There was an excellent launch for Chris Radamnn’s new novel The Crack at Lord Wandsworth College this week. Chris is the Head of English and he arranged for a panel with a couple of six formers (Grace and Sophia) and his literary agent and editor (both Juliets) to answer questions from me with an audience of interested pupils, teachers and the odd parent. It was all good fun (and we sold a few books too).
For some reason I have been reading teenage books this week. The Glow by local author Helen Whapshott had some really good creative ideas. The Rain by Virginia Bergin, which has the strapline Just one Drop Will Kill You, has a great premise. Any drop that touches you (which includes mains water) means death. Sadly it is written in breathless OMG style prose which is a shame. Leap of Faith by Richard Hardie is a new take on the Arthurian Legend involving time travel – plenty of wit and sharp dialogue. Richard is coming to sign copies at One Tree on Saturday.
Some excellent non-fiction titles came out his week in paperback. Thomas Harding’s Hanns and Rudolf, and Max Hastings’ Catastrophe: Europe Goes to War 1914, both did well in hardback, as did Malcolm Gladwell’s David and Goliath. A rather more surprising bestseller was Music at Midnight, The Life and Poetry of George Herbert by John Drury
Wednesday night saw a good turnout for the One Tree Book club. We were discussing Life after Life by the wonderful Kate Atkinson.. Strong views were expressed both for and against but a strong majority relished its unique structure. My summary was “joyful, moving, perceptive, funny.”
Interesting figures out from the Publishers Association this week suggest that the public’s appetite for ebooks may be beginning to be sated. Between 2011 and 2012 sales rose by 220% but last year they rose by only 18%. Physical book sales are still chugging along but the “50 Shades of Grey effect” from 2012 rather distorts the figures downwards. Fingers crossed.
This week I finished Kadian Journal by Thomas Harding. It is the story of his son Kadian and the year Thomas spent grieving at his shocking accidental death. Brutally honest, it is also an incredibly beautiful book that balances the joy that he brought, and the sadness of his absence. Thomas wrote the excellent Hanns and Rudolph, one of our bestselling books of 2013.
Any book is going to struggle alongside that and I duly did with The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber. He’s an author that plays with different genres ranging from Victorian drama (The Crimson Petal and the White) to crime but I wasn’t even aware of Christian Sci-fi. Despite a great prose style this failed to grip. I am not sure I will be returning to this genre any time soon.
World book Night
Wednesday was World Book Night, which saw hundreds of thousands of books being given away by volunteers all over the country. One Tree Books acts as a picking up point for the registered givers to collect their chosen title. Our involvement does sound rather like turkeys supporting Christmas but there are good reasons why we do it. It not only gets more people reading – it gets people talking about reading. Research suggests that it leads to increased sales of the books given away and more significantly of other books by those authors. If nothing else it reminds the techies that books can be paper as well.
This week I read The Murder Room by Tony Parsons. This is his first foray into the crime area having made his name with Man and Boy back in 2007. This, (M&B), sparked a whole new genre of books by men about men but for women, and there are hints of that in this (the tough, amateur boxer, detective is a loving single parent with a cute dog). Having said that, The Murder Room is a well-plotted whodunit with clues (that I missed) and is well worth a read. (out now £9.99)
I have just started the harrowing Kadian Journal by Thomas Harding – more on that next week.
The death of Gabriel Garcia Marquez has led the literary news this week. There have been a host of tributes from the great and clever so just one thought more – his ability to convey the brightness of life despite the vagaries of translation was amazing.
On holiday this week in sunny Cornwall, so lots of reading done. Two books by Americans, one by a Canadian and one by a Finn. The Road To Reckoning by Robert Lautner is a True Grit/Cold Mountain adventure set in the wilds of the Appalachians in 1837. It bought on a nostalgia for those Saturday Night At The Movies evenings of the 70s – entertaining. (HB £14.99)
Runner by Patrick Lee is a breathless and very clever thriller with a Jack Reacher style hero. Impossible to put down – not to be read at bedtime.
The Beggar and the Hare by Tuomas Kyro (yes that’s the Finnish one) is a strange fable about modern Europe, Capitalism and Love. It’s short, weird and worth reading. (HB £9.99)
Lastly The Rise and Fall of Great Powers by Tom Rachman, which is a strange title for a novel set in Wales, Thailand, and New York CBD. These are the three stages of Tooly Zylberberg’s life as we move backwards and forwards between the eighties, the noughties, and the present trying to work out who she really is and why. It’s a slow starter but builds elegantly to its satisfying conclusion.
After 1186 pages it’s time for an ice cream.
Publishers set out their wares at the annual London Book Fair this week.
In a vast warehouse in Earl’s Court thousands of people jostle past the brightly lit stands of the industry giants, with frosty receptionists barring the way to those without appointments. In the dimmer recesses are tiny one-person outfits displaying East European classics awaiting translation. No place for booksellers.
Dominic Carney launched his new book Swamplands at One Tree Books this week. A good number gathered to celebrate publication and to hear him tell us a bit about it. He describes it as Cli-Fi, a relatively new genre about climate change. It’s a fracking thriller about Big Energy and geo-politics, illegal rendition, and murder. In his spare time he is a librarian at Mill Chase school in Bordon (out now £7.99).
This week I finished Chris Radmann’s The Crack. Like Held Up, his first novel, it is another powerful look at Apartheid South Africa. Set in 1976 in the months leading up to the Soweto Uprising, he explores issues of family and psychological frailty as well as the brutality of the system. It is shocking and compelling.
Chris teaches English at Lord Wandsworth College near Odiham.
(Published on 1st May at £12.99
I also read a strange little book by Cornelius Medvei called The Making of Mr. Bolsover. He has had two highly acclaimed novels published already, one about a baboon and the second about a chess-playing donkey, so I was not expecting a straightforward boy meets girl kind of novel. In fact, despite a walk-on role for a badger, this is not that weird though it is funny and takes place mainly on the South Downs. It comes out in June at £10.
Listeners to the Today programme this week will have heard Lewis Dartnell talking about his new book The Knowledge which is not a book for trainee London Taxi drivers, but about a world post –apocalypse, subtitled How to Rebuild our World from Scratch. How do you grow food, generate power, prepare medicines or get metal out of rocks? There have been some great novels on life after disaster (The Road by Cormac McCarthy and The Pest House by Jim Crace to name just two) but this looks like the companion volume for those who want to know a bit more.
Not a good week for those banged up in our prisons with the news that books (other than those from the meagerly supplied prison library) have been banned by Justice Secretary Chris Grayling. A Minister reportedly stonewalled an excited literati gang headed by Carol Anne Duffy and Ian McEwan saying that prisoners weren’t sitting there waiting for their next Jane Austen to arrive.
I finished reading Elizabeth Is Missing by Emma Healey which is narrated by a woman with Dementia. As a portrait of the condition it is incredibly convincing but the nature of the book doesn’t lead to narrative tension (despite an interesting back story of a sister missing during the war) and in my opinion could have been 50 pages shorter. I have just started Chris Radmann’s The Crack. This is his second novel after the critically acclaimed Held Up about a car hijack that goes wrong in the townships of South Africa. He returns there this time to Soweto in the build-up to the eruption of violence in the uprising of 1976. A third of the way in and it’s building nicely…
The eminent scientist and controversial author Rupert Sheldrake came to Petersfield this week. It was the annual Eckersley lecture at Bedales and he held the large audience spellbound. His subject (and the name of his latest book) was The Science Delusion in which he aims to show that modern science is based on dogma not reason. Whatever the merits of the argument it certainly got people thinking (and book sales were good…)
This week I have read a book called Glow by Ned Beauman who is the youngest of Granta’s Young British Novelists and highly feted in the media. This would normally not encourage me to read further – but the publisher was very keen so I gave it a go. Glow is a halucogen and the novel is centred around the London drugs/music scene. Having said that the novel does develop into a pretty decent thriller and he writes some terrific prose. Worthwhile.
I am now reading Elizabeth Is Missing which is about a woman with dementia convinced that her friend has disappeared but is unable to persuade anybody else. Added to which despite the post-it notes in her pocket she can’t piece together the evidence. Sounds a bit grim but the writing is very compelling and as far away from dance music as it is possible to get.
Instead of blowing the pension pot on that Lamborghini why not treat yourself to some new books. As spring makes its first tentative steps there are some tempting new titles coming out. Donna Leon’s Golden Egg (£8.99)is the 22nd Commisario Brunetti novel. Often underrated she is a multiple crime dagger winner and is our bestselling title this week. Also selling well is Alan Johnson’s autobiography This Boy now out in paperback at £7.99, described by The Times as “the best memoir by a politician you will ever read”. Tony Benn’s last book has also not surprisingly been moving – A Blaze of Autumn Sunshine (£20).
This week I have been reading The Jackal’s Revenge (£7.99). It is the second part of a projected three part series by Iain Gale about the Second World War. It covers the same period as Officers and Gentlemen (the 2nd part of Evelyn Waugh’s Sword of Honour Trilogy) but is quite different in style – much more Boy’s Own and with no literary intentions.
I have just finished The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer which is by turns compelling and harrowing. It carries you into the complex worlds of grief and schizophrenia with sudden flashes of understanding along the way. An important book.
New website, new blog – It has been a busy week at OTB with WBD (enough acronyms already) World Book Day (and OTB is One Tree Books….)
This year we had a class form Froxfield Primary School in the shop, learning about books and bookshops and very well behaved they were too. I went to Lord Wandsworth College near Odiham to do a book fair in the school library. It is quite a long way from Petersfield but the enthusiasm of the students (and Teachers) was infectious.
With Oscar fever behind us it is time to concentrate on books. This week I have been reading How To Be a Good Wife by Emma Chapman (published in April by Picador £7.99). It sounds like a rather strange choice for me but it is in fact a rather good psychological thriller in the vein of Before I Go To Sleep by SJ Watson but much more subtle and creepier. It’s her first book but really accomplished.
The OTB bestseller this week is Harvest by Jim Crace – this is a personal favorite – slow in pace but what beautiful prose. Is there a better writer from Birmingham or the UK for that matter?
That hardy perennial The Yellow Book 2014 is just out. It lists all the gardens you can visit for a charitable donation within the National Gardens Scheme and is always a top seller.