Judith Kerr, still going strong at 92, is surely a role-model for us all; in case you didn't see it, here's my report of her appearance at last year's Edinburgh International Book Festival where she took the stage with her son Matthew Kneale to explore creative heritage.
Back to books now, and in other news, the Costa Book Awards shortlists have been announced, and I'm pleased to see Melissa Harrison's At Hawthorn Time in the novel category. It's a story of contemporary rural life set over a spring month, but it's an original and unsettling piece, beautifully done, and it deserves its place on the list.
Lastly today, as a PLR Twitter advocate I'm reminding UK writers to ensure that ALL your books are registered at www.plr.uk.com. Paperbacks and audiobooks - anything with a different ISBN - should be listed along with hardbacks so that they qualify for payment under the PLR scheme. Illustrators and translators should check, too. If you have writer friends, please nudge them to make sure their registration is up to date.
This is good: for those to whom Black Friday is anathema, bookshops across the country will be offering 'Civilised Saturday' shopping on November 28th.
The theme will be taken up in various ways including providing afternoon tea, cocktails, poetry reading and storytelling, "as well as gift advice from experienced booksellers for Christmas presents".
Among the shops taking part are Book-ish of Crickhowell in Powys who are going Downton-esque; "customers will be greeted at the door by our butler and offered a glass of prosecco and canapés. A ‘book walking’ competition will be held with the winner being the person who walks furthest down the High Street using correct posture with a book on their head.”
Here in Edinburgh, The Edinburgh Bookshop staff will be wearing cocktail outfits, evening gloves, and offering customers "genteel snacks and drinks".
In Oxford, Blackwell's have the very civilised David Mitchell in attendance, while in The Bookshop, Kibworth, Leicestershire, "in the spirit of The Novel Cure: An A to Z of Literary Remedies* by Susan Elderkin and Ella Bertoud, Kibworth is bringing in a green velvet armchair so customers can sit, relax and talk about what sort of books they think they might like, while being served with tea and cakes and being offered a complimentary hand massage."
- For anyone looking to buy a copy of A Work of Beauty: Alexander McCall Smith's Edinburgh, from which I quoted the other day, I'm told by Booksource that it should be back in stock in bookshops and with online retailers early next week.
- Those who commented on the British and American covers of Anne Tyler's new novel are all in favour of the latter design; no votes, as I write, for the less distinctive UK one. I'd love to know the thinking behind both, and ask jacket design teams why they so often opt for the bland and generic over something more imaginative.
- Since news of Harper Lee's 'new' novel broke last week there has been much talk in the press and online about the author's capacity, the likely quality of the work - given that it was in essence a rejected piece on which she built her classic, and the rights and wrongs of publishing it. Comment has rangesd from the cynical to the trusting and optimistic, with Miss Lee herself reported as saying she's "alive and kicking and happy as hell with the reactions to [the novel]". Regardless of of the book's merits or demerits - and we'll discover them in July - I hope that the author is indeed as strong as she indicates, and that her judgement in this matter is clear-sighted and serves her well.
- Lastly, an important note to authors: if you haven't already signed up for PLR, or if you haven't recently updated the books/editions of yours which are registered, do so to ensure that you don't miss out on any payments which would be due to you. On the subject of libraries, the latest library loan statistics have just been published (for more statistics and regional variations follow the links here).
"I like a great library next my study; but for the study itself, give me a small snug place, almost entirely walled with books. There should be only one window in it, looking upon trees. Some prefer a place with few, or no books at all - nothing but a chair or a table, like Epictetus; but I should say that these were philosophers, not lovers of books, if I did not recollect that Montaigne was both. He had a study in a round tower, walled as aforesaid. It is true, one forgets one's books while writing - at least they say so. For my part, I think I have them in a sort of sidelong mind's eye; like a second thought, which is none - like a waterfall, or a whispering wind."
I mentioned the other day that I'd been past the premises of Topping & Co. in St Andrews before the shop opened, well on Friday I was back in the town again and had time for a quick look in, and what a lovely place it is! First of all I was impressed by the fitting, very smart floor to ceiling shelving with library ladders, cosy alcoves, and a wood-burning stove to take the chill off a cold day, though the welcome itself was warm enough to induce a glow, and tea and coffee are offered to all customers. As to the stock, from what I saw it was a very good mix of what you'd expect to find alongside less predictable and well-chosen titles befitting a shop of that calibre. It was exciting to be there, and that's not something you can say about every bookshop.
I didn't take pictures but you'll get a fair idea of the look of the place from these shots of the Ely and Bath branches. As it was, I had a brief chat with the very pleasant Louise Topping, and spotted a book which I didn't have time to buy but have since sent in my St. Andrews correspondent (i.e. daughter Harriet) to get for me: "it's a book lover's paradise" was her verdict after she visited, and she's right. Do go if you can - on the 10th. Dec you could meet Alexander McCall Smith.*
*Speaking of authors, if you're a fan of Kate Atkinson's and would like to see her garden, follow the link here.
Posts have been few and far between lately, and that's set to continue as other commitments take priority, but I must just mention a few things as I pop in briefly:
The respected bookseller Topping & Company is about to open a branch in St. Andrews. I passed the shop in Greyfriars Garden this morning and found it tantalisingly full of stock but its doors firmly closed until next Monday (the 17th.). I shall look forward to visiting Toppings on my next visit.
As to current reading, I am greatly enjoying Margaret Forster's memoir My Life in Houses - and related to that, do see Liz Wood's comment on this post in which she offers a profound and most fascinating insight; much food for thought there.
- Apart from the stock, Parnassus Books' shop dogs would be a major draw for me, if I lived in Nashville; booksellers of Britain, take note!
- From Tennessee to the neighbouring state of Alabama, and today is the 54th. anniversary of the publication of To Kill a Mockingbird. I've written before about the book's significance to me, but by any standards it is a very special novel, so I'm glad to hear that it has now been released as an e-book. If you have never read it you are in for a wonderful experience, and if you have, re-readings only enhance it.
- Lastly, posting has been sporadic of late as other things have claimed my time and attention. That's set to continue for a while, so apart from popping in to update my current reading and the like, I'm going to take a wee break.
1400 square feet of bespoke bookshelves hand-carved to look like vines, a whimsical miniature desk with secret compartments, a 14' table made from an acacia tree ... it's Elizabeth Gilbert's 'skybrary', her library in the sky full of "magical mysteries and wonderment", and along with the rest of her house it's for sale.
The skybrary is where she wrote her wonderfully warm, witty and engaging historical novel The Signature of All Things, and I wonder how she can bear to leave it! Watch the whole video if you have time, but to go straight to that unique room, skip to the 6.50 mark.
- Anyone who would like to have gone to the Slightly Foxed Readers' Day will be glad to hear that the talks given by the splendid speakers back in November are being made available as podcasts, and the first one - Sara Wheeler on 'Travelling Unconventionally' - is up now.
Talking about discovering a history of psychoanalysis in the 'Land of Saints', i.e. Morocco, in French, in a down-at-heel bookshop in Casablanca, Alexander McCall Smith* goes on:
"This book was irresistible. It is a mistake not to buy books as unlikely as that; I once spotted a large tome on monastic sign language in a used books store in Toronto but caviled at the outrageous price. Returning to Scotland, I regretted my failure to buy the book: of course I would have loved to have had it, with its lengthy photographic section showing Trappist monks signing their various messages: 'The Abbot says that bell must be rung ... We must plant potatoes again this year.' That sort of thing.
I returned to Toronto the following year and made my way to the bookstore in question. Going up to the desk, I asked the proprietor whether by any chance - and I said I knew it was a remote one - they had in stock a book on the sign language of monks. He looked at me in astonishment that shortly became delight. 'As it happens,' he began ..."
Have you ever had a similar experience, coming upon something delightfully recondite or special, leaving it behind, regretting not buying it, perhaps even returning to find it again?