Friday, July 14, 2017

Harry Potter - 20 Years On and Still Going Strong

It’s been 20 years since Harry Potter first hit our shelves and the obsession with the boy wizard is showing no signs of slowing down. 

Whilst working on some accounts in the stock room earlier in the week, with a curtain separating me from the kid’s room in the shop, I heard a young boy come bounding up the stairs shouting “Harry Potter!  Mum, it’s Harry Potter!!!!” whilst running towards our Harry Potter display.

We mentioned in our newsletter on 23rd June that we have copies of the beautiful 20th anniversary ‘House’ editions of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in stock which form the centre of our Harry Potter display. The four books are stunning re-issues of the original story and each of the covers has a different design reflecting the four Hogwarts houses. 

This little boy was overwhelmed by the fact that there was a book available that focussed on his favourite house - Gryffindor.  With words tumbling all over each other, he was at absolute pains to let his mum know why it was the Gryffindor was the house to be in and, at the same time, he decided that it was imperative that she also needed to know what characteristics the other houses consisted of and why, indeed, that made Gryffindor the house of choice (bravery was definitely a big plus).  By his mum’s reaction, it struck me that this was probably not the first time - and almost definitely won’t be the last - that these differences have been analysed in some detail but it was so lovely to hear the enthusiasm pouring out of this boy about such iconic stories.

Following the Harry Potter theme, we also had a couple in the shop this week who bought one of our gorgeous illustrated editions of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.  We got chatting and the man told me that he was buying the book to read to his five-year old son.  He had decided that it was time to introduce him to the world of Hogwarts and what a great way to do it!  These editions (the Philosopher’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets are currently available and the Prisoner of Azkaban will be published in October) contain some simply stunning illustrations and have been flying off our shelves as a popular ‘Welcome to the World’ or Christening day presents.

What a magical thing for a father and son to share!  It’s something that I am sure will create some amazing memories for that lucky little boy as he gradually discovers the world of Harry Potter in bite-sized bed time reading sessions.

With all of this going on and the fact that we have just announced that we will shortly be hosting an official Harry Potter Quiz (August 17th at R&R – Please get in touch for more details), I can’t help but wonder what it is about Harry Potter that makes it so special.  Is it the pure escapism or the fact that good ultimately prevails in most cases?  Maybe it’s the amount of detail that J.K. Rowling goes into which helps us form such clear images of a non-muggle existence or perhaps it’s the sheer delight at the prospect of wandering down Diagon Alley and stopping off for a Butterbeer before heading into Ollivanders to choose your wand.

Who knows?  The experience will be different for every single one of us but no-one can dispute the fact that every detail of the story is simply magical and I am completely in awe of the fact that all of those original ideas came from one woman sitting in a cafĂ© in Scotland.  What an inspiration to come up with such unique and memorable tales.

No-one knows what creates the magic but one thing is for sure, Harry Potter isn’t going anywhere any time soon.

Friday, July 07, 2017

A Somewhat Sombre Post on Life & Death

Whilst deciding which books to focus on for the Mostly Books Newsletter this week, I knew that I had no choice but to include the gorgeous ‘Dying: A Memoir’ by Cory Taylor.  It is an unforgettable book that enters into the mindset of someone who knows that life is soon to end.  In the year before her death, as she struggled with an untreatable illness, Cory Taylor began to write about her experiences, the patterns of her life, and of those she had lost.

This time of year is always a period of reflection for me and, after some interesting conversations about life and death during the week, I felt the need to put pen to paper on a somewhat taboo subject.

Having spent last weekend spending time with a group of my peers at a party hosted by one of closest friends who has been diagnosed with a terminal illness at only 40, it reminded me how important it is to spend time with those you love and to do what is most important to you. 

It is that message that was covered by Bronnie Ware in her blog post ‘The Top Five Regrets of the Dying’ ( which, subsequently, was turned into the book: 'The Top Five Regrets of the Dying – A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing'. 

The blog, published in 2009, refers to Bonnie’s experience of working in palliative care and the conversations that she had had with those that were facing their own mortality.  When questioned about any regrets that those people had had, the same common themes were repeated time and time again with a focus on happiness, friends and family.  

The messages are important and clear. 

Whilst working in the shop last week, a man came in who I had never met before.  He asked whether we could order him a copy of ‘The Five People you meet in Heaven’ by Mitch Albom which I happily did.  The book is a wonderfully moving fable that addresses the meaning of life, and life after death, in a poignant and well-written way. 

We got chatting and it transpired that he was in town for a funeral.  It was for a close relative and the funeral was on Thursday this week.  He told me how this book had had an impact on him in the past and he wanted to share it with some of his family during this difficult time. 

We talked about how difficult it is to write a eulogy, how strange the time between death and the funeral is and how it is often the case that we only ever properly get together with friends and family at weddings and funerals (that really needs to change!!).  I saw him on two further occasions over the course of a week and, both times, we  caught up on how things were going. 

I was so touched when, arriving in the shop on Wednesday, Julia and Karen pointed to a beautiful bouquet of roses which this man had dropped off to thank us for the support that Mostly Books had given him during a difficult time.  It was really very thoughtful. 

This week is ending with the anniversary of a personal loss of mine.  It will be four years on Saturday since my father was taken away from us far too soon.  He would have loved Mostly Books and everything about it, it’s a great shame that he will not get to see it. 

Given that I am relatively new to Mostly Books, I wasn’t sure whether it was appropriate to include this on the blog.  Perhaps it’s too personal?  Perhaps people only really want to read about books.  However, looking back over previous posts, it’s clear to me that this blog isn’t just about books; it’s about the community that surrounds our shop and the people that we get to know thanks to the power of a book.   

This week has served as a timely reminder for me on that and I hope that you don’t mind me sharing my thoughts on what I know is a difficult subject for us all.


Friday, June 30, 2017

An Evening of Summer Reading with Eve Chase and Abi Oliver

As part of the 2017 Independent Bookshop Week (IBW) celebrations, on Thursday 29th June we were really excited about hosting two fabulous authors, Eve Chase & Abi Oliver, for our Summer Reading Event.

Unfortunately, the weather didn’t cooperate which meant that we were unable to host the event in the garden.  However, looking on the positive side of things, that meant that we could show off our newly refurbished shop which had had its grand opening the previous Saturday (see details here).

Our first guest speaker, Eve Chase, is an Oxford-based author who lives in the city centre with her husband and three children.  Eve has worked as a journalist in the past and her first novel, Black Rabbit Hall was published in 2015 to critical acclaim by the public and critics alike.  

Our second author, Abi Oliver, has spent much of her life in the Thames Valley and now lives in Purley on Thames.  Abi has four children and, prior to embarking into the world of publishing, she has had a varied career working for a charity, as a nurse and on Indian Railways(!). 

During the event we discussed Eve’s new book; ‘The Vanishing of Audrey Wilde’ which is a dual-time frame novel, split between present day and the hot summer of 1959.  It’s a story of how four teenage girls, on holiday in Oxfordshire, are slowly drawn into the disappearance of their Uncle and Aunt’s daughter, Audrey, five years before.
Abi was talking about her new book: ‘A New Map of Love’ which is about an antiques dealer who, with his loyal dog, Monty, by his side, spends a summer getting far more embroiled with village life than he ever intended. 

The event started off with both authors introducing their books and reading an extract for the audience to enjoy.  Conversation then ensued around a variety of aspects of writing and publishing, ranging from decisions around where to locate the novel to whether characters were based on anyone that the authors knew and how they structured their days to create their best work.

Both books touch on the fact that a single event can have a significant impact on a person’s life and, when discussing whether that was important to the book (and, indeed, to life in general), Abi talked about the importance of having a particular event to focus on as part of the writing process.  Her novel had been started whilst she was studying towards a Master’s Degree and, as part of her studies, the importance of having that central point of focus had been emphasised.

The books are both based relatively close to Abingdon, with the events of ‘The Vanishing of Audrey Wilde’ taking place in the Cotswolds and Abi basing ‘A New Map of Love’ around the Wallingford area.  When discussing the importance of choosing the right location for a book, Eve shared her experiences of researching locations, telling us about her trips to different parts of the country to source inspiration.

Having not one, but two authors, chatting to us and taking questions created a brilliant atmosphere and led to a really enjoyable evening.  Many thanks to Eve Chase and Abi Oliver for such wonderful insights into their books and the writing process, and thanks to everyone who not only came along, but who support Mostly Books by choosing and buying their books from us. Huge thanks to Macmillan and Penguin Random House for making the whole thing happen.

Independent Booksellers Week is a time to celebrate bookshops and it also gives us a great opportunity to thank all our customers for their on-going support.  We hope that you have enjoyed the celebrations this week and look forward to more of the same in future.