Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Friday, 9 April 2010

Sleeping man,
On my sofa,
Do I wake him?
Do I leave him?
Do I take a heavy book,
Draw back,
And cleave him?

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi

Maybe you know what it is like. You are going away for a few days and pack a selection of books that you feel will match your holiday mood. Arriving at your destination, you pick a book almost at random from someone else's bookcase and totally fall for it. Such is my relationship with 'Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi'.

I can't help thinking that in Geoff Dyer I have at last found the authentic voice for people who grew up in England in the late 80's and early 90's. Douglas Coupland got closest with his books, starting with Generation X. However, I am slightly too young to be truly a part of this era and his books are set in North America.

'Jeff in Venice' evokes for me many memories of being young and monied in London. As a result I have, somewhat rashly, ordered all his other books for the shop. I can't wait to get, 'Yoga For People Who Can't Be Bothered To Do It'. I think in my position you'd do the same.

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Country Driving : A Chinese Road Trip

Getting a new book from a favourite author sends a tingle down my spine. It is almost like renewing a conversation with an friend you haven't seen in a while. You know in advance more or less what you are going to talk about, but you are excited to break new ground and catch up on the last year or so.

These were my feeling when the new book by Peter Hessler 'Country Driving : A Chinese Road Trip ' arrived in the latest shipment.

Hessler's first book, River Town, won the Kiriyama Award for writing about Asia. In it he recounts the two years he spent as a volunteer English teacher on the River Yangtze. What I admired most about the book was the elegance of the writing. Hessler knows exactly where to insert himself into the picture to bring his characters and stories to life. He writes with insight, sensitivity and killer wit.

You might have the impression that I enjoyed it.

In this new book Hessler recounts his seven years of travels around the country by car. It is divided into three parts. (At least I assume it is three. I still have about 50 pages left.) In the first part he drives along parts of the Great Wall and narrates the history of the monument and the lives of the people who live beside it. Next he offers insights into the life of the rural community which he retreated to for his writing. The final segment he views Chinese economic growth through the lives of two entrepeneurs, and their migrant workforce, who establish a factory in an economic development zone.

This book effortlessly lifted me from of the day-to-day and had me reading until the early hours of the morning.

Speech to the Geneva Writer's Group

An excerpt from a speech I made recently to the GWG:

It seems strange as a bookseller to be speaking to a room of writers. We sit at opposite ends of a long and complicated supply chain. I am wondering what I can say to you, other than 'We have enough books now. Please stop writing.'

I thought I would begin by answering the most common question that people ask me, 'Why did you open a bookshop?' When I hear this question I often read the sub-text as, 'With all the bookshops closing around the world, why did you begin the
quixotic adventure when it is sure to end in bankruptcy, public humiliation and possibly madness?' (As writers I am sure you are often asked the same thing.)

My answer, and I suspect your answer too, is that we do it because we love it. And if you are passionate about something you tend to do it as well as possible.

But if you are a bookshop owner you need something else, a sound business case. You ask yourself, 'If my rent is this much, and my salary is this much, then how many books will I need to sell..?' Assuming, therefore, that you place a high value on books, and you have convinced yourself of the business case, then one day you find yourself standing behind a till, waiting for the customers to arrive and thinking, 'Is this the biggest mistake of my life?'

The customers do come. They mess up the displays, ask
awkward questions. Occasionally someone might even buy a book. And if you are lucky and your in-comings are greater than your outgoings, even if the difference is only sixpence, then in that six pence you find something very precious: happiness. And that is when the fun of independent book selling begins.

The bookshop supports, and is supported by, three book clubs which we have set up. We also supply books to numerous other clubs throughout
Lausanne. We have a children's book club, although it is probably better described as a book riot. We run cultural events, author readings and have even helped to launch other small businesses.

Everyday you make connections, putting people in touch with one another. Very soon you find yourself close to, if not at the very heart of, a community of book lovers.

That is the thrill. That is the passion. Walking into a bookshop.

So, if you accept these arguments about the value of a bookshop you should ask yourself why you buy online. Sometimes, not always, you may save yourself a few francs. But those francs are reinvested in your community. You feel the benefits many times over.

It does not even have to be an independent bookshop. Go to a chain bookshop if you like. Or to a knowledgeable, modestly priced, friendly, fun-loving, shit-kicking independent. It's up to you. But please go to a bookshop.

I know I was flippant when I began this speech. Keep writing, keep loving it. Stay foolish.