Category Archives: Bookshops

The book’s Böll, Heinrich Böll

Guardian reader Wendy, on the paper’s letters page, pointed me in the direction of Adrian Chiles and his column on bookshelves last week, which I had missed. Because we mostly don’t buy a paper on a Thursday. But that’s what the internet is for, discovering what I missed.

It’s yet another article/post/column on how some of us have too many books, and we don’t mind displaying our groaning shelves to the world via Zoom. Adrian now claims he’s going to get rid of, or actually read, some of his ignored volumes.

Easy for him to say. He’s probably not got a book blog to feed.

But, yeah, it seems his books are not even ones he doesn’t like the look of. And this is true of mine as well. I can comfortably ignore books I really wanted, maybe even bought. In fact, just the other day I was congratulating myself for having a more attractive tbr pile right now, basing it on having bought books, rather than it being only review copies of books soon to be published.

Then there are the books you acquire because someone recommended them, or worse, shamed you into feeling you should read them. That’s where Heinrich Böll comes in. Back in 1972, in my German class at school, one of the boys (we only had three, so they kind of stood out) said he’d had an inkling Böll would get the Nobel Prize, so he’d got a few of the man’s books out from the library to read in preparation.

So, of course, I did the same, only for me it was after the award was made public. But still. I dutifully read quite a few of Böll’s novels, and I’m fairly certain I didn’t enjoy any of them.

I have none of them here. Possibly one or two got left on the shelves belonging to Mother-of-Witch, but again, maybe not. Perhaps I borrowed from the library.

There will have been a few other Nobel laureates whose books I’ve read, but not many. I am cured of needing to keep up with boys in classrooms. And let’s face it, I can prune heavily and still have a most respectable looking set of shelves behind me on Zoom.

Lockdown escapes

So, the other day I moaned about – by which I mean ‘mentioned casually’ – the unlikeliness of seeing authors the way things are. Or even normal people.

The always-willing-to-try new-things Helen Grant offered to come and sit in my garden, and I went as far as to wipe the table and chairs free from bird poo.

I also got my Moomin mugs out, although I seem to need more. We were one short. And I am not saying this in order to make anyone other than me go shopping!

A couple of days ago Kirkland Ciccone – dressed to the nines – went to Oxfam. (When I found out, it was too late to entice him to come and sit in the garden.)

What I particularly like are the bibles. As a background to Kirkie, that is. He was in the ‘Grandmother’s branch’ of Oxfam, and they always do a roaring trade in bibles.

I mean, I’m sure it’s him. It’s a bit of an incognito style. Not everyone can get away with an outfit like that.

Booking a holiday

Maybe you noticed me sneaking off on holiday in August? Or not. Service has been poor, so no difference there.

With no Swedish sea and sand to be had – for me – this was replaced with the beaches of St Andrews and plenty of the famous Scottish sunshine. So that was fine. It was a no-frills home-from-home kind of week. It was right opposite my favourite shoe shop and a few doors down from Waterstones, and not far to the other bookshops or the cheese shop, where it’s possible to spend a minor fortune on cheese. Might have spent a little bit on shoes, too. It just happened, like.

Toppings have too many books, if you know what I mean. It looks gorgeous and the books go all the way to the ceiling, but it’s kind of hard to browse. No room to turn and I don’t bend well – so had to instruct Daughter to bend for me and search among the crime paperbacks right under the table. When I sat down in one of their armchairs, someone came up and offered me tea or coffee within seconds. And I only needed to rest a little…

Didn’t go very deep into the children’s books corner, as I wanted to keep my distance from the mother and child already in there, reading books. Who wants to look at children’s books, anyway? Bought a few adult books, by which I mean non-children’s, not adult adult. Picked ones I could see and reach, so choice was what it was.

In Waterstones I picked a few more, including one standing face-out on a display shelf. Kicked myself afterwards for not having replaced it with a book of my choice, but leaving the empty space empty. Oh, well. Had wanted to browse a few more books, including a look at a second book of a series I wrote about some weeks ago, to see what it was like, but they didn’t have it. In fact, neither shop had what was on my mental list to physically look at when in a real shop.

As we had already done both the jigsaw puzzles in the flat, Daughter bought another one; a Vincent van Gogh. It looked easy enough, but by the end I almost grew to hate it, and it’s long been one of my favourites. Also played Jenga, which didn’t do  much for my blood pressure. What if the whole thing toppled???

There were books in the flat. Not many, but some. Pocket walking guides. Nigella and Jamie and Gordon. I suppose in case guests were wanting to know how to cook dinner.

We watched one film. Casino Royale. The old one. We love it and that’s why it was chosen, but oh dear, how un-pc it has become. I also only read one book, a fairly short one. Seating was a bit uncomfortable, and the lack of reading lamps not good for old witches. I’ll bring one, next time, if only to keep the coffee machine company.

The week ticked all the boxes; sea, sand, sun, ice cream, books, cheese, shoes, strolls through town. The Resident IT Consultant walked a lot more properly, and felt sorry for us, but each to their own, I say. He too came across some books when out.

Zooming in on Caerlaverock

I sat right at the front at the launch of Barbara Henderson’s new book, The Siege of Caerlaverock. Not like me at all, you might think, but I was in front of my laptop, with people zooming in from all over Scotland. Mostly Scotland, I think. The beauty of these online events is that anyone can attend, and I doubt that half of us would have made the trek to Inverness for a traditional bookshop launch.

I could see most of the others, but due to me eating my way through salad and bread and cheese, I kept my camera off. More dignified that way. There seemed to be 33 of us, which is pretty good for a bookshop gathering.

Introduced by Cranachan’s Anne Glennie, we had Lindsay Littleson interviewing Barbara, and Anne shared photos of everything from the ancient tower in Germany near where Barbara grew up, to pictures of Caerlaverock castle where the story happened in real life, in 1300.

Barbara described how she – almost by accident – forced her family to visit the castle on a short holiday, and how she was bewitched by the story of the siege, and photographed every inch of the surrounding area as well as the displays in the museum. She was especially happy when she discovered there could be a female lead, both in the laundress girl Ada, but also the Lady of the castle because the Lord was away. (Did you know castle cooks were always men?)

She created the really evil villain, and perhaps there were one or two spoilers, but luckily I had read past the relevant bits. Just in case you’d rather not hear, I won’t tell you how Barbara redesigned the castle…

Barbara read to us from chapter one, and a bit about the villain, and she knows just when to stop!

After some questions from the audience, it was time for us to gather up our salad bowls and put our slippers back on, taking the lead from Anne. And they won’t mind at all if anyone who reads the book leaves a review on ‘you-know-where’.

The 2020 Edinburgh International Book Festival Programme

I have kept my diary clear. Not knowing what to expect from this year’s online EdBookFest, I felt it was my duty to be prepared, for everything and anything. And there is certainly a lot going on during the usual period at the end of August. 140 online events is very good.

One big difference I am sensing, is that the online aspect means they have perhaps been able to put together a different kind of programme from what we are used to. Now any author from anywhere in the world can take part with few considerations as to travel arrangements, visas and the general cost of going places. So for some that must mean they are able to participate in something that might otherwise not have been possible.

There are not as many children’s and YA events as I’d have liked, but I can see that this is a group of readers who would be less likely to hang out in cyber space for this sort of thing. It’s different if you can actually be there. But I look forward to what there is.

Trying to understand how their promised signings with selected authors will work, but no doubt that will become clearer. Not sure I have the courage to go for an actual chat with an author, so will leave that to the diehard fans of those who will be doing this.

The other kind of chat that is often so nice is when you strike up a conversation with the person sitting next to you, and in order for that not to be the Resident IT Consultant [in my case] they are organising chatrooms before events. (I’m more used to standing in line in the bookshops, encouraging young readers that they really want to get that book by A Author, at the same time as their accompanying adult is feeling disinclined to let them…)

There was a photo session with Nick Barley, in the actual Charlotte Square this morning. My Photographer was invited, but understandably she didn’t crawl out of bed to be in Edinburgh that early, needing to avoid train travel, and suspecting that parking a car conveniently close was going to be impossible.

So here is a shot of Nick Barley we ‘prepared’ earlier; doing what he seems so good at, which is hanging out with famous people.

An evening with Sara Paretsky

An event! At last, an event! A real one, even if not in ‘real life’ or even in the right time zone. Sara Paretsky launched her new anthology Love & Other Crimes on Wednesday night, for fans in the US. For me it was the middle of the night, so I tuned in on Facebook on Thursday, once sleeping was over.

Sara was at home, sitting in her late husband Courtenay’s study with her dog Chiara by her side. There was whisky – I ate a boiled egg – and Sara panned the webcam so we could see more of the room. Lovely dark green walls. And we could hear her; always a worry in case you sit there talking away to the world in complete silence. She kindly gave us permission to leave if we got bored, because she’d not be able to see us go.

But who’d want to do that? We were comfortable, and we were being enter-tained. Sara promised to sign our books, if we bought them from Women & Children First; the bookshop she was doing the launch event with. That rules me out, but at least I have my copy.

She read from Miss Bianca, a story partially inspired by her father, and when Sara stopped halfway through, she was urged to go on a bit longer.

Questions ‘from the audience’ had been emailed in in advance and she picked some  of them. Someone asked about V I’s first time as an investigator, and Sara mused about why V I had ever married her ex-husband. She also wishes V I would be able to hack into anything she needs to know online, but she can’t. (This isn’t NCIS.) As to what V I looks like, she doesn’t see her.

Right now writing is hard and Sara has written the same 60 pages six times, as a way to seem busy while not getting anywhere. She’s hoping to travel to Poland some time, to discover more about V I’s roots. And she tried revisiting the family in Bleeding Kansas, as well as making up a new character for a new series, but she didn’t get far with her.

Sara reminisced about Richard Feynman and his reputed juggling of the dinner plates to help him see things and work things out. (Sounds like a great idea…)

Wanting us to stay safe and sane, and to stay in touch, Sara said goodbye after an hour. When ‘all this’ is finally over, she’d like to travel for six months, seeing and hugging all her friends. And there might be drinks.

We have their backs

We did a shoe exchange today. After staring at the two unwanted shoeboxes – with shoes in them – for over three months, the shop they came from opened again. We were slightly aghast at the long queue outside, and wondered if people really were that desperate for outdoor clothing, but it turned out they were all after plants from Dobbies next door.

So we donned our bankrobber masks and went in, brandishing the unwanted shoes, and asking if they would let the Resident IT Consultant in to buy replacements for his by now rather holey walking shoes. They did, and in no time at all he had new ones.

This was quite exciting for me, as it was only my second shop in four months. Although the one earlier in the week which netted slices of fruitloaf was more fun.

Anyway, what I am getting to, however slowly, is bookshops. I saw this photo somewhere a while back, and promptly stole it for use here. It clearly shows how we have all looked at the wrong side of books for decades. This is perfect for handsfree browsing.

Screen or paper? Free or buy?

Could you tell? Which of my recently reviewed books were ‘real’ books? Quite a few of them weren’t. And I’m a bit surprised, to be honest.

Review copies on the screen need to be either fairly short, so I can sit and read on* the computer in comfort. Or they need to be fully Kindle compatible. I received a few that were pdf novels and have designated the iPad for those, seeing as they went crazy on the Kindle.

Because the commonest thing for publicists to say these days is that they can’t send out hard copies of that book they are about to convince you to read. It’s OK. Their job is to get me the words, so that I can read those words and then say something here about them.

It’s more fun, and convenient, to read on paper. And the Kindle gets hard to sign. But the way things are, I won’t be seeing anyone to sign anything, will I? Besides, it’s not the publisher’s task to provide me with something for an autograph. Even if that is nice.

And now that I am buying more books, I can choose whether it’s an ebook or a paper book. And what I was thinking when I bought the new Skulduggery Pleasant as a hardback, is anyone’s guess. When I could have had it on the Kindle! My arms ache. The table next to my armchair is groaning under the weight. But I expect I was on autopilot. Have always bought ‘real’ books and am not stopping now.

Can’t take the Kindle to Oxfam. To give the books away, I mean. But if they are ebooks, I don’t really have to. My dusty shelves can lie in peace.

Speaking of which, Daughter has sort of promised she’ll climb the tall stool and dust the top shelf. And the books on it. They won’t know what hit them.

*That’s reading on the computer screen. Not me sitting on the computer, however comfortably. Obviously.

Whose Shakespeare?

We moved Shakespeare upstairs over the weekend. Mostly this was because the bookcase he was in ascended, and Shakespeare is rather large, so needed the big shelf. He’s now in Son’s room, should the boy ever be able to return to it.

Anyway he went, along with the three-volume poetry collection from Linlithgow.

There was a most beautiful piece in Thursday’s Guardian, written by Aditya Chakrabortty, about his mother who died recently. I’m sorry for Aditya’s loss, but infinitely grateful that he shared his lovely memories of his mother with the newspaper’s readers.

Mrs Chakrabortty was a teacher. As her name suggests, she was not born in the UK, but she definitely did more than her share for this country and the people already here as well as those who arrived after her.

According to Aditya his ‘mother’s love of Shakespeare and Hazlitt was not an attempt to fit in. She claimed them as she claimed all of world culture.’

This set me thinking of how some people view Shakespeare, believing he’s there exclusively for the English. We all know Shakespeare in some way or other. His plays have been translated into many languages, and Hamlet is everyone’s prince; not just that of ‘cultured English’ people. We all have the right to know and enjoy Shakespeare’s work.

I would like to think he’d see it as an honour to be the favourite of a woman such as Mrs Chakrabortty.

Not much left now

Aaand there goes the Edinburgh International Book Festival, along with its Edinburgh festival peers.

Not unexpected, except I’d done the ostrich thing and not considered it at all, yet. But it’s better and easier to cancel with more notice to everyone.

Except, today there are a lot of disappointed authors, who will now not appear in Charlotte Square. It’s such a special time, for so many.

It’s early enough that I didn’t even know who was meant to be appearing, as that stays a secret until June. But now people feel they can share the news, so it’s possible to be disappointed on their behalf and on my own behalf.

The bookfest had been the one thing to propel me forward when I wondered for the umpteenth time whether to close up shop. ‘I’ll keep going until August and Edinburgh,’ I told myself. It even looked like I might have the services of my photographer for more of it, too.

That will teach me to think. Even to wonder in advance if I could work out who ‘ought to’ be coming, based on new books and other things.