The thing I most miss about working in a book shop is talking to strangers about books and the query I particularly loved, often from a regular, was the excitingly simple, ‘So, what’s good, right now?’ I miss the physicality of walking around a shop learning about how someone likes to read, about how they like to think, and gathering a pile of books so that you send them away with a tailored slice of the current week’s publishing. The cream of the crop, chosen and packed up with thought and care.
So, can you indulge me? Can you be the perfect customer, wandering in with a bit of time and money to spare? There are two books in particular which beyond lots of other very good books I would have a spring in my step about trying to sell to you today.
Hope by Shalom Auslander
I’d heard a lot of good things about this and it was on my pile but it was this brilliant review by Naomi Alderman that suggested that Jews and non-Jews consume Holocaust films differently that made me start reading it yesterday, and indeed finish it last night. It is about a man called Kugel who buys a new house in search of a better life and discovers that Anne Frank is living in his attic. It is incredibly funny – I could quote whole chunks – and so clever that I feel like my brain has been rewired. I won’t talk about it at length – click the link to the brilliant review – but I would love to be selling it to you today. If you were real, if you were facing me in a bookshop, you might admit that you wondered if it were, you know, a bit too clever? You might confess to not wanting to work too hard. I could reassure you that it is a breeze. Not a page turner, no, but there is no effort in reading this book. Just an odd kind of near hysterical joy.
The Land of Decoration by Grace McCleen
This is narrated by ten-year-old Judith whose mother died giving birth to her because her religion wouldn’t allow her to accept a blood transfusion. Judith’s father is a kindly man but the same religion leads him to take Judith knocking on the doors of their neighbours to tell them that the end is coming. None of this helps Judith in her quest not to be bullied at school for being strange and as she sits in her bedroom making a model world she starts to believe that she can hear God. This is a stunning novel and I totally believe in it. If the Orange judges overlook it for the longlist I will probably cry myself to sleep.
If you were real, if we were able to have a conversation, our chat might be around child narrators and what they bring to a story. I might confess to you that it is this book that has changed my mind, because I thought I didn’t like them. If you haven’t already, you might decided to leave with The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time or I Capture the Castle. Or we might instead talk about God, about our belief or lack of it. You might leave with Jeanette Winterson’s memoir or even Alain de Botton’s latest Religion for Atheists.
You might say you don’t buy hardbacks. That’s fine, I’ll say – I never try to sell people things they don’t want – and I’ll get excited because that probably means you haven’t read How to be a Woman by the magnificently incomparable (though my Dad thinks she is like me – swoon) Caitlin Moran, which is out in paperback this week. I’d probably tell you that this is the book that made me start a blog because I wanted to write about how it made me feel. I’ll tell you how much it made me laugh, made me think, how it gave me a massive surge of feminist confidence. I’d tell you that I’ve recommended this to not far off millions of people and they all love it. I’d tell you again that my Dad thinks she is like me. We’d probably have a laugh about that.
We’re getting along, aren’t we? Shall we discuss the Booker winning The Sense of an Ending, fresh out in paperback with a very lovely jacket. Please say yes. Please let’s have a long conversation about Julian Barnes. I can tell you about how I first read Metroland when I was at sixth form in Scunthorpe and you can tell me….What will you tell me?
Because that is what I think I’m really missing, dear customer. I miss talking to strangers about books but mainly I miss the fact that you talk back. I like the magical to and fro of a good bookseller/customer conversation. Because we’ve only scratched the surface here. These are just the biggest publications this week. Imagine all the other things we could talk about.
Anyway, I’m off, before I get too soppy over you. Think about reading some of these books. And you could always comment, I suppose, or talk to me on twitter. My favourite thing even beyond talking to strangers about books was when those strangers came back to talk again…