Tuesday 18 October 2011

I'd forgotten what it was like to have a stream of customers coming through the door all wanting the same book, but that buzz is very special.

First, you sense the anxiety as they enter the shop, not knowing if there's a copy left, or whether the person in front of them in the queue will take the last one. Then their expression and mood lifts with the relief, pleasure and excitement of knowing they've got it, they've accomplished their goal.

These customers don't usually bother to try and find the book for themselves. Perhaps they don't even know where to look. They've just heard about the latest 'big thing' and need to be part of it.

It usually happens, if we're lucky, at Christmas. Remember 'Eats, Shoots and Leaves', the punctuation classic by Lynne Truss? Today of course, it was the Man Booker winner 'The Sense of an Ending' by Julian Barnes. 

I confess I was rather disappointed when I heard the announcement last night. I had watched the BBC Culture Show special about the shortlist, where they had invited villagers in Scotland to vote for their winner. They had chosen 'Pigeon English' and I had been willing for that to win.

Sales in our shop started slowly, but gathered in pace during the afternoon. And, as I saw the Barnes book gradually diminish in number on the shop shelves, I thought I would have to take a copy home to read for myself, to have my own opinion on whether it was a worthy winner.

At 5pm we had just one copy left, and all our suppliers were sold out so there were none due in tomorrow. Imagine my horror, then, that a customer should come through the door, see our last copy on the counter and say 'oh, did that win? I'll have that' and then proceed to leave it with me while she browsed the shop. I wanted to hide it away from her, to say that she couldn't have it, and I half hoped that she would forget she'd put it aside when she came back to the till laden with her three other £20 hardbacks. However, while she'd been gone, I'd taken a moment to read the first few pages. And what a relief; I'm sure it's a great book, but I don't think it's what I want to read at the moment.

Monday 26 September 2011

I was on BBC Radio Suffolk again today, recommending A Good Read on the afternoon show. It began by the presenter, Lesley Dolphin introducing her own summer page-turner as David Nicholls' 'One Day'. She warned me before we went on air that she was going to mention it and was surprised when I said that not only had I also read the book, but that I had in fact recommended it on the programme some months ago when it was first published. Later, in the broadcast, I asked if Lesley had been to see the film of the book, and she hadn't realised that there was one. This seemed astonishing for someone so well-informed and who had loved the book. It just shows that you should never assume that messages always get through the radar.

This evening I led the first Browsers Book Group after the summer. Numbers had been dropping off before the break, so I had no idea how many people would come along tonight to discuss Hans Fallada's 'Alone in Berlin'. It was evident it was going to be a busy night when unfamiliar faces started arriving at 7.45, not the usual regulars rushing in breathless at 8pm on the dot. We had 23 people and six of these were men - unprecedented! It was an excellent discussion. I think just about everyone found this a difficult book, although there was an even split in those appreciating the struggle, feeling they had gained something from the experience, and those wishing they could have given up the fight if it hadn't have been a book group book!

Wednesday 3 August 2011

I found out today that Joanna Trollope's latest novel is set in Suffolk - in fact just down the road at Shingle Street. I was on to the case straightaway and polished off the book overnight.

It's called 'Daughters-in-Law' and was a pleasant enough read. But nothing really happened! 

I've only read one other Joanna Trollope so I don't know whether this is typical of her writing. This story dealt with three young wives trying to please their domineering mother-in-law, while at the same time seeking to assert their own way in life. One wife didn't toe the family line and everything and everyone falls into a (mild) state of disarray. Ultimately there is a resolution, although this came about rather too easily for me. But, for a holiday read, or an escape from the crises in the news at the moment, I suppose there's nothing wrong with wanting everything to work out in the end. 

As regards the setting - there was a fair bit of name-dropping for Shingle Street, Aldeburgh and Snape, but no real sense of atmosphere, and I didn't feel the author had a passion for these places. In fact the wives returned to London, and there was a sense that this is where Joanna Trollope is happiest.

Thursday 16 June 2011

Held a fascinating event tonight. Orange Prize 2011 judge, Liz Calder came to Browsers to talk about the experience of being on the panel of five and reading from a list of 150 titles to choose this year's winner.

Actually, she didn't read all 150 (although the head of the judges, Bettany Hughes, did apparently). Each of the judges had 30 books given to them in December, and had to report back to the panel in March. From this discussion, the longlist was chosen, and all the judges then had to read these books.

Liz said that she learned as a publisher that the only way to get through a big pile of books was to get up early and, before the business of the day is started, do your reading. Now retired (although still involved in organising the annual literature festival in Brazil and running a new publishing company based in Suffolk), she found she was able to clear the decks and read constantly for the six months, and some books she read two or three times in order to be sure she had made the right decision. She believes she has read 70 books and it has been 'exhilarating'!

When I first saw the shortlist, though, my heart sank. There was nothing there that appealed to me. I thought I ought to read them in order to be better informed for Liz's visit and what a treat this turned out to be.

I've read four of the six titles (pretty poor considering Liz's tally), and they all surprised me. 'Room' was amazing. I really didn't want to read it, but thought it was very well done. But my favourite - so far - is 'The Memory of Love'. Every time I picked it up I was transported. Not that the subject or location was a particular draw for me, but the writing and the pace was so relaxing and enjoyable. I felt that I was being looked after by someone clever and gifted. It felt a privilege to read it every time I turned the page.

Thursday 26 May 2011

It looked like a perfect event to organise. An award-winning children's author had set her latest book around Sutton Hoo, near Woodbridge, and wanted to come to the area to launch the title.

But Harriet Goodwin was visiting when the state schools had a PD day, and the private schools were breaking up for half term. Not one school could send pupils to Sutton Hoo for the event!

Fortunately Harriet travelled down to the area earlier in the week, so we managed to arrange for her to go into one of the local primary schools to talk about 'Gravenhunger'.

Dressed casually in jeans and T-shirt, Harriet looked fairly unassuming. She told the children she was a mother of four and a professional singer, who made time to write by not having a television in the house and not doing any ironing! The adults in the room may have been more interested in this insight into household affairs and priority-setting, but no one could fail to take notice when Harriet demonstrated her singing ability. Classically trained, she showed the children how she would warm up her voice before a performance. They all had to put their fingers in their ears, such was the volume of her voice. Stunning.

For 30 minutes, Harriet spoke in depth about the writing and publishing process for her first book 'The Boy who Fell Down Exit 42'. It was very interesting, but I was getting increasingly more fidgety, thinking she needed quickly to move on to 'Gravenhunger' - the book I had brought along in large quantities to sell, and with the link to the history of Sutton Hoo as the reason she had been invited into the school. I needn't have worried, though, as Harriet had paced her talk perfectly. By its conclusion, the children were stumbling over each other to buy their copy of 'Gravenhunger' and have it signed by the author.