The end of June is the end of our financial year and I always take time to look back on the books that have struck a chord with our customers and our booksellers and look forward to the books that will be important to us in the run up to Christmas. Our list of top selling titles is always slightly different than you would find on the Sunday Times bestseller list. I love this, this matters to me – it is evidence of the personality of the shop and the varied taste of our customers. We work hard to put books in front of our customers that are not promoted so heavily, or get huge review coverage and that happy intersection where the recommendation of the shop meets the interest of our customers is the most rewarding part of our job. Here I will highlight three titles from the past year, three current titles and three titles soon to be published that I think are worthy of greater awareness.
The Past Year
Mindfulness by Professor Mark Williams was our second bestselling non-fiction title (after Hare with Amber Eyes). It is a book, based on substantial academic research, about how to beat depression by greater awareness of how your mind works and the use of meditation to gain control of your thoughts. We had a wonderful evening in the shop with Mark back in September and know that this book has helped so many people.
Whilst it may not hit the literary highs of some of our other favourite novels A Novel Bookstore by Laurence Cosse is an utter delight for anyone who has worked in, or loves bookshops. The premise is simple, a wealthy heiress bankrolls the opening of a small bookshop in Paris with the stock of books chosen by an anonomous comittee based solely on literary merit. This causes outrage for some opponents of the elite concept and a tale of conforntation, jealousy and murder ensues.
What Are Universities For? by Stefan Collini is a short but timely consideration of the value that Universities give to civilised society above and beyond the purely commercial. He argues that Humanities in particular need to be viewed through a more evolved prism that has a more enlightened understanding of the value of extending human understanding and the benefits that this brings to all people.
Michael Frayn is always excellent value – funny, erudite and often philosophical. Skios is classic Frayn, a bright, breezy farce with a large cast of brilliantly realised characters. If we ever get a summer I can highly recommend a lazy Sunday afternoon enjoying the sun in your garden with a bottle of something rather nice and a copy of Skios in your hand. Sounds pretty perfect to me
If you are looking for something weighty to get your teeth into try The Spark of Life by Oxford academic Frances Ashcroft. Like most people I was sort of aware that our consciousness is nothing but electrical signals – what has bowled me over about this book is just how all pervading this ‘animal electricity’ is in all facets of life. This is science writing at the very top of the tree – informing, astonishing, passionate and’ like all of the best non-fiction, it leaves you feeling more clever than before you picked it up.
Michael Sandel is a Harvard professor of Political Philosophy and an academic superstar. In What Money Can’t Buy he sets out very clearly the values that we, as a society, should be protecting – dignity, freedom and social solidarity – as the increasingly influential ‘market’ threatens to corrode them. It may not convert many free-marketeers but if you have a growing sense of unease about the more destructive elements of capitalism you will find strong arguments and, therefore, hope for a more balanced future
I am currently reading a proof copy of Ryszard Kapuscinski: A Life by Artur Domoslawski. My fears that it might be hagiographic and skirt over some of the controversies that surround my favourite writer’s life were completely unfounded. It is a fascinating insight to an extraordinary man and an absolute must-read for anyone who has ever been moved by the beautiful writing of this reporter extraordinair. We have an event with the author to coincide with publication
In September comes a treat for all foodies – a new Ottolenghi. It is going to be gorgeous – gorgeous design, gorgeous production, gorgeous recipes and of course gorgeous food. Jerusalem is the hometown of Yotam and Sami so expect a book dripping in authentic flavours. Buy a copy for yourself and then buy copies for anyone who is important in your life. An early contender for our bestselling book at Christmas
I have it on good authority, nay, on very good authority that The Story of My Assassins by Tarun Tejpal is an extraordinary novel that you will not want to miss. Dennis Johnson, the founder of Melville House who publish this, has told me “This one is a sweeping saga of modern day India, kind of a literary, erotic thriller about the divide between rich and poor (not necessarily unique to India, to my mind). It’s a biggie by a writer I’ve fallen for, to the extent of signing on for a second book. He’s got a lot to say about the abuses of political power that I’m keen to promote, while also telling engrossing stories that seem hypnotically exotic — at first.” I am not going to argue with that!
So there you go – not even a single mention of Fifty Shades. I really hope that you like the selections, do let us know if there are particular books that you have loved, are loving or waiting for in a state of extreme excitement. And remember only this long until Christmas