From 2.30 – 6.30am this morning I was comforting and cleaning up after my dear, brave little boy as he repeatedly threw up. I was also, during the brief times when we both lay down in his bed and tried to go to sleep, cheering myself up by having imaginary conversations with imaginary customers in my imaginary book shop. It is a hell of a heavenly place, my bookshop in the sky, it is staffed with all my favourite colleagues from over the years including people I’ve never worked with but have always admired and shopped in by all my favourite customers. And, because it is in my imagination, it faces none of the very real difficulties encountered by bookshops today.
It does, however, adhere to UK publishing schedules, so I know that all the books I am going to tell you to read RIGHT NOW are either available or a couple of days away from a real bookshop near you.
First up is The Light Between Oceans by M.L Stedman. Imagine a lighthouse keeper and his wife living on a remote island. Imagine their longing for a baby and her grief when she miscarries. Imagine, then, what happens when a boat washes up on their island holding only a dead man man and a little baby who is very much alive.
I read this in one go simultaneously crying my heart out and admiring the way Stedman handles her material. The action takes place post WWI, many of the characters are battle scarred and this is a worthy addition to books like Birdsong and My Dear I Wanted to Tell You that deal with the emotional aftermath of war.
I’m soppy about An Invisible Sign of my Own by Aimee Bender because it was first published when I lived in New York in 2000/1 and I queued up for the author’s signature long before I ever thought of being a bookseller or realised that I’d spend a sizeable chunk of the next few years organising author events. It is reissued here after the success of The Peculiar Sadness of Lemoncake and I reread it to see if it would still appeal. It’s a resounding yes and I highly recommend you spend some time with lonely math teacher Mona and her strange, sad story.
Right, I’ve talked about At Last by Edward St Aubyn on my blog before. It’s the book that I thought should have won the Booker but didn’t get on the longlist and it continues the story of Patrick Melrose and his troubled life. It is the fifth in a series but what I am going to suggest to you, dear reader, is that if you haven’t read the others then please DON’T think you necessarily have to read all the others first. I desperately with all my evangelical bookselling heart want more people to read these books and it makes me nervous that you might be thinking five books is a commitment too far. I promise that you could read this as a stand alone. I promise too that At Last is, as well as a fine piece of literature, extremely funny. Please go and buy it immediately. You will? Phew. Thank you. And can I bother you to tell all your friends to do so as well? Magnificent. (I know you’ll want to read all the others as soon as you’ve read it, they’ve all been beautifully reissued and I hear tell of a boxed set – what bliss!)
And now for something completely different…Fifty Shades of Grey by EL James is a fascinating book for about a million reasons. In no particular order (I haven’t fact checked this) it started out life as Twilight fanfic, it was a self published ebook sensation in the states and, oh yes, it is all about bondage and sado-masocism. (I can’t spell it let alone do it!)
It was bought and published at high speed and has been very succesful so far, prompting lots of chat about whether it is a load of old badly written nonsense or a bit of a brilliant thing. Well, I’m rather on the brilliant thing side of the fence, mainly because of all the reasons that Sophie Hannah describes here so I won’t repeat them all. Suffice to say, it is a page turner, I really wanted to read it to the end and I want to read the next two in the trilogy. The bondage stuff is all quite interesting and there are just SO MANY JOKES to be had when discussing it with friends and colleagues. And the book industry doesn’t have a lot to laugh about at times so I do think its great to have something to cheer us all up a bit.
So why not read it and then you can have an opinion of your own.
This is the last time I shall write this blog as a bookseller as I’m leaving Waterstones on Friday after nearly ten years. I still think I’ll want to imagine my bookshop in the sky, though, and I still think I’ll want to talk to you, dear reader, about all sorts of different books. Reading is a broad church and shelves deserve to have a bit of everything on them, don’t you think?