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March 03, 2007

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Hi Scott

As usual, a very thought-provoking post. I wonder if I might add some thoughts?

I think the fundamental difference between books and music is that books are unmediated. Of course some people argue that books mediate between the mind of the writer and mind of the reader. What I mean is that you don't need any equipment to read a book; which, for the past sixty years or so , you have needed in order to listen to music. Our parents were the first people to appreciate music through recordings or broadcast; prior to WW2 there was folk song and orchestral performance. For me the portability, like the lack of mediation, are both components of use; and the music biz will never get over the mediation problem.

Your exception for cookbooks is astute, but it's only true of 'cookbook as instruction manual'. We note the rise of cookery writing over the past few years, Toast, Kitchen Confidential, and The Man Who Ate Everything, etc.; and at the same time the collapse of Haynes Publishing. Culinary writing is alive and kicking, but vastly different to its antecedence.

I have a friend who is an architect who tells me the point is not far off where image quality, and accurate library tagging, will take online archtectural publishing ahead of hard copy; at that point he will stop buying all those beatiful expensive phaidons and T&H. I don't know enough about this to argue, but I like your point about the parallel editions; Who's Who does this already i think.

Anyhoo...

Drew Mishmash

Great post.

I've been busy converting my old LPs and cassettes into mp3 files. It's incredibly time-consuming but very satisfying. The kind of thing you do when, as a translator and editor, you've lost most of your work because the people you worked for for nigh on 20 years (namely the British Tourist Authority) have now decided to concentrate on putting their material on a website rather than in printed form. Funny you should mention travel guides: I am also in the process of losing a third of my income thanks to a travel guide publisher going under.

Btw, to lie, lay, lain = to recline > to lie open = :-)
to lay, laid, laid = to put down > to lay open = tut, tut!

Unless you're American, of course. LOL!

Bela - my grammar is terrible. You will find my posts riddled with such mistakes.

Drew - I agree with you on cookery literature, a fine artform. And then there is also the cookery porn enthusiasts. People who love just holding and admiring beautifully made cookbooks.

Great blog post. I hadn't really thought about the changes digital technology would bring but can see how your examples would work. Johnson's comments are a bit scary though, if he thinks book superstores are doomed, and he should know, then retail is a bit fucked.

There's also legal volumes and medical textbooks etc - the kind of things that need constant updating with every passing year and are far too heavy to carry anywhere. To have it all on a little updatable e-reader, how marvelous. Of course, I never require a legal or medical textbook or any other kind of book that provides me with information as opposed to fun, so I reckon I will be a luddite paper-lover for some time yet.

I agree with Gerry Johnson and I think that during the next few years we'll see quite a few closures before high street book retailing settles down to its natural limits. During the last 25 years, over 400 new bookshops - most of them 4,000 sq ft or more - have opened. Even without the internet and the post-NBA free-for-all, this expansion couldn't have continued ad infinitum.

Ottakar's were probably the first victims of this new trend. Contrary to what some people believe, Ottakar's was an efficient, well-run company and its like-for-like sales were better than Waterstone's for many years. However, little ships sink more quickly than large ones and Ottakar's didn't have the scale to withstand the sudden downturn in high street sales that took place in 2005. I think the writing was on the wall in July 2005, when the sales of the new Harry Potter book were significantly lower than the previous book in 2003.

I wonder how Waterstone's will fare during the next few years? If anyone can get them through the next few years, Gerry Johnson is probably the man to do it. I just hope that HMV's shareholders are willing to stay the course.

I'm not sure about reaching a tipping point within six months, but I'm glad that Gerry Johnson has openly acknowleged what many of us have been muttering about for the last year. I just hope that my sales budgets for next year will reflect this new realism.

The only way in which Waterstone's will survive is by rationalising, disposing of the big box superstores which were never going to be cost effective, and doing what a bookseller does best - hand selling quality books.

The idea that Waterstone's must try and match every special discount offer from the supermarkets is pure madness.

The digital business, as regards general book publishing, is a total red herring. With music there has to be a manufactured "receiver/reader" - humans have evolved with a rather nifty technical "receiver/reader" for books, the brain and eyes. In fifty years time the idea that basic digital downloads will be 'state-of-the-art' will seem rather comical - I don't know what technological advances are ahead, but I feel sure that the main profitable use of digital download (in the next decade) will be for technical and academic texts. Just remember what happened with many of the internet start-ups : they had no market, and neither, at the present time, does digital downloads for books (thanks to the human "receiver/reader").

Without wishing to sound like a total kiss-ass - I agree entirely with Scott's points.
On the music front the portability/variety observation is entirely correct in my experience. Even the most cynical music fan who bemoans the periodic artificial resusitation of the music business by new formats has been won over by the incredible convenience of the download/mp3 player - as have musicians-why spend a fortune on printing 1000 CDs when you can stick a tune up for download for next to nothing and let the whole world hear it?

The e-book upload with hardbacks idea is one I look forward to as it makes perfect sense.
As for the cookery books - who needs 'em, I am a genius in the kitchen (ahem).

The paperback book is the banana of the entertainment world...cheap, perfectly packaged, eminently portable...although it really could do with being waterproof/able to float a couple of inches above bath water...

Some good points. As Scott has mentioned, the music/digital revolution isn't really directly comparable to what is happening with books. I think that at the moment the way that the book industry is affected by the digital age has more to do with how we buy our books than in any changes to books themselves. We may buy books off Amazon and Play instead of from bookshops, but the books themselves remain largely untouched.

I also think it's very interesting to note how this affects prices. When I go to Play.com, the CDs and DVDs are scandalously cheap, probably because file-sharing technology means that any canny PC user can download a free version of any song/album/film they want, and the industry has to respond accordingly. Whereas the books on Play are not much cheaper than books in the high street, because at the moment there's no real digital alternative to reading a book. Sure, a lot of books are available as PDF files, but at the moment that isn't going to compete with a proper book.

As lots of people have mentioned, this will all probably change when decent e-readers are available. I've never seen one in person, but I imagine that they would have to be pretty amazing to compete with a book. A book is portable, easy-on-the eye and technologically fantastic. To compete, e-readers would have to be equally portable, technologically simple (no complicated softare and constant battery failures), and most importantly, easy on the eye. Most people don't read extended chunks of text on their PCs because after 20 minutes or so, your eyes begin to hurt.

I can imagine that at some point in the future there may be e-readers that are no bigger than a paperback, have interfaces that are as easy on the eye as reading paper, and in which you might be able to store 10,000 novels. At which point, books might be under threat. But until technology can compete with the simplicity and user-friendliness of a paperback, books are probably safe.

Lance, that is a great line: 'the paperback book is the banana of the entertainment world'!

I am somewhat surprised that nobody has mentioned the planned HMV review due for the middle of this month (Ides of March) when store closures across the chain (inc Waterstone's ?) as well as job losses are anticipated, plus an increased product range for the merchandising outlets.

All this alarmist talk about digital downloads is taking attention away from the lack of positive direction from the HMV/Waterstone management.

Hi

@Clive - I'm a bit out of the loop so hadn't heard about HMV. But you are right, the biggest problem for bookselling is getting the punters through the doors and buying; thereby protecting the jobs of the booksellers.

@Marie - I think the time is coming soon for very technical books like the Medicine Fromulary, to become a pre-subscribed download service, may be to PC maybe to e-reader , and cease to be hard copy at all.

Sad news today about Gay's The Word - is the commercial property business really telling me the London cannot support a feminist bookshop or a gay bookshop? sheesh!

Drew Mishmash

Scott, sorry a bit late to this thread. You are right on the money as usual. I was at the Ret Wk conference, and heard Gerry speak (he was one of a panel and responding to questions rather than giving a speech). His overall tone was of course more measured than the dramatic headlines quoted. As a bookseller with music sellers for colleagues, he is probably more spooked by the whole digital download threat than a standalone book retailer. But then again not every music retailer has adopted such a dinosaur (or is it ostrich-like) mentality as HMV (until recently)! March 13 is the date when their survival plans are unveiled.

My guess is that Gerry is desperately trying to not make the same mistake Alan Giles made a few years back by underestimating the rise of digital media, and in doing so has rushed to the extreme!

Spot on Scott.

Good article, Scott. I am seeing increasing sales in our e books (Rowmark,business titles)and believe this is a sector that will continue to grow. I have long had the idea of personalising our business books, by that I mean readers can choose chapters from different books on line, and create their own business book containing only the information they require, which they can then download to their e reader, just haven't found anyone who can help me turn this into a reality yet. Any ideas? By the way apparently there is a Waitrose somewhere that has ordered in my latest marine mystery, In For The Kill, but where it is I do not know - certainly not locally. If anyone spots a copy in a Waitrose store, perhaps they'd let me know?

Thanks to gerry's ethnic cleansing programme i'm about to be unemployed 3 and half years of my life i'll never get back !!! thanks GERRY.

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Kindle Sampled

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Quick Flicks

Books Read: 2014

  • Truman Capote: Breakfast at Tiffany's

    Truman Capote: Breakfast at Tiffany's
    The book that inspired everyone's favourite racist movie. Didn't charm me as much as I had hoped. A couple of decent short stories tucked in at the end, though, as filler. (***)

  • Pascal Garnier: Moon in a Dead Eye

    Pascal Garnier: Moon in a Dead Eye
    A dark little book set in a gated retirement village in the south of France. Things got a bit too frantic towards the end but I polished this off in one sitting and it definitely zipped along. (***)

  • Philip Terry: Three Wishes

    Philip Terry: Three Wishes
    An homage to Georges Perec. Three sequences of themed fictions which turn out to be elaborate and clever puns. Lots of fun. (****)

  • Michael Chabon: The Final Solution

    Michael Chabon: The Final Solution
    The last case of Sherlock Holmes, set during WW2. Enjoyable without being amazing. Not enough of a gripping mystery to really grab me. (***)

  • Edgar Cantero: The Supernatural Enhancements

    Edgar Cantero: The Supernatural Enhancements
    A ghost/mystery/supernatural story told through a series of documents and transcripts. Fun from start to finish. Also a bit spooky. (****)

  • Greg Levin: The Exit Man

    Greg Levin: The Exit Man
    A dark comedy about assisted suicide? Why not! I liked this a lot. Cracking plot and very funny. (****)

  • Aaron Thier: The Ghost Apple: A Novel

    Aaron Thier: The Ghost Apple: A Novel
    Hilarious campus novel told entirely through documents—blog posts, emails, newspaper articles, minutes from meetings etc—which gets more and more dark as it goes on. (****)

  • John Harding: The Girl Who Couldn't Read

    John Harding: The Girl Who Couldn't Read
    A sequel, of sorts, to Florence & Giles which was one of my favourite books of 2011. This is destined to be one of my favourites of 2014. Read it in a day and loved every page. (*****)

  • David Quammen: Ebola: The Natural and Human History

    David Quammen: Ebola: The Natural and Human History
    A level-headed history of Ebola and a study of its impact. Manages to be fascinating without be alarmist and represents the genuine human story without sentimentality. Essential reading if you want to know more about the subject. (****)

  • Margaret Craven: I Heard the Owl Call My Name

    Margaret Craven: I Heard the Owl Call My Name
    A Canadian novella about a young priest sent to live and work in a small Native American village in British Columbia. Avoids sentimentality but still manages to be very moving. (****)

  • Soseki Natsume: The 210th Day

    Soseki Natsume: The 210th Day
    Enjoyable experimental novel told almost entirely in dialogue. Two friends attempt to climb a volcano but are sidetracked, sometimes quite literally, on more than one occasion. (***)

  • Bohumil Hrabal: Closely Observed Trains

    Bohumil Hrabal: Closely Observed Trains
    Czech absurdist comedy set in and around a train station right at the end of WW2. It is funny but didn't quite bowl me over. (***)

  • Hella S. Haase: The Black Lake

    Hella S. Haase: The Black Lake
    Wonderful Dutch novel from the 1940s set in the Dutch East Indies as they were then. I will be foisting this on people for the rest of the year. (*****)

  • Ira Levin: The Stepford Wives

    Ira Levin: The Stepford Wives
    I knew the basic premise, it is one of those stories that has seeped into public consciousness by osmosis, but wasn't prepared for such a tightly plotted and nuanced novel. Really first-rate stuff and a modern classic that I think should be more widely read. (****)

  • Roberto Bolano: Antwerp

    Roberto Bolano: Antwerp
    56 short scenes which supposedly combine to create an experimental crime novel but they really don't hang together at all. Some nice bits of writing in some of the vignettes but that doesn't make for a very good book or a satisfying read. (**)

  • Takashi Hiraide: The Guest Cat

    Takashi Hiraide: The Guest Cat
    Japanese novella about a childless couple who 'adopt' a local cat. Pleasant enough but a bit lightweight. (***)

  • Peter Carey: Amnesia

    Peter Carey: Amnesia
    This may well be the worst book I have ever read. Clumsy, confused and, I would argue, only partially finished. Feels like a bad first draft. (*)

  • Craig Brown: One on One

    Craig Brown: One on One
    101 true encounters told in chapters of 1001 words. Helen Keller meets Martha Graham, Graham meets Madonna, Madonna meets Jacko, Jacko meets Nancy Reagan, Nancy meets Andy Warhol, and so on through a biographical baton race. Quite wonderful. (*****)

  • Richard Cowper: A Tapestry of Time

    Richard Cowper: A Tapestry of Time
    Final part of the White Bird of Kinship series of novels and stories. Nice to see the story wrapped up but this is perhaps the least successful volume. (***)

  • Gillian Flynn: Gone Girl

    Gillian Flynn: Gone Girl
    A proper page-tuner. Great entertainment, even if the two lead characters are absolute cunts. (****)

  • Dan Davies: In Plain Sight: The Life and Lies of Jimmy Savile

    Dan Davies: In Plain Sight: The Life and Lies of Jimmy Savile
    Grim but gripping portrait of a complex man. Doesn't sensationalise any of the subject matter. Manage to balance a morbid fascination with an objective take on what happened. (****)

  • David Mitchell: The Bone Clocks

    David Mitchell: The Bone Clocks
    Great first half. Dodgy second half. Turns into Highlander at one point. (***)

  • Karen Joy Fowler: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

    Karen Joy Fowler: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves
    Interesting premise with an early twist which I am sure no one will see coming. I enjoyed this a great deal but it didn't blow me away. (****)

  • Greg Baxter: Munich Airport

    Greg Baxter: Munich Airport
    Two men, father and son, kill time at a fogbound Munich airport waiting for the flight that will take them, and the body of their dead daughter/sister, back to the US. Off-beat, dark and more than a little depressing. (***)

  • Kat Su: Crap Taxidermy

    Kat Su: Crap Taxidermy
    Very silly book full of pictures of really shit stuffing. Includes a guide to stuff your own mouse. I am sure this will be in lots of Christmas stockings this year. (****)

  • Ian McEwan: The Children Act

    Ian McEwan: The Children Act
    Unremarkable but not bad. A few memorable lines but let down once again but an unnecessary twist at the end. This feels charmingly old fashioned in a world of Mitchells and McBrides. (***)

  • Dan Kavanagh: Fiddle City

    Dan Kavanagh: Fiddle City
    Second in the series of crime novels written by Julian Barnes in the 80s featuring Duffy, a bisexual private detective. Not quite as bleak and compelling as the first but good fun nonetheless. (****)

  • Helle Helle: This Should Be Written in the Present Tense

    Helle Helle: This Should Be Written in the Present Tense
    Frustratingly vague novel from, apparently, one of Denmark's most popular novelists. Not sure this will win her many fans in the UK. It's fine, and I sort of enjoyed it while I was reading it, but have already started to forget it. (***)

  • Tom Robbins: Tibetan Peach Pie: A True Account of an Imaginative Life

    Tom Robbins: Tibetan Peach Pie: A True Account of an Imaginative Life
    If you like his novels then you will love this memoir. Irreverent, inspiring and hugely entertaining. (****)

  • Haruki Murakami: Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

    Haruki Murakami: Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage
    Quite possibly his most 'normal' novel to date. Very little magical stuff going on. Very good but not sure I loved it. Liked it a lot though. (****)

  • Liz Berry: Black Country

    Liz Berry: Black Country
    A bit of a hit and miss poetry collection. Some amazing writing here but many of the poems are written in Black Country dialect and they were lost on me, to be honest. (***)

  • Philip Hoare: The Sea Inside

    Philip Hoare: The Sea Inside
    Part memoir, part travelogue, part natural history book this meditation on the sea, the people who reside alongside it and the creatures that live in it was full of beautiful writing and fascinating facts. (****)

  • William Horwood: Duncton Wood

    William Horwood: Duncton Wood
    I revisited one of my favourite books after twenty years and enjoyed it just as much. An epic and a genuine classic that is sadly out of print. (*****)

  • Linda Grant: I Murdered My Library

    Linda Grant: I Murdered My Library
    Another Kindle Single, this time an essay about Grant culling her books when she moved from one London flat to another. Will resonate with all book lovers, and especially book hoarders. (****)

  • Jonas Jonasson: The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden

    Jonas Jonasson: The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden
    A young South African girl working in a latrine ends up changing the world through a series of unlikely coincidences and her own remarkable spirit. Jonasson doesn't deviate all that much from his successful formula but that was fine with me. Very funny indeed. I loved it. (*****)

  • A.N. Wilson: The Man Behind Narnia

    A.N. Wilson: The Man Behind Narnia
    A Kindle Single in which Wilson returns to the subject of one of his biographies, CS Lewis, twenty years after he wrote it and uses it to catch up a bit but mainly to explore his own relationship with his faith. The Lewis bits were more interesting than the Wilson bits. (***)

  • Sarah Bakewell: The English Dane: From King of Iceland to Tasmanian Convict

    Sarah Bakewell: The English Dane: From King of Iceland to Tasmanian Convict
    A biography of Jorgen Jogensen, a sailor, whaler, explorer, privateer, naval officer, spy, author dramatist, preacher, revolutionary, gambler, prisoner, convict-doctor, police constable, editor, exile, prospector, drunkard, vagabond and, briefly,King of Iceland. A cracking yarn. (****)

  • Shehan Karunatilaka: Chinaman

    Shehan Karunatilaka: Chinaman
    A dying, alcoholic sports writer attempts to track down the greatest Sri Lankan cricketer no one has ever heard of. Playful novel that won the DSC Prize. (****)

  • Peter Jefferson: And Now the Shipping Forecast

    Peter Jefferson: And Now the Shipping Forecast
    A bit of a jumble—doesn't really know if it wants to be a history of the Shipping Forecast or a personal miscellany of sea-related anecdotes—but managed to contain sufficient detail on the forecast itself to sustain my interest. (***)

  • Michel Faber: Under The Skin

    Michel Faber: Under The Skin
    Read this after seeing the film which is usually the wrong way round but not sure it did any harm this time as they are quite different. I preferred the film, to be honest, as this was a bit heavy handed in places. Good though. (****)

  • Robert K. Massie: Catherine The Great

    Robert K. Massie: Catherine The Great
    I borrowed this from the Kindle Lending Library and then spent about four months reading it off and on. It is a huge book. Impressive too. The chapters on her early years in Russia are particularly good. (****)

  • Brian Moore: The Temptation of Eileen Hughes

    Brian Moore: The Temptation of Eileen Hughes
    The first of Moore's books that I have read. A somewhat cold and austere tale of a young shopgirl taken on holiday by her rich employers. She doesn't see anything odd in this but the reader does, and the reader would be right. I liked this a lot so will check out some more of his stuff. (****)

  • Sun-mi Hwang: The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly

    Sun-mi Hwang: The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly
    A fable about a chicken that flees the coop which had been a phenomenal bestseller in the author's home country of South Korea. Just enough of a dark edge to keep me interested. Not bad at all. (***)

  • Jenny Offill: Dept. of Speculation

    Jenny Offill: Dept. of Speculation
    A clever novella comprised of short, poetic paragraphs that has an impressive cumulative effect. Reminded me variously of David Markson, Sarah Salway and Charles Lambert. (****)

  • Jimmy McDonough: Shakey: Neil Young's Biography

    Jimmy McDonough: Shakey: Neil Young's Biography
    Fascinating look into the life and career of an unconventional musician. (****)

  • Joël Dicker: The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair

    Joël Dicker: The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair
    Quite the most preposterous novel I have read since The Da Vinci Code but I must confess I enjoyed it a great deal. (****)

  • Joanna Smith Rakoff: My Salinger Year

    Joanna Smith Rakoff: My Salinger Year
    An account of the year she spent working for JD Salinger's agent, much of which was taken up with answering his fanmail. I liked it a lot. (****)

  • Laura Sims: Fare Forward : Letter from David Markson

    Laura Sims: Fare Forward : Letter from David Markson
    A charming and thought-provoking collection of letters Markson (if you've not heard if him, he's one of the most readable experimental novelists there is) wrote to a young writer and fan towards the end of his life. Comes with some excellent supplementary material too. (****)

  • Julie Maroh: Blue is the Warmest Color

    Julie Maroh: Blue is the Warmest Color
    Good, but nowhere near as good as the movie. (***)

  • John Connolly: The Killing Kind

    John Connolly: The Killing Kind
    I have enjoyed each of Connolly's Charlie Parker novels and this was no exception. (****)

  • Robin Black: Life Drawing

    Robin Black: Life Drawing
    Enjoyed this a lot but somewhat spooked by lots of similarities with a book I publish next month. (****)

  • John Freeman: How to Read a Novelist: Conversations with Writers

    John Freeman: How to Read a Novelist: Conversations with Writers
    An interesting collection of pen portraits based on meetings and interviews the author had with numerous famous authors over the past couple of decades. I kept this by my bedside and dipped in over several months. (****)

  • Dan Kavanagh: Duffy

    Dan Kavanagh: Duffy
    A crime novel written by Julian Barnes under an assumed name back in the early 80s. Set on the seedy streets of Soho it is pretty dark and grim but all the better for it. (****)

  • Nicholson Baker: Travelling Sprinkler

    Nicholson Baker: Travelling Sprinkler
    A frustrating book that is brilliant, quite brilliant, in places but the author goes off on political rants about Obama's drone policy that become tedious and annoying and spoil an otherwise entertaining novel. (***)

  • Steve Martin: Shopgirl

    Steve Martin: Shopgirl
    After a couple of decidedly average novels it was great to tuck into something short and very good. I am not sure Martin gets the credit he deserves as a novelist. He restrains his anarchic humour and offers something beautifully observed and occasionally heartbreaking. (****)

  • Mitch Cullin: A Slight Trick of the Mind

    Mitch Cullin: A Slight Trick of the Mind
    A great concept - Sherlock Holmes was real and we meet him when he is in his 90s, just after WWII - but ends up as a bit of a missed opportunity. Three storylines, none of which are quite finished with any sense of satisfaction. (***)

  • Gerard Woodward: Vanishing

    Gerard Woodward: Vanishing
    An unreliable narrator, but also an inconsistent one, leading to a number of plot holes and cul-de-sacs that left me thinking the book wasn't quite finished. A bit of a muddle but enjoyable when it worked. (***)

  • Natsume Soseki: Kokoro

    Natsume Soseki: Kokoro
    Took a while to work for me but once I got into it I really enjoyed it. A Japanese novel from the early part of the last century. Reminded me of EM Forster in the way it presented restrained emotions. (****)

  • Ted Hughes: The Iron Man

    Ted Hughes: The Iron Man
    I was quite enjoying this until the space dragon turned up and then it all got a bit too silly. (***)

  • Leah Price: Unpacking My Library: Writers and Their Books

    Leah Price: Unpacking My Library: Writers and Their Books
    A bunch of authors answer questions about their book collections and allow their shelves to be photographed. Great book porn. (****)

  • Charles Bukowski: Pulp: A Novel

    Charles Bukowski: Pulp: A Novel
    His last book is a far-fetched private eye novel that is completely daft but good fun. (****)

  • George Saunders: Congratulations, by the way: Some Thoughts on Kindness

    George Saunders: Congratulations, by the way: Some Thoughts on Kindness
    A short speech about kindness Saunders gave to graduating students at Syracuse University. It is born of good intentions and has been turned into a very handsome little volume. Sweet but slight. (***)

  • Thomas Christopher Greene: The Headmaster's Wife

    Thomas Christopher Greene: The Headmaster's Wife
    Great story. Beautiful prose. Amazing twist. (****)

  • Matt Rudd: The English

    Matt Rudd: The English
    A very funny field guide to our (my) great countrymates. Great social commentary, manages to make serious points and subvert your expectations while making you laugh. (****)

  • Jack Standing: The Bug - Episode 1

    Jack Standing: The Bug - Episode 1
    First instalment of a horror novel being released in six parts for 77p each. A neat idea and, although horror is not a genre I bother with normally, I really enjoyed this. Would make a great TV drama. (****)

  • Barry Webb: A Book About a Matchbox

    Barry Webb: A Book About a Matchbox
    At times this was brilliant. At times this was frustrating and in need of a jolly good edit. A novel about a sentient matchbox and the lives of the people who own it. A bold experiment that almost comes off. (***)

  • Danny Rhodes: Fan

    Danny Rhodes: Fan
    A novel about the Hillsborough disaster, or rather its aftermath. A Nottingham Forest fan who has moved down south finds himself reliving that awful day when, years later, he receives news of two deaths back home. Rhodes holds nothing back. This is an important and unforgettable book. (****)

  • Julian Barnes: Levels of Life

    Julian Barnes: Levels of Life
    A study of grief. I confess I did have uncharitable thoughts that he was dwelling rather too much and I preferred the earlier portions of the book which are all about the early pioneers of ballooning. (***)

  • Nik Perring: Beautiful Words: Some Meanings and Some Fictions Too

    Nik Perring: Beautiful Words: Some Meanings and Some Fictions Too
    An alphabet book for grown-ups with just the hint of a story across its pages. Clever stuff. Quite charming. (****)

  • Malcolm Lowry: Ultramarine

    Malcolm Lowry: Ultramarine
    A posh bloke tries to write about working men and doesn't really pull it off. Somewhat tedious with just occasional flashes of quality. (**)

  • Richard Hughes: In Hazard

    Richard Hughes: In Hazard
    Written just before the outbreak of WW2 this story of a steamer caught in a hurricane is a real thriller and, dare I say it, a bit of a lost classic. (****)

  • Kent Haruf: The Tie that Binds

    Kent Haruf: The Tie that Binds
    His first novel, and the only one I hadn't got round to reading. Definite signs of the genius that was to come. Not quite as spare and economical as his very best work but still quite marvelous. (****)

  • Lucy Inglis: Georgian London: Into the Streets

    Lucy Inglis: Georgian London: Into the Streets
    A wonderful history which really brings to life the inhabitants of 18th century London to life. (****)

  • Éric Faye: Nagasaki

    Éric Faye: Nagasaki
    A middle-aged Japanese man becomes convinced someone is sneaking into his house and drinking his orange juice, among other things. A real little gem of a book. I finished it in one sitting. (****)

  • Igort Tuveri: 5 Is The Perfect Number

    Igort Tuveri: 5 Is The Perfect Number
    Some great images in this graphic novel about a retired mafioso who returns to the game following the death of his son but the writing isn't really of the same quality. (***)

  • Osamu Dazai: Schoolgirl

    Osamu Dazai: Schoolgirl
    Japanese post-war existential novella that, I am guessing, has a bit more impact in its original language. Interesting but slight, and lacks any real clout. (***)

  • Junichiro Tanizaki: In Praise Of Shadows

    Junichiro Tanizaki: In Praise Of Shadows
    An essay on aesthetics from the author of The Makioka Sisters. Some interesting passages and he makes a considered argument against electric light and the way it ruins the look of things. Mind you, this was written in 1933. (***)

  • Ben Watt: Romany and Tom

    Ben Watt: Romany and Tom
    A memoir of his parents. Contains some beautiful writing. (****)

  • Cynan Jones: The Dig

    Cynan Jones: The Dig
    Short, intense novel about a farmer trying to get through lambing season and a badger baiter attempting to evade the law. Told in short poetic bursts. Some wonderful lines in this. I read it in one sitting. (****)

  • Magnus Mills: Three to See the King

    Magnus Mills: Three to See the King
    A wonky, wonderful parable. As if The Woman in the Dunes had been rewritten by The League of Gentlemen. (****)

  • Alejandro Zambra: The Private Lives of Trees

    Alejandro Zambra: The Private Lives of Trees
    An interesting novella from Chile. First half is better than the second half. (***)

  • Charles Lambert: The View from the Tower

    Charles Lambert: The View from the Tower
    Published by Exhibit A books, a specialist crime imprint, but not perhaps the sort of crime novel you'd expect. Romantic and political intrigue in a troubled Italy. (****)

  • Banana Yoshimoto: Lake, The

    Banana Yoshimoto: Lake, The
    As I find with most of her books, this is enjoyable but slight. (***)

  • Diogo Mainardi: The Fall

    Diogo Mainardi: The Fall
    An unusual, experimental memoir. A father writing about his son who has cerebral palsy. He does so in 424 numbered paragraphs, many of which go off on tangents but all seem to find their way back to the subject somehow. Clever without showing off. Moving without being sentimental. (****)

  • Joan Lindsay: Picnic at Hanging Rock

    Joan Lindsay: Picnic at Hanging Rock
    A dark and haunting modern classic. A real shame that the author didn't write any more novels. (****)

  • Wesley Stace: Misfortune

    Wesley Stace: Misfortune
    Oh I loved this. A foundling baby boy is raised as a girl by an eccentric lord in this tale of family secrets, incest, libraries, ballads, forgotten poets, hermaphrodites and sweet revenge. Imagine Middlesex crossed with Crimson Petal and the White. (*****)

  • Heðin Brú: The Old Man and His Sons

    Heðin Brú: The Old Man and His Sons
    A classic novel from the Faroe Islands. An old man gets drunk and bids too much for a load of whale meat. Most of the book is him trying to raise the funds to pay the impending bill. A black comedy. (****)

  • Sophocles (Translated by David Grene): Oedipus the King

    Sophocles (Translated by David Grene): Oedipus the King
    This is the translation I read for A-level. Brought back memories. The centre of the play, when the secret is revealed, remains incredibly powerful. (****)

  • Natalie Haynes: The Amber Fury

    Natalie Haynes: The Amber Fury
    A teacher in a school for expelled pupils wins over the older kids with some Greek classics but then, after all, these are the Greek classics so it is unlikely to end well. A promising debut novel which inspired me to re-read some Sophocles and Euripides. (****)

  • Ingrid Winterbach: The Book of Happenstance

    Ingrid Winterbach: The Book of Happenstance
    A lexicographer is working on a dictionary of lost Afrikaans words when she is distracted by the loss of something closer to home: her collection of rare shells. An unusual novel which deserves a wide audience. (****)

  • John Banville: The Sea

    John Banville: The Sea
    I tried, I really did, but most of this just washed over me (pun noted but not intended). Interesting in places but ultimately a bit dull. (***)

  • Robertson Davies: The Lyre of Orpheus

    Robertson Davies: The Lyre of Orpheus
    The final part of the Cornish trilogy. Perhaps not quite as joyously entertaining as the first two but still marvelous in its own way. (****)

  • Barbara Graziosi: The Gods of Olympus: A History

    Barbara Graziosi: The Gods of Olympus: A History
    Charts the history of the Greek gods from their origins through to the present day. Informative and entertaining. (****)

  • Roberto Bolano: Monsieur Pain

    Roberto Bolano: Monsieur Pain
    Short Kafka-esque romp which becomes somewhat vague and rambling in the second half. Started well, and promised much, but didn't quite deliver. (***)

  • Stephen Grosz: The Examined Life: How We Lose and Find Ourselves

    Stephen Grosz: The Examined Life: How We Lose and Find Ourselves
    A collection of stories from the psychoanalyst's couch. It was interesting to take this peek into other people's lives (and minds) but it did get a tad repetitive by the end and the lack of any real resolution in most cases left me feeling short changed. (***)

  • Donna Tartt: The Goldfinch

    Donna Tartt: The Goldfinch
    This is good, very good in places, but I had some issues with it. Also, it is 250 pages too long. (****)

  • Lawrence Wright: Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief

    Lawrence Wright: Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief
    A study/expose of the Scientology 'religion'. I think it tries to be even handed but it is hard when the founder is quite clearly a con-artist and the beliefs are so fucking daft. Mind you, not much different to all the other religions out there. An absolutely riveting read. (****)

  • Charlie Hill: Books

    Charlie Hill: Books
    Patchy, and sometimes very silly, satire of the book world but I couldn't help but enjoy it immensely. (****)

  • Plato (translated by Walter Hamilton): The Symposium

    Plato (translated by Walter Hamilton): The Symposium
    A bunch of Greek blokes, nursing hangovers from the night before, decide not to get pissed and chat about love instead. Quite sweet really. Nice accessible translation too. (****)

  • Ray Robinson: Jawbone Lake

    Ray Robinson: Jawbone Lake
    Robinson seems to reinvent himself with each book. This time he has written an exemplary literary thriller. The clever bastard. (****)

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  • Peter Broderick -

    Peter Broderick: Float 2013
    This is my book reading music at the moment. Unusual classical stuff. A bit avant-garde but also quite tuneful. (****)

  • Carol Keogh -

    Carol Keogh: Mongrel City
    Carol is one of my favourite vocalists ever and this, her first solo album, is ever bit as good as I'd hoped. (*****)

Big Mouth at the Movies

  • : Les Vacances de M. Hulot

    Les Vacances de M. Hulot
    His most famous film, I think, but probably my least favourite. Not without a certain appeal but is a bit too disjointed to be entirely successful. His better work came after this. (***)

  • : Jour De Fete

    Jour De Fete
    A charming debut from Tati. A few scenes hint at the genius that was to come. (***)

  • : Spirited Away

    Spirited Away
    Watched my favourite film over my birthday weekend. (*****)

  • : Mon Oncle

    Mon Oncle
    Watched this on my birthday as a special treat. (*****)

  • : We Are The Best!

    We Are The Best!
    Swedish film set in the early 80s. Three girls decide to form a punk band. Realistic, honest and rather sweet. (****)

  • : The American

    The American
    Quiet and subtle thriller. (****)

  • : The Usual Suspects

    The Usual Suspects
    My son's cinema education continues with this classic which, it pains me to note, is nearly 20 years old. It still holds up but what the fuck was Pete Postlethwaite doing with that accent? (*****)

  • : 20,000 Days on Earth

    20,000 Days on Earth
    Quite wonderful. Witty, insightful and beautifully shot. I am not a huge Nick Cave fan but this is one of the best music documentaries I have seen. (*****)

One You May Have Missed

  • Benjamin Parzybok: Couch

    Benjamin Parzybok: Couch
    Three flatmates try to dump an old couch but the couch has other ideas. Bonkers but brilliant.

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