:

'The player's lounge, Elland Road. Deep in the west stand, off the main corridor. Round another corner. Two doors and a well-stocked bar. Low ceiling and sticky carpet. Easy chairs and no windows, only mirrors. Mirrors, mirrors on the walls. The smell of shampoo and christmas aftershave as they file in from the dressing room in their denim and their leather, with their gold chains and their wet hair, teasing and touching, picking and pinching, a gang of apes after a fuck, they form a circle, their heads as low as their knees in their easy chairs, they spread their legs and touch their balls and try not to look my way-
My Way, indeed.'

I love the phrase, 'a gang of apes after a fuck'. That pretty much sums up any group of men in this country doesn't it? That's what we are, a gang of apes waiting and trying to fuck and 'a gang of apes after a fuck'. Vulgar and crude but utterly brilliant.

Oh, and no need to add that it didn't make the Booker long list is it? It's not really a surprise.

(And in the spirit of the terraces and male bonding my uncle told my dad a joke who then told me: Did you hear about the man who mistook his sleeping pills and his viagra? He ended up having 40 wanks)

Death of the author...

No No No No No Don't stop reading! This isn't a piece of critical theory...

...just an interesting take on the art of literary translation.

I have huge admiration for anyone that spends time translating books from other languages into English. What would my life be like sans Dostoevsky, Szerb, Murakami to name but a mere fraction of the writers I love for whom English is not their first language. (Ok - I might be a multi-linguist by now but it's FAR more likely I wouldn't have been exposed to their work)

I recently met Robert Chandler who translated the excellent (and bizarre) book The Railway by Hamid Ismailov. He also translated a book of Russian Short Stories for penguin recently that has flown off the shelves. When I suggested his work was a labour of love he said "Yes, I do labour but I really, really love it so that's ok..." My kind of guy.

Anyway to cut to the point I just had a conversation with an Italian student about literary translation. She said she had done translations for business before and it was dead easy - you could be very literal. But now she was trying literary translation. This, according to her, is an altogether more complex process. You have to find the right words to convey the sense but to do this means you can't translate literally. But every liberty you take has to be checked with the author leading to vast e-mail exchanges and long international phone calls.

"It's so much better if they're dead" she said.


If a rather attractive Italian lady contacts you and wants to translate your work - DON'T BE FLATTERED!


After all we all know what happens to sales the moment an author dies...

Friday, August 25, 2006

It's Official! There is no crime in London!

That's the only explanation I can muster for a scene witnessed today on the Hungerford foot bridge over the Thames on my way to the Strand.

A little Chinese guy has had a pitch on the bridge for the last year selling little whistles that make a noise like birdsong for £2.50 a pop. He's tiny and takes up no space and is surely barely eking a living.

Today, two of the Met's finest were standing over him talking into their radios and preparing to arrest him. At first I was alarmed but then it occured to me that finally there is no crime left! All the drug dealers must have been locked up. All the sleeper cells found and disbanded. All the burglars reformed. Why else would the police commit valuable resources for the flimsiest of 'offences' - selling bird whistles without a license.

So my hearty congratulations, London bobbies. Well done lads and lasses and keep up the good work!

Thursday, August 24, 2006

I don't know if you or any of your minions read our blog but if you or they do...

"Eccentricity is not, as dull people would have us believe, a form of madness. It is often a kind of innocent pride, and the man of genius and the aristocrat are frequently regarded as eccentrics because genius and aristocrat are entirely unafraid of and uninfluenced by the opinions and vagaries of the crowd."

Edith Sitwell

Big Head

Finn went to see the Doctor yesterday. You will be pleased to hear she described him as "perfect".

However while he is of completely average height he is in the top 2% in terms of head size.

Brainbox or boaster? Only time will tell...

The all-new and improved 8th circle of hell.

My mum had never been to Harrods. So I took her there. And we looked at the Dodi and Di memorial where people were taking pictures with their phones. And we didn't buy over priced tea. And we got the hell out of there. 23 minutes all up.

I was reminded of those medieval paintings by Bosch, Breugel and Cranach of judgment day. Something about the twisted, contorted faces and the rampant rudeness and the pinched snootiness of those people who believe they're a cut above because they have money. And the poor, bewildered tourists who looked like they'd wandered into Hades itself.

I love London but I guess one of the reasons it is the way it is, is it's greed. Unfettered gluttony and rapacity. Luckily there are other bits that I like. And I don't have to go to the ones I don't like.

(I didn't even go on a spying mission to the Waterstones in Harrods but I did go to the one in Hampstead which is a damn fine bookshop. If only they took out all those stoopid promotions it would be one of the best. Whoever's working up there knows their stuff, dammit. Many recce's are planned. I do like industrial espionage)

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Executive, Legislature, Judiciary

Or, Authors, Publishers, Booksellers.

The three-pronged model for government is, in theory, an ideal one for the post-enlightenment democracy. The executive writes the laws, the legislature tweaks those laws and decide which ones are passed and the judiciary upholds some of those laws and throws out others. It is a circular form with no one branch, in theory, becoming more powerful than the other.

In the book trade, similarly, the author writes the books, the publishers look at those books and decides which ones to publish and the booksellers support some books and dismiss others. Each branch needs the other in a harmonious circle and everybody's happy.

However, one look at our cousins across the atlantic will soon realise that this model is, at the present time and for the most part, total bollocks. Oh well.

We had a visit from Richard Charkin, le grand fromage at Macmillan, yesterday after we had an 'exchange of opinions' over at his blog. Good on him for coming in and a jolly illuminating chat it was too about the nature of the book trade and its future. However one thing became abundantly clear soon after his departure and I think Marie, who was there giving her tuppence worth, will agree. Not only are we not reading the same page, we're not reading the same book. In fact we're not even in the same library. The circle of trust has become a tangle of second-guessing with lots of misunderstandings, dead-ends and dark places only broken occasionally by the light. Oh well.

'May you live in interesting times', as the old curse goes.

Hate Mail

A letter arrives from the Royal Mail - sorry, I mean Consignia - no, I mean the Royal Mail.

Dear Customer,

I recently wrote to you concerning Mail Deliveries to your premises on a Saturday.

So far so good. Except those egregious capital letters - what are they doing there? - but OK, I can understand what is being said.

As no reply has been received I would be grateful if you would confirm that you want your mail ever retained and delivered on Monday or delivered on a Saturday.

Confirm? Ever? What?

The same could be said about festive holidays when firms shut, mail will be delivered on the next working day.

You've lost me. Was that a question?

If however you want something on a mid / long term permanent basis then you will need to apply for our Business Keepsafe service.

*Anything* on a mid / long term permanent basis? Like a house? Or a pet? Or a boyfriend? Can the Royal Mail provide them all? And can we define permanent in this context? Doesn't 'mid term' imply temporary? What is mid term anyway? I thought it was something to do with Presidents.

OK, so I do understand what this letter is trying to say - just about - but this kind of poor English just makes me furious. Surely a communications firm should hire someone who can actually communicate?

Royal Mail, usually I charge 25p per word for this kind of thing but you can have this for free:

Please could you let us know whether you would like your mail delivered on a Saturday or if you would prefer it to be held and delivered on Monday morning. Similarly, whether on public holidays you would prefer your mail to be delivered on the next working day. Note that should you require any long-term storage of your post, you will need to apply for our Business Keepsafe facility.

Twenty seconds' work. And I thank you.

Sunday, August 20, 2006


I've just been on holiday in darkest Dorset (back in the shop tomorrow, if you missed me) and while I was away I had the disconcerting experience of turning into a character from a famous novel.

Bear with me on this.

I had set up my computer by the downstairs window of the cottage where I was staying and every morning as I worked on my novel (I didn't say it was a fun holiday) a group of three small children would come and play just outside. At first they ignored me and I tried to ignore them, but after a while I heard them talking about "the lady on the computer". Soon afterwards, they developed a new game. One or other of them would creep up to the window and look inside, and when I noticed and looked at them, they would scream and run away.

Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce myself. I am Boo Radley.

(If we have time, I can also tell you about how in three days the only person I spoke to was an old man who came and knocked on my door and accused me of stealing his metal detector, but I think we should save it for another time, as I'm tired, I haven't unpacked yet, and I don't know which major work of literature it references.)

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Football (sorry!)

Most exciting thing to happen in football today?

Nah, not the premiership kicking off (Fulham don't play till tomorrow anyway. Who? Oh only Man Utd up at Old Trafford. I won't be going as Finn is too young for all the swearing and drinking but a couple of mates are going to be doing some yelling on my behalf. Off to a flying start as usual I suspect. As a Fulham fan the start of the season is always bitter sweet - particularly since beating Chelsea and Liverpool at home last year - the league and european champs -that will be hard to top...I digress)

No the most exciting thing happening in football today is The Damned Utd by David Peace.

Following on from his extraordinary treatment of the miners strike in GB84 Peace goes for Brian Clough's ill fated reign at Leeds Utd.

David Peace is quite simply among the best writers in the UK. He is a Yorkshire man himself and understands the animal nature of football and of that "Dirty" Leeds team of the seventies in particular. This is NOT a book about the "beautiful game". Football is not bloody beautiful - it's war. (But war fought in the way it should be fought - IE Nobody gets killed)

So there we have it - the best footie book in ages and perhaps the best footie novel ever?

Buy it from Crockatt & Powell - NOW.

Friday, August 18, 2006

To Katie from Gordon, 18.8.1985

It's musical bedrooms round my gaff at the moment. The folks are staying so my flatmates been shunted out (he's doing a job in Birmingham, we haven't turfed him onto the street) and I'm in his room. By the side of his bed is a pile of my old books I've yet to read. When I woke up this morning the first title my eyes fell upon was The Unbearable Lightness of Being, a book I've been meaning to get round to for ages. Infact I even picked it up in the shop the other day to 'borrow' when I remembered my old secondhand copy.

So I opened this edition and on the inside cover page was an inscription, 'To Katie from Gordon, 18.8.1985'. It was exactly 21 years to the day that this book was first given. It made me instantly despondent. What happened to Katie and Gordon? Was it a relationship that had long ended? Had Katie given away all the books Gordon had given her? Had they broken up over this book? Or had they survived and merely cleaned out a bunch of old crap? Or was it an attempt by Gordon, given the story of the book, to get into Katie's pants?

But then I realised that I was despondent because I just didn't care about Katie and Gordon. In fact worse, they were spoiling my book. Katie and Gordon belonged in their own fiction, indeed it might make a basis for a story but here and now their reality was tainting me and tainting this book forever.

I like my books untouched, box-fresh, new. I don't want someone else's cast-offs. And I don't want signed copies either (the thought of an authors voice in my head is unbearable when I read fiction, their signature at the front of the book only compounds this mania - look out for a future post on the Death of the Author - indeed when I worked at Pan with a revolving door of authors coming in to sign I had to run a mile so anyone's books I admired didn't have the chance to be effected by the author turning out to be a complete knob. This happened anyway more than a few times. Naming no names of course). I'd rather a thousand copies of a book being read by a thousand individuals than a single book being passed through a thousand different pairs of hands. The outcome may be the same but somehow there is a diminishment, an erosion of the power of the book in the latter case. A books new-ness increases it's capacity for impact. A book can change your life but if you know that the copy you are holding has already changed numerous lives don't you feel short-changed? You may know that a text has been read and appreciated for years but there is something in the physical nature of holding a book that gives you a more intimate relationship with it's contents.

It may be considered spooky that I had picked up Katie's book 21 years to the day after Gordon had given it to her but I don't believe in that stuff. It was just a coincidence. And now I have to 'borrow' that new copy from the shop.

An experiment...

Our book of the month this month is Either Side of Winter by Ben Markovits.

This post is intended to be a place where people can discuss their thoughts about this book. If there is a strong response we may go ahead with our plans for a bulletin board on the website where people can discuss books etc. So here goes, a little different to the normal blog but...

I had heard various things about Ben Markovits on the literary grape vine, mostly with reference to his debut The Syme Papers. Readers were divided. They either thought it a work of total genius or found it a bit heavy going. I looked at it and decided not to read it.

When Either Side of Winter appeared I was tempted again but initially resisted. This was mainly because of a review of The People's Act of Love by James Meek that Ben wrote in the TLS. I loved The People's Act and felt a bit defensive about the review. Who IS this Markovits? Who does he think he is?

Then Ben came into the shop I was working in (pre C & P) one evening with his wife. He asked if he could sign his book and I said yes. We then chatted for a while about booky stuff and it turned out we had a few mates in common (always the way in bookselling/publishing). The conversation changed my opinion of the man and I decided, I have to say with some reluctance, to give Either Side a go.

Initially I was unconvinced. There was something weird about the sentence structures I could not quite put my finger on, something almost Germanic. But I carried on reading until I became used to the style. I began to appreciate that this was a writer who understood not only the way that people think but how they feel, how changes in the weather or the most tiny, insignificant moments became vastly important to the individual concerned. As the story progressed and the connections and relationships became more developed I realised that I was falling in love! Now I verge on the evangelical when it comes to Ben and his books...

So what do you think? Come in and pick up a copy or order online - join the debate.

Ben Markovits - Brilliant or boring? All opinions welcome!

Thursday, August 17, 2006

The Time Vortex

I have just returned from the black hole of time they call 'fiddling with the website'. We now have a navigation bar with lots of pretty colours that change colour when you hover over them. Oooooh. I'm really really chuffed. But it won't stay that way for long...

...and another thing

Why the Freak did they have to bring out a FILM of Miami Vice.

After the Davey (great motto eh?) thing (wild front ears etc) there came the horror of Miami Vice.

"Oi Crockatt! Where's Tubbs?"


Oh well.

Better get it over with.

Top 10 Again

We are SO busy today...I'm rushed off my feet...

Top 10

1: On Beauty by Zadie Smith
2: There Was An Old Lady WHo Swallowed A Fly (board book)
3: Remainder by Tom McCarthy
4: Camomile Lawn by Mary Wesley (flew off the table - new biog out - great summer read)
5: Secret Life of Trees by Colin Tudge
6: Blink by Malcolm Gladwell
7: Summer Book by Tove Jansson
8: The Leopard by Lampedusa
9: Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka
10: Journey by Moonlight by Antal Szerb

As you can see there have been a few new entries and a couple that hold their position. Zadie tops our chart with her Orange Prize winner. The table continues to sell strongly while the bestsellers according to the rest of the world hardly appear at all.

In Praise Of...

The Idler

We at C & P love the Idler, that lazy look at the world produced by the clever (and hardworking!) Tom Hodgkinson and co.

Of course being lazy isn't much use in running a business. But being lazy is also an art. And extremely political. In fact being really lazy takes a lot of work!

But I digress.

In this issue of The Idler there is a piece on parenting. (Baby bore? Moi?) In esssence the idea is that kids are pretty good at bringing themselves up. Left to their own devices they are more than likely to develop into functional human beings.

I won't quote from the article here - you can come and buy it off us!

One quote then:

Oh, Health and safety! How many crimes against humanity have been committed in your name?

Finn Visits The UN and Achieves World Peace Through the Simple Yet Effective Manipulation of his Face

Please note: No infants were intoxicated in the construction of this e-card sent to my sis in NZ...

Another dreamy day began in South London. The birds were singing outside in the gentle August drizzle, fighting for natural sound against the pneumatic drills of a group of workmen contracted to dig up the street. The cat was chewing catnip and waiting for the mice to make a wrong move so he could have some breakfast. Dad was drinking coffee and mum was doing a crossword.

Meanwhile Finn, small yet heroic, was bouncing in his bouncy chair and contemplating the possibility of world changing action...

...before anyone could react he had leapt a thousand miles or so (startling an albatross mid-atlantic) and landed in the UN building in New York where world leaders had gathered to discuss a new resolution.

Mr Bush was speaking about the need for "credible action" in the face of "terror".

Around the table other world leaders were nodding or shaking their heads. It seemed that another war was inevitable in the quest for peace. As usual everybody had a different analysis and what was even more familiar - all these wise men thought they were right.

Finn wriggled at the back. Oh dear. You know what's coming don't you?

An ALMIGHTY fart! Pong and awe! The mother of all air biscuits!

What was worse someone had left a microphone lying around so the cacophony was broadcast at high volume into the ear pieces of all the assembled diplomatic and state representing folk.


Everybody stopped talking, listening, nodding (or shaking) their heads and turned to stare at our diminuative darling.

And what did Finn do?

He smiled.

He smiled and the leaders were confounded.

Their words of war melted in the face of such a lovely spectacle.

Suddenly going to war didn't seem such a good idea. After all we all were little once. Before the demands of society made us sensible and forced us to get jobs etc we idled the days away, smiling and farting.

In an instant World Peace was declared.

Finn leapt off to the Empire State. With another, rather overenthusiastic, bound he landed in Moscow before jumping back to Camberwell.

Nobody even noticed he had gone.

Cinemas don’t offer discounted prices for the latest Harry Potter film, so why do publishers allow booksellers to discount their bestselling titles?

That's from an article in the Times.

Answers on a postcard, please.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Every man and his dog's got a blog

I was going to put this on our roll of honour but he kinda repeats himself a bit.

Monday, August 14, 2006

The Woman's Booker

So, as discussed, the C&P boys are not Booker fans, but personally I love it, as it's a brilliant excuse to have some good old-fashioned arguments about books, which is the reason I got into bookselling in the first place. Drop by the shop any time with an opinion or two, and you'll see what I mean... Anyway it's probably just going to be me taking an interest from the shop floor, but feel free to add your views and let the games begin!

Here is the longlist. I've hardly read any of it yet (hardbacks don't fit in my handbag) but for what it's worth, and in order to get the ball rolling, I've added my initial comments:

Peter Carey 'Theft: A Love Story' (Faber & Faber) - I thought this was great, but I'm a big Carey fan. I think a lot of people found the CAPITAL LETTER BITS quite annoying, and they can't give it to him every year, so I reckon shortlist but no cigar or maybe even a headline-grabbing SHOCK OMMISSION. (It'll win now I've said that. I am always wrong except about Vernon God Little which I knew would win because I loathed it.)

Kiran Desai 'The Inheritance of Loss' (Hamish Hamilton) - don't know much about this

Robert Edric 'Gathering the Water' (Doubleday) - or this, oh dear...

Nadine Gordimer 'Get a Life' (Bloomsbury) - Not read this one (look, I'm not the manager of the shop or anything...) but Gordimer is always a safe pair of hands.

Kate Grenville 'The Secret River' (Canongate) - Cracking and, in my opinion, a step up from her Orange award winner, which was pretty damn good anyway, so in with a real chance for a place on the shortlist. One of our best-sellers in the shop so reckon it'll have some supporters from the 'Loo.

M.J. Hyland 'Carry Me Down' (Canongate) - I was put off this one because the cover looks just like The Kite Runner, and The Kite Runner was one of my most hated books of 2004 or whenever... Remember kids: always judge a book by its cover.

Howard Jacobson 'Kalooki Nights' (Jonathan Cape) - heralded as a work of genius by C&P favourite AC Grayling and who am I to argue with that?

James Lasdun 'Seven Lies' (Jonathan Cape) - We heart James Lasdun at C&P. Shortlist please.

Mary Lawson 'The Other Side of the Bridge' (Chatto & Windus) - Another unknown quantity for me...

Jon McGregor 'So Many Ways to Begin' (Bloomsbury) - This'll be one of those situations where if it wins it'll actually be for the first novel, like Al Pacino's Oscar for 'Scent of a Woman'. Woo-hah!

Hisham Matar 'In the Country of Men' (Viking) - I read the first couple of pages of this and thought, yawn, The Kite Runner again. So another one with a chance at winning then...

Claire Messud 'The Emperor’s Children' (Picador) - pass

David Mitchell 'Black Swan Green' (Sceptre) - I'm a Mitchell fan, in fact am reading Cloud Atlas at the moment (always a beat behind) and I heard some of this on Radio 4. It sounded brilliant and quite a departure in style for him from what I understand, so I'd like to see it do well. Matthew on the other hand assures me that Mitchell is dull and derivative and hyped far beyond his abilities, which is the kind of thing that always goes over my head. I just like his books. Sorry.

Naeem Murr 'The Perfect Man' (William Heinemann) - don't...

Andrew O'Hagan 'Be Near Me' (Faber & Faber) - know much...

James Robertson 'The Testament of Gideon Mack' (Hamish Hamilton) - about these...

Edward St Aubyn 'Mother’s Milk' (Picador) - and this one had a terrible cover.

Barry Unsworth 'The Ruby in her Navel' (Hamish Hamilton) - big name, horrible title

Sarah Waters 'The Night Watch' (Virago) - And last but not certainly least! The absolute number one choice from C&P and I speak for all of us here (without, you know, having checked with the boys or anything), because we *heart* Sarah Waters, she is local, she shops in our shop, this was our first ever book of the month, she invited us to the launch party and everything, and I drank loads and ate all the canapes so I owe her, and we just love her, LOVE her. Waters to win! Go Sarah! Not least because it's about time the winner's speech was sweet and modest and not a pompous heap of horseshit, not mentioning any names but I think we all know the culprits...

Of course, half the fun of Booker time is complaining about what's been left off. So just to get that argument started: where, please, is Remainder by Tom McCarthy?

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Hiccup Down Babylon - The Further Exploits of the Recently Arrived One Known As Finn

Finn woke up with a start. Things were not cool. Despite the small size and relative lack of sophistication in our young hero's brain he had finally worked it out. The world was not all fluffy and full of smiley people like mum (and sometimes dad) there was bad stuff too. Really bad stuff. Stuff that was so terrible he felt like crying right about now.

So he did.

A while later, as dad collapsed frazzled onto the sofa, groaning and tearing out the remains of his thinning hair, Finn resolved to SORT IT.

A quick suck on the thumb (Legend has it Finn once burned his thumb on the recently removed from the fire body of the Salmon of Knowledge and now thumb sucking resulted in future seeing etc) provided a solution to the problem of evil in the world.


Lots of hiccups.

A short while later he began:

Dark Satanic Mills were destroyed in a flurry of mouth flatulence to be replaced with idyllic workers co-operatives like Crockatt & Powell. (!)

Nasty words between lovers were mangled and returned as whispered sweet nothings.

Death had his cloak pinched and sythe blunted - but then returned as all good necronaughts know - Death is a part of Life.

Bombs became buns, missiles meringues, soldiers students and tanks turned into trees.

After an hour or two the world was a better place.

Finn woke up with a start.

Saturday Superstore

David Byrne

Ex Talking Head David Byrne has a great website. He compiles a monthly playlist that you can listen to on his site or at iTunes. And it just gets better and better every month. This month is a list of artists from his old record label. Last month was Standards and before that Electronica, country music, Cuban oldies and many more. Perfect saturday afternoon listening.

Prizes and Lists

A commenter invited us a few posts back to compile what we thought would be a 15 title Booker Long list. There are a few reasons why we're not.

a) Personally, I'm not much of a list-maker. I must be one of the few men I know who have never alphabetised their record collection or library and I'm not much of a one for top 10's, 50 greatest, 100 countdown either. I've never really liked shelving too as I'm sure Matthew and Marie will have noticed - I kind of like 'ordered randomness', whatever that means.

b) I'm just not sure how you can turn literature into a hierarchy. Of course I believe in good and bad but every good book is so different from the next you can only discuss them on their own merits. You can compare and contrast but to place them in order seems somehow Romantic as opposed to Enlightened. I'm the latter, mostly.

c) At places like Waterstones it is imperative for them to have the same books front of house at every store. It doesn't make commercial sense for us to have the same 15 titles at the front of our shop as you see in Waterstones and the others. We'll look at the list, see what we like and stock what we think will be complimentary to our selection.

And d) We could run a C&P alternative Booker prize. It might be a bit of a laugh but I just don't think our customers would really care. Also see a) and b) above. The longlist is primarily a sales boost for Publishers much in the same way Valentine's Day is for card people. That's fine, everyone wants to make a bit of money but I think our punters expect a little more from us by now.

I might get into trouble for this

I read on Susan Hill's blog that she would never want to run a second hand bookshop. I too am having increasing difficulties with this part of the trade. Primarily any book sold from a secondhand shop or from the Amazon market place or Ebay that is still In Print means the author doesn't receive a royalty from that sale. That seems unfair. Considering authors make so little money anyway it seems really unfair. Maybe if 2nd hand dealers paid a kind of Author Tax so funds could be distributed to authors then maybe...

So, maybe secondhand places are good for Out of Print stuff. Unfortunately, for me this just points out the paucity of our libraries. If, when you are finished with a book and you don't want to keep it and it is out of print shouldn't there be a national network of libraries where that book can find a home and live on being borrowed? And shouldn't Out of Print stuff just be put on the Internet? Sorry, dodgy ground here.

Antiquarian? Again libraries. Oh dear, I don't really want to put second hand book dealers out of business. Honest.

But also, we get quite a few customers who are dedicated 2nd hand buyers. They ask us if we only sell new books and then leave in a cloud of contempt when we say yes. Sorry people but for a book to be second-hand someone has to have bought it new at sometime! You need us!

Last two books sold

Both to young twenty-something regulars. Madame Bovary to the very attractive woman and Philosophy Principles and Problems by Roger Scruton to the scruffy student bloke. Neither seemed to quibble at paying the cover price. Makes me come over all elitist and snobby. This is a good thing.

A message for Jonathan

We got the Banksy book in. Put it in the window. Of course it sold immediately. Mea Culpa Jon. Mea Culpa Matthew

Remainder - The Future?

Great to see Tom McCarthy's excellent Remainder starting to receive the review coverage it richly deserves. (Guardian today)

Turned down by all the main publishers who failed to see any similarity to the pillars of our modern literary world (Wayne Rooney, Jordan, Billy Piper and Dan Brown) it has taken a long while for word of mouth to push Remainder into the limelight.

Perhaps in the future we might see an increasingly close relationship between independent bookshops and independent publishers with the common aim of making sure quirky, interesting and downright weird books still find an outlet?

Since opening 8 months ago we have already forged strong links with Eland Books, Serif, Pushkin Press, Maia, Portobello Books, Alma Books, Hearing Eye, Marion Boyars and Melville House Press to name a few...

Maybe it's already happening? Want something a little different? We're on Lower Marsh, Waterloo.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Mostly Books

Mark from Mostly Books came in to see us today - bearing gifts! (For Finn)

He and his wife Nicki have been going for just over a month...

I am constantly and regularly astounded by how bloody brilliant people in the booktrade are.

If you live anywhere remotely near Oxford check them out - in Abingdon.

All the best, lots of luck and remember guys - KEEP IT HARDCORE

In Vogue

Kate Moss and Crockatt & Powell...What's the connection?

Rock star boyfriends?

Cocaine problems?

Nope - both in Vogue!

No I'm serious...We are in Vogue this month. Yup, among the pages and pages and pages and pages and pages and pages and pages of adverts you will (if you part with £3.60 for the opportunity to be advertised at in a "shock and awe" style) find a brief mention of our fledgling enterprise.


Headed - Boutique Bookshops

In a world of overwhelming choice, we all need a little editing. From the food we eat to the clothes we buy, it makes all the difference to know that care has gone into the selection process. It is no surprise that independently run boutique bookshops are currently enjoying a quiet renaissance. While the battle of the high-street giants rages, and it's revealed just how much publishers will pay to make their title a "bestseller", more and more of us are discovering the pleasures of real bookshops, where books are curated with the same care as artworks in a gallery.

Good stuff eh? (Thanks to the peeps at Vogue - hope it's ok to quote this...)

Haywood Hill is described as "wonderfullyramshacklee" John Sandoe as "Dickensian", Daunt in Marylebone as "elegant".

As for Crockatt & Powell:

Matthew Crockatt and Adam Powell also spotted a gap in the market , and launched Crockatt & Powell in Waterloo this year. They quickly started a monthly bookgroup, a poetry parlour and regular readings, where philosophy professor AC Grayling and Zadie Smith have taken the stand. Their passion is clear. "We stock the books we love," says Powell simply. "And anything that appeals to shameless elitist literary snobs", adds Crockatt, wryly.

So there you go. The die is cast. Waterloo is to be the new Chelsea and Lower Marsh a 21st century Kings Road.

Or something...

It was a dark and stormy night... and other tuesday morning randomness.

New Releases

'Miniscule blue flowers cascaded down the bleached ancient stones of the wall. By its foot, a fluorescence of apricots and a worn runnel of clear flowing water, lent an air of delight and abundance to the garden...

She shifted petulantly under the parasol and sipped her glass of rough red paraffino. "I know zay dumped ze veppons overboard before ze vorship clohsed, but viz all ze rardars and sattaleets today, it is too easy to votch sheeps."'

Intrigued? The Suppliant by Peter Morris, Saxum Books, 0955304105, £11. Available now at C&P

New Blog

Scott Pack has a new blog to go with his shiny new job. I'll get Marie to add it the roll of honour when she comes back.

Professionalism, Maturity and blogging

There are so many angle that blogs take. Ranting, professional, political, sentimental, angry, stoopid, widely read, hardly read. Some have agendas, some don't. I particularly liked this response from Mil Millington in an interview on this blog

As a former professional IT guy who has harnessed the beastly power of the web to get his writing known, do you have plans to employ other technologies to air your writing, such as a podcast?

Well, as I say, I didn't mean to. I was simply amusing myself - I didn't think anyone else would take any notice. And then, when they did, I still didn't regard it as a career opportunity or anything so... so... so American. As an aside, I get lots of email offering to increase the traffic to my site, in various ways. I have no interest in increasing the traffic to my site - why would I? I have a bicycle. I got it from Halfords for about £100, in a sale. I've put a reasonable amount of care and effort into making sure it's a good bicycle - I've changed the saddle, done things to the tyres and so on - and that it works well. If people see my bicycle as I go by, and take a look at it, and like it, that's fine. If they actually call out, 'Hey - like your bike! I'm pleased I saw it,' then that's nice, I suppose. However, why on earth would I feel the desire to have my bicycle seen by every person it was possible to gather round? It's my bicycle. I have it because I like riding it (and I don't have a car); I don't have it because I want people to know I have it, and gaze at it longingly.

Which is sort of the attitude I have to our blog. After a comment on a post of mine yesterday I was wondering what this blog should be about but then I remembered that C&P is an enterprise owned and run by two thirty-something, middle class layabouts who didn't like being told what to do and either couldn't be arsed or were incapable of getting a real job. (I haven't forgotten Marie. She has her own special place here and in our hearts!) Of course we take our business seriously as it's our livelihood but our inner teenagers have to escape somewhere and voila! Blogland! So in the spirit of our own C&P approach to cyberspace if you've got any pissy, condescending comments - just keep them to yourselves. Thank you.


The marvelous Susan Hill has added us to her blog roll. I suddenly feel an urge to grow up and take things a bit more seriously... Maybe tomorrow.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Meeeeow! or Pot, Kettle, Black.

Obviously, Waterstone's got to Ottakers in the nick of time! They were so doooomed before the real deal came along.

('Dead' Stock is books that cannot be returned to the publisher. A bookseller can return books to the publisher between 3 and 12 months of the last invoice for that item. Anything past this is 'Dead', it eats up valuable shelf space that could be used for books that shift units and it also eats up your cashflow - generally the idea in bookselling is to sell the book a few times before you have to pay for the first copy. This, generally, never really happens.

Still, 5%!!!! I've worked in shops where the dead stock was pushing 40%! I could go into our nearest Waterstone's at Trafalgar Square and within the hour point out 10% worth of dead stock and 40% of overstocking. How bloody cheeky are they.

Actually, this kind of hubris makes me jolly annoyed indeed. A curse on all their houses)

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Top Tens

Our top ten sellers at the minute are:

1: On Beauty by Zadie Smith
2: Secret Life of Trees by Colin Tudge
3: Journey by Moonlight by Antal Szerb
4: Pendragon Legend by Antal Szerb
5: The Owl and the Pussycat (Board book)
6: A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka
7: Time Will Darken It by William Maxwell
8: The Terracotta Dog by Andrea Camilleri
9: My Life by Anton Chekhov (Melville Press Edition)
10: Remainder by Tom McCarthy

Amazon have:

1: Artemis Fowl and the Lost Colony
2: Gordon Ramsay's Sunday Lunch
3: The Dangerous Book For Boys
4: The Island by Victoria Hislop
5: The Abortionist's Daughter
6: The Time Traveller's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
7: The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
8: My Best Friend's Girl by Dorothy Koomson
9: Marley and Me by John Grogan
10: Positively Happy by Noel Edmonds

The "Official" Bookseller Top 10

1: The Island by Victoria Hislop
2: The Righteous Men by Sam Bourne
3: My Best Friend's Girl by Dorothy Koomson
4: On Beauty by Zadie Smith
5: Not That Kind of Girl by Catherine Alliott
6: Lifeguard by Patterson and Gross
7: If You Could See Me Now by Celia Ahern
8: Angel by Katie Price
9: I Know You Got Soul by Jeremy Clarkson
10: Making Your Mind Up by Jill Mansell

As you can see our bestsellers are a little different from most other shops.

Either we are an interesting little shop that caters to a group of people who think "outside the box" or we are doomed to miserable failure...

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Hot Reads

I am very much enjoying this debate on the Guardian's Culture Vulture blog: which books are sexy and which are not?

I don't think I'd actually try to get off with someone based solely on their reading matter but I do tend to make judgements after the event, based on what books they have lying around the place. Years ago, I was delighted to catch sight, by the bedside of my new love interest, of a volume of Terry Eagleton literary criticism. At last, a thinker! Much joy ensued. Some time and much literary discussion later, I realised that his enthusiasm for arch-mysogynist Philip Roth was a definite sign that there was no future in it. (God I LOATHE "America's Greatest Living Writer" Philip Roth.) When I mentioned that Roth hates women, and he just looked baffled... Well. Farewell.

More bizarrely, I was dumped not once but twice in incidents directly related to Haruki Murukami's South of the Border, West of the Sun. Inexplicable. They read it; it was curtains. I went to a talk given by Murakami shortly after dumping number 2 (indeed, at the suggestion of the dumper, to whom I had foolishly lent the book in the first place - no future lover of mine will *ever* get his mitts on it) and intended to ask the author (a) why this had befallen me and (b) what he was going to do about it, but sadly, from my seat of row Z number 2 (and there were only two seats in row Z) I was unable to get the attention of the chair of the discussion - one Scott Pack, the Artist Formerly Known As Evil. So my question went unanswered. The nice Japanese-speaking gay man in the other half of row Z, however, did dispense the following invaluable piece of wisdom: "If you go out with Murukami men, you get dumped in Murukami ways." Sage...

In short, while it's true that reading might be sexy, it very much depends on what you read. Still, there's one thing to be said for compatible reading habits: at least you know you'll have something to talk about when you finally get bored of having sex.