Friday, 25 February 2011

Guardian "Twelve of the best new novelists"

You may have seen this article in the Guardian.

If it aroused your interest then you might want to take things further by purchasing books from the list...

Buy Boxer Beetle by Ned Beauman

Buy Union Atlantic by Adam Haslett

Buy After the Fire, A Still Small Voice by Evie Wyld

  Buy The Upright Piano Player by David Abbott

Buy Mr Chartwell by Rebecca Hunt

Buy Little Gods by Anna Richards

                  Buy True Things About Me by Deborah Kay Davies  
                                                      Buy The Wilderness by Samantha Harvey

Hans Fallada VS Billy Childish + Name Confusion = Octopoid Connectivity...

Rudolf Wilhelm Friedrich Ditzen was the real name of the author we know as Hans Fallada.  Although a writer of some standing in Germany his reputation faded following the destructive chaos of WWII and he might have been completely forgotten were it not for the decision of Melville House Publishing to reprint certain titles in English. The Penguin edition of Alone In Berlin subsequently became a bestseller although in American the book is known as Every Man Dies Alone. (The German title is Jeder stirbt für sich allein).

As you might have worked out from the previous post I am an admirer of the American writer Denis Johnson.  For a long while I also thought he was one of the people who set up Melville House.  Why?  Because one of their founder publishers is named Dennis Johnson.  "The same name!" I hear you cry.  Get a proof reader dear reader and look again - Dennis Johnson - Denis Johnson.  That "n" makes all the difference.  I'm not just saying that either.  Look at the photos below...

Even through the blur you should be able to see that on the spine of Denis Johnson's gothic classic Already Dead he is named as Dennis Johnson rather than Denis Johnson.  That mattered to Denis.  Legend has it (aged bookseller gossip!) he quit Picador UK because of it.  

We now arrive at the section of this post known as Billy Childish.   Guess what?  That's not his real name...he's actually called Steven John Hamper.  The connections are becoming octopoid.  Billy, whose mother lives in Whitstable, can often be found in Harbour Books where I now occasionally work.  Who is the subject of much of Billy's recent work?  Canvases painted in an old fisherman's hut just behind the bookshop?  

You guessed it...Hans Fallada.  Or should that be Rudolf...?...(exhausted blogger collapses backwards as relieved readers click away!) 

To buy Hans Fallada books go here.  

To buy Billy Childish books go here.  

Friday, 18 February 2011

Another convert to the cult of Denis Johnson? My work today is done...

There have been many occasions over the years when I have stopped to wonder why?  Why bookselling?  Why bother?  

Well, this is why.  

I received the following e-mail a moment ago:

Just finished Resuscitation of a Hanged Man (by Denis Johnson, what a great book!  best contemporary (ish) novel I've read for a long long time....

"There was a sweet shyness between them now, a moment that didn't live through the little conversation with the waiter, the declining of desert and the business of paying the check. English conceived that he hadn't, from the start, ever been in charge of this romance, if that's what it was, and he gave up. Waiting for the change and thinking nothing at all, he hit on the idea that the way to deal with this woman, with his time on this eerie peninsula, maybe with his whole life, was to stand back and look at it as he would a painting he didn't understand and probably couldn't appreciate. Climbing up from the dark underground into the decadent glitter of vending, he watched this shopping centre as he might one of Jerry Twinbrook's beaches, the arrested moment of it, and he thought he caught the somber heart of each bright color, the moons, so to speak, of which these colors were the suns..."



The opening lines to this song resonate: I looked at the sun through filters. I filter the world through words. Reading and thinking, writing and speaking, they are my medium.  Unreliable, slippery, often confusing, occasionally inducing visions of such clarity into the heart of things - they make me tick.  To turn someone on to a book they love is like reaching into the darkness expecting to feel the scales of a snake or the fur of a tarantula's leg and instead finding the strong, true grip of a friend.

Incidentally you can buy Resuscitation of a Hanged Man here...

Friday, 11 February 2011

Around The House - Musique Concrete, Vocoders & Off The Page...

Off The Page starts tonight with Robert Wyatt and some short films.  But I'm looking forward to tomorrow when Matthew Herbert will be talking about Musique Concrete.  Herbert made Around The House using sounds made by household objects.  

Bodily Functions made music from the human body; skin, hair & internal organs.  

Kodwo Eshun will be there too.  Someone else who loves Drexciya!

Then later there's short films from Lux.  

In Whitstable?


I bought a bike a few months ago.  Thirty five years in London and I could only see sense in bikes when they were doing stunts on the South Bank or leaping off ramps in a skate park.  I owned a couple of bikes over the years but they were never well used: a yellow BMX I occasionally rode around the block on; an old racer with rusty gears and a mountain bike I purchased from a Brazilian who was just about to leave the country.  I didn't feel comfortable, the legendary blend never happened - I was a man on a bike not a biker.  

Then our bookshop purchased a Piaggio Zip 50 scooter for me.  

I'd pull on my armour plated jacket, zip up the knuckle dusting gloves and slide the helmet over my head.  Every time I sat on the plastic fantastic I had one song in my head...

Yeah with the helmet on you couldn't hear how puny those 50ccs sounded.  (Think hairdryer not Harley.)  Even after de-restriction that mother just about hit 40mph but you aged noticeably getting there.  But just being on a bike in London traffic gets you into a zone.  Pretty quickly I realised that it's not about engines it's about wheels.  Four wheels or two?  All the scooter and motorbike folk were into pushbikes.  Cars?  Get out of here Clarkson. 

So I bought my bike and fell in love.  It was that intense.  Walking, that used to be my thing, the drift, the situationist derive through the streets of London.  I'd left the city and moved to the coast.  It was small.  I can walk out of town in a matter of minutes.  Pretty soon I had walked everywhere there was to walk in a 10 mile radius.  I needed to go further faster.  

Climbing on a bike is like a seal diving off a rock into water.  There is a wobble (or splash), then a moment of transformation.  On a bike the human body is upgraded instantly.  A few flicks of the thumbs, an insect click of gears and then the amplification of muscles flexing into speed.  In the top gear the only thing limiting you is your own body.  If I were fitter I would be faster.  That's probably where the trouble starts.  There's a list of books about cycling from Matt Seaton here.  There's a definite macho twang to a lot of them.  But I can't see myself getting into racing.  For me it's more about the extension of the derive.  Pretty soon I will be drifting all across Kent.  My range has increased.  I am more free.  As I said, I'm in love...

Thursday, 10 February 2011

David Vann

I read Legend of a Suicide last year and found it to be one of the most disturbing books I have ever come across.  Maybe that's not going to sell it to you eh?  

"If the book we are reading does not wake us, as with a fist hammering on our skulls, then why do we read it? Good God, we also would be happy if we had no books and such books that make us happy we could, if need be, write ourselves. What we must have are those books that come on us like ill fortune, like the death of one we love better than ourselves, like suicide. A book must be an ice axe to break the sea frozen inside us."

Franz Kafka

Well I'm with Franz on this one.  David Vann's extraordinary book fits the quote above to the letter.

Is it a novel?  Hard to say.  Vann's father really did kill himself with a .44 magnum and there are many other details in the book that are obviously true and...erm...real.

What Vann does is to blur the boundaries of what is real and what isn't.  By telling stories about something that really happened Vann creates a space where he can resolve/explore some of the intense feelings caused by his father's suicide.  Suicide is so final is robs those left behind of the right to respond.  Vann uses the freedoms granted by the novel form to respond to his father.  The results are brilliant but also quite terrifying.

David Vann's Legend of a Suicide can be bought here.  

He has a new book out called Caribou Island and it can be bought

A nice little interview with David Vann here.   

Jeffery Deaver - The Empty Chair

I used to work at the Pan Bookshop on Fulham Road.  We used to have loads of authors visit the shop to sign copies of their latest books.  When June Formby was in charge she kept a visitor's book and over the years collected the signatures of some of the finest authors around.  Later Robert Topping would stuff the authors full of cakes and champagne.  

There were many funny incidents involving these visits.  Here are some memories of just a few...

Antony Beevor came in to sign copies of Stalingrad.  Robert was convinced it was going to be a huge bestseller and it was.  He decided to go large on the quantity and so when Mr Beevor arrived he was faced with a truly massive stack.  It took ages for him to sign them all with many pauses for cake & champagne.  We later heard he had developed a repetitive strain injury and was walking around with his wrist all bandaged...

When Peter Ackroyd came to sign copies of London: The Biography we had so many we built them into a model of St Paul's Cathedral for him.  

I made an absolute tit of myself when Mario Vargas Llosa came to sign The Feast of the Goat.  You know when you find an author who really seems to speak to you?  When every sentence just feels absolutely right somehow?  When he walked through the door I just couldn't speak.  I mumbled and fumbled like a boy on his first date.  Didn't even manage to get him to sign a copy for me!

When The Corrections was first published nobody had heard of Jonathan Franzen.  Our US fiction obsessive Glenn Collins had though so we had PLENTY of copies when he came in to sign.  The hardback had a cream cover.  I was in charge of handing the books to Franzen so he could sign them.  At some point I received a nasty paper cut but was absorbed in conversation and didn't notice.  I bled all over those creamy covers my friends...Later he signed one to me:

To Matthew, who bled for the cause.  

Later still we drove to a reading he was giving at Books Etc on Finchley Road in the back of his limo!  Chatted about writing all the way.  At the event Zadie Smith was sitting behind us with Hari Kunzru.  

Herbert J M Ypma came in to sign Hip Hotels.  He had a special fountain pen he liked to sign with and wanted some blotting paper.  I ran out to the bogs and grabbed some paper towels.  My colleague Ian was loitering about and Herbert was well, such an affected dick.  Ian managed to get me giggling by raising his eyebrows in a certain way at certain moments.  Pretty soon I was having to excuse myself and run around the corner to roll on the floor giggling every few moments.  June stomped over and took control "I don't know what's wrong with you!" she huffed as I staggered away.  

Then there was the famous window for Jeffery Deaver's The Empty Chair.   It was in the diary but, well, we forgot.  A few minutes before he was due to arrive the publicist phoned to check we were ready.  "Oh yes, see you in 10 minutes" chirped June before grabbing my arm.  In double quick time we cleared a window and plastered posters up.  I placed a single, empty chair in front of the posters just moments before Jeffery arrived.  He loved it and insisted on having his photo taken.  "This is the best window anyone has ever done for me!" Phew!

Word Of The Week

DWANG is the word of the week this week...

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Bookselling With Mr Grant in Notting Hill...

Back in the olden times when folk shopped on the high street, grubby urchins sang for their supper and e-bay was just a series of barrows on wheels I owned a bookshop.  During those balmy, sepia tinted, days publishers were fond of splashing the cash and generally having huge parties when their authors finished books.  The idea of having a party to celebrate the prospect of maybe making back some of the advance the author had doubtless already spent on the essentials of the writerly life - beer and fags - seems bizarre in the current climate but children, it was thus...

Booksellers love parties.  Ok, I should qualify that statement.  Booksellers love parties where there is a plentiful supply of free booze.  Let's just say we went to parties on a regular basis, sometimes just to party, sometimes to sell books and party.  These occasions were the best - until the next day when you realised you'd lost count of how many copies were sold, had spent half the takings at a lock in on the way home or woke up in Brighton.  I suppose the very greatest events were the ones where the publisher forgot who had been selling the book and you wobbled off into the sunset with a nice pile of wonga.  Yeah, publishers like a drink too.  

Eventually, the point of this post emerges.  We sold the book at an event to celebrate Colin Grant's excellent book Negro With A Hat, a fine biography of Marcus Garvey.  The venue was a bar in Notting Hill, the top floor to be exact.  Had we over-estimated the stock we might need?  Well maybe just a little bit.  There were boxes and boxes of books, lovely books, hardback books, really well reviewed and written books that we were going to be selling at TWENTY QUID each.  Heavy.  The boxes were heavy.  The stairs were many, the staircase narrow, the publicists were all wearing high heels so the man who would later develop a hernia (ME!) carried them all up.  Now maybe you have seen the film Notting Hill starring Hugh Grant?  The green door and all that?  Well let's just say that the version of Notting Hill in that film is more the David Cameron version, let's call it Notting Hill 2.0.  The Notting Hill this event took place in was the one where a pile of boxes of books were stacked on the street outside the venue and every time I came down to lump another one up the stairs a passerby seemed intent on walking off with one.  Twice I appeared to find people investigating the boxes (ripping them open!).  Once I had to run after a bloke and shout at him before he handed the box back.  

To cut a long story short Colin Grant knows how to throw a good party.  He can also write.  

Negro With A Hat is a book I would go so far as to label important.  Why?  Because Marcus Garvey is such an important figure in recent history who has largely been dismissed by our culture as a madman/eccentric.  I remember Colin speaking about what an important role model Marcus Garvey was to him when he was growing up and that young black men needed such figures to inspire and motivate them.  

Now Colin Grant returns with another excellent book (I & I: The Natural Mystics) this time examining the origins of the Wailers.  You get a CD with the book and everything!  

You can read a review of I & I here. 

You can buy it at a great price with free global post and packing here.  

You can buy Negro With A Hat at a great price with free global post and packing here.  

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Ours Was The Marsh Country...

I was selling someone a book (so far so everyday!) when I noticed one of them had a small golden triangle in the corner. 


"Best book in Kent eh?  What is it?" I asked. 

"Great expectations." he said. 

0.09 seconds of googling followed and I knew the people of Kent had voted Great Expectations their best loved book in a BBC survey carried out in 2006.  A little further investigation and I came across a blog called Ours was the marsh country...

Ours was the marsh country… is a partnership between Kent LibrariesMedway Libraries and the Guildhall Museum, Rochester.

Its aim is to assemble a community of readers who will celebrate the 150th anniversary of Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations by reading it in the original weekly

Readers are encouraged to share their thoughts by commenting on this project blog.

All registered readers will be invited to monthly special events at the museum and a final party in August 2011.

I think this is a great idea.  Reading Dickens in chunks, a chapter or two a week, reminds us that the novel as a form is supremely flexible.  A blog such as this comes at you in easily digestible chunks.  Surely reading long works by authors such as Dickens is trasformed as a reading experience by chopping them up?  I also love the idea of it taking eight months to read a book and not out of choice but because that's how it is made available. Imagine the suspense of having to wait a week to find out what happens next? 

Anyway I'm sold.  If you like the idea too then you can purchase a copy here and get readingClick on this sentence to visit the website.  We have some catching up to do...

Friday, 4 February 2011

I Don't Remember Being Born

In the beginning...

            I was born a bookseller at Dillons.  

"Do you have any jobs going?" I asked.  

       In 1998 I received £678.60 per month after deductions.  

     So you can see I wasn't in it for the money...

It was, is and always will be about one thing.  


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