Well aren’t I the lucky one? Next week I am off to visit my sister and her family in Australia. Doubly lucky since I will have a lot of reading time – which can, paradoxically, be difficult when your day job is in a bookshop. Today I bought my first tranche of books that I will take with me, three novels and three works of non-fiction.
The first choice will be obvious to readers of this blog – Dan Holloways ‘The Company of Fellows’. No need for me to explain why I am taking this, just to say that I am really looking forward to reading it having witnessed the passion that so many of you have expressed for it on these very pages. No pressure then Dan…
The second novel that I am taking is Ned Beauman’s ‘Boxer Beetle’, shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award and, more recently, the Desmond Elliot prize. It was a few months ago that I idly picked a copy up in the shop and was taken with the first couple of lines: “In idle moments I sometimes like to close my eyes and imagine Joseph Goebbels’ forty-third birthday party. I like to think that even in the busy autumn of 1940 Hitler might have found time to organise a surprise party for his close friend.” I have a distinct feeling that this book is going to be ‘Marmite’ – I will either love it or hate it. A good omen is that I do adore Marmite.
Third choice was not my choice – I took the advice that I so often give to customers in the shop and asked a bookseller. Becky squealed in delight – it is her absolute favourite question to be asked and she made various suggestions. From her shortlist of titles we settled on Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts, a book that I know we have sold shed loads (a technical bookselling term) of since publication in 2003. Make no bones about it, it is a BIG book – perfect for an extended break. With the protagonist being an escaped Australian prisoner it has some geographical currency for my trip. I would never have picked this up without the recommendation of Becky. I trust her taste implicitly (she is the biggest fan of Iris Murdoch which is good enough in my book)
And so on to the non-fiction. I am amazed (and a little ashamed) that I have yet to read Tony Judt’s final book ‘Ill Fares the Land‘. I am a huge fan of his earlier books, especially Postwar, a jaw-droppingly good history of Europe since the Second World War. Ill Fares the Land has been one of those books in the shop that has been looking at me reproachfully because I hadn’t read it, waiting forlornly for me to pick it up and buy it. Time to rectify this glaring omission. Perhaps this is the book that I am most looking forward to reading if only to assuage by nonsensical bookseller guilt.
Some guilt attached to my next choice as well – again a book that I am surprised that I have yet to read. R.D. Laing’s ‘The Divided Self‘ was first published in 1960 and although the subject of acute mental turmoil is not the standard stuff of holiday reading it is a book that I have wanted to read for a long time. I am especially keen to learn more about his views on the social and cultural dimensions of mental illness. There is always value in reading books from decades ago that have influenced their field markedly.
Last into my rucksack (so far) is ‘This is not the End of the Book‘, a discussion on the past, present and future of the book between Jean-Claude Carriere and Umberto Eco. You might argue that this is work rather than play for me, but as a lover of the printed word I am hoping to garner some persuasive arguments for the sustainable future of paper and ink books as we face a daily assault in the media about the death of the book. Two formidable minds here so my expectations are high. I am very encouraged by the quote from Eco on the flap of the dust jacket – “The book is like the spoon: once invented, it cannot be bettered”
There is still time for me to add to my haul – let me know if I have chosen wisely or if there is an absolute jewel that I am missing.
My plan is to try and continue blogging a bit whilst away. Initially it seemed obvious to do a piece on the bookshops of Sydney, but the retail book trade is in such turmoil that this may be tricky to do. I’d love to know if there are any Indie bookshops worth a visit? Perhaps Gleebooks or Abbey’s
Finally an indulgence. Do forgive me. This is a picture of the back garden at my sisters where I can already see myself with a cup of coffee, a packet of Marlboro reds and my lovely pile of books. Not too shabby as a now ex-bookselling friend would have said.