Friday, January 16, 2015

It takes a village to raise literacy

We get approached very often by schools who wish to partner with us in promoting literacy and celebrating books and reading. By far the most popular services are around matching authors visiting our area to go into schools as part of a school author visit.

But demand from schools always outweighs our ability to match an author to a school at an appropriate time. And we only have a limited capacity to go out to schools and keep the shop running as well.

So over the Christmas break we got thinking. After all, the ReadOnGetOn initiative urges everyone to get involved in raising literacy, and we feel very passionately that independent bookshops - with their community connections and route to discovering new authors and ideas - have a small but critical part of the jigsaw to reverse the decline in literacy in the UK.

Can we work together better with schools, teachers, parents, librarians and authors to do our part in fostering a love of reading? And can we do it in a way that allows us stay in business on the High Street?

We're not sure, but we suspect the answer is yes. So we've put up a page on the website with a few ideas, starting with the fabulous WOBOD, the World Book Day Award in which your school could win a library-changing sum of money to spend on books...go take a look.

You see, if old Victor was around today, perhaps the thing that he would find so astounding is the speed at which ideas can propagate around the world: a well-timed blog, a couple of hundred retweets, perhaps the odd pic on Instagram to add a visual stimulus. Remarkable. But the basic mechanism he would recognise: using words to neatly formulate an idea, and have that idea race off into the world and start transforming it.

That's the essence of literacy: the use of words. Reading them, writing them, understanding them. Stringing them together to write a story, or make a speech. Or to ask for a payrise, tell a good joke to your mates down the pub, talk through the loss of a loved on, decide on who to vote for. And whilst a picture might be worth a thousand words, a picture with a few words on it is even more powerful.

And a thousand words is as good as a picture. Which means words trump imagery because they take us to places we can't go, like the past and the future. The pen is mightier than the sword and the camera, neat huh?

But words still need time to percolate in the brain. Time and space need to be created away from the overwhelming buzz and chatter of the modern world to allow those words to soak in, top up the reservoirs and be marshaled in the brain for use in the wider world. That's why we're championing family reading.

It takes a village to raise a child. And we reckon it takes a 'village mentality' to raise literacy. We hope you can take part in this, and the first step might be into your local independent bookshop?

Friday, January 09, 2015

Mostly Bookbrains 2015 - Charity Literary Quiz in Abingdon

It's the most eagerly-awaited, hotly-contested contest of the year. And not a sequin in sight...

Yes, the ‘Mostly Bookbrains’ Charity Literary Quiz takes place on Friday, Feb 6 at The Manor School, starting at 7.30pm. We're looking for teams of book lovers to pit their wits against each other, competing to be named 'Mostly Bookbrain 2015'!

The focus of the quiz is very much on the ‘fun’ side of things - and of course raising lots of money for a local charity. This year it is the Footsteps Foundation and we want to raise as much money as possible for them. We are looking for team entries of up to eight people, and tickets are £7 per person in advance. As in previous years, there will be a bar, and the bookswap table – so if you did get an unwanted book for Christmas, now’s your chance to swap it for your next favourite read.

It really is huge fun, so if you, your work colleagues, your bookgroup or your family and friends fancy taking part, please email us to reserve a table as soon as possible. All questions are on a bookish theme – but there is something for everyone and it’s an enjoyable way to raise lots of money for a very worthwhile cause.

To reserve your ticket or team table, call 01235 525880, call in at the shop or email

Friday, December 19, 2014

Happy Christmas from Mostly Books

For eleven and a half months of the year, we try to make Mostly Books a haven of calm, tranquility - and bookish recommends. We ask after customers, their friends and family - and find out which books have been read and enjoyed.

In the last couple of weeks of the year this becomes much, much harder.

Before the festive season spins out of control (which it often threatens to do) we just wanted to take this opportunity - from the heart - to say a big 'thank you' to all of you - customers, blog readers, family, friends and supporters in the book trade. Some of you pop in once a year, others come several times a week. Many we consider friends and together you give us incredible support that allows us to continue to run Mostly Books in one of the most challenging business environments: the High Street.

So, if you still have gifts to buy - or just want to pop in for bookish delights over the holiday period - we thought you might appreciate our opening hours between now and the New Year:

  • Sat, Dec 20 (9am - 6pm)
  • Sun, Dec 21 (11am - 3pm)
  • Mon, Dec 22 (9am - 6pm)
  • Tue, Dec 23 (9am - 6pm)
  • Christmas Eve (9am - 3pm)
  • Christmas Day / Boxing Day (closed)
  • Sat, Dec 27 (9am - 5pm)
  • Sun / Mon, Dec 28 / 29 (closed)
  • Tue, Dec 30 (10am - 4pm)
  • Wed, Dec 31 (10am - 3pm)
  • Thur, Jan 1 (closed)
  • Fri, Jan 2 (10am - 4pm)
  • Sat, Jan 3 (9am - 5pm)

Wherever you are spending Christmas this year, we hope you get a chance to relax, celebrate - and enjoy one of two good books.

Happy Christmas from Mostly Books!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Books and gifts for Christmas Part 11: Games, jigsaws and books that are more than books...for kids!

Sometimes (just sometimes) you may want something a bit more than a simple book. It might be a game, or a jigsaw, but best of all it might be something that's a book plus a bit more. So we decided to walk around the Christmassy shop last night, whip out the Mostly Books polaroid and showcase a few gifts sitting on the shelves awaiting a good home and some wrapping paper...

Minecraft Blockopedia - £30
We have a whole shelf of Minecraft goodies, but this year along with books to show you how to make a 'Steve' cardboard head (we kid you not) there is the rather splendid 'Minecraft Blockopedia'. It's a beautifully-produced, reality-defying bookish rendering of a Minecraft block (you have to see it to get your head round it), fully illustrated and packed with essential information about each Minecraft block and its uses.

From basic plants and ores to enchantment tables and End stone, you'll find every single block in here. Blockopedia contains everything you need to know to make the most of the blocks that make up your world - it is the only Minecraft reference you'll ever need and is a wonderful gift for a Minecraft fan!

Periodic Table - Gill Arbuthnott - £8.99
A Beginners Guide to the Periodic Table is a mind-blowing guide to the elements that make up the periodic table. By linking each element to a story, wacky science analogy or fascinating fact, Gill creates a unique first reference to the periodic table. From smelly sulphur and exploding hydrogen to why Stevie Wonder is blind and everything in between, Gill seamlessly explains the mind-boggling 92 elements which will make you look at the periodic table in a whole new light!??Packed full of eye-catching illustrations and fantastic explanatory diagrams, prepare to be amazed by the most wacky and informative first introductory to the periodic table ever! Packed full of eye-catching illustrations and fantastic explanatory diagrams, prepare to be amazed by the most wacky and informative first introductory to the periodic table ever!

Knowledge Encyclopedia Dinosaur!
Dorling Kindersley - £16.99

The dinosaur world as you've never seen it before. Knowledge Encyclopedia Dinosaur! reveals jaw-dropping 3D dinosaur images which show each awe-inspiring creature in greater detail than ever before and bring the wonders of the dinosaur world to life. This is the only dinosaur encyclopedia you'll ever need, packed full of facts, charts, timelines and illustrations, bringing these prehistoric animals back to life.

Animation Studio - Helen Piercy - £12.99
This was on last year's Christmas recommends, but we still think it's brilliant! This little book and box gives you everything you need to create stop-motion videos on your mobile phone or digital camera. You can learn how to make stop-motion videos like a professional. Using tips and tricks from the experts, discover 2-D and 3-D techniques with puppets, clay-modelling, morphing and pixilation.

Pop To The Shops - Orchard Toys - £10
This year we started to stock a range of Orchard toys, and the response has been amazing. Designed and manufactured in the UK, Orchard games are both fun and educational, and our pick is 'Pop To The Shops'. Combining lotto with a race to get the items on your list, this teaches counting, money, giving change (and possibly entrepreneurial skills!)

Pop & Slot Christmas Decorations
Pop & Slots are cardboard punch-out-and-build scenes for kids to construct and play with. We've got Christmas trees, animal scenes - all from the hand of incredible embroidery illustrator, Clare Beaton.

The Fairytale Hairdresser: Playbox -
Abie Longstaff - £12.99

We love the Fairytale Hairdresser books - clever, witty, great fun and bags of appeal for anyone who loves fairytales. So we invite you to join Kittie Lacey, the fairytale hairdresser, in this wonderfully imaginative playset. Watch as she tames the wildest of locks, deals with the most demanding and unusual of customers, ultimately foils the Witch's evil plan and plays cupid to the newly coiffed Rapunzel. (A decent haircut really can work wonders!). Featuring a host of favourite fairytale characters including Red Riding Hood, the Wicked Witch, Goldilocks and many more, this magical playbox contains the bestselling picture book, sparkly hair clips and hair ties, a full-size hairbrush and a giant unfolding playmat game.

Computer Coding for Kids - Carol Vorderman - £12.99
You want to get your kids coding, but where do you start? One of the Mostly Books staff members has been running a computer coding club at a local primary school - and this is the book we recommend! It uses the freely available graphical programming language 'Scratch' as the starting point to learn how to write increasingly complex games that are fun, challenging and teach all the rudiments of great coding. You can literally write your first computer game in about 20 minutes - so put the xbox controller down and get creative!

Thames Valley and London Underground -
Pomegranate Artpiece Puzzles

We have started to stock a small range of jigsaw puzzles from Pomegranate Artpiece Puzzles - and these two 500 piece puzzles for children are definitely favourites. An artistic rendering of the London Underground, and 'To the Thames Valley by Motor Bus' based on a 1924 London Transport poster by Katherine Ritchie and Thomas Derrick.

A day trip from London to the River Thames in one of the cherry-red, double-decker motor buses of the 1920s promised an escape from city living—tranquility, history, greenery. That's exactly what London Transport advertised in its fascinatingly detailed poster To the Thames Valley by Motor Bus, with routes from the city and its outer reaches to attractions stretching from Kingston to Windsor. Thoughtfully conceived and engagingly intricate.

Come and take a look at these and other jigsaws we have in the children's room.

Nail Style Studio - Eva Steele-Staccio - £14.99
Klutz have long been a favourite a Mostly Books, attractively priced, fabulously creative craft sets for everything from paper aeroplanes to fashion studios. In 'Nail Style Studio' children of all ages are supplied with the techniques, tips and tools of the trade to create 25 tween approved nail designs that range from elaborate to quirky. With fully illustrated instructions and everything they need included, everyone can create beautiful nails.

The Awesome book of Awesomeness -
Adam Frost - £6.99

If one vampire bit one person and they turned into a vampire, how long would it take before the whole world filled up with vampires? How much snot do you drink in a year? If you unravelled a mummy, how long would the bandage be? And much more! Pick up this book to fill your mind with funny, weird, random and above all, AWESOME facts.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Books for Christmas Part 10: The Science of the Absurd, the Music of Nick Cave and the History of Mankind - Science, Nature and Music books for Christmas

The Naming of the Shrew - John Wright - £14.99
Latin names - frequently unpronounceable, all too often wrong and always a tiny puzzle to unravel - have been annoying the layman since they first became formalised as scientific terms in the eighteenth century. Why on earth has the entirely land-loving Eastern Mole been named Scalopus aquaticus, or the Oxford Ragwort been called Senecio squalidus - 'dirty old man'? With wonderfully witty style and captivating narrative, this book will make you see Latin names in a whole new light.

You Are Here: Around the World in 92 Minutes - Chris Hadfield - £20.00
Hadfield’s 'An Astronaut’s Guide To Life On Earth' became a bestseller in the wake of his photos and educational videos from the International Space Station, not to mention his TED talk, and his much-viewed zero gravity rendition of “Space Oddity”. This is his collection of breathtaking photos taken from the ISS, arranged continent by continent, and representing one (idealized) orbit of the Earth. The photos are accompanied by a commentary from Hadfield, whose expert eye sees more in the images than we ever could.

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind - Yuval Noah Harari - £25.00
As far as themes go, they don’t get much bigger than the entire history of our species. Yuval Harari’s ‘Sapiens’ is one of those monumental works that gives a dizzying perspective on how we came to rule – and threaten – the entire planet. It starts with the changes in our brain that allowed us to tell stories, imagine alternative scenarios, and out-manoeuvre other species (notably Neanderthals). From there we become farmers, develop religion, invent money, harness technology and threaten widespread extinction – including our own. The writing is superb – never dry, occasionally brazen, at times almost sardonic – and never afraid to come off the fence in areas that are controversial: did we domesticate wheat, or did it domesticate us? Did stockpiling food lay the psychological seeds for consumerism? Are we happier now than *any* of our ancestors? And what is going to replace our species, as surely as we replaced earlier species?

What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions - Randall Munroe - £14.99 
When will Facebook contain more profiles of dead people than living? How many humans would a T-Rex rampaging through New York need to eat a day? Munroe - ex NASA roboticist and creator of ur-science web cartoon xkcd - answers the absurd questions with responses that are masterpieces of clarity and hilarity - but based on serious science! (Signed copies available whilst stocks last)

Simpsons & Their Mathematical Secrets - Simon Singh - £8.99
Brilliant writers have smuggled in mathematical jokes throughout the cartoon's twenty-five year history, exploring everything from to Mersenne primes, from Euler's equation to the unsolved riddle of P vs. NP, Singh offers an entirely new insight into the most successful show in television history.

The Wisdom of Tees - Max Adams - £12.99
Trees are marvels of nature, still-standing giants of extraordinary longevity. In a beautifully written sequence of essays, anecdotes and profiles of Britain's best-loved species (from yew to scots pine), Max Adams explores both the amazing biology of trees and humanity's relationship with wood and forest across the centuries. Embellished with images from John Evelyn's classic SYLVA (1664), this is a passionate and informative celebration of trees and of man's ingenuity in exploiting their resources: the perfect gift for anyone who cares about the natural world. 

Live At The Brixton Academy - Simon Parkes and JS Rafaeli - £9.99
In 1982, aged twenty-three, Simon Parkes paid GBP1 for a virtually derelict building in Brixton. Over the next fifteen years he turned it into Britain's most iconic music venue. And now he's telling his story: full of fond - and wild - reminiscences of the famous musicians who played at the venue, including Robert Plant and Jimmy Page, Lou Reed, The Ramones, New Order, the Beastie Boys and The Smiths.

A Little History: Photographs of Nick Cave and Cohorts 1981-2013 - Bleddyn Butcher - £18.99
When Bleddyn Butcher first saw The Birthday Party play, back in 1981, he was astonished. And then enthralled. He set about trying to catch their lightning in his Nikon F2AS. That quixotic impulse became a lifelong quest. A little history got made on the way.

Collected here for the first time are the fruits of his labour. A Little History is an extraordinary document, tracking Nick Cave's creative career from the apoplectic extravagance of The Birthday Party to the calmer disquiet of 2013's Push The Sky Away via snapshots, spotlit visions and sumptuous, theatrical portraits. It mixes the candid and uncanny, the spontaneous and the patiently staged, and includes eyeball encounters with Cave's baddest lieutenants, men for the most part who long since burned their own bridges down.

Books for Christmas Part 9: To Heal, Inspire, Calm and help you Think - our poetry picks for Christmas

Poetry is one of those areas in which - we believe - independent bookshops excel. Everyone should read poetry, many people are intimidated by it, but there are all kinds of people out there who can provide a reliable guide to help you discover the power of poetry to heal the soul, inspire the spirit, calm the troubled mind and create a space in which you can think. Here are a few of our favourite companions to make the journey with.

Creating space to think is increasingly difficult in the modern world - but seeking out a good independent bookshop is a great first step...

Dorothy Wordsworth's Christmas Birthday - Carol Ann Duffy - £6.99
The Poet Laureate offers us another delightful and original Christmas poem, following Bethlehem, Wenceslas, The Christmas Truce and Another Night Before Christmas and Mrs Scrooge. Fully illustrated, this covetable little hardback will be a perfect stocking-filler - copies on display on the counter in the shop - come in and have a look!

100 Poems to See You Through - Daisy Goodwin - £10.00
When times are tough - whether because of illness, bereavement or receiving bad news - it can be hard to find the right words. Help comes in the form of this beautifully packaged gift book, comprising 100 life-affirming poems handpicked by an expert on poetry. Grouping the poems by theme - from 'Hearing Bad News' to 'How To Carry On' - this gem of a book features contributions from classical poets such as John Keats, Emily Bronte, W.H. Auden and Christina Rossetti alongside lines from more contemporary poets such as Philip Larkin, Elizabeth Jennings, Raymond Carver, Carol Ann Duffy and Wendy Cope. The combination is a wonderfully uplifting book - a self-administered pick-me-up guaranteed to make a dark day brighter and act as a great lyrical crutch.

Six Poets: Hardy to Larkin: An Anthology - Alan Bennett - £14.99
Poets like to elude their public, lead them a bit of a dance. They take them down untrodden paths, land them in unknown country where they have to ask for directions. Alan Bennett's selection of English verse by his favourite poets is accompanied by his own enlivening commentary. In this personal anthology, Alan Bennett has chosen more than seventy poems by six well-loved poets, discussing the writers and their verse in his customary conversational style through anecdote, shrewd appraisal and spare but telling biographical detail.

(and you can also listed to Alan Bennett speaking - with extremely personal candour - about his own reactions to the work on this accompanying Audio CD for £10.99)

Paper Aeroplane : Selected Poems 1989-2014 - Simon Armitage - £14.99
Simon Armitage has a reputation as one of the nation's most original, most respected and best-loved contemporary poets. In 'Paper Aeroplane' he selects his own favourite poems from across a quarter-century of work, from his debut to the latest, uncollected work. The selection includes favourites such as Kid, Book of Matches, The Universal Home Doctor and Seeing Stars.

The Christmas Wren - Gillian Clarke - £4.95
Since it was founded in 2008, Candlestick Press has gone from strength to strength on the back of something simple yet utterly unique - collections of poems to send by post in place of a card. We have quite a collection at Mostly Books - whether poems about tea, bicycles, gardens, teachers - and this year, to mark the centenary of Dylan Thomas’s birth, Candlestick Press were commissioned by The Dylan Thomas Centre to publish Gillian Clarke’s story The Christmas Wren, written in response to Dylan Thomas’s A Child’s Christmas in Wales. It's a story for adults and children, a magical tale of the Christmases of a Welsh childhood populated by aunts and uncles, snow and starlight, boxes and baubles. Gillian Clarke was appointed National Poet for Wales in 2008.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Books for Christmas Part 8: Inspiration and Laughter - humour and gift books

"I need a gift for someone who doesn't read". It's actually a really common question at this time of the year, because if you are a book lover, you want to give a book - but what if that person doesn't read a lot? How about a book of spectacular photographs, a quiz book or ideas to inspire parents?

So here are our picks for what we like to call 'humour and gift books' - short or smart, gorgeous or funny, these are books they can dip into when they want - for everyone to enjoy!

50 Years of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year - Rosamund Kidman Cox - £35.00
This special collection is a celebration of fifty years of the world-famous Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition and of wildlife photography itself. Featuring many of the greatest nature photographs of all time, it charts the development of nature photography, from the first hand-held cameras and the colour film revolution of the 1960s, to the increasingly sophisticated photographs of wild animals and unexplored places that are taken today. An incredible variety of styles, skills and approaches are on show, reflecting the great advances in technology and the many and varied ways of viewing and interpreting the natural world.

Lonely Planet the World: A Traveller's Guide to the Planet - Lonely Planet - £22.99
The ultimate travel guide to Earth. This user-friendly A-Z gives a flavour of each country in the world, including a map, travel highlights, info on where to go and how to get around, as well as some quirkier details to bring each place to life.

Dive: The World's Best Diving Destinations - Lawson Wood - £16.99
Want to know where you can swim with turtles? The best time of year to dive with sharks in the Bahamas? Well, you can find out here. Packed with stunning pictures of marine life and ancient wrecks, insightful information about local geography and first-hand advice on unmissable dive locations, Dive fully describes over 250 sites spanning the globe - from Maria La Gorda in Cuba, to the atolls of French Polynesia.

Great British Walks: Short Walks in Beautiful Places - Jilly Macleod - £12.99
From Stonehenge to Sutton Hoo, from spooks in East England to shipwrecks in Cornwall, and from mountains to the best British beaches, this is an inspirational guide to get you outdoors and exploring the glories of the English landscape.

The Dress: 100 Ideas that Changed Fashion Forever - Marnie Fogg - £30.00
Through 100 groundbreaking dresses author and fashion historian Marnie Fogg tells the story of 'The Dress', from beaded and bias-cut to frou-frou to corseted, Chanel to Yves Saint Laurent, laced to bustled. Each dress tells a fashion story through anecdotes and analysis, with historic and cross-cultural references, beautiful imagery, and immaculate referencing.

Good Ideas: How to be Your Child's (and Your Own) Best Teacher - Michael Rosen - £16.99
Learning should be much more fun and former children's laureate, million-selling author, broadcaster, father of five and all-round national treasure, Michael Rosen wants to show you how. Forget lists, passing tests and ticking boxes, the world outside the classroom can't be contained within the limits of any kind of curriculum - and it's all the better for it. Long car journeys, poems about farting, cake baking, even shouting at the TV can teach lessons that will last a lifetime. Packed with tips, stories and games this is both inspirational and reassuring for parents who need confidence in the face of league tables, baffling technology and homework meltdowns.

I Don't Believe it! Outraged Letters from Middle England - Nigel Cawthorne - £9.99
A little book of the art of Britain's favourite pastime, grumbling. This new collection boasts the best and most amusing letters of British grouses and shows us why it is so much fun for us to complain about, well, just about everything...

Thinking About it Only Makes it Worse: And Other Lessons from Modern Life - David Mitchell - £18.99
After his recent visit to Abingdon, this is of course one of our top recommends of the year. David's collected and curated columns from six years of writing for the Guardian and Observer take many of the baffling, maddening and just plain wrong aspects of modern life. In David's hands, nobody is safe from his scrutiny as he ponders the lessons that can be learned from bankers, UKIP, Madame Tussauds and Ryanair amongst many other things. By turns  

Would they Lie To You? - Robert S. Hutton - £9.99
How do you apologise when you're not sorry? Where can you make a fortune out of pretending to know the future? What's the best way to steal credit and avoid blame? These are the vital life skills that people need if they're going to make their way in the world. And they all involve one ingredient: flannel, the art of not saying what you mean. It's not exactly lying, but it's definitely not telling the truth.

The Very Pointless Quiz Book - Alexander Armstrong & Richard Osman - £14.99
A collection of 100 of the finest Pointless questions from the hugely popular ratings-winning TV show Pointless - described as "the greatest show in the history of television" by none other than Stephen Fry! Let hosts Alexander Armstrong and Richard Osman guide you through the rounds with their trademark warmth and humour and battle it out against your friends and family for Pointless glory. 

Brick Flicks - Warren Elsmore - £10.00
From Ghostbusters to The Godfather, and Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz to Norman Bates in Psycho, here is a collection of the most iconic film moments and characters of all time...expertly built from LEGO! The full-colour illustrations are accompanied by commentary on how they were made and interesting facts about the movies themselves. There are also instructions on how to replicate many of the scenes at home from your own LEGO collection!

(And if you are still looking for inspiration, take a look at our 'books throughout the year' gifts!)