Wednesday, September 27, 2006


A few weeks ago, we started a regular Monday storytime. This Monday we had several children come along and - with the permission of their parents - we took a few photographs. Storytime takes place at 10am (for toddlers) and again at 2pm (for under-5s). Karen, who runs storytime for us, is utterly brilliant, with props and a storyboard to make sure everyone participates and gets involved. Monday's story was the Very Hungry Caterpillar (Saturday's food items going up on the board you'll notice). If storytime continues to grow in popularity, we may have to take over the front of the shop... Charlie & Lola is a firm favourite - our Charlie & Lola fun day (all day on Saturday October 7th may be a bit busy... Seems like everyone had a great time (actually, the little boy with the big grin is my son Alex, previously featured in this blog as chief bubble machine tester, and getting into some good habits for future publicity photos!) Our bookgroup has its inaugural meeting tonight in the shop - pop in from 7pm onwards for a glass of wine, to sign up for our Wednesday or Thursday group, and discover which books are first on the list...

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?

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Adam Guillain

We had our first author event in the shop today - Bella Balistica author and creative writing consultant Adam Guillain performed storytelling and answered questions about his books. It was a lot of fun. Having got in early, James and I spent the morning moving tables and preparing a space in the front of the shop. We weren't quite sure how many people to expect. Adam arrived with his wife Charlotte and two children (George and Anna), but as 11am neared I got increasingly nervous as we only had one attendee (our nephew Oliver) and I was beginning to think we should have started our publicity earlier. However, by the time Adam started we had a dozen children, and a smattering of adults - and the event was a fantastic success. Adam is a very entertaining storyteller. He used music and props very cleverly to get everyone joining in, and as the children were aged from 1 to 12, he performed brilliantly to keep everyone enthralled (including the shop owners!). Rather than read from his books, he took questions from the children who not only asked him about his books and characters, but took the opportunity to tell him about stories they were writing. For some reason, we had a lot of budding young authors in the audience. Adam then signed copies for some of the children, as well as some for the shop. At one point, someone visiting the shop asked to take a picture, which at the time I thought nothing of. However, it was none other than the mysterious Abingdon blogger (referred to in yesterday's post) who beat us to reporting on the event. It was a really nice write-up - so thanks, whoever you are (at least I now know what he looks like!). Anyway - a big thank you to Adam, and Nicki and I hope this is the shape of events to come. (And a reminder that we have storytime this Monday (and every Monday) - 10am for toddlers, 2pm for under-5s).

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Princess Anne and New Piccies

Aha - fooled you. Princess Anne did not come into Mostly Books today, but she is coming to Abingdon tomorrow (Friday) as part of the town's 450th charter aniversary, so we have no idea what to expect. Thanks to current security best practice the whole town will be 'locked down' for the middle of the day, with no traffic allowed from about 11am onwards, so either hoardes will descend and take advantage of the lack of traffic, or they will all be in the main market square and we shall be quiet. Whatever happens - our mysterious but prolific Abingdon blogger (who is creating an incredible piece of social history with his blog) will have full coverage of the event at the end of tomorrow. Anyway - on Sunday and Monday we undertook another round of work in the shop - and we felt regular readers might appreciate some new pictures (and compare them to previous posts). Paul did another superb job - particularly with building the children's bookrack from scratch - and we worked late into the night on both Sunday and Monday to get it done.

We've added an extra bookcase in the front of the shop (far right).

We've extended the counter...and put in new shelves at the back of the shop:

In the children's room we have improved the lighting:

But - taa dah - at the back of the room, where a dark and underused bookcase used to be...

We now have a splendid, custom-built children's bookrack with its own spotlight - here's the reverse view:

And finally - here's the current window from yesterday's Roald Dahl Day:

On Saturday, we have our first author event - Bella Balistica local author Adam Guillain will be performing in store at 11am on Saturday. He will be performing a music and storytelling session, talking about writing and his involvement with the Roald Dahl celebrations. He will also be happy to sign copies of his books. We invite everyone who reads the blog to bring their family to meet and talk to Adam.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The Mysterious Flame of Zaphod Beeblebrox

Ahead of next week's Booker shortlist, I've started noticing that a small number of customers have a response to the shop which can be summed up as "oh my god, there are so many books". It's as if they feel they *should* be reading them all, and consequently feel guilty that they can't keep up. I'm reminded of a particularly hideous torture device described in one of the Hitchhiker's books called "The Total Perspective Vortex" which - once strapped in - allows you to fully appreciate your place relative to the entire universe, the shock of which usually sends its victims mad (only Zaphod Beeblebrox has an ego large enough to survive the onslaught). With the sheer number of books published each month, added to the sheer number of books *ever* published, it is pointless to feel that you can read but a fraction of them. (Unless of course you are dovegreyreader, deep into her 2006 Booker-a-Thon. Mind you, I'm beginning to suspect that 'dovegreyreader' is in reality a collective of sock-knitting community nurses locked away in a devonshire farmhouse beavering away at the list, but that may just be my slightly furtive imagination). I guess 'back in the old days' (say, the 1970s) when there were 3 channels on the telly, and the paper you read was indicative of your social status (i.e. there was no real *choice* involved) it was conceivable to cover all the information bases, and keep up with the important stuff going on in the world - and that included books. Now that the world of information has fragmented into a bewildering array of media types, channels, products, etc. it's practically impossible to identify the important or relevant books coming out, much less read them all. I'm sure the blogosphere is evolving too, with a 'blogorati' of publishers, authors and media outlets, which you can track and organise into your own tailored daily newspaper. Anyway, one of the nasty secrets of opening your own bookshop is that suddenly you have less time to read. Nicki and I have thus decided that part of our professional bookseller's duty is to spend a given number of hours per week actually reading the books we sell. This includes reading outside our normal areas of expertise. So this week "I have mostly been reading" a Joanna Trollope, a literary first (for me) and the experience was not unpleasant. After Slaughterhouse 5 (purchased during my recent trip to Crockatt & Powell) and The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, it was a nice, easy, inoffensive read and outside my normal comfort zone. All this reading, coupled with a sudden increase in the number of visitors (thanks to a piece in the local paper) and the strain of pulling our first events schedule together, has meant the blog has suffered. Our apologies, but expect our first events schedule to be published early next week...

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Pride comes before a fall...

After Nic singing my praises in the last post, several people have come into the shop this week, rolling their sleeves up and ready to challenge my excellent searching techniques. And of course, muggins here has had some notable failures. One thing only I know, and that is that I know nothing, etc. (Incidentally, this has shown just how many of our customers are now reading the blog - this has presented a dilemma. Do we carry on revealing our sometimes embarrassing experiences and failures in running Mostly Books, or do we now present ourselves - swan like - as effortlessly professional booksellers. Mmm. Tricky one.) Anyway - admitting defeat, here are a couple of the harder requests this week:
  • A book on the rules of cricket - written for children (10-13 years). I have cheekily posted this query over on Charkblog as well, as cricket is a topic that comes up frequently.
  • Children's book involving a "boy who dreams of a rocket"

Any help gratefully received as always...