Monday, 26 March 2012

Always on the hunt for books

Readers just move from one book to the next, there's usually an inviting, tottering, heap of books to be read nearby and you simply select the next book that suits your interest or your mood. Of course, sometimes you're allowed to dip into a friend's collection (I've returned the amazing Howl's Moving Castle) and see what else that they've found and you might have missed. I don't regret only just having read Howl, more a sense of 'wish I'd read it sooner'. That's the bit I don't like about so many 'recommendations' lists in the press. They're very current and you miss all sorts of gems of popular and literary fiction that libraries have relegated to the stacks or the secondhand bookshop might just have gathering dust in a corner or propping up a shelf/holding down the lino on the floor, depending on your dealer's preference. Waitrose have a weekend supplement with recipes, articles, coupons and, oddly, a sports page at the back. It's an interesting weekly scrapbook and I've been picking it up and having a good look at the books recommended over the last few weeks. I seem to have kept the page from 15 March where Piers Paul Read mentions late 19th and early 20th century literature as I hadn't read any of the authors, despite intending to read Zola and, um, not actually doing much about it. Much of the 15 March list is from France, so unfamiliar to me as I seem to have started and stayed with Dumas and reread The Count of Monte Cristo on a regular basis. I left Huysmans after University exams were over. The name Edgar Saltus caught my eye while skimming his list and made me slow down and read with attention. Piers Paul Read sees the novel Vanity Square as a cross between Oscar Wilde and Edith Wharton, so this is one I feel compelled to try. I hope lists of this kind endure - I'm trying to be a curious sort of reader and like to know where I might start on a theme on occasion. That said, it's always fun to wander into the stacks and see what there is to find, blow the dust off and begin turning the pages.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Recipe for Love

I had a long train journey from Kings Cross/St Pancras the other week and it sped by in peaceful comfort. Not that the train service was especially efficient, but I had two very good things to while away the time. I’d saved Katie Fforde’s newest novel Recipe for Love for just such an occasion and popped into Peyton and Byrne to buy the necessary provisions for a smart packed lunch. They also do nice tea, which is important on a long journey and there isn’t always a buffet service lurching its way down the carriage. Reading a new novel is wonderful, but I’m much happier if I have a hot drink close by. Recipe for Love, tea and a sparkly raspberry cupcake were perfect company. I’m really rather enjoying the ‘baking’ novels that are coming out now and Katie’s is far superior to most. We’re beginning to see characters return in her books and I was pleased to learn more about Fen and Rupert whose (un)stately home was transformed into a celebrity wedding venue (and comfortable family home) in Wedding Season. The house was also used for the literary festival in Love Letters, but we never heard much about Fen or Rupert beyond being a friendly sort of couple that would cook you a superb supper and refill your wine glass all night. Recipe for Love takes us to a televised baking competition full of foragers, foodies and fabulously awful and wonderful people. Katie’s characters are life’s copers, the sort that you’re probably already friends with and you find yourself rooting for various contestants and hoping that cakes rise and nothing is dropped at the wrong moment. Zoe Harper is beautifully talented and charmingly uncertain of the possible new career that’s developing in the baking competition. She’s just as likeable as Fen and Rupert, so I hope she returns in another novel.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Not yet obsolete

So, the debate on the 'future of publishing and bookselling' continues on a daily basis. Predictions of doom aside, the argument changes daily as one side or the other take the view that only digital publishers will survive or that there is a significant market share for print. Never mind the 'reading differently' argument that flares between those who read regularly on an e-reader compared to those who are staying with the bound and printed book last explained by Edward Stourton in the FT and Lucy Mangan in Stylist (link to be added when I find it), though I'm with Joanna Trollope in thinking that books do furnish a room and it isn't a crisis to have tottering heaps of books on the floor. That's only a signal that you might want to sift through your collection and consider rehoming a bag or two to the nearest charity shop or selling a few on.

Step on to any commuter train, airport lounge or bus this spring and you do see rather more e-readers, that's true. It's rather like the sudden proliferation of ipods that you saw about ten years ago when more and more people found that they could use one of these shiny electronic toys and they were suddenly the accessory to be seen with. You'll also see large numbers of people leafing through a bound book or the newspaper, not to mention the scratchy top notes or thumping bass emitting from every set of headphones in the vicinity.

What I'd like to know and find some statistical analysis on, is how many people have an e-reader and don't use it. Or only use an e-reader while travelling as this is so much easier than carrying one paperback in a bag that has the 'in case I finish it' spare book tucked inside. I'd also like to know how many books people buy, borrow or download each week. Readers seem to use their library as much as they do their bookshop, depending on how close to payday it is.

Small publishers can and do survive. I might have a list that's developed slowly, but I do produce beautiful books of very high quality and that takes time. Some publishers, like me, promote the rare, the almost-forgotten and something hand-picked and interesting. I hope that isn't the fate of the printed book in years to come.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012


Look who I found on the frontage of the V&A at the weekend! A quick snap from the mobile's camera and I can add Christopher Wren to the blog. It really does pay to look up once in a while and look at details in the stoneware, carvings, faded painted advertising to see who has occupied the same buildings over the years. All sorts of layers adding interest to the modern city. Putting the title 'Wren-spotting' makes me think of birds as well as architects, then remembered the blackbird I spied the other week. He or she is nesting in the ivy in Lincoln's Inn and is so proud of the location, singing away and watching commuters on the bus as they pass. I'm trying to see more of London, so take a ride on the upper deck and watch the world go by. I can only really visit the City at weekends, so don't experience the same weekday bustle, but enough of the spirit of Five Farthings remains, even if there doesn't appear to be much of a residential community. There are still tiny independent coffee shops, the odd butcher and general hardware shop slotted in between coffee chains, clothes shops and banks.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Saturday outing

Promising spring-like day (sunshine and blue sky - I've missed you) and public transport that worked made getting to the V&A a pleasure yesterday. I decided against taking the tube and took a circuitous bus route - I had time and the chance to sit at the front on the upper deck - to the museum. It was lovely just to see the daffodils and crocus in flower in Hyde Park and watch the tourists peddling enthusiastically alongside the park on Boris bikes. They've been a wonderful addition to London and I'll summon enough courage eventually to have a try. Just not on Hyde Park Corner, I'm sure most of you will understand that that's best done by bus. South Kensington as lovely as ever with enticing scents of croissants and sugar and a visit to Patisserie Valerie was the second pleasure on the way home.

We did the exhausting slow museum shuffle round the Cecil Beaton Royal Portraits exhibition taking time to gaze at each photograph and read each label. All clearly explained and hung at the right height - museums don't always get that right, so it's good for my neck when they do. This is a crowded exhibition, but no-one rushes you through and those that want to dash in and out can. After visiting the exhibition, I realised that I'd never read a serious Royal biography as I've never felt the need to do so. I picked up a copy of Marion Crawford's The Little Princesses from a charity shop and gave it straight back. A little too sugary for my tastes and a bit fawning. However, this is the Jubilee Year and all sorts of books are being released. I'll need to study a few blurbs and see what catches my eye.

Wonderful Waterstone's Piccadilly on the way home yielded a signed first of Joanna Trollope's The Soldier's Wife, so I treated myself to one copy and stored up a list of 'will read soon' novels. If it helps anyone else, they do have loads of signed copies in stock. I wish I could afford every book I like the look of, but I'd be out of business if I tried that.