Friday, November 30, 2012

3 4 Friday - three reasons to bring your children to Abingdon on Saturday

Tomorrow (Sat Dec 1) sees the annual Abingdon Christmas lights switch on with a fantastic all-day event - the Abingdon Extravaganza. To lure you into Abingdon, there is free parking all day, the Christmas parade with Father Christmas starts at 11.15am, and there is a whole host of performances, activities, fun and games leading up to the lights switch-on and firewords at 5.45pm.

There are rumours that Iggle Piggle, Upsy Daisy & Timmy will also be in town during the day...Iggle Piggle may also be at Mostly Books from 2.30pm...

Full details can be found here - but if you are coming to Abingdon tomorrow, we've picked out three of our favourite children's books for today's '3 4 Friday' #FridayReads selection:

Matilda’s Cat – Emily Gravett 
This is another fabulous book for 3+ from award-winning author Emily Gravett. Her illustrations are just wonderful and the expressions on Matilda’s cat are priceless as she tries to entice him to play with her in dress up games and picnic parties. Matilda’s relationship with her poor tormented cat is a comedy classic and there is much for children to enjoy in this deceptively simple book.

And in the run up to Christmas we have a competition to win your very own cat of the fluffy toy variety (who has already been a huge hit in the shop). Buy a copy of Emily Gravett’s book and guess a name for Matilda’s cat to win you own in time for Christmas...

Atticus Claw Breaks the Law – Jennifer Gray
Atticus (Grammaticus Cattypuss) Claw is a tabby cat and a master criminal cat burglar. When he receives a mysterious message asking him to a meeting in a sleepy coastal town, he packs his bags and sets off. The world's greatest cat burglar likes a good mystery but this time has his curiosity got the better of him? Asked to steal all the town jewels and leave the humans baffled, he thinks nothing could be more straightforward.  But when he moves in with Inspector Cheddar and his family, he starts to wonder if a life of crime is really for him...A great new book that will keep your kids gripped and eager for the next chapter!

Winterling – Sarah Prineas
Fer has always felt different and out of place, only feeling right when she’s out in the open countryside, whatever the weather. When she comes across a boy (who’s also a dog) being chased by wolves (which aren’t just wolves), she also finds 'The Way' – a passage to another world and the possibility of answers to all her questions, such as what happened to her father and who she really is. But as Fer enters this enchanting world to which she feels a strange connection, she doesn’t realise just how dangerous it is, or that it is her destiny to free the land from its imprisonment in ice and evil.

An exciting and frosty story with wonderful characters – I particularly like the rebellious Puck, Rook, and the wolves who are just a little bit stupid!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The magic number is fifty (but not like that): BBC Radio Oxford Afternoon Bookclub

On the radio again Monday, discussing (somewhat unashamedly) ideal books for Christmas, with Nigel French of Coles Books.
Included in the discussion was 'Gotcha Gadgets' by the wonderful Klutz - teach kids the basics of electronics whilst allowing them to build cool spy gadgets for £12.99...

Nigel waxed lyrical about Emma Kennedy and 'The Killing Handbook', and I waxed equally lyrically about paper-cutting inspired books.

But the magic number was definitely fifty - Nigel recommending 'Fifty Sheds of Grey' (and talking about something called 'shedism' of which  I was previously unaware) and the audio version of Philip Pullman's "Grimm's Tales for Young and Old" in which he selects fifty of his favourite Grimm's fairy tales and retells them in his own style.

The audio version is a selection read by the sublime Samuel West. Some books work very well in audio, but few actually improve - and I think this is a case in point...

You can listen to the show here until Dec 3 - fast forward to about 1 hr 8 mins for our words of wisdom...

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Bad Pharma, Good Evening: Ben Goldacre at the Oxford Union

A couple of weeks ago we got a call asking us if we wanted to provide books for an evening with Ben Goldacre at the Oxford Student Union. It was a case of thinking it over carefully, and then trying to remain cool and calm a few milliseconds later whilst answering in a slightly high voice 'yes please'...

Mostly Books sits within the science-heavy triangle of Harwell, Culham and Oxford - and it's fair to say that we get more science readers than the average bookshop. Ben Goldacre's books have done very well for us - Bad Science is a modern classic - and 'Bad Pharma' (a meticulously researched and brilliantly-constructed critique of the Pharmaceutical Industry) is one of the most important - and disturbing - books to have been published in recent years.

So on Monday night - despite rising floodwater - we navigated the great distance between Abingdon and Oxford City Centre safely, and shortly before 8pm there was an impressive queue forming to hear Ben speak:

Here's Ben speaking (photo taken from the slightly disconcerting, creaking wooden balcony in the Chamber). There were between 200-300 students on the night:
Ben is possibly the unlikeliest crusader against a £600bn global corporate kleptocracy responsible for many hundreds of thousands of needless deaths. But there you go. Criticism of 'big pharma' is widespread of course, but much of it can be safely categorised as the 'foil hat' conspiracy variety in some of the more obscure corners of the Internet. And that's probably the way the pharmaceutical industry likes it...
What makes Ben different is a unique combination of talents: a deep and profound understanding of the industry and how it works, his abilities as a writer to communicate complex ideas, and the genuine desire and commitment he has to improving the current system. Ultimately he is just a little guy, standing there, looking at the facts and saying 'this situation is bad for patients, doctors, governments and society, and we know the problems, and we know we can fix it - so why don't we?'.

This is his biggest weapon. He does not rant. He is not a conspiracy theorist. His speaking style - that of slightly exasperated, ex-doctor-turned-nerdy-science-writer - is because that is what he actually is, knocking on the door of mega-corporations and government regulators, making reasonable requests to see data on drug trials, and refusing to go away as their stalling tactics get ever more bizarre.

This must be extremely irksome to the Pharmaceutical Industry. They are not happy. I asked him, half-jokingly, if he's being followed. But I reckon any efforts to smear or even threaten him will prove ineffectual because he genuinely wants to make things better and get the debate out into the open. You cannot really question his motivations.

(BTW, if you are in any way interested in how drugs company's operate, how they legally 'bury' bad trial data, convince our government to spend 9% of its annual drugs budget on pills with no verifiable efficacy, and hoodwink doctors and patients, read the book. In fact, if you have ever taken prescription drugs in any form, please, please read this book).

Anyway - back to the event. We made a slight miscalculation in where the book stall was set up. Here's the queue for the signing, together with the queue to buy the book...and the queue to get out. Hmm. If we are ever invited back (and we greatly enjoyed the experience) we might make a few changes to positioning...
Ben signed books, talked to students, and gave advice on everything from 'how to be a science writer' or the best way to do a medical PhD...
Thanks very much to HarperCollins and the Oxford Union for the opportunity to do the event, and to Fran and Mark on the night for coping with slightly nervous and twitchy booksellers beforehand.

(A big thank you also to Sarah from Health Press Ltd - who publish Fast Facts from a building round the back of Mostly Books - and who helped out on the bookshop on the night. It was Sarah who enthused about Bad Pharma and got us reading it when it first came out.)
In the spirit of the evening, and as a gesture to the free sharing of data (Pharma companies, Amazon, et altake note) we sold 47 copies of 'Bad Pharma' on the evening, and 11 copies of 'Bad Science'. We also, incidentally, received a very warm welcome from staff and students at the Union who made us feel very welcome for our first ever event there...thank you.

Signed copies of Bad Pharma and Bad Science now at Mostly Books...

(For anyone interested in learning more about what Ben said on the evening concerning the response to his book by Stephen Whitehead, chief executive of the ABPI: Ben goes head-to-head with Stephen at the Royal Institution on the 26th February. It should be a humdinger...moderated by the great Dr Phil Hammond. Go Ben!)

Friday, November 23, 2012

3 4 Friday - Bad, Mad and Delightful To Know: Ben Goldacre, Patrick Leigh Fermor and a whole team of children's authors

Today's '3 4 Friday' #FridayReads are three very different books, from events we are involved in next week.

On Monday evening, we are very honoured to be bookseller at the Oxford Union where Ben Goldacre will be talking about the 'bad science' behind the pharmaceutical industry in his latest book Bad Pharma. Ben is a passionate and pioneering journalist and author, and believes picking apart the bad science that appears in science writing is the best way to educate and promote good science - for everyone's benefit.

The event is being organised by three different Oxford University Societies, and whilst we cannot offer tickets for the event, please do let us know if we can reserve you a signed copy of Ben's book...

Bad Pharma is based on meticulous research and unravelling of the way medical research is carried out in this country (did you know, for example, that most doctors and nurses are - either directly or indirectly - educated by the pharmaceutical industry?). But this is no rant. Ben uses clear and measured language that nevertheless underlies real anger at complex problems, and the power of this book is the skill with which Ben builds his case. Not only does he tease out the problems and conflicts of interest, he explains complex issues whilst offering solutions to the problems of 'Big Pharma'. A hugely impressive achievement, and a testament to the power of words.

Who would be mad enough to set off at 18 to walk across Europe, living off £1 a day? In 1933? If you have been enjoying Samuel West reading from Artemis Cooper's biography of Patrick Leigh Fermor on Radio 4 this week - we have signed copies at Mostly Books.

Fermor is one of the great travel writers of the 20th century, notably for his books about his walk across pre-war Europe (and for the spectacular kidnap of a German general in Crete towards the end of World War II). Artemis Cooper has drawn on years of interviews and conversations with ‘Paddy’ and his closest friends as well as having complete access to his archives. Her beautifully crafted biography gives some insight into his gifts, the huge role of his unsung wife Joan, and the lifelong, passionate friendships they both inspired.

Finally, this week sees the Oxfordshire and Berkshire heats of the global Kid's Lit Quiz at St Gregory The Great School, Oxford - and Mostly Books is very proud to be providing a bookshop for the second year running. Twelve authors will be joining teams from twenty schools to compete to go forward to the national final, and ultimately to the world final next year in Durban, South Africa.

Teams are cheered on with help from a delightful group of (and some of favourite) children's authors, which this year includes Susie Day, Joss Stirling, Marie Louise Jensen, MG Harris, Linda Newbery and Sally Nicholls. Quite a line up!

And don't forget it's the local excellence market in Abingdon this weekend. Local produce, vintage/retro stalls...and owls!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes! A whole new look

Here is Mostly Books on the day we opened. Note half empty window and shiny lettering in what was a heatwave in 2006:

Two years later, the otherworldly Google mapping car drove past our shop in the early dawn light in either June or July of 2008. This is the image you'll find if you search on Google Street View:

The Very Hungry Caterpillar in the window dates this photograph to our 'Very Hungry Caterpillar Party' in May 2009:

And here's a still from the Olympic Torch procession back in the Summer:

But really, even last year, we knew that the 'decor' of the shop front was showing its age, and needed some urgent attention. The combination of traffic and some extremes of weather over the last few years meant the shop front was in need of some serious TLC.

So cue some treatment to the worst areas of timber...

...then a snazzy green undercoat to give a hint of what was to come...

...and finally a much darker green gloss which might bear more than a passing resemblance to the colour of an MG car...

... replace the lettering, and hey presto: the Mostly Books facelift is complete! 

A big thank you to our landlady and financial assistance from Abingdon Town Council. No more gags about 'Black Books' anymore, but what does everyone think???

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The awesome Mark Forsyth and The Horologicon

On Tuesday evening, we welcomed the author and journalist Mark Forsyth (aka The Inky Fool) to Abingdon's resplendent Guildhall.

The inevitable early morning uhtceare we suffer on the morning of any big event proved unfounded (Will the author arrive? Will he pull a hum durgeon?, etc.), and at 7.30pm there was a packed audience in Abingdon's newly refurbished and resplendent Roysse Room.

Despite some betwattled activity by staff to get the microphone working shortly before Mark arrived, it wasn't the the shturmovshchina I had initially feared. The evening was slightly warmer of late, not so swale as expected, so there was no collapsing of bumbershutes from guests as they grubbled for tickets and removed golgothas waiting to come in. The start time of 7.30pm was conveniently past any prior cinquasept I'm happy to say.

Historically a misocapnist, I was happy to stand as the dimpsy murkened with Mark for a pre-event smoko before the event kicked off, preparing my intro en charette and pointing out the County Hall in the distance with its fake-medieval ceiling fixing. Mark was thus able to point to this piece of skeuomorphism to begin his talk - and the evening really got going.

Mark talked about the romantic language of supermarkets, with their gondolas and light thieves, as well as communicating his incredible passion for dictionaries and their importance in recording social and oral history. With no interruptions or kittle pitchering, Mark's talk gave way to questions and duologues. The audience shared some of their own unfamiliar words: the words wassack and dap were bandied about.

But, sadly, gabos: there were books to be sold and signed. Having roughly translated the Roysse Room's greek inscription at the beginning of the event, Christmas was uppermost on everyone's mind, and as the meeting broke up into a collocation, Mark signed books and met the audience...

...whilst dispensing niffles of wisdom and even the odd old English insult to those that requested one:

Many good Mostly Books marrows and belamies had come along for the evening, and most seemed to have a good time.

Finally, quafftide had arrived. We decamped to have a small go at a local potation-shop, that fine sluicery The King's Head and Bell.

Our thanks to Mark for a truly wonderful evening, where we felt royally and golupshusly entertained and educated. Mark's tour around the country continues, and if you get a chance to hear him talk - please do so.

All that remains is for us to publish the blog in time-honoured fashion. I was perendinating, but as it happens I think this will do. It has a quality of doneness that I particularly like...

Saturday, November 10, 2012

What we did this week...

We will do this properly on the blog next week, but here's what we did this week...

Everyone at Mostly Books has been busy putting together their favourite books - for all ages and tastes - and we've bundled it all up and modestly called it The Famous Mostly Books Christmas Newsletter.

Pour yourself a nice cup of tea, sit back, relax and enjoy our recommends...

Monday, November 05, 2012

BBC Radio Oxford Afternoon Bookclub

This afternoon, had the great honour to do the Afternoon Bookclub again with Kat Orman - and the mighty Nigel French from Cole's Books in Bicester. It seemed to go well as a double-act - so you might see us again in the near future.

We both brought our top recommends from each shop - so if you want to listen to two very passionate booksellers go head-to-head with a whole help of recommends click on the iPlayer link and fast forward to 1hr 8mins.

Highlights are Nigel and I talking about Clare Balding's biography 'My Animals and Other Family' (which we reviewed last Friday on the blog), Richard Curtis' subversive picture book 'The Empty Stocking', and Sally Gardner's fab book for younger readers 'Operation Bunny' - as well as a shameless plug for our upcoming event with Mark Forsyth.

As always, it was a lot of fun (even when we were asked about our views on fashion and school dinners - don't ask). More recommends coming soon. The BBC will keep the file up on iPlayer until about 12 November...

Friday, November 02, 2012

3 4 Friday: David Mitchell topless pics! or the lure of the celebrity memoir

If there is one genre that divides opinion amongst our customers (and that's putting it mildly) it's the celebrity biography. It's always been a part of the Christmas retail melange, along with 'humorous' books and annuals of course (one of us here at Mostly Books admits to dim recollections of a Bay City Rollers book when they were about seven, but let's gloss over that).

To the jaundiced eye, 'sleb' memoirs clog up the shops from October every year, resulting in tables groaning under a slew of hastily ghost-written rehashes of dubious anecdotes hoping to bag some easy Christmas cash.

Well, that's one point of view.

The other is: it's a genre, and just like every genre, there are very good examples (Dawn French, Paul O'Grady spring to mind) - and very bad examples (enter your own suggestion here). The fact that you may have received a 'bad example' as a Christmas present only adds to the ire you might feel if the memoir in question is sadly not up to scratch.

This Autumn we reckon there's several memoirs published which exemplify the best of the genre - so for today's '3 4 Friday' #FridayReads we've hoiked out three of our favourites. So enjoy guiltlessly...

Old Abingdonian David Mitchell (no, not that David Mitchell. The actor and comedian) here delivers an extremely brave and at times painfully honest account of his life in 'Back Story', structured (unusually) around a walk across London. Brave, because - aside from a truly ghastly prep school - David's life offers none of the usual 'rags-to-riches' struggles and misery-memoir scarring that characterises other celebrity memoirs. (The writer and broadcaster Andrew Collins, in his memoir, once wrote "They tuck you up, your Mum and Dad" and that's very much the story here: David's parents sound lovely).

So 'Back Story' is a tale of a sensitive but intelligent boy who found his passion early in life, and combined determination and hard work to make his dream of acting and writing a reality. And that's why the book is brave: he writes nothing that will stop the regular digs he receives about a comfy upbringing and privilege. In addition, it has a hapy ending. In fact, David himself warns you that 'the end might make you vomit' be warned.

Like Mitchell, Clare Balding uses an unusual structure in 'My Animals and Other Family'. She grew up in a very unusual household, her father being a champion trainer, and she shared her life with more than 100 thoroughbred racehorses - as well as an ever-present pack of boxers and lurchers. It is no exaggeration to say that Clare's life, literally from the day she was born, was dominated by animals, and each chapter is dedicated to an animal that loomed large in her life.

Whether learning to walk with the aid of the family's Boxer, or breakfasting (unexpectedly) with the Queen, Balding emerges from these pages as someone who has had to fight to become who she is, in a family where the running joke was 'women ain't people'. An unexpected delight of a book from one of our most respected broadcasters who won huge plaudits for her anchoring of the Paralympic Games over the Summer.

Finally, you can view this as either a straight history of one of the greatest comedy series of all time - or a memoir of just about every great comedy writer and actor working in the 1980s. Jem Roberts' 'True History of the Blackadder : The Unadulterated Tale of the Creation of a Comedy Legend' is - like the comedy series itself - a small masterpiece.

Packed full of fantastic interviews, trivia - but never losing the focus of explaining just how Black Adder became the legendary show that it did - this should be recommended reading for anyone who wants to write. Period. There is just so much packed in it, through interviews with everyone from Ben Elton, Rowan Atkinson, Tony Robinson, Rock Mayall, Richard Curtis, John Lloyd and even Brian Blessed (his comments being as gloriously over-the-top as you would expect).

Roberts deserves huge credit for just how good this book is, because there are three main traps to fall into when writing about something as well-loved as a favourite comedy show. Either it's so geeky that it won't have popular appeal (bad), it's about the author's own obsession with the show (worse) or the author tries to make the book as funny as the series (disastrous - this can never work). Roberts sidesteps all of these traps - and has produced a magnificent book that is not just for fans.