Monday, September 25, 2006

Search for an uplifting read

We get requests large and small for all manner of individual tastes and general weird stuff. But one of my biggest challenges for this week turned out to be one I at first thought would be easy. It was for a customer who was looking for suggestions for uplifting reads for a recently bereaved relative. Not difficult on the face of it, until I started trawling the shelves and seeing how many books I quickly rejected. Anything of the triumph-of-the-human-spirit-over-adversity type seemed to be relentlessly grim for most of the book and not ideal. Generally, I was forced to conclude, good writers seem to prefer to write about the sort of challenging subjects that are simply hopeless if you're feeling weepy and want something to take you out of yourself. Even reliable stand-bys such as the utterly wonderful Salley Vickers' Miss Garnett's Angel, has quite a lot of death in it and I hesitated over saying whether it was at all appropriate. Obviously some sort of frothy romance was hardly the ticket and I wouldn't necessarily describe those as 'uplifting' in any case (perhaps that's just me). I was really struggling until I hit upon Elizabeth Von Arnim's The Enchanted April. That was written in the 1920s. And then I was saved by Persephone Books, classics all, but not a recently published volume among them. Where are the modern 'uplifting reads' ? So I am probably missing something (probably quite a lot) and have decided we have far too few uplifting books. So I am turning to our ever-reliable bloggers for helpful suggestions to put those rays of sunshine on our shelves. We all need a few uplifting reads ever now and again. I have to admit that I indulged in something I find less of an uplifting read than a guilty pleasure when I had a bit of a cold at the weekend. In a bit of a snuffly mood my fingers sought an Agatha Raisin (MC Beaton) detective story from my 'to be read' shelf. It has been sitting guiltily there for a long while and I promise I will return to a more respectable path this evening, especially as we are launching our Book Group this week and I have been busy concentrating on all sorts of erudite books to brush up my image as a bookseller of wide knowledge and exemplary good taste. I also indulged by watching the new BBC adaptation of Jane Eyre. Not one of my personal favourite books, but an excellent adaptation. I think I'm going to enjoy this one. But could I be the only person who, when Rochester's horse stumbled, I was half expecting to see Thursday Next lurking on the scene?

7 comments:

  1. Good call on Thursday Next Nik, fab! Modern, uplifting reads can be a bit of a rarity but it depends how far you delve. One of the first rules of bereavement counselling is not to avoid the subject, so uplifting "weepies" shouldn't be ignored, so the Time Traveller's Wife could be a good one, deals with death in a positive and believeable (ok, time travel but you know what I mean) way. It also depends how you feel about the output of Paulo Coehlo!
    Hope your cold gets better!

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  2. Uplifting: Secret Life of Bees, Sue Monk Kydd; I Capture the Castle, Dodie Smith; The Bean Trees followed by Pigs in Heaven, Barbara Kingsolver; The Kite Runner, Khaled Husseini... uplifting can be about just being so good they take you out of yourself, can't it? So none of these are specifically to do with your query, but might just fit the bill anyway. For humour, Mavis Cheek, for audacious but wonderful (and certainly for taking you out of yourself) Vernon God Little. And Alice Walker's Color Purple is so about the triumph of the human spirit over evil and despair that it surely has to rate?

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  3. What about Jonathan Livingstone Seagull by Ricahrd Bach. I don't remember too much about it, but I seem to recall that it was a very hopeful book.

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  4. At which point I must enquire about the science fiction and fantasy collection at MB - not everybody's cuppa, of course, but often a key indicator of the care bookshop owners take of their collections. Perhaps all the more so if they are not aficionados themselves. I ask, because 4 of the 5 most uplifting books I have ever read come from this area....

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  5. Van, That's a very interesting comment about SF and Fantasy. When we were doing the original stock pick for MB, I wanted a good SF selection (being an SF buff myself) but with a small shop, and with the opening date rapidly aproaching, I probably was guilty of spending a wee bit too much time on this area, at the expense of others.

    I decided to go for a mix of modern (Hamilton, Stross, Simmons, Banks) and classic (Asimov, Gibson, Herbert, Sterling - even stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner which raises a few eyebrows) as well as most of Neal Stephenson's output (although we do tend to place the Baroque Cycle novels in mainstream fiction - pretentious perhaps?). We've also got a few obscure ones in there as well - but the range is far from comprehensive.

    In terms of Fantasy, this was slightly easier as there is a crossover into young adults reading, for which we have more room (so Steven Erikson shares space with Alison Croggon, and both have sold well for us).

    A few weeks ago we separated out SF and Fantasy, but put them next to the entrance to the children's room. This makes is slightly easier for adults who like to read Pullman (for example), because they don't have to go in and fish it out of the children's room.

    On Monday I'll try to take a piccy of the SF/Fantasy shelf, and post it on the blog. Any recommendations for obvious holes or uplifting books would be very gratefully accepted!

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  6. Uplifting books -how about PG Wodehouse? They make you laugh, and humour is uplifting.

    And have I recommended Temeraire by Naomi Novik before? It's alternate history - in the Regency period, dragons are real and form an aerial corps in the fight against Napoleon. Sort of Anne McCaffrey meets Jane Austen.

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  7. Still hoping for that photo, Mark - much long-distance supportive following of developments ...

    Returning to the topic of SF and fantasy, I present for your interest the statistics from our private library, limited to these areas, in the hope that there may be something new in there that would catch your fancy and end up in the shop. (We are trying to get our (private) books online, have managed the first 900 or so but plenty left to do...)

    So here goes (5+ books/Author):

    Asimov, Isaac 10
    Bear, Greg 9
    Bujold, Lois McMaster 15
    Cherryh, C.J. 23
    Donaldson, Stephen 5
    Drake, David 6
    Eddings, David 21
    Eddings, David & Leigh 5
    Feist, Raymond E. 15
    Furey, Maggie 5
    Goodkind, Terry 7
    Heinlein, Robert 11
    Herbert, Brian & Anderson, Kevin J. 5
    Herbert, Frank 12
    Jordan, Robert 8
    Kay, Guy Gavriel 6
    McCaffrey, Anne 12
    Pratchett, Terry 20
    Rawn, Melanie 5
    Rowling, J.K. 11
    Silverberg, Robert 6
    Stephenson, Neal 7
    Tolkien, J.R.R. 5
    Weber, David 23
    Williams, Tad 6
    Zimmer Bradley, Marion 7

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