Monday, December 05, 2011

One of my Bookshelves

I've taken a photo of one of my bookshelves at home. I thought it might be fun to introduce you to it.  I look at my bookshelves all the time and i'd like to share with you how each book makes me feel. There is a conclusion to this blog, so you can skip to the bottom if you like, but if you don't mind reading how I feel about these books, i'd appreciate it. So let's start at on end (how about the left) and have a stroll along it. I've numbered the books (or series of books) 1-26. With a bit of luck you can click on the picture and it will get bigger. I don't know how these things work. Anyway, shall we set off?

1. Love and Summer by William Trevor.
    This was on the longlist of the Booker Prize in 2009. This was the first year we ran the Booker Book challenge in the shop, where we challenged our customers to read all 6 of the Booker longlist before the prize is announced. We met up on the night of the announcement and discussed each of the books and then decided who we thought would win. Then we watched the result and were delighted or appalled (depending on who we were). It's great fun. Anyway, when the longlist was announced, I thought i'd get a head start, and trying to be sneaky, I guessed which of the longlist would get into the shortlist. William Trevor was one of my guesses. I'd never read any of his stuff before and, although it took about 50 pages to get into, I absolutely loved it. Of course, it didn't make the shortlist and yet JM Coetzee did (!), however, if we hadn't done the Booker book challenge, I might never have read it. I love that this book reminds me of all this.

2. Noel Park. A History, by Caroline Wech
    Noel Park (it's a lovely little area in Wood Green) is where my girlfriend Katie and I bought our first flat. This booklet is something that every resident of Noel Park was given after Noel Park won a grant to put it together. I'm fascinated by the history of our area and this is a book I constantly go back to. Lovely

3. Box of Delights by John Masefield.
    I bloody love this book. This has the cover with Patrick Troughton (the second Doctor Who) on it, who played  Cole Hawlings in the BBC adaptaton of this brilliant Christmas story. Katie and I watch the DVD of this every year sometime in December (we also watch It's a Wonderful Life, Home Alone, Planes Trains and Automobiles and  National Lampoon's Christmas, but don't judge us) and i've read the book more times than I can remember. I can't wait for my daughter to be old enough, so I can read it to her.

I'm warming up now. There is a point to all this, so please persevere.
4.  Where Would I be Without You by Guillaume Musso.
      This book reminds me of a delicious meal I had in Old Brompton Road with the author and the publishers, Gallic Books. It also reminds me of our World Record Reading Group attempt we tried earlier this year. I have very happy memories of both these things. Guillaume is charming, the book is bonkers brilliant and looking at it always makes me smile inside.

5. The Rebel Bookseller.
      Whenever i'm feeling a bit down about work, I take this book off the shelf. I don't even need to read very much of it before I feel better again. It's about how a small Indie bookshop in the US survived and thrived in a very difficult market, by thinking outside the box, being massivley stubborn and hugely positive. It's ace.

6. Testament by Alis Hawkins
       Alis was among 8 authors who came and spent some time at the bookshop on it's opening day. She and I had chatted after she read about us on the blog and I heard that her first novel was coming out thought Macmillan new Writers. She doesn't live in London and made a special journey to the bookshop to be there for the opening. I bought this copy at her book launch in... ooh gosh, what's the name of that bookshop just off Charing Cross Road that sells lots of signed first editions and stuff? No, I can't remember. Anyway, it was lovely as was Alis.

7. Tescopoly by Andrew Simms
        Tesco. What a bag of poo they are. Avery large and dangerous bag of poo, but nonetheless, a bag of poo. This is my opinion, and also that of the author of this book. Clone town monstrosities, community destroyers, I feel a bit icky writing about them. I remember when I first moved to the Waterstone's in Wood Green (having just read this book), when it was still there, I ordered 50 copies of this and made it our Book of the Month. Yeah, I know, Waterstone's didn't do shop based books of the month. Ha ha ha. Anyway, the good news was that we sold all 50. As you can clearly see, this has brought Tescos to their knees.

8. Mark Leyner.
        The greatest contemporary writer I know. Not available in the UK, I import these and occasionally try to gently sell them to our customers. I realise he is not for everyone. For a start it is sometimes hard to find any narrative in his writing. It's like a rollercoaster ride of words and thoughts, but in my opinion Leyner pulls it off every time. He is totally incredible. I would never part with these books.

9. Crawlers by Sam Enthoven and Witchfinder by William Hussey.
     Two brilliant young adult books that I read within 3 days of each other. We hired a theatre and  put on a Horror Night in Stoke Newington last year and Sam and Bill were a big part of the show. William's book is staggeringly good. It's the start of a trilogy that has quality written all over it. It's bloody scary too.
I read Crawlers in one sitting and finished it at about 4.30am. That's how good it is.
I like that these two books sit next to each other.

Hey, are you still with me. Well done we're getting somewhere now.

10. Sound Bites by Alex Kapranos
       Katie and I went to the launch party of this. Alex is the lead singer of Franz Ferdinand and the launch party was in Wapping (I think). The party was brilliant. Free drink, great live music and lots of famous people. We got lost on the way. As the party drew to a close I told Alex that we were going to a pub down the road and asked if he'd like to join us. I drew him a map of how to get there and off I went. 20 minutes later he came through the door. The dozen of us who'd been at the party and had come to the pub had another great couple of hours of fun as Alex and his chums played pool chatted and were generally delightful. I will not forget this night.

11. Two books by the Publisher Gallic
    The Suicide Shop and Hector and his Search for Happiness.
When I look at these books I smile. Hector is an interesting book. A multimillion bestselling story about a psychiatrist who decides to travel the world looking for what it is that makes people happy. The Suicide Shop is about a guy who is born into a family who own a shop that sells stuff for people to kill themselves with. Poison, rope etc (use your imagnation). However he is far too positive and happy for this serious business of death and this threatens to ruin the whole thing.
I was introduced to the Suicide Shop by Scott Pack (a lovely chap) and from this introduction Big Green and Gallic have become very firm friends.

12. Company of Liars by Karen Maitland.
    Wow. This is another book that makes me very excited when I see it on the shelf. Penguin sent me this book a few years ago and said it would be worth a read. I read it. I LOVED IT. This is the first book we decided to make Big Green Bookshop Book of the Month. Historical fiction, brilliant pageturning fun. If you haven't read it, then you really ought to. Seriously. Karen is a superb author.

13.Threepenny Memoir by Carl Barat.
      One my loveliest moments in the bookshop. Who would have thought that we could get one of the biggest musicians of the time to play a set in the bookshop. But that is what happened. I'd seen the Libertines live (and also Carl's band Dirty Pretty Things) and when it was announced that Carl was bringing a book out I thought it was deffo worth asking if he's be up to play in the shop. Why not? I put together a pich and sent it off. The next day i heard back that Carl said he'd be happy to do a gig in the shop. And he did. This was within 3 weeks of The Libertines reuniting for the Reading Festival and it was amazing. Carl was superb and he stuck around for a couple of hours afterwards to chat and sign and generally be lovely. I was very happy that night as you can see by this photo.

14.Meat by Joseph D'Lacey
       This has a blank spine. But I know what it is. One of the best horror novels I have ever read. Incredible imagery, brilliant pacing and totally horrific. This was sent to me whilst we were trying to set up the Big Green Bookshop and it sat on my shelves for a long time until i got round to reading it. I'm so glad I did though. I got in touch with Joseph after i'd finished it and asked if he'd visit the bookshop if and when we actually opened it. He said yes and he was our first ever author to come and sign copies of his book in the shop. He turned up 2 weeks before we opened in a 'meat wagon', but it was such a lift for us and Jose is now a good frienof mine. Eco horror has never been so good, so read his books.

15. The Inner Game by Dominic Lawson.
    The story of Nigel Short's attempt to win the World Chess Championship by beating Garri Kasparov. OMG, this book is incredible. I remember watching the chess matches on the TV and being baffled but fascinated by the whole thing. I love chess, although i'm not great at it, and this book looked inside the story, at the incredible work that is put into playing a seemingly simple game of chess. It staggers me every time I read this book. Short got battered, but there were one or two games where he showed total brilliance and this is what chess is all about. Kasparov (a bit of a hero of mine) shows brilliance more than most and I often dip into this to remind myself just how good he is.

16. Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter.
      one of my top 5 books of all time. I wrote about it here. I love the cover too. her most complete novel. Amazeballs .

We're on the home stretch now. Not long to go.

17.  Dog Binary by Alex Macdonald.
    There's a story behind this book. I've written about it before, and Alex (the author) has no idea how highly I rate him, but this is a very very special publication. If you want to know more about it here's a link. The book is also lovely to stroke and its cover has pots of meat and urine on it. Top notch.

18. Tom Hodgkinson.
     Tom is one of the people who influenced me in deciding to open the Big Green Bookshop. 'How to be Free' is a book that ultimately encourages you to rid yourself of all the stuff that gets in the way of you living the life you want to live. WORK was one of those things. Work. A thing you do all your life to ensure that when you're old you don't have to. It's a weird idea isn't it? I prefer to do something I want to now. So let's open a bookshop! Hurrah.
    Tom's been to the bookshop a few times and it's always great to see him. We keep in touch, especially now that he has his own bookshop (copycat) and it's great to be able to offer what little advice we can to him.

19. The 30 Minute Cookbook by Nigel Slater.
     Nigel Slater is a shiny man who you want to hug and pat and stroke and say 'Thanks Nigel, you're lovely, and a real foody inspiration (but don't overdo it on the TV)'. He has produce some of the best cookbooks I have and 30 Minute Cookbook is one of the best. It is also THE FIRST BOOK WE EVER SOLD IN THE BIG GREEN BOOKSHOP'. A very special title indeed.

20. A Year in the Life of TheManWhoFellAsleep by Greg Stekelman
    I have written many things about Greg Stekelman. Here's a link to an interview I did with him. I love this book, I look at it all the time, I can open it at any page and it makes me smile. Greg is a very good friend of mine and I would feel odd not having this in my house.
 Oh yeah, buy his new book too. I publish it.

21. The Complete Novels of Geroge Orwell
    George bloody Orwell. If I see a copy of any of his books in charity shops I have to buy them. This man was a total genius. Years ahead of his time. He spoke to everyone and was unafraid to say things that weren't considered popular. Coming Up For Air, Keep The Aspidistra Flying, Animal Farm, 1984, this geezer knew how to write. I read an Orwell book once a year at least and this reminds me to do it. It looks down at me LIKE BIG BROTHER.

22. Memoirs of a Sword Swallower by Dan Mannix.
    Not in print any more, which is a real shame. It really is the memoir of a carny performer who slowly learns how swallow swords (as the title gives away) as well as flourescent tubes and worse. I read this for the first time when I was lying by a swimming pool in Italy and seeing this on the shelf not only reminds me of the dark and dirty world of freakshows, it also reminds me of this wonderful holiday I had. Aces.
23. Stuart Evers and ting.
    Stuart wrote a book which was published earlier this year. Ten Stories About Smoking was published by Picador and is a series of short stories where the general theme is loosely cigarettes. It is excellent and therefore sits proudly on my bookshelves. Actually it is more than excellent and his style has been compared to Raymond Carver and Raymond Chandler. I used to work with Stuart when we were booksellers in in Charing Cross Road. He introduced me to Hermann Hesse (not personally) and also was an excellent drinker. A fine combination.
  Before we opened the bookshop, after we'd finally got the keys to the shop, we asked if anyone could volunteer to help us with the decorating etc. Stuart was one of the first people to get in touch.
here is an example of this. The other book arrowed here is called Beginning In Bookselling, a book that Stu gave me on the day before we opened. Thanks Stuart.

Well done. 85% of the bookshelf done now.
24. Reach For The Ground by Jeffrey Bernard.
    Another one of my treasures. Bernard is a true antihero, who lived life to the full, usually at the expense of everybody else. But his charm (and talent) always seemed to get him through. A gloriously awful man to know I imagine, this book is a collection of his contributions in the Spectator magazine. I have his other collctions too, but this one is the one that, when I notice it on the shelf, I like to pick it off and dip into it. He is a true master.

25. The Fairy Tales of Hermann Hesse.
     If you go back to book 23 you will see that Stuart Evers introduced me to Hermann Hesse. This is the book that did it. Staggering. Only available from America (and the Big Green Bookshop), this is a superb collection of adult fairy tales, which have been lovingly translated by Jack Zipes (he knows everything you need to know about Fairy tales). It's a book that, if I didn't have on the shelf, I might never return to. But i'm so glad I do.

26. Legend of a Suicide by David Vann.
    A very special author. I got a postcard from him once from USA, thanking me for the stuff i'd written about this book. Joe Pickering, from the publishers (Penguin), sent me a copy of this and asked me to read it, cos he thought it was brilliant. I did, and it was.
David came to our shop last time he was in the UK and it really was an amazing evening. I struggle to think of an author so dedicated to his craft, but so generous and friendly.

So, we have reached the end of my shelf. I ask myself this question. Would my memories still be this strong if I saw this instead.


Books are more than just pieces of paper with words on them. They each tell a story that is more than the one that you read. I love looking at the books on my bookshelves and the way they each evoke special memories. I hope that there are enough people that feel the same way so that books will stick around for a long while yet.


Vanessa Fox O'Loughlin said...

Brilliant post Simon, and a whole heap of books I need to read! Your point so well made. Leafing through the pages of a book evokes memory in a way an electronic device never can. Let's hope all those with eReaders buy hard copies of the books they love, to, well, love. Like you love yours...

Tim Woodward said...

Oh I totally agree! I see so many commuters reading on Kindles and the like and they just have no character like a well read book. Simplifying the music industry to digital, downloadable files hasn't killed off physical media but if ebooks become as widespread and as easily available as digital music, it would be a sad day indeed.

Jan Jones said...

Fantastic post! Very, very true. Books are bundles of memory as well as stories.

icey_mark said...

I have a kindle - but I dont like reading books on it. Its more a chore than a pleasure. I know that sounds odd but with a book you know how much you have left in a chapter before you go to sleep, you know how far you have read. You can even flick around and find that page you want to easily.
If only I had bigger bookshelves

Blondie said...

Your post makes me extra glad that I have resisted all pressure to get a kindle. I love the look of the books on my shelves. I have books my older sister bought me 30 years ago. There is no way a digital copy of a book could ever evoke the same feelings as seeing and touching those books.

gdorean said...

Fantastic stuff Simon, I hope to read some of these one day. I have a pile to get through, but I will make an effort to take a few in.
Keep the asp and Bisto flyin


Maggie Bob said...

Great post! I do think the two mediums can co-exist, but it's a delicate balancing act. I've read a couple of books digitally, but nothing beats the tactile feeling of a paper copy in your hands. Even in our wee flat we have a couple of bookcases overflowing with books, each of which can provoke their own memories.

Makes me want to go back and re-read a large part of our collection ;)

MorningAJ said...

Sorry - I'm a convert to digital. But only for fiction. I still need the feel and sight of 'proper' books for non-fiction.

The only irritating thing about e-readers (wish people would stop calling all of them kindles - it's a trade name, like biro and hoover) is that you can't tell on the train what someone is reading. And I do like to make up my own stories about why people chose a particular book.

sweet without sugar said...

Lovely & inspiring post, lots I want to read now. I do have an ereader, as I have nerve damage and find thicker books v painful to read, esp when feeding my little lad, which is my best reading time. However i do have a wall of bookshelves too and would never be without real books too. Esp for food porn/cookery books...

One Fine Weasel said...

Lovely :)

LJ Filotrani said...

There's nothing lovelier than a bookshelf full of books. What you say is very true - part of the pleasure of reading a book is remembering where you were when you read it, both literally and figuratively. I imagine it's the same for people who collect vinyl. It's your story behind the story.

Simon Key said...

Tim has just pointed out that a full wall of books also acts as insulation. A warming thought for the months ahead. He's a practical little soldier isn't he?

Ellie said...

A brilliant post - I've added so many books to my wishlist, ta for that - and a brilliant punchline. You're absolutely right, the e-reader just doesn't cut it. Speaking as a devoted reader (and bookshop owner) who is just about to give up her Kindle having read less than one book on it in six months, nothing beats the memories evoked by a paper copy.

Everything about a physical book reminds me of where I was when I read it - was it summer or winter, was I on holiday, was I a child or a teenager, did it make me laugh or cry or want to do something amazing? I've tried, for the sake of my poor heaving bookshelves, to embrace the e-reader, but the Kindle's got to go.

Anonymous said...

I am with you all the way Simon. Honestly, I don't know what I would do if I didn't have a book. which is why I have very many of them!

Anonymous said...

Yes. I feel the same way. My wife and I have a big home collection dominated by hardcover fiction -- the 1st ed. Dick Francis works from Michael Joseph being a particular standout in looks and pleasure on their own shelf. The hardcovers from the 60s are so satisfying to hold in your hands, smaller than most standard-sized novels. We have read a few books on the iPad, which is good in dimly-lit restaurants when alone. But I've experienced a kind of loss when I was unable to physically close the book at the end. That act is a tremendously rich piece of the act of reading. And who wouldn't be thrilled to cuddle w/Carl Barat. Love your site. Found it through 1 Book on the Shelf.

Andy Laties said...

Thanks so much for this. You make the point brilliantly, and what terrific bookselling you do along the way! I hope to visit your shop sometime.

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mercuryuk said...

I have just got a kindle for christmas and I love it, don't know why people seem to think that you have to exclusively either read physical books or a kindle, I have many hundreds of books which I fondly love, but the kindle gives me another option thats all, there are many many free very obscure books on the net available for e-readers.

Andrea said...

fabulous article.
I love Company Of Liars too.
Is yours a proof?
mine was a damaged copy - with the hardback cover and the illustrations (it had no dust jacket)
yours is beautiful.

And well said about the physical book - so much better and more important than just words on a page!
My bookcases are full of beautiful books, and everyone knows how you don't judge a book by its cover, but you do ^buy^ it because of its cover, and are less likely to read an ugly book.

I love books.

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