Friday, May 28, 2010

World Cup, Weather and Wartime Secrets: BBC Oxford Afternoon Bookclub for May

...and you can add 'Walking' to the slightly overcooked aliteration in that title.

(Click here to listen to the show until 2nd June - you'll need to fast forward to about 1 hour 8 minutes. A list of the books reviewed this month - and past months - can be found here).

With Father's Day and the World Cup looming there's a distinct 'guys' flavour to the book choices this month. But fear not - Summer Reading is firmly on the agenda for June...

We kicked off with Helen Peacocke's wonderful follow-up to Paws Under The Table - entitled Paws For History. It's the same inspired mix of great pubs, food, walking and dog-friendly welcomes as in the first book, but include new pubs, and this time each of the walks has a historical twist. Helen is a well-known (not to mention well-loved) local food writer, who has easily visited every single pub in Oxfordshire (and most on more than one occasion); she knows her stuff, and she writes beautifully and passionately. My personal favourite is The George and Dragon in Sutton Courtenay, where you can visit the grave of one Eric Arthur Blair (better known as George Orwell) en route to a well-deserved pint (and some water and treats for your canine companion). Even if you don't have a dog, these are great suggestions for getting out and discovering the county now that the weather has vastly improved...

Then it was on to some suggestions for Father's Day. 30-Second Theories is a wonderfully-edited, brain-stretching collection of the 50 most thought-provoking theories in science. It works as both a great gift (it's a beautifully-produced large hardback) and also as a great dip-in book (which some men prefer - especially if they are not great readers) with a few 'gee-whizz' moments. It's all edited brilliantly by Paul Parsons. From Occam's Razor to Information Theory, The Selfish Gene to Dark Matter, this is a great refresher for anyone interested in the biggest ideas in science.

The World Cup is looming large, and there's a slew of tie-in publications (the official FIFA guide being particular good for anyone wanting to geek-up on the teams ahead of the tournament) but I've gone for a small hardback book - ostensibly published for kids, but great for kids to share with Dad - The World Cup: A Very Peculiar History by David Arscott. Full of the weird, wonderful and downright disturbing history of the World Cup, this has surprising bite and depth for what might seem a lighthearted tie-in - summed up by the double-edged quote on the inside cover by Nelson Mandela...

That's the non-fiction - for fiction I first chose a father's day recommend : Turbulence by Giles Foden. The author of the Last King of Scotland, Foden here brings his 'faction' style to bear on the men (or, in this case, one man) charged with trying to understand the chaotic nature of weather. Predicting the weather weeks or months ahead has always been a bit hit and miss ("Barbecue Summer" anyone?) but imagine the pressure of trying to predict the weather for one of the most important dates in history: June 6th, 1944.


Turbulence begins in a slow and chaotic way (which I feel is deliberate) but builds to a page-turning climax, and the skill of the author here is to make what might have been a dull subject - meteorology - not just interesting, but a page-turning race-against-time set against the backdrop of the drama of the imminent D-Day Landings.

Finally, Oxfordshire-based author Eliza Graham's third novel Jubilee is a darkly plotted mystery which spans the post-war years - and plays out against the backdrop of two separate Jubilee's - Silver in 1977 and Golden in 2002. As with her first two novels (Playing With The Moon, and Restitution) it examines secrets uncovered by the current generation, which reveals the long shadows cast by war - and the sometimes extreme acts individuals did (both good and bad) under the duress of wartime situations.

Declaring an interest here - we will be hosting the official launch of the book on June 16th - you can read what the author herself says about her latest book here.

The story focuses on Evie, who arrives at a Berkshire farm as an evacuee in 1940, and stays for the rest of her life - although never quite shaking her status as an 'incomer'. Eliza is adept at moving the story backwards and forwards, while slowly piecing together the mystery of the the disappearance of Evie's only daughter Jessamy on the day of the Silver Jubilee. After Evie's death, it is left to her niece - Jessamy's cousin - to final put the pieces together and discover what happened on the village green 25 years before.

With the Berkshire Downs almost appearing as a character in the story, given the wonderful descriptions of the area, this is a compelling Summer read with the extra bonus of a local setting - and a satisfying conclusion...

Summer Reads in earnest next month (oh, and apparently I need to cut down on using the word 'absolutely' on the show...)

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Tiny Campsites with Dixe Wills

Last Saturday we welcomed Dixie Wills to the Courtyard Garden to discuss camping and talk about his book Tiny Campsites. And it just so happened that this was the book reviewed by a guest reviewer on today's BBC Oxford Afternoon Bookclub.

(As always, you can listen to the show here until next Wednesday, 2nd June - you'll need to fast forward to about 1 hour 8 minutes into the show. A list of the books reviewed this month can be found here).

Dixie had cycled to Abingdon on a blistering hot Saturday afternoon - first getting the train to Didcot, then cycling the rest of the way. However, when (by 2pm) he hadn't arrived, I was starting to get nervous, but Dixe soon turned up, having been assisted by a well-meaning but ultimately misguided fellow cyclist who had pointed him in the direction of Wallingford. So, slightly moist after his longer-than-expected bike ride, he then camped out (literally) in the courtyard garden and chatted to people about the joys of camping - specifically the benefits of camping off the beaten track - and the joy of tiny campsites.

As tiny campsites go, the courtyard garden (at about 4m x 4m) definitely fits the bill; Dixe Wills' book defines a tiny campsite as less than an acre, and there are 75 listed in the book - all ones he's personally visited. As he himself says, "I spend more time in a sleeping bag under canvas than nature intended".

With orange squash laid on for thirsty visitors (himself included) a very chilled atmosphere pervaded the garden on a very sultry afternoon. Dixie had a steady stream of visitors, and it was a great complement to our camping and UK holidays book display that has been going very well over the past few weeks. And Dixie gamely posed with said sleeping bag for the obligatory bookshop owner pic...


Hopefully Dixie has fully recovered after his dehydrating cycle sprint up the A415. We really appreciated his presence in the garden, for what was a a great event...

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Sex & Stravinsky - Barbara Trapido

On Wednesday May 12th we welcomed Barbara Trapido back to Abingdon to talk about her first novel in seven years: Sex & Stravinsky.

You can read what I thought about the book here, but one of things I particularly value about hearing an author speak about a book you like is - what goes on inside their head to have produced it?
When she first came to Abingdon two years ago, we learned about her tortuous writing schedule - the repeated writing, rewriting, taping, which then gets typed up, and then scribbled all over. If anything, that process has become even more intense since then.

(As an aside, if you are an aspiring author, it is fascinating to get out and listen to other writers and learn about their writing habits. The process of taping and listening to how your story sounds is a technique that more than one author has spoken about - which I find surprising.).

Barbara is renowned for her characters - some of whom have popped up in subsequent books (in fact one question Barbara received was from someone who wanted to know 'whatever happened to Stella' - it's that kind of connection with the characters in her books that I believe is why she has such loyal fans).

Barbara touched on other aspects of her writing life, her move to Bloomsbury and the autobiographical aspects of the stories she tells. She did three seperate readings from the book (my favourite being the intense and rage-filled 16-year old 'Cat') and then signed copies of her book.
Thanks to Abingdon School for providing the wonderful facility of the sport centre suite once again - and of course to Barbara for making it a special evening for all those that came along.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Kennington Literary Festival 2010

On Saturday, April 24 we sold books at the first Kennington Literary Festival - organised by the Friends of Kennington Library, and wonderfully supported by the local community. Kennington is, ooh, about 2 miles from Oxford - so you might think that the last thing needed is another literary festival, but compared to the industrial bookselling juggernaut that is the Oxford Literary Festival, this couldn't have been more different, and the better for it. A great speaker list, based around a wonderful community library. Speakers included The Joshua Files' author MG Harris...

...who was interviewed by BBC Oxford's Bill Heine...

...and Helen Rappaport was there talking about her latest book Beautiful Forever, the life of 'Madam Rachel' a notorious Victorian cosmetic fraudster... ...and whilst the adults watched the authors, there was plenty for the kids to do... All in all, a wonderful day, and we were very proud to be invited. It all bodes well for 2011...