Saturday, March 31, 2007

Mission to mars

How cool is this? And this. (Use the scroll on your mouse to zoom in and out of the universe)

I love the internet.

Random ideas chucked into the ether...enlighten me...

The book trade is elitist (I use that word in the lazy way it is usually bandied about) and it is in our interest to be so...

Books are exempt from VAT cos they are seen to have "educational" value. If books are treated as "media" or products like any other then why the hell should they be exempt? This is something many newcomers to the trade have totally failed to grasp or appreciate.

Many internet sellers are avoiding paying tax. This is unfair on trad retailers who pay hefty rates bills.

Amazon makes a good deal of money charging third party sellers comission. These third party sellers are often running nice little businesses, undercutting traditional shops, but pay no tax. Ask the second-hand bookseller over the road about this. It really pisses him off!

What is the tax situation for the likes of Amazon? Do they pay any equivalent of rates? If not why not? Their lorries use the roads, they are a burden on services like any business and so should pay their fair share towards these costs - I know nothing about this really - anyone enlighten me?

Friday, March 30, 2007

'Back to brochan'

It is a saying my Irish mother uses with monotonous and annoying regularity. I always understood the intent without actually understanding the meaning but when you realise that 'brochan' is gaelic for porridge you know that you were right all along - keep your nose to the grindstone and go back to the coalface. Or, as a child, first day back at school - back to brochan indeed.

Spreading rumours is fun, fun, fun but the real meat and potatoes is pretty well encapsulated by this week's Boyd Tonkin column in the independent. One in the eye for all those who think 'Marx' is a swear word.

And really, who cares about the 'opposition'.

Looking in my crystal ball...

Scott Pack is directing people to the blog in search of news about the state of Waterstones etc.

We know nothing!

Rumours are swirling round the pubs of the city - we are just listening carefully...

I think he is dead right about bookselling on the High Street though. The days of the large chain are numbered.

But personally I am fed up with all this nonsense. Would prefer to stick to what we do best and sell some books.

Piccadilly's closing too

Speechless. Does anyone there know what they're doing?

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Further evidence if evidence were needed

More news this morning on HMV groups attempts to consolidate a weak position. Maybe centralising your buying makes sense from a financial view but frankly anyone (Simon Fox, HMV Group chief exec.) who says that reading books and listening to music are the equivalent of 'consuming media' deserve to go the f**k out of business and good riddance. We've also found out that one of the Waterstone's stores closing is the giant on Oxford street. Staff have been told that the shop will be closing in 'between 6 weeks and a year'. Not all will be offered other positions and most will just lose their jobs. When, is anybody's guess. You've got to hand it to them though - three whole years! Who made that decision and aren't they just making more and bigger mistakes?

Our other current bete noir, Picador, has popped up in the meedja again. This time in this weeks Private Eye.

Seems we're not alone in our dismay over the once mighty imprint... We also found out this week that Faber's current poet du jour, winning fantastic reviews and probably awards to boot, Daljit Nagra and his collection Look We Have Coming to Dover! was initially passed on by Picador. Of course any publisher can make a mistake in selection but this truly looks like carelessness bordering on incompetence.

Incidentally, Daljit will be reading here at C&P in a few months, fingers crossed, for our Poetry Parlour series - 2nd tuesday of every month. Watch this space for further details.

Wedge - You Wot?

WEDGE click to read all about it...

We are now offering the Marion Boyars classics list at £5 each rather than £8.95 to card holders only.

Also Catherine O'Flynn's excellent debut What Was Lost is available to card holders for £5 down from £8.99.

Coming soon the Crafter Culture Handbook for £8 - £2 off marked price.

If you want to benefit from these and other future offers then you'd better get yourself a Wedge card. Available from C & P or through their website.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Rough Trade

I am thrilled to see that Rough Trade are opening a new "superstore" on Brick Lane.

They are not only going to sell CDs buy Vinyl. The shop needs to be large so that it can operate as a venue as well.

Can you think of anything that goes more against "received wisdom" or that runs more completely against the experience of large music retailers such as HMV?

I have shopped at Rough Trade for years now. They have served me brilliantly from indy shoegazer through Grunge (I met Lou Barlow from Dinosaur Jr in Rough Trade after he played a gig with Sebadoh in the shop. There was sweat dripping from the ceiling and people hanging from the rafters. He signed my wallet in biro!) to Techno/Rave/Drum and Bass and out the other side to more folky things - now as pure inspiration. OK, my music taste is far more classical these days but I still go to Rough Trade from time to time and their ethos is just great. The whole shop makes it clear that these are people that live and breathe music.

I think they are showing the way for independent bookshops. We need to learn from their success and build places that are meccas for people who share a passion for books, who want to see writers read from and discuss their work, a place where they will find treasure that might remain lost and hidden on the vast shelves of the megashops or too far down the lists of bestsellers etc on the net. What is more Rough Trade have a record label. Booksellers were often involved in publishing in the past. We dream of the day when the sign above our door reads Crockatt & Powell, Booksellers and Publishers.

It may come sooner than you think...

In the meantime Rough Trade - it's the future.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Tea Leaves, Stars, Crystal Balls etc

It's always difficult predicting the future, but at C & P we're doing ok...

Around this time last year we were forcefully predicting the demise of the high street chains. A certain Waterstones bookseller was rather upset by this and battle commenced, eventually ending in a draw as we decided it was all becoming rather boring.

But we were right.

We said that the chains would struggle as the internet and supermarkets took the land from beneath them in a two pronged attack.

Prong one: You can never stock as many books as Amazon or another e-retailer - not even if you are the size of Waterstones Picadilly. (Amazon don't actually "stock" many books but they give the impression that they stock everything. In practice the punters don't care if the book comes from Amazon's stores or from a small bedroom bookseller - they just want the book)

Prong two: You can never beat the supermarkets on price - they are bigger and more powerful than you.

When you take the high cost of rents and staff then the High Street bookshop chain stops working. (Stop making profits that will attract investment)

Waterstones took over Ottakers and now many shops look like closing. Staff are pissed off.

Borders have just announced they wish to sell off their UK stores. 2000 jobs are now at risk.

But who will buy Borders? Tim Waterstone may be the only interested party but there is another problem in that the Borders stores are not in great locations. Waterstones always made sure they found the best position in a town.

So the high street chains are in trouble. When you take everything into account there is not much profit to be extracted from a chain of bookshops any more.

And that's where the indies come in...

See we aren't after massive profits. There are no shareholders to satisfy at C & P, just adam and I and our meagre needs. Similarly the likes of Topping & Co are perfectly happy with staff being paid good wages, same for Daunt and most other indies. Independent bookselling works because it's about love more than money.

But won't the internet and supermarkets kill indies just like the chains I hear you cry?


Why not?

Because what we offer our customers cannot be provided over the net or by a big chain. We get to know our customers. We listen to them and often buy in books because people have pointed them out to us and we thought they sounded interesting. Our bookshop works and will continue to thrive because we are creating a place where like-minded people can chat about books, read books, enthuse about books and hear authors talk about books. Yesterday we cocked up an order for a customer and we made sure she had the book in her hand an hour later. She went from furious to chuffed in an instant. Why? Because we made a mistake and we cared and made sure it was sorted.

I think I'm also going to be right in saying that people will continue to be people for a while yet, with human needs. As long as this is the case we will do ok.

So, as we said last year. Bye Bye chains, hello indies.

Friday, March 23, 2007

More What Was Lost Love...

Go Catherine! The ball started rolling here folks...

WHAT WAS LOST by Catherine O’Flynn

This 'tender and heartbreaking' gem of a novel is currently on Amazon's bestseller lists and is rapidly becoming a popular word-of-mouth success.

Featured on the Simon Mayo Show (22.03.07) as the Radio Five Live Book of the Month for March the book panel's praise and reader feedback was unanimously positive - 'wonderful' 'incredible' 'beautiful' - with comparisons to Mark Haddon for the characters' quirky appeal and to Douglas Coupland's Generation X for the novel's subtlety and acute contemporary feel.

What to do?

Caught the repeat of the latest Grand Designs on More4 last night. The owner/ceo/whatever of a large book distribution company on the south coast was treating himself to a half million pound plus penthouse in Bournemouth.

I wonder if this is the same large book distribution company on the south coast whose accounts department have been unnecessarily heavy-handed and just plain rude?

Am I now more or less inclined to pay them on time?



Thursday, March 22, 2007

A Famous Victory!

This day, Thursday 22nd March, I, Mr Matthew Crockatt fought HSBC and won.

After going over my agreed overdraft limit by £200 for two days HSBC charged me £50.

I just phoned up and threatened them with legal action. Didn't work. Then I said I would take my money elsewhere and switch banks. As I am in credit at the moment (a miracle caused by receiving a cheque from an insurance company folling a recent car crash!) they bought it and agreed to refund the £50.

Hah! That's one in the eye for the billionaires and it's only five to ten in the morning...

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Tale of Finji

Once upon a time, in a land far far away, there lived a small but perfectly formed geezer named Finn.

He lived with his mum and dad but at night would travel the world using his secret powers. On one such escapade he flew East and then a bit further East until he arrived in the land of the rising sun. There he studied for years and years developing his Ninja powers. When he returned it was morning and he'd only been away for the night. Weird.

Dad was stumbling around as usual in a state of near undress.

He wrestled our tiny hero into his high chair and began the daily ritual of stuffing the little face with tasty goo.

But this morning was different. Finn had Ninja powers...

When dad tried a spoon of goo Finn responded with THE WAY OF THE IRON LIP.

Dad tried again and again to prise the little gob open but in vain. The lips were closed and tough as a vice.

Then, as dad was on the point of losing his rag, the tiny titan unleashed THE SILENT BUT SUDDEN ATTACK OF THE SPOON CHOP. This was a really complex but very simple technique that had taken years of sitting under trees to perfect. One moment Finn was banging his hand on the table, the next, in the merest blink of an eye, he reached out, took the spoon, and chucked it on the floor. The movement was so fast nobody saw it. But there was dad, goo on his glasses, as evidence that something had happened.

Dad wiped his glass eyes and supressed a sob.

As he bent down to pick up the spoon Finn let rip with THE ANCIENT PLATE DROP. You can probably imagine the scene as the plate of goo landed upside down on dad's head.

Poor old dad had only been awake for a matter of minutes but already it felt like years...

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

If football teams were art movements

Chelsea - Italian Futurists. Vaguely fascist obsessives about the beauty of the relentlessly driving machine. If Boccioni's sculpture above isn't the wet dream of Mourinho's perfect player then I don't know what is.
Arsenal - Could be a few here. Sometimes Art Nouveau, all style no substance. Sometimes Bauhaus, elegant simplicity. At their best, definitely Surrealist, Breton and Duchamp rather than Dali and Magritte, dreams rearranging themselves as reality.
Reading - Pointillist. The whole is more than the sum of its parts.
Man Utd - Impressionists. The football team supported by people who don't really like football.
Liverpool - Conceptual Art. Sometimes comes together in brilliance. Sometimes not. Work in progress.
Fulham - Arts and Crafts. Folksy, twee. Craven cottage anyone?
Spurs - Fauvism. Colourful, sometimes beautiful but destined to forever remain on the fringes of the major movements.
West Ham - Expressionism. Emotional and full of Angst.
Bolton/Blackburn/Everton/Wigan - Brutalists. Does what it says on the tin.
Newcastle - Abstract expressionist. Think they're more important than they actually are.
Watford - Magic realism. About to wake up from a really nice dream.
Sheffield United - Constructivist. Honest, hard-working idealists.
Man City/Villa/Boro/Charlton - Erm, any ideas?

This is ridiculous...

We just cleaned the fake snow off our window - it has been there since Christmas. People were starting to comment, particularly last week when it was so warm.

Now it is bloody snowing!

Oranges and Lemons

Great news in the inbox again - What Was Lost by Catherine O'Flynn has been longlisted for the Orange Prize.

Now I'm not a fan of longlists, a little pointless really. But it's still good to see the wheat separated from the chaff and a book that I loved is still in there with a chance.

About this time last year we were selling lots of copies of Harbor by Lorraine Adams. That was another great book from a small publisher that we pushed hard. It was also shortlisted for the Orange prize but Lorraine didn't win...Zadie won.

Looking at the rest of the list I think there are a few big guns up for the Orange this year too. Kiran Desai's Booker winning Inheritance of Loss for starters!

Still, a great achievement for Catherine.

Also good for us as it suggests two things:

1: We are worth listening to when we get excited.

2: We are both blokes, but our feminine sides are in good shape!

Monday, March 19, 2007

Thrills v spills

Reading both Matthew's post below on Cap'n Bob's new shop in Bath and the steadfast comments I was interested to come across this post from a well-known marketing guru. Of course it's more complicated than that but I am constantly reminded of the stark difference between those people who came to the shop at the start of our venture muttering things like 'it'll never work here' and those who exclaimed 'fantastic, how cool to have a new bookshop here'.

Speaking personally the difference between thrills and the fear is somewhat mediated by occasional lazyness but I still like to think I'm in the former camp.

I am also reminded of another former bosses favourite joke:

'How many booksellers does it take to change a light bulb?'

'Booksellers don't like change'

Boom, boom.

(And for what it's worth I think Mr B will be fine. They and Robert are doing two different things. The differences are similar to those between us and the Foyle's 5 minutes walk round the corner on the south bank both in outlook and in scale)

Fixed broken link

The link mentioned below works here.

More Dave Chappelle

Following on from the post below I just can't resist this one...

Funnily enough I was having a conversation with a customer last week about Chekhov and one of the things he admired most about him was that he seemed to be a genuinely good person who used his talent and position to highlight injustices as well as the human condition. A few nights before BBC2 had screened Dave Chappelle's Block Party a film of the comics semi-improptu concert in a Brooklyn neighborhood and I was thinking the same thing that he seemed to be a genuinely good person using his talent and position for good. My customer agreed (he knew of the comic too). We were also discussing how Chappelle had walked away from a $50 million contract for his tv show because he felt he was becoming compromised. Stupid maybe but still admirable.

The above clip isn't even remotely Chekhovian but I still nearly wet myself watching it. This link however to an episode of his tv show does I think offer a parallel to Chekhov in it's acute political understanding and incredible articulacy in its chosen genre.

And I still can't believe he didn't make the top 100.

Not in the top 100???

I was watching one of those ludicrous Channel 4 top 100 shows last night on the best stand-ups ever. Normally these things are rubbish but atleast last night had some genuinely hysterical moments.

One of the strangest things about it was the reappearance of all those 70's throwbacks and their sometimes casual, sometimes outright racism. I was hoping to get through life without ever seeing Bernard Manning or Jim Davidson on tv again but oh no the professional ironists at C4 felt the need to surrender valuable telly time to these pigs once more.

But by the end I was genuinely amazed that one of my favourite stand-ups ever didn't even make the 100. If Chris Rock can make it to no.8 then why isn't Dave Chappelle who has brilliant routines about racism in the top 5. I can only put it down to his lack of exposure in this country. Anyway, this is a clip from one of his specials that just shows how utterly redundant the likes of Manning and Davidson truly are.

Saturday, March 17, 2007


I helped a blind man navigate his way through some ridiculous pavement mayhem this morning. They were digging up the place and had put a makeshift fence around some nasty looking holes. I watched this bloke as he caught his cane in the fence, then hurried over the road to lend an arm.

He was very pleased.

Such small acts of kindness go on every day. But there's never anything about it in the papers.

I was chatting with the bloke in our local fish and chip shop last night. He's been in Camberwell for over 30 years and has owned three different businesses. I discovered this 'cos he was asking how long we had been in Camberwell. When I said 3 years he was like "Oh you must like it."

I went on to say we did and that having lived North, South, East and West I found South London to be the friendliest part of the city. "There's the gun crime" I said, "but if you're not in that scene you are very unlikely to get caught up in it." There was a shooting outside the club opposite his chip shop last year. In fact a stray bullet put a small hole in their window! "Those people came from Hackney" he said. Not local. Turned out he used to own the club but in his day it was a restaurant where they had live jazz in the evening.

So there you go. As the football songs (almost) go:

"Oh South London, is Wonderful, Oh South London is Wonderful"

Write that in yer sensationalist press you jounralistic tossers - the world is a terrible place if you want it to be. For every shooting a thousand blind men are helped by strangers to cross the road. I think it's important to remember that...

Topping and Co - GO! GO! GO!

Our ex-boss Robert Topping is opening a new shop in Bath following the success of his Ely store.

There's a small piece in the Guardian today that refers to "Topping's slightly eccentric style".

Robert is a character who divides opinion. Bean counters loathe him, book lovers erm love him. I have spoken to many booksellers over the years who refer to Topping's time at Waterstone's Deansgate in Manchester as the time of their lives. I am not surprised to see he is taking a few of those ex-colleagues with him to Bath.

I also wonder how the idiots at Big W must feel now that Topping is coming to town. His version of bookselling will now go head to head with theirs. I know who I would back! (Robert recently filled Ely cathedral with people for a talk by Alan Bennett. The man is a bookselling force of nature whereas the HMV group was described by city bean counters as The Walking Dead - a company with absolutely no future)

Some people will just never get it. Bookselling is about loving books and reading them too, then sharing that experience. Money comes into it as it comes into every aspect of our lives, but it is far from the most important element.

So Go for it Robert, take Bath by storm. Good luck to all those you are taking with you on this exciting journey.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Eugene Atget, Walter Benjamin and er, Snow Patrol

Atget was a photographer who from 1898 to 1927 would go out at dawn every day and record Paris. Primarily he used his plates to sell to artist's as reference pieces for their paintings but what he ended up doing was a monument of documentary photography. By the time he stopped around five thousand negatives had been recorded. Most of the images are earily free of people.

Walter Benjamin in his essay the Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction says: ' man withdraws from the photographic image, the exhibition value for the first time shows its superiority to the ritual value. To have pinpointed this new stage constitutes the incomparable significance of Atget, who, around 1900, took photographs of deserted Paris streets. It has quite justly been said of him that he photographed them like scenes of crime. The scene of a crime, too, is deserted; it is photographed for the purpose of establishing evidence. With Atget, photographs become standard evidence for historical occurrences, and acquire a hidden political significance. They demand a specific kind of approach; free-floating contemplation is not appropriate to them. They stir the viewer; he feels challenged by them in a new way.'

So why am I telling you this? Snow Patrol, Northern Irish stadium rocker types and their video for the song Open Your Eyes. When I saw it I thought it reminded me of a film I'd seen made in the seventies and thanks to the magic of YouTube I discovered that it was EXACTLY the same film. It's called C'Etait un Rendezvous by Claude Lelouch and it's just him in a Ferrari (actually a Mercedes dubbed over) racing, criminally, through the deserted streets of Paris to meet his lover outside the Sacre-Coeur and it's like Atget on speed. Now , I'm almost certain Lelouch would have been familiar with Atget but will Snow Patrol have been I wonder? By the sounds of their pleasant yet dreary song inserted over the top I somehow doubt it.

Anyway, atleast it reminded me of Atget's pictures and brought me once again to the marvelous Benjamin. Below are two posts, firstly the Snow Patrol video and then the Lelouch film. I don't think Blogger allows me to post YouTube stuff from blogger so I'm trying to work backward here but you get the picture.

And here is a link to some of Atget's work of Paris next to the same photo taken recently.

snow patrol - open your eyes

Snowy and chums

C'etait un Rendezvous (1976) - Claude Lelouch - Ferrari 275


Wednesday, March 14, 2007


Ok, so sometimes we can be a little critical, maybe a touch negative, perhaps a tad ranting but always whenever we highlight a book on the blog we are nothing if not fulsome in our praise. Not this time.

Whenever people get to an old age they feel they have earned the right to say pretty much whatever they want because they just don't care any more. And fair enough I say. Unfortunately, what can occasionally happen is that a lifetimes worth of suppressed bile and anger can come forth in a torrent of ugliness and bitterness. Kurt Vonnegut is 82 and has written a book so ugly and unfunny and distasteful that I would love to be able to ignore it but am compelled to share it's petty nastiness. It's a sort of memoir, it's called Man Without a Country and avoid it at all costs. And I loved Slaughterhouse 5 and Cat's Cradle. Neither of which I'll ever be able to read again.

Should I talk about books I loathe on the blog? Probably not but this blogging for me is kind of a 'get it off your chest' thing. And it could also act as a conduit for my own bitterness and bile so that by the time I get to that age (if I get to that age) it won't be unpleasantries coming out of my mouth, just a little bit of dribble.

Can we resist the temptation to comment? No

For a brief moment recently we were worried that Waterstone's was going to return to a more store based, less centrally controlled, range-y kind of bookshop like wot it used to be and a real challenge to our style of independent bookshop.

We needn't have bothered. Seems the future lies in 25 fewer stores, full central control, less range and erm, stationary. Phew.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

BBC Radio Five Live Book of the Month March 2007

Great news in the inbox this morning. Go Catherine!

Tindal Street Press is delighted to announce that What Was Lost by Catherine O’Flynn is the Five Live Book of the Month on Simon Mayo’s Book Panel for March 2007. The show will be broadcast on BBC Radio Five Live on Thursday 22nd March at 3pm – and will feature Catherine in conversation with the panel as they review and discuss her novel.

The Five Live Book of the Month focuses on a new writer, whose fiction is exciting, interesting and innovative. What Was Lost has been selected for its wide appeal as an accessible literary novel with a distinctive, unusual charm.

Alan Mahar, Publishing Director of Tindal Street Press says: ‘Such prominence on national radio is a well-deserved accolade for a novelist who has attracted unanimous praise since she first came to our attention. It is a landmark piece of publicity for What Was Lost, a refreshingly original debut destined for considerable success – both for its literary accomplishment and as a popular word-of-mouth hit.’

Catherine O’Flynn has captivated reviewers and interviewers with her insightful take on contemporary life, the wit and warmth of her storytelling and the quirky energy of her offbeat characters. Jonathan Coe was an early admirer. Having read the manuscript, he said: ‘What Was Lost is a fantastic book. It kept me up till 1.30 the other night, and it’s a long time since any new novel had that effect on me.’ Others have been bowled over too. A local woman reader emailed the publishers: ‘I rarely read a book in one sitting but I couldn’t put What Was Lost down. The effect was like a web being woven round me: utterly mesmerising.’

Widespread, positive local and national coverage has continued since What Was Lost was launched with two lively parties in Birmingham and London. Certainly Matthew Crockatt – of Crockatt & Powell, who hosted the London event – captured the upbeat mood around Catherine’s debut when he chose it as his Book of the Month. He says in his 13th February blog: ‘So far today I have hand sold ten copies of this brilliant debut. Why am I so excited about it? I think it’s going to be the word of mouth buzz book that comes out of nowhere to win prizes and adulation ... Let’s make Catherine’s book a bestseller.’

Such commitment from independent booksellers and major chains – What Was Lost is part of Waterstone’s 3 for 2 springtime promotion – has made for strong national sales, with the first two print-runs of 5000 copies close to selling out. Just like Clare Morrall’s Astonishing Splashes of Colour, signed first editions of What Was Lost looks set to become collectors’ items.

I am starting to breathe a sigh of relief. Shifting so many copies of a book in a "trust me - I'm a bookseller" kind of way is always a risky business. But I'm still convinced Catherine's great book is going to be a winner.

Not read it yet?

We have a few copies left...

Friday, March 09, 2007

Where are they now

Why isn't The Aerodrome by Rex Warner in print? Last seen at Harvill press (now sadly deceased - well, swallowed up). I remember reading it at school when I was 8 and thought it a bit of a cracker but don't take my word for it,

'Brilliantly imaginative ... it remains the best, perhaps the only, English Kafka novel.' Anthony Burgess.

And how could you not like a book that describes life as only ‘a brief and dazzling flash of time between two annihilations’

C'mon publishers, we can sell this you know.

Let's hear it for Picador

A customer wants a copy of Cosmicomics by Italo Calvino. No problem I say, confidently. But when I go to order it - Reprint Under consideration. What? How can that be? Oh, another Picador title that's been left to slowly die.

It's a great sadness and I've had this conversation with many people recently at what Macmillan has let happen to the once mighty Picador imprint. When I was a teenager getting into serious reading it was always the Picador and Penguin spines I looked out for. You were guaranteed something interesting. But Macmillan seem more interested in Jeffrey Archer, authors they don't pay advances to and selling 50 million learning English books to the chinese these days. Fair play I suppose, everyone's got to make a living but surely there are a few crumbs left to maintain a cracking backlist. Penguin and Random House seem to do ok. I think the real problem is that a few key people have left in the last few years and a serious interest in fiction is just not being pushed from the top.

Of course, Macmillan will go on about the number of Booker prize winners Picador have had in the last 3 years (2) but they were authors who worked with a publisher at Picador who left a couple of years ago and one of them really shouldn't have won. Anyway, it's the backlist that's disappearing. And while other publishers are keeping the flame alive by constantly re-jacketing and promoting - step forward Penguin - Picador just let old editions fester and fade. When we ordered One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest for the shop it still had the same Jack Nicholson cover that it did when I read it 18 years ago. The people who should be reading that now weren't even born when the film was out but it doesn't matter as it's another of the books Picador have lost. (It's at Penguin now still with Jack's face but with funkier graphics)

Still, luckily for Sue, our customer, none of this stops me from ordering the Calvino from America where it's still, very much, In Print.

(Particularly grating to Matthew, Robert Stone, whose backlist Picador haven't re-published since 1999 has a stonking good biography out called Prime Green in the states. Are Picador publishing it? No sign of it.)

It's in the genes

It all comes down through the mother's side doesn't it? How else to account for my quickness to temper and general chippyness. She's from Belfast and the whole family is solid northern Ireland stock, a people not normally noted for their genial calm and laidback qualities and not usually to be found at home in places like the reform club.

On the other hand a thirteen hour day with no dinner might also explain my inclination towards the tetchy last night.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

The Unknown Terrorist by Richard Flanagan

I received a proof of Richard Flanagan's new novel The Unknown Terrorist in the post today. (We asked for two proofs of Marie's book at the same time and they are yet to arrive - any Random folk reading this - sort it out!)

I am a bit of a fan. I read Gould's Book of Fish and reviewed it for the Times. I have a HB First edition. Beautiful book - printed in many colours. Mine is signed in green by the man himself. I am also the only person I know to have read Death of a River Guide all the way through.

Here's the Times review:

WHAT MAKES a great novel? Is it the sustained narrative drive or expertly painted characters that keep the pages turning? Sometimes the pleasure comes from reading itself; the interplay of words and imagination, and it is into this category that Gould’s Book of Fish falls.

In the age of the digestible soundbite, ambitious books are usually dismissed as pretentious nonsense, and there are many who have written off this novel. But there are others who have found it inspired.

Diving into the cruelty, humiliation and collective insanity that drive Flanagan’s Tasmanian penal colony demands brave reading. Confinement, torture and execution are the order of each day and the names that populate its pages (Pobjoy, Capois Death, Musha Pug) hint at the characters’ brutalised lives.

Only Flanagan’s magical ability to excite the imagination and stretch the mind of the reader can save the book from its subject. Sentences of complex syntax glow with hallucinatory intensity, but this is more than just linguistic pyrotechnics. With his maelstrom of letters Flanagan explores the effects of power, both on the tyrant that wields it and on the subjugated, in an attempt to reconcile beauty with brutality.

So take a chance, read the book and decide for yourself. As Gould points out: “At best a picture, a book are only open doors inviting you into an empty house, & once inside you just have to make the rest up as well as you can.”

They messed around with my prose a bit (bloody sub editors!) but the gist is there. The best bit was that I was working at Daunt (can finally speak the name!) on Marylebone High Street at the time. (A truly great bookshop BTW) A bloke came in that Saturday with the review in his hand and said "Do you have a copy of this? It sounds amazing!" (I shi* you not) I placed a copy in his hand and experienced the warm glow of the nobody whose genius is recognised for the next ten minutes or so.

But my fanatical support of Flanagan does not end there. A while later Robert McCrum wrote a piece about ridiculous prize-winning books. Gould's Book of Fish one of the books he picked on. (Won the Commonwealth Writers' Prize 2002) I e-mailed him and begged to differ. McCrum responded with a one liner along the lines of Let's Agree To Disagree. He probably thinks I'm a nutter.

Incidentally Flanagan was once published by Macmillan as part of the Picador list. They decided Gould's Book of Fish would be too expensive to produce - all the pics and coloured text etc. They dropped him and now he's published by Atlantic. Interestingly there are those at Macmillan I have e-mailed in the past who I KNOW FOR A FACT believe I'm a nutter...I've seen the e-mail...But there are plenty of great folk at Macmillan so I don't want to be too bitchy.

Well maybe I am nuts. (Maybe I'm just nuts about books?) Certainly nuts about Flanagan and I can't wait to get my eyes/brain into his latest...

I will report back when I'm through it.

I'd never heard of him either

Mr. Gracq is one of the more stimulating and original imaginations in contemporary French literature.”—The New York Times Book Review
'We know of hardly any painters who are born to their art already armed head to toe with their own technique, masters of their palette, touch, impasto, glazes. All of them seem to have arrived at their craft, which constitutes their signature, gradually, slowly, sometimes even in the public eye. Because writing and editing are the foundations of the scholarly institution, literature reveals an entirely different picture: a number of writers, beginning with their very first book, already write the way they will write their entire life. It is in their homework and school essays, from grammar school to high school to college, that one must seek the progressive maturation, which has remained private, and that, with their public debut, has placed them in possession of a complete instrument. But there is also a whole category of writers, not necessarily inferior ones, who emerge in public while still immature, and whose formation is completed, sometimes rather laboriously, under the eye of readers, the way the gestation of a marsupial is completed in the open air and in a ventral pouch. Eminent examples of writers of the first sort: Claudel, Valery, Stendhal, Montherlant; of the second: Chateaubriand, Rimbaud (who represents the extreme case of a literary premature baby), Proust, Mauriac.
There is a price to pay for this delay in development, which is to leave a part of one's published works in the state of rough drafts and exercises, even to drag around with oneself for a long time the remnants of an incubating cocoon. There is also a privilege to be had, which is to conserve in one's writing the vibration that is inseparable from the effort toward distinct form, a vibration that writers who have received the gift of an impeccable line of ready-to-wear do not know.'
And that's only the first page. It gets even better. Brought to us in a wonderful edition from the Turtle Point Press and the nice man in the brown jumpsuit from UPS. The trouble is I can't remember the website I read it being recommended.
(The alternative title to this post is 'procrastination'. I really do have a lot of paperwork to get through. But it's so boring. I'd much re-read that rather flawless passage one more time)

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Two more things

  • Marie's book out in august has pride of place on our homepage.
  • I've been reading the bloke who writes the cycling column for the Independent for the last few months and he clearly has no idea about cycling or bikes.

Two things

First, we've added a download on the website. You can hear Marie's dulcet tones and a couple of authors reading. Might not work with all browsers but we're getting there, slowly.

Second, can't we get rid of charity muggers? I hate them. Do charities not realise that for the miniscule amount of people they sign up through these pavement terrorists THOUSANDS more will take an active dislike to their activities?

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Jobless in Newcastle-Under-Lyme

We used to have 3 wholesale suppliers, A, B and C. Last year high street giant Woolworths bought B. A few months ago it also bought C. Now it is closing B. 640 people are losing their jobs although some will be given the opportunity to relocate to Norfolk from the North midlands. Lucky them.

Now, Woolies are upping their booksales. They will be putting categories and more range into their high street shops. For small town independent bookshops this could prove tricky.

The problem is that C is one of the biggest suppliers to the independent trade and indeed prides itself on this but it will also be the supplier of books to its new owner Woolworths who will now know exactly what the small independent across the road is ordering in large quantities and exactly what its bestsellers are (which woolies can then order in and undercut - of course they'll deny this but would you believe them?).

There is still A but they are not exactly the easiest company to deal with and negotiating discounts is going to be a real bastard.

Being a sparrow's fart from Big Ben and our nearest woolies a 20 minute walk away means we won't really have these problems although it is still a major pain in the arse losing a supplier for all sorts of cash flow and availability issues. And of course Margaret and her friends at B now have 3 months to find a new job in an area where they're not exactly common place. Although I'm sure some city fucker has made enough to buy a new ferrari which makes it all ok.

On another note, a law has been passed that makes it compulsory for everyone to listen to David Byrne's new playlist.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Carpe bratwurst

Mmmmmm. The smell... Onions..... Ketchup... Sausages......

There's a bavarian bratwurst van outside the shop and it's killing us....

On an unrelated matter, I was hobnobbing in soho last night at a faber launch and saw a woman I used to work with about 6 years ago at Waterstone's Islington. I meant to go over and say hello but never quite got round to it before I realised she'd gone.

So on the miniscule chance she's reading this - Hello Monica, how's it going? Whatya up to these days?

World Book Day, Acting, Fatigue, Nose Tricks etc

I love my job. I love books. Today is World Book Day - Hurrah - I Love the World!

One of the hardest things about being a bookseller is maintaining your enthusiasm for a book day after day, week after week, year after year. When I first read a book I love I am often a total embarrassment to be around. I want everyone else to share the amazing experience I feel I have just had and I am convinced they are going to love the book just as much as I did. Of course this is not always the case as people have their own ideas about books as they do about most things. But in that initial flush of joy I will sell that book to anyone and everyone I can.

Catherine O'Flynn's What Was Lost was the last book to make me go gaga. I put a sign in the window asking "Is this the first Must Read novel of the year? Why not come in and ask why we are so excited about this book..." People came in and asked about it. For a while this is no problem. I natter away, they buy the book - all cool. But after a while my enthusiasm begins to wane. This has absolutely no relation to the quality of the book - I still love What Was Lost, but after explaining why for the umpteenth time I am starting to regret that sign. (Sometimes in the morning I'm wandering about the shop and I'll come across a book. Jim Crace's Being Dead is a recent example. I remember what a brilliant book it is and wonder why I haven't pointed it out to anyone for a while. Next time someone asks for a recommendation I will probably mention it. The point I'm trying to make is I still think that's a great book but I don't bang on about it in the way I did when it first appeared.) Ok, so we have more books coming in all the time and I'll soon be excited by something else, but (there is a sort of point coming) - this is one of the reasons I really admire actors.

How do they do it? Night after night the same performance, each time just as much emotion, just as much conviction.

I also admire the way they can remember their lines. I am forever misquoting books, song lyrics etc. Yesterday I even changed the words to a nursery rhyme! Usually my version has a sort of bizarre, poetic, lateral thinking slant on the original - but that wouldn't work for a stage actor.

"To be or not to be? Er. What was the question?"

I also admire the way actors drink. Hollow legs or what?

And how do they get up in front of all those people without wanting to run away and hide?

Actors, I salute you.

In other news, the young son Finn - twice crowned ruler of the Kingdom of Small - has a new trick. It involves the nose. He blows through it hard and fast repeatedly. Any snot or food he has recently consumed are then blasted out in my general direction.

If you come in the shop and I have food down my jumper please don't think I'm senile or "one of those" booksellers. Nope, it's just food/snot that has sprayed over me...