Saturday, September 30, 2006
It's a very funny book. (Is that my girlfriend you're staring at? Er...Yes.)
Since opening the shop I too have fallen for the seduction of that litle word. It has often led to us expending a lot of time and energy on things that have made no commercial sense at all. There is a school of thought that argues that running a bookshop is just like running any other business, that everything should make commercial sense.
And yet saying "yes" has led to all sorts of brilliant things happening.
I believe passionately that Crockatt & Powell should be a place that says "yes", that is positive about the creative ideas people have. I also think that the atmosphere this creates makes things happen.
While not wishing to take anything away from Marie who is a talented writer, brilliant events organizer and great in many ways - I am sure that working for Crockatt & Powell has had something to do with her recent success...
(Congratulations Marie. We are very pleased for you, though in all honesty as Gore Vidal aka Morrisey once said "Every time a friend succeeds, I die a little." I have been trying to write a book for ten years but gave it up to open a bookshop. A nasty evil BSTTS part of me is jealous - luckily it's a very tiny portion, a certain twisted and gnarly toe - I'm sure I can keep it in check. Meanwhile Marie has promised us to make sure she does not turn into a "twat" and we will be vigilant in the extreme!)
Do you see what I'm getting at?
In a way a bookshop feeds on other people's creativity all the time anyway. We don't write books, we sell them. We make a living by selling creativity.
What I hope is that by encouraging creative things by saying "yes", to let things happen at Crockatt & Powell, we will make the business work financially as well.
I wonder how different the world would be if money took a back seat, just for a minute. Let the creativity take control, say "yes" and cross your fingers.
You never know what might happen...
Friday, September 29, 2006
All of a sudden he felt something sharp and tingly, something - leggy - walking up his arm. He waved his arms about but still the nasty sensation continued, up his arm and - horror of horrors - onto his little face!
"Aaaaaaaagghhhh!" said Finn and dad came over to see what all the fuss was about.
"Hey little mate what's up eh? Oh! A beetle. Ahhh....There there, he was lost that's all."
Finn stared at dad with his big eyes.
"Ok. Well beetles are insects you see. They do look weird but they are very important creatures and we should all try to be more appreciative of their services. Your auntie Anna told us a story about beetles in India, do you remember?
She was out in the desert. The dunes spread for miles in every direction. Miles and miles of nothing but sand. Then, as the sun went down, all these dung beetles appeared and started rushing about. They clean up every evening after dark. Every speck of dirt, camel poo, whatever - they drag under the sand to see if they can eat it later. Remember how auntie said they kept trying to carry her off? How every few minutes while they were sitting on the sand round the fire they would reach down and grab a beetle and throw it into the darkness. A minute or two later he'd be back.
See insects are very hard working. The dunes are spotless thanks to their collective efforts."
Finn smiled. Dad was getting all allegorical as usual.
"People spend a lot of money on sprays and poisons to try to kill insects and keep them out of their houses. The funny thing is that if it wasn't for those very same creatures then we would all be buried - in our own poo!"
Finn smiled again. He was only a few weeks old but already his sense of humour was rather lavatorial...
Thursday, September 28, 2006
Wednesday, September 27, 2006
Tuesday, September 26, 2006
(Louis Saha just scored in the champions league for Man Utd - He used to play for Fulham. The season we were promoted he scored more goals than any striker in either of the top four divisions! I'm at home on the laptop BTW.)
We think Ben is a young writer of real distinction - that's why we chose to highlight his book.
Arrive from 6:45 for a glass of wine or juice. The event is free.
But you know how it is.
It's sooooooooo HARD to keep secrets...
I mean this is really quite exciting, life changing, you know. BIG NEWS.
(You won't tell a soul anyway - I know - I can trust you...can't I...)
Ok, it's like this...EUK...
Marie here - I'm afraid Matthew won't be blogging for a while. (Squealer!) I'm locking him in the cellar (which is rather smelly at the minute)
Oooooo it's cold as well. And dark. What's that scratching noise? I think it's a rat...Oh no! I'll keep quiet next time I promise just LET ME OUT.
They've gone home.
I'm going to have to sleep down here. At least there are some cardboard boxes.
Friday, September 22, 2006
Do you find it hard to stop your books from groovin'?
It's the first birthday I've had since the birth of my own son Finn. That makes it seem more important somehow, like I am starting to realise why my parents love me or something, like I'm maybe even growing up a bit?
I've had thirty two birthdays now and my hair is thinning, my belly growing, my interest in politics and experimental novels diminishing - in other words I feel middle age rushing on.
And yet I still have a bloody minded determination to do things my way, to fight against the world (that says independent bookselling cannot work these amazon days - that whispers "you'll never make any money" - get a proper job - nobody is interested in authors reading or silly radio shows) and win, to create the best bloody bookshop in London if it kills me!
And just now a bloke was in the shop, came up to the till...
"Need a hand with anything?"
"No - I'm looking for gaffa tape and just saw this place for the first time, thought I'd pop in. Do you know what? I'm not going to buy anything now 'cos I'm only meant to be away for five mins but I think this is probably the best bookshop I've ever been in. I'll be back."
Thanks mate - Happy Bloody Birthday Me!
Thursday, September 21, 2006
I put this down to watching the Stephen Fry documentary on Manic Depression that night. While I was watching it I was sort of nodding along and thinking that didn't everybody feel like that a little bit, that didn't everyone have visions now and again? Extremes of euphoria and depression accompanied by excessive self-medication to even ones state of mind out is surely just called 'being human'. Apparently not. Oh well.
And then on top of that, last night I sat through two films. Firstly 21 Grams probably the most harrowing and relentlessly depressing movie I've ever seen. I liked it a lot. Then The Descent one of the most seat-jumpingly scary films I've ever seen. I liked it a lot.
I've not been self-medicating this week and everthing has been sharper and more focused with greater clarity but as David St Hubbins might have said, a little too much f***ing clarity. Intense visions of altered states coupled with spending all day doing two months worth of petty cash receipts and putting old invoices onto the software programme I think it may well be time to indulge in a wee libation or three. I have tomorrow 'off'.
(My dream reminded me of the opening to I Know This Much is True by Wally Lamb, a spankingly great novel about a man and his scizophrenic brother. It's a hell of a start...)
There was Death of the Book - obvious what he was on about. His visionary experience occurred when he held one of these new e-readers in his hand. "I saw it, very clearly, the death of the book..." He was an obvious GOB (gadget obsessive bloke) though and lo and behold the book still survives. Have not seen him for a long while.
Then there was I and Eye - a Rasta who tried (and failed) to enlighten us. He once showed me pictures of him with his arm around Big Youth but sadly years of searching for enlightenment (smoking tons of weed) had left him a bit brain damaged. He ended up harassing Marie about an allegedly low cut top and was never seen again.
Last, but by no means least, there was Flashing Helmet. I knew we were famous when I overheard someone on a bus yell "it's flashing helmet" as he cycled past.
But the flashing helmet has gone. (He used to wear a hard hat with flashing red lights taped onto it) It has been replaced by a rather dapper green hat. I await the coming darkness of the winter months with interest - will the flashing helmet return?
Fortunately the Prophets keep coming.
Only yesterday there was the lady who, after a long ramble about trees and subsidence (I insisted trees are blamed for house collapses unfairly. The hot summer has caused lots of subsidence - trees (also knackered by the hot summer) have fu*k all to do with it!) She was thrilled and launched into a long story about how she had taken a shower in the hospital. ("I was just walking along the corridor when I saw this open door - there was a shower in there! Well, I couldn't pass an opportunity like that so I hopped in. Now I think they might be after me" (looked over shoulder) "But it was a lovely cool shower.") After a great deal of smiling and nodding on my part she dropped her bombshell.
"Of course, I'm from another planet."
Tuesday, September 19, 2006
Sounds very sensible to a girl who struggles to be up at 7 a.m. to open the shop at 9 a.m.
Matthew is more concerned at the tempting / disastrous example it sets to those who are their own boss...
Monday, September 18, 2006
So let me get that straight... we get no discount with which to pay rent, rates, electricity etc. and then we give money away by paying for postage too which we can't palm off onto the customer. Erm... So how do we keep the business afloat I wonder?
The nice woman asked me if that was ok.
No it isn't bloody ok.
But... I'm very scared at the moment. Manny and his veg stall has disappeared! It's tumbleweeds out there... Does he know something we don't? Or has he just gone on holiday...
Come back Manny! Even if we do have to listen to Crapital Gold all morning!
Saturday, September 16, 2006
Why did we get busier after the French market packed up?
Was it anything to do with the rubbish dance music they were banging out from the sweet stall?
How many copies of "local artist" Banksy's book would we have sold if we hadn't decided graffiti on a wall was one thing but in a book was "stupid"? (We are selling loads of them now)
How many other books could we have sold loads of if we weren't so bloody opinionated/snobbish?
Will I still love A Glastonbury Romance this much after 1000 pages?
When I said to the kid in the Chelsea shirt earlier "big game tomorrow" and he looked blankly at me and was then prompted by his dad whispering "Chelsea play Liverpool tomorrow" was that real evidence of what I know to be the case - ie All Chelsea Fans are Fake Glory Hunting Gits
Would I still love Finn if he grew up and supported Chelsea?
(A defining moment of my football supporting life came when Fulham were first promoted to the Premiership. Our first game was at Old Trafford VS Man Utd. A real baptism of footballing fire. Louis Saha played for us in those days and scored the first goal in what turned out to be a blinding match - though it ended in glorious defeat for the men in white. On the way back we had to stand on the train. It was FULL of Man Utd fans on their way back to London. What was worse they all had reserved bloody seats! AND they were drinking red wine while we Fulham lads and lasses were quaffing Stella.)
How did I ever manage to drink Stella when it is so nasty?
Is that edition of the Flowers of Evil I just ordered really the best translation? How would I ever know being so bad at French? (My French teacher famously described my accent as "more Brondesbury (a small part of London where I grew up) than Bordeaux!"
Will Finn smile at me this evening? He was really grumpy earlier.
Hope Sarah Waters wins the Booker.
Will Chris Yates (author of How To Fish) come and buy a copy of JA Baker's Peregrine from us like he said he would at that lovely fish lunch organised (and paid for!) by Penguin?
B R A I N S T O P P E D W O R K I N G
I N E E D S O M E G O O D S L E E P
Friday, September 15, 2006
But I don't mind. Next to Manny's is a guy with an unfeasibly large selection of sausages... Guess what I'm having for dinner tonight.
Thursday, September 14, 2006
I was reading some blogs and comments from somewhere today and it was suggested, from some well established independent bookshop somewhere, that it was our duty as booksellers to sacrifice all other forms of distraction to reading books and reading books only. That any time spent in front of the telly or reading a newspaper or staring into space is a betrayal of our customers and that if we weren't running 23 bookgroups a month we were somehow unworthy to run a bookshop.
Too much time with your head in a book is a bad thing. Head up, look around. Stare into space... now and again. Then when you return to proper reading... WHAM. Wow, how cool are books! In our modern distracted world I think it's so important to maintain a perspective on all our distractions. Taking a step back can help us as booksellers really focus on what's great about reading and let's be honest we're fighting for market share out there. Maybe the Booker shortlist provides a respite for a few brief weeks but it's not the whole answer. Enjoy it while it lasts and lets think about the other 48 weeks of the year to get people picking up a book instead of switching off and watching 22 year old pop midgets with a big, big voice.
So that Booker shortlist...
Kiran Desai, The Inheritance of Loss (Hamish Hamilton)
Kate Grenville, The Secret River (Canongate)
M J Hyland, Carry Me Down (Canongate)
Hisham Matar, In the Country of Men (Viking)
Edward St Aubyn, Mother's Milk (Picador)
Sarah Waters, The Night Watch (Virago)
Go Sarah! Not that I've actually met everyone on the list, but if she's not the nicest, she has to be equal nicest at least. We're huge Waters fans at the shop. We were at the launch, y'know. They read out how the sales were doing and we were totally thrown to discover we'd sold 1pc of all the copies sold (we do not turn over 1pc of UK book sales on the whole, more's the pity.) Of course, I'm sure that Borderstones etc have caught up with us by now, but we were there first. And she's a local lass too! Someone dig out that photo of her in the shop...
Wednesday, September 13, 2006
Answer: One, Crockatt & Powell, on air from October 5th.
Yes that's right we are going to have a radio show on Thursday afternoons on Resonance 104.4FM. Details are slightly sketchy at the moment but it will be in the afternoon, either 3pm or 3:30pm.
We hope to have a varied and interesting schedule comprising author interviews, author readings, recordings of poetry events in the shop and perhaps a kind of "books of the moment" slot with Marie and I arguing about our favourite books.
So far we have an interview with Louise Welsh and Zadie Smith reading in the shop. Ben Markovits will be recorded on 28th September when he reads from Either Side of Winter at the shop.
We also hope to record a poetry event we have on Monday 18th September. This is a turtle event, part of an anarchic series of "happenings" dreamed up by Michael Shamberg.
So even if you can't make it down the Loo you will still be able to enjoy our events...After all Resonance is an internet radio station as well as broadcasting on FM across London.
Tuesday, September 12, 2006
2: Remainder by Tom McCarthy
3: Nobody Told Us We Were Defeated by Rory McCarthy
4: Damned Utd by David Peace
5: Secret River by Kate Grenville
6: The Very Hungry Caterpillar (Large Board Book) Eric Carle
7: The Tribes of Britain by David Miles
8: Untold Stories by Alan Bennett
9: As Used on the Famous Nelson Mandela by Mark Thomas
10: This is London by Miroslav Sasek
As you can see our bestsellers bear absolutely no relation to the national norms (as usual!)
Great to see people supporting our book of the month and boosting Ben Markovits to the top of our chart. He will be reading at C & P on the 27th...
...but I have fallen in love.
With John Cowper Powys and A Glastonbury Romance. This is a book I have thought about reading for a very long time. It is, after all, a very long book (1120 pages in my edition) and I always think hard before starting long books. I used to put it on the table at Waterstones and every now and then someone would buy it. (Exactly the kind of book they stopped me from putting on the table leading to me quitting and seeking out the independent sector! Selling "every now and then" is not what W's is about any more. Some would say this was a good thing. (Shareholders) Others (Book nuts) disagree.)
I digress. Let's just say that almost from the first moment I started A Glastonbury Romance I knew I was in good hands. This is the kind of book to surrender yourself to completely. I love the way he writes, I love the way even the buds on the trees seem to be characters in the book. I love the sense that there is an aspect of life that lies entirely beyond the realm of work, money and all sensible things, that the world is here to be enjoyed and noticed that this is vital not just some lazy notion.
All we have is now says Cowper (and the Flaming Lips) and everything is here in each moment if only we could pause for a moment and take notice.
(Now where are those pills?)
No, seriously! Blake lovers, dreamers everywhere - find a copy and sink inside. You have over a thousand pages of pure literary pleasure to explore...
Monday, September 11, 2006
What I particularly love about product placement in books is the notion that the product will blend seamlessly into the rest of the story, nestling its way unnoticed into the brain of the reader who will have no idea why they suddenly want to buy a Ford. It's bad enough when you see someone drinking a coke in a film, but at least there are a dozen other things on screen your eye could rest on. Product placement in books is the equivalent of zooming right in on the can of coke while the lead actor says "I love Coca Cola! It's such a tasty, refreshing beverage! And, by the way, frankly my dear I don't give a damn."
My absolute favourite example of literary product placement was a book that I once saw which was sponsored by the Gatwick Express. The entire first chapter of the book was devoted to the narrator talking about how brilliant it was shopping in Gatwick airport, so much so that she would go and shop there even when she didn't have a flight to catch.
Of course, people mention brand names in their books all the time, but usually not with one eye on the sales figures. I'm not sure, for example, how sales of Kool-Aid were affected after the release of the Electric Kool-Aid Acid test. (I can make a guess about sales of Acid, though.) Where authors mention brands, it's generally to situate the characters in time, place, class - to create context, in other words. It's to aid your suspeension of disbelief.
Product placement is the opposite: it's clunky. It stops you short. It makes you forget you were reading about a character and makes you start thinking about toothpaste. Why any author would wish their book to be compromised in this way is a mystery to me. OK, it's not that much of a mystery - it's money of course; but accepting product placement in your novel is a surefire way to make lots of money from advertising and none whatsoever from sales. And I know where I'd rather my cash came from.
...she said, smoothing down the fabric of her Zara skirt and adjusting the straps of her Gap top...
Saturday, September 09, 2006
I've never been able to read JG Ballard. I've tried and tried but have always failed by page 15 to connect in anyway with his dystopian worlds. His new book Kingdom Come came in and I thought I'd give it my customary bash assuming it would be on the rejects pile toot sweet. But you know what? I get this one! I've got 15 pages in and I'm hooked. It's about the weird satellite towns that rub up along the M25. His descriptive and observational writing is so spot on that I can feel the boredom and shock of driving through these wastelands.
I do hope he doesn't mess this one up and go all weird... It's very mundane at the moment but incredibly biting. Fingers crossed.
"This is great time to be an American CEO, a tough time to be the CEO's lowest-paid worker. A great time to be Wal-Mart, a though time to be in Wal-Mart's way, a great time to be an encumbent extremist, a tough time to be a moderate challenger. Fabulous to be a defense contractor, shitty to be a reservist, excellent to have tenure at Princeton, grueling to be an adjunct at Queens College, outstanding to manage a pension fund, lousy to rely on one, better than ever to be bestselling, harder than ever to be mid-list, phenomenal to win a Texas Hold 'Em tournament, a drag to be a video-poker addict."
His place in the pecking order he defines equally clearly.
"My biggest worries on the day [of Hurricane Katrina] were whether I should feel bad about quitting work at three and whether my favourite organic store would have Meyer lemons for the marguaritas I wanted to make apres golf... When I flew back to New York, I worried that Katrina's aftermath might create unpleasant turbulence on my flight."
We wealthy westerners are the Franzens of the world. Damn it. We're all gonna die.
Friday, September 08, 2006
The most pant-soilingly scary apocalyptic vision has to be this. You may scoff but if you have a look at the date on the cover you'll see that to a 10 year old boy this was indeed the end of the world. Deadworld, where all life has been declared a crime since only the living commit crimes. I may be 35 now but reading that still gives me the heebeejeebees.
Other apocalyptic visions... I am legend by Richard Matheson and the movie of (apparently a remake is in production with Will Smith as Neville due out next year - cooooool). Mary Shelley had a stab in The Last Man. Wells' Shape of Things to Come is pretty scary and prescient. And I always thought of Waiting for the Barbarians by Coetzee as a pretty apocalyptic novel.
Hard to go past George Miller's excellent Mad Max movies (the first two) and Costner's Waterworld is a grossly under-rated pic. Planet of the Apes, Night of the Living Dead, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Terminator films (not pt 3), Kiss Me Deadly (1955, Robert Aldrich - what was in that box?), Soderbergh's re-make of Solaris is pretty bleak, War of the Worlds starts promisingly but has a cop-out ending.
I played a computer game last year called Half-Life 2 which was unbearably apocalyptic and seat-jumpingly scary.
All of which to say is that I'd happily sit through all of the above a dozen times than attempt the new McCarthy. But then again I'd rather chew my own arm off than waste time with his torpid, unpuntuated prose.
Thursday, September 07, 2006
I love his writing. The Border Trilogy in particular (the final part is still one of only two books to make me cry) His most recent novel No Country For Old Men is perhaps the most underated book published in years. Most reviewers treated it as a simple thriller, ignoring or failing to notice the layers of meaning, the politics, the anger that churned beneath the pared down plot. No Country For Old Men is a book about the beginning of the end of a society and culture (that of the US) that showed the redundancy of a culture that worshipped at the alter of Supply and Demand. (What is the cocaine trade if not capitalism taken to a logical conclusion?)
Marie loves his writing too.
Adam thinks he is the pits - too "poetic" and a waster of words.
When a proof of McCarthy's new novel came in Marie snaffled it. She didn't tell me either cos she knew I would be furious! Well, after three consecutive nights of nightmares she has finally finished it and claims it is "the most terrifying book I have ever read". Where No Country For Old Men raged at the failures of American consumer culture The Road takes place in a world and landscape that has totally collapsed...
It is sitting here in front of me now. I'm going to have to start reading it...
"When he woke in the woods in the dark and the cold of the night he'd reach out to touch the child sleeping beside him. Nights dark beyond darkness and the days more gray each one than what had gone before. Like the onset of some cold glaucoma dimming away the world."
Excuse me now - I have a book to read!
Sunday, September 03, 2006
Finn Takes a Holiday but still Manages to Explore The Relationship Between Electricity and Salt Water
"Everybody's here!" said dad, looking at the huge queues at both chip shops.
"Well last time it was November" pointed out mum with a smile.
A short while later, as the sky darkened and huge clouds massed, the car stopped again.
"Bet it's not so packed here" said dad "Not with the power station on the horizon."
Finn found himself strapped to dad's front and then they were off. Mum and dad huddled under their umbrella as large drops began to fall. By the time they reached the beach most people were heading the other way.
"Look at that" said mum pointing at a lovely curve of colour that hung in the air above the bay. "A rainbow."
But almost as soon as it appeared the rainbow vanished. Everything went dark and it began to pour.
"Let's get under here!" said dad, ducking beneath the overhanging roof of a shed. There was just enough room for the three of them. A bedraggled man, his long hair dripping, laughed at the sight and called out - "Surely time for an ice-cream?"
Dad smiled then said something under his breath that Finn didn't quite catch.
"It'll be over in a minute and then we'll have our walk."
Finn watched as lightning ripped the air. He listened to the clouds as they crashed together, groaning and rumbling furiously. Rain lashed the pebbles and ran off the roof of the hut in small streams. From time to time a dog walker came off the beach smiling ruefully, soaked to the skin, a sopping mutt with a thousand yard stare in tow.
After a while it did stop raining.
"Right Finn - this is the sea!"
Dad held our tiny titan up, muttering about ancestral voices and sailing scotsmen, so that he could look out over...
...what? A huge expanse of grey green that undulated into the distance. Where this "sea" met the land there was an interesting sound effect. It was a bit like the sound of wind through trees but there were elements of bathtime in there too.
They stared at the horizon where the rain still slanted from the bellies of black clouds. On the shore Finn saw a large building with a white dome. As previously discussed the head is big but the brain is (so far) small and yet the little one has other means of gathering knowledge at his disposal. He sucked his fingers.
Then the sun blazed down as the last of the cloud blew out to sea.
"Oh that's the nuclear power station" said dad. "It's a great way of making electricity, no greenhouse emisions."
"But the waste takes millions of years to decompose!" objected mum.
Finn was frowning.
Finn waved his arms and gurgled. The power station shook.
Finn kicked his legs and was a little sick. The power station turned into a bunch of flowers.
As usual nobody noticed. The adults had already turned and were crunching off down the beach. But Finn was thinking.
All that power in the sun, sea and sky. There has to be a better way of harnessing it...