Thursday, October 28, 2010

Fluorescent jelly, vengeful angels and a new world history: BBC Oxford Afternoon Bookclub October 2010

Sadly, we're well into Christmas present territory now, but I was really pleased with the selection of books on today's show. Click to listen on iPlayer, then forward to about 1 hour 11 minutes into the show.

Here are the books reviewed:

Who’s Hiding – Satoru Onishi (Gecko Press, PB, £5.99)This is a simple idea ingeniously delivered. On every page an assortment of different animals, of different colours, appear – but with the judicious use of colour, the question is “Who’s Hiding?”. Other subtle (and increasingly complex) changes happen as the book progresses. And pre-schoolers absolutely love it. Great for an older sibling to read to a younger one too...

Angel – LA Weatherly (Usborne, PB, £7.99)This is the first in a brilliant new series of books – published by Usborne, who have moved into the young adult fiction market for the first time. It’s a superbly conceived world in which people see angels – but they are most definitely *not* what they seem. As the book progresses we follow Willow, a young girl who seems to have special powers, and a boy named Alex (an angel-hunter) who initially wants to harm Willow, but eventually is forced to join her as they face a threat which has huge ramifications for the entire world. A stunning book and a natural successor to the ‘Twilight’ world. Angels are the new vampires!

Mirrors – Eduardo Galeano (Portobello Books, PB, £9.99)This is one of the most addictive books I’ve read in a long time, so be warned if you think you’ll just have a few minutes to ‘dip in’ (particularly at night, and I speak from experience) as you may be some time. At its simplest, ‘Mirrors’ is a history of the world written in a thousand short ‘pieces’, in the form of an anecdote, event, biography or some other interesting story which makes this book one that can be dipped into at almost any point. But when read together, they form a genuinely original history of the world, often with key moments told from very different vantage points – and with connections and themes strung together. By the end of the book your view of the world – and the human experience – is subtly, but radically transformed.

The Extraordinary Cookbook: Make Meals Your Friends Will Never Forget – Stefan Gates (Kyle Cathie, HB, £19.99)Cookbooks are a staple of the Christmas publishing 'fayre' (no pun intended), but this year, forget Nigella, Jamie and Hugh, and instead plump for this, one of the most unusual and, yes, extraordinary cookbooks to have been published in recent years. Stefan Gates is best known for presenting Gastronuts, and he has brought out books in the past on eating unusual food. But here, he collects together 'real' recipes for you to cook extraordinary meals for friends which will "flatter their intelligence and feed their appetite for adventure". From flourescent jellies and roasted fish heads, to inviting your friends to make sushi and roasting fish heads, this is a cook book like no other...

Atlas of Remote Islands: Fifty Islands I Have Not Visited and Never Will - Judith Schalansky (HB, Penguin Books, £25.00)This is one of those wonderful books that is beautifully conceived and executed, making both a lovely gift and genuinely useful in terms of a reference book. The collected stories which serve to illustrate each island are by turns funny, gripping...but often poignant, rooted as many of them are in the history of discovery and colonisation. One of my big Christmas recommends this year for difficult-to-buy-for men, particularly those with an interest in maps! But it will appeal to a far wider readership than that...

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Mighty Phinn

Four years ago (October 2006) we hosted our first ever author event at Mostly Books. Upon setting up the event, our initial joy in celebrating the fact that we had convinced an author to come to the shop was soon tempered by the realisation that no-one had ever heard of the author, and thus the tickets weren't exactly flying out of the door...

A few days before the event, and desperate to round up an audience, I accosted one lady in the shop, gave her one of my best 100 watt bookseller smiles, and endeavoured to lure her to buy a ticket. She declined, but said "You know who you should get for an event? That Gervase Phinn. He'd be fab."

"I'll see what I can do" I said.

And so (because these things can take some time to pull off) four years later we welcomed the legend himself to the Guildhall in Abingdon. And what a night it was...
Gervase's own website declares that "you can always tell a Yorkshireman, but you can't tell him much" and it was clear from the outset that there was only one man calling the shots in terms of how the evening was going to be run.
As befits someone who has a reputation as one of the country's best raconteurs and after-dinner speakers, Gervase had the audience in the palm of his hands, with stories, anedoctes, observations and poems on everything from the use of language and modern life, to his passion for education and family life. It was a virtuoso performance.
Having decided to do an impromptu signing before the event, he then continued to sign and chat afterwards as well.
He seemed very happy with the whole event - particularly the response from the audience. So a big thank you for everyone who came - we hope you had a great evening.
Rumour has it that Gervase's next project is his first fiction novel, and when it gets published I will do my best to lure him back to Abingdon for a repeat performance. And hopefully it won't be another four years...

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Battleground Prussia

On Wednesday night, we held a joint event between Mostly Books and The Abingdon and District Twinning Society. We had been talking for over a year about a possible event, and in the end we were delighted to welcome a local author - Dr Prit Buttar - author of a remarkable new history covering the end of the second world war on the Eastern Front - Battleground Prussia.

There are local authors - and then there is Dr Buttar who works just over the road here in Stert Street!

The Society itself was very quick to write up the event. From our side it was a big success, and Dr Buttar gave a accomplished, compelling and at times harrowing talk, illuminating a part of the war which is often neglected here in the West (at least, as published in the English-language). And although I don't often do this (and it pains me slightly to include the link!) reviewers on A*maz*n who know much more about this part of history than I do are lauding its publication - and we hope the book does well. Naturally we have signed copies here in the shop...

Thanks to Dr Buttar - and also to the Society in what we hope will become a regular event...

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Children's Book Week: Holly Webb and the Oxfordshire Book Award

On Wednesday during Children's Book Week we welcomed "Rose" author Holly Webb.

She started off at Cholsey Primary School, talking to the girls there about her life as first an editor, and then author. Along the way she revealed some of her favourite books (such as 'The Little Princess', and possibly her favourite book, CS Lewis' 'The Horse and His Boy'), and telling the children to read, read, read if they wanted to be writers.
She had even brought along the manuscript of the fourth 'Rose' book to show the children and tell them what it's like to be an editor (which Holly used to be) and an author (which is what she is now).

And then Holly read examples of the children's writing in a very interactive session. Several of the girls had written pieces inspired by books they had read about the blitz (in fact, there was a fantastic display of writing up based on both Michael Morpurgo's Friend or Foe, and Henry Moore's Shelter Drawings). Holly was able to join in as the class advised on aspects of the writing that worked well - or could have been improved. Kudos to Holly - and also to the girls who allowed their work to be scrutinised by the class.

And then Holly signed copies of her books:

We then hightailed it across the countryside to Abingdon, where we spent a wonderful afternoon with children from Rush Common School. Some great questions from the children (there seemed to be an awful lot of budding writers at the school!):
Holly then came back to the shop before catching the train home...

The following day we were at Abingdon School for the annual Oxfordshire Book Award. We did this last year - and it is a wonderful celebration of the best children's writing, with some fantastic authors turning up to receive their awards - voted on by children in schools across Oxfordshire...
This year, authors included Michael Morpurgo, Rachel Ward, Marie-Louise Jensen, Nick Sharrat and Jill Arbuthnott.
It was an intense affair, with lots of children all wanting to meet the authors, but I did manage to slip out from behind the bookstall and meet the authors, including the great man himself (not that I'm a fan or anything...let's hope I didn't come over *too* starry-eyed...)
It was a great Children's Book Week for us, (we ended the week tired but happy). The best thing about school events is when the children come into the shop to tell you how much they enjoyed meeting the authors...and fired up to read more of their books.

Next up for us...Gervase Phinn on Oct 25, and then the return of the Mostly Bookbrains Literary Quiz for charity...

Friday, October 08, 2010

Stripey Tiger Super Tour at Carswell School

National Children's Book Week this week and - fools that we are - we were involved in five seperate events in and around Abingdon. All fantastic - and we kicked off Tuesday with the brilliant David Roberts and Guy Bass, part of Little Tiger Press' Stripey Tiger Super Tour, who arrived at Carswell School Abingdon in some style:
An ordinary VW Sharan magically transformed into the Tigermobile. We planned their arrival for when the children were in the playground, and - health and safety cones suitable arranged - the Tigermobile arrived bearing the two authors. They were met by teacher Debbie Emsen, and members of the school council:
Who then posed for the camera:
Guy and David then addressed a specially-convened school assembly to give a hint of the mayhem that was to follow:
The school split up - years 1,2 and 3 stayed in the hall with David, years 4,5 and 6 headed off down to the Dining Hall. David began by giving a reading of "Dirty Bertie" with some help from the kids.
Did they enjoy this? The following short, but informative film, may give you a hint:

Meanwhile, over at the Dining Room, Guy was talking about his book "Secret Santa: Agent of X.M.A.S. (short for 'Xtremely Mysterious Agency of Secrets', just in case you are not inducted yet):
Here Guy talks with the children about Christmas presents - in particular, ones that they might have received which were 'pants'...
He then read some extracts from the book...
Back to the main hall, and David was attempting to give 90 children a masterclass in drawing Bertie and his dog Whiffer. Armed with pens and paper, the children were enthralled and totally mesmerised. 
Meanwhile, Guy split his group into two teams, with two potential new X.M.A.S recruits. Kitted out in top-of-the-range 'elf' agent costumes and ray guns, the two groups raced to decipher a code to reveal one of Santa's most deadliest enemies...
...The Easter Bunny! Reunited after the main event, Guy and David signed books for the children, and posed with the suitably awed bookseller.
The feedback from the school has been fantastic, and it was a great start to the week for us. David, Guy and 'Laceytiger' Lauren jumped into the Tigermobile, and after managing to navigate the torturous Abingdon traffic system (largely closed off for the Michaelmas Fair), the sped off down the A34 en route to Wales for the next leg...

Monday, October 04, 2010

The case for the book

I've just finished listening to a fantastic 'start the week' on Radio 4, which featured (amongst other guests) a discussion with Jonathan Franzen. In it there is the most wonderfully succinct yet powerful argument for the book I've heard (it's near the end of the show - Frantzen was held up by the tube strike). Marr and Frantzen are actually referring to the 'case for the novel', but the idea of reading as a haven against the 'thousand tiny distractions' of everyday life is a powerful one.

I've often felt that books provide time and space, within which we can think, learn, etc. It also chimes nicely with some of the thinking behind the 'slow food' and 'slow travel' movement (and incidentally "time to read" makes a nice counterpoint to the - let's face it - awful 'bookaholicism' initiative that surfaced last year within the wider book trade).

And I think reading off of an electronic device doesn't count. You use a different part of your brain to read from a device, and (as someone who endeavoured to carry a conversation with a young woman last week who wouldn't - or couldn't - leave her mobile phone alone that whole time we talked) whichever eReader triumphs in the upcoming 'format war' will include plenty of bells, whistles, linking, ebedded push-technology and other ad-based interruptions to constantly draw your attention away from any long-term concentration and deep thought. Rather than kill the book, I think this kind of tech-driven attention deficit disorder may drive more people back to paper, as a sort of "leave-me-alone-I'm-reading" response to the 'Always-on-Friends-Reunited' that is Facebook.

I suppose this is why I'm fairly sanguine about the much-debated 'demise' of the book - I don't think the paper-based book is disappearing anytime soon, and we shouldn't let ourselves get too carried away by a technology very much coming off of the top of the Gartner hype curve. It's a great example of appropriate technology, although that doesn't mean it couldn't do with a bit of a helping hand now and then...