New Finnish Grammar

Curious and Curiouser… The Bookshop Band’s debut at Blackwell’s

Curious and curiouser

Things aren’t what they seem…

Last night on the 3rd July, Blackwell’s staff and customers were treated to an intimate but astonishing show from The Bookshop Band.

The Bookshop Band comprises the talents of Ben Please, Poppy Pitt and Beth Porter, who can take as little as a new book and one or two hours to create beautiful songs about books. Normally to be found in Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights in Bath, The Bookshop Band are currently on tour sponsored by Vintage. In order to prepare them for the evening, we gave Ben, Poppy and Beth two new books for inspiration – Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, as a pre-Alice’s Day celebration, and Blackwell’s favourite and bestseller New Finnish Grammar by Diego Marani.

And I am afloat, on a great sea

In a boat, veiled from reality…

As the last week before the show came round, we realised that only four tickets had been sold… panic! How could we let people know how brilliant this band was? We spent the week creating posters, writing to newspapers and playing their CDs on repeat in Blackwell Music…

The Queen of Hearts is furious

This life is but a dream…

The hour drew closer and we were terribly excited to find out what the band had done with our favourite books – and still panicking that we’d have failed to provide them an audience… we need not have worried! Our lovely customers saved the day, and came streaming through the doors, filling the thirty seats we’d set out in our Norrington Room.

Playing the Norrington Room was particularly significant for Ben Please, as the room is in fact named after his grandfather – Sir Arthur Norrington… or as he was affectionately known in the family ‘Grandpa Eyebrows’.

The band’s first song ‘Curious and Curiouser’, based on Alice in Wonderland, was fast paced, frantic and exciting to listen to, conjuring up all the familiar images of smoking caterpillars and ‘Eat-Me’ cakes.

‘A Sea of Sound’, based on New Finnish Grammar, was slower and more gentle, but still full of intriguing images and capturing the confusion and difficulty of learning language.

Unknown sounds, echo emptily

In my mouth, But I cant repeat

A transitory feat, as they slip back down beneath

But I drag each word, back to the surface to be heard…

Once the new songs were finished, we were treated to a collection of The Bookshop Band’s earlier works, including songs based on The Paris Wife by Paula McLain, A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness and Jamrach’s Menagerie by Carol Birch. A music-hall tune based on The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack got the entire audience singing along to the chorus (which incidentally, I’ve had in my head all day)…

Smoke over London, looks jolly splendid, I’ve heard…

So, the evening was a complete success, and both staff and audience left not only with great music still ringing in their ears, but also with several new books on their ‘must read’ lists.

 “We felt really privileged to play in such a magnificent and famous room of books. The commissions were great choices too – Alice in Wonderland is a real treasure trove of images and ideas – we had lots of fun writing about that one, and just in time for the Alice celebrations in Oxford too. We’ll try and get the video up online in time! Hope to see everyone again for Christmas. Any Christmas book ideas?” – Ben Please

 If you’re currently kicking yourself for missing out on this amazing evening (and so you should be!) then never fear – The Bookshop Band are still touring the UK, and you can always find them at Mr. B’s Emporium of Reading Delights in Bath. Here at Blackwell’s, we have a selection of books from the band’s reading lists, and we’ll be keeping CDs and band merchandise on sale – so come and have a listen!

We’d love to ask The Bookshop Band to come back again, so keep an eye on our events page for to see when they’ll pop up next…

Curious and curiouser

Things aren’t what they seem…

We can all learn the words and singalong next week

Tickets for The Bookshop Band only cost £5 – they are performing in the shop on the evening of 3rd July and will be unveiling two new songs, one inspired by Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and one inspired by New Finnish Grammar. Psst…pass it on!

The Bookshop Band

The Bookshop Band in the ‘Grandad Eyebrows Room’

The tour of independent booksellers by The Bookshop Band is well under way now. On July 3rd they will play the Norrington Room. Yesterday they popped into the shop to say hi and to pick up the book that we are asking them to turn into a song to be premiered on the night.

They will turn Alice and NFG into songs!

Us being us we couldn’t choose just one book so we happily handed over a copy of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and – surpise, surprise – New Finnish Grammar. Our breath is truly baited to see and hear what they turn these two books into.

We are always proud to show off the Norrington Room to visitors but on this occasion I was well and truly trumped – it turns out that Ben, the founder of the band, is the grandson of Arthur Norrington – or Grandad Eyebrows as he was known in the family.

The Bookshop Band turn each ‘season’ of songs into a CD and their collection from their first year will be available in the shop soon. Each ‘season’ has a theme and a reading list:

Tickets (£5 only) are still available for what promises to be one of the most exciting events of our Summer season through our Customer Service desk or by calling 01865 333623. You wouldn’t want to miss a song inspired by New Finnish Grammar now, would you?

Holiday Reading so far…

I have managed to find some quality reading time amid the competing charms of a first visit to Sydney and catching up with family. Me being me means that from my original reading pile I added Diego Marani’s  ‘New Finnish Grammar’ and a proof copy of Nigel Warburton’s ‘A Little History of Philosophy’ that is published by Yale in September. Whilst I have read the two new additions to the list it means that I have so far only completed ‘The Company of Fellows’ and ‘Ill Fares the Land’. Being part-way through ‘Boxer Beetle’ and ‘This is not the End of the Book’ with less than a week to go until I am on the plane home I fully expect to polish these off and also have a decent crack at ‘The Divided Self’ I suspect that ‘Shantaram’ will have to wait until a later date – sorry Becky, I can hear your squeals of disappointment from the other side of the world.

First up my bookseller thoughts on ‘New Finnish Grammar’ by Diego Marani

  I tend to be more a reader of non-fiction but I have had the great fortune of reading two contemporary literay novels this year that have reminded me that the thoughts explored and language used in certain books can be as exhilarating as any plot line or character, and more rewarding to the reader. The first book that reminded me of this was ‘The Canal’ by Lee Rourke (I have been trying to write a proper review of this for months but cannot find the right words to convey just how much this book moved me and how it thrillingly reignited my love of reading quality literary fiction) For another novel to come along within a couple of months and capture my imagination as comprehensively is a rare treat indeed, but ‘New Finnish Grammar’ is extraordinary on many levels.

It was originally published in Italy in 2000 and has, I believe, been translated into various languages before this Dedalus Books edition came in May. The plot is pretty straightforward – set during the Second World War a man is found on the quayside in Trieste, he has been beaten up to such an extent that he has completely lost his memory. The only clue to his identity is the name Sampo Karjalainen on a tag sewn in to his sailor’s jacket. A doctor, originally from Finland, takes him under his wing and facillitates the recovery of the man and helps him return to Finland where slowly and painfully he learns to read, write and speak again. The relationship between identity and language underpins the book and the love and respect that the author (and, indeed, Judith Landry the translator) has for words and language is apparent on every single page. I lost count of the number of times that I chuckled quietly or gasped involuntarily at a simple yet beautiful word play.  “But only those who are fully acquainted with the power of the word should dare to have recourse to its magic” Marani weaves into this story the troubled history of Russo-Finnish relations, ancient myths and sagas and a doomed love story that is heart-wrenching but never cynical.

A stunning book that deserves the wide audience that it appears to be getting after a gushing review from Nicholas Lezard in The Guardian I know that it is a book that I will be thrusting into peoples hands for years to come urging them to buy it, read it and spread the word. It is the least that I can do for the pleasure that it has given me.

Time to go and read now, I hope to do some more mini-reviews tomorrow…