Sunday, 13 October 2013

Happy Birthday Books Books Books!

Bookselling and the Art of Happiness

I opened the bookshop on this day 5 years ago. Nervous preparation turned to elation as customers came through the door. It seems so long ago that my memories of that first year have become hazy.

I remember a team of friends assembling the bookshelves. I remember taking an order for 300 francs and thinking I'd hit the big time, and stacking a wall full of books I'd never sell. Skipping lunch to save money, not having the time to read. How things change.

That was 2008. A couple of months later the sterling crashed, and in 2 years the Kindle would become the dominant way people bought stories.

But the bookshop is still here, and every year we sell more and more books.

What do I love? I love the regular customers who I've known since forever. The friends I have made. Sometimes people send me an email for recommending a good book - these I want to stick on the wall. The bookshop attracts characters who make my life interesting.

I enjoy the freedom of determining my own success, and of being close to the heart of a literary community.

It's not all great; sometimes I envy people with stable jobs and healthy pensions. I lie awake at night as well asking myself if I have made the correct decision.

Would I sell the shop? The entrepreneur in me would, in an instant, if the price was right. The bookseller in me wouldn't. It would be interesting to see which side would win if I ever got an offer. I'd be curious to see what I'd do next.

Something cool.

Highs of this year include getting drunk with Colum McCann, reading Stoner, employing Emma, a photo from Politics and Prose, the friends, and those wonderful, wonderful people who order books.

Man, I'm tired. Bring more champagne!

Thursday, 26 September 2013

La Nuit de la Lecture

Free Book Readings All Day and All Night

Why do I still hear people saying, "Nothing happens in Lausanne"? Last month you could have seen John Malkovich on stage in St Prex. A couple of weeks ago there was the Morges Book Festival. And this Saturday Lausanne hosts La Nuit de la Lecture.

This is a free festival taking place across several locations in the city. It's starting early, at 2pm, with book readings for kids. As evening approaches the theme switches to poems and stories for adults. Come the midnight hours and the readings turn decidedly chaud.

You can check out the entire programme at the website You're bound to find something that will interest you amongst the Slam Poetry, Japanese Kamishibai and the music/text crossovers.

Books Books Books is contributing two events. At 14.30 there is the "Jabberwocky Booky Wooky Party" a celebration of poetry and story-telling directed at kids.

At 18.00 there is Lausanne Writers, Laura Spinney and Jon Steele will be discussing how the city inspired their work. They will both be reading passages from their works, Rue Centrale and the The Watchers.

Both events are in French and English. We hope to see you there!

Monday, 9 September 2013

Le Livre sur les Quais

Le Livre sur les Quais

Morges book festival drew to a close yesterday evening. It was an incredible weekend and I thought I'd record my personal impressions of it. In doing so I hope to persuade you to come next year. Not just to meet the authors, but because it is so much fun.

The weekend started for me back in July when I received the first of the many books I had to read. You can see it was quite a pile. Some of these authors, like Vicotria Hislop and Peter F. Hamilton, I had never read before. I also hadn't realised that John Boyne has a whole body of work. I'd assumed that The Boy in the Blue Sriped Pyjamas was his only book.

By the time I had finished the books I felt like a goose force-fed for foie gras – I also felt more or less ready for the festival.

The first session on the English programme was Colum McCann, an author who I have admired for some years. I interviewed him with my friend Laura Spinney, the author of Rue Centrale. We had to translate his responses into French, no easy task. His replies were wide-ranging, articulate and nuanced – the kind of answers that take weeks to fully digest.

What struck me was how he turned details into characters. To give an example, one of his central characters in Let the Great World Spin was a drug-addicted prostitute called Tilly. He went to the Metropolitan Library in New York to look at photos of prostitutes in the 1970's. Then he toured the Bronx with the police to hear their descriptions of the working girls. Unsatisfied with this, he spoke to retired policemen who were around the area 40 years ago to collect their memories. Finally, he found an archive of rap sheets dating back to the era. These were good at recording nicknames and other details. He found Tilly's voice only after doing all this and committed the first sentence on the page....

The next day I interviewed Victoria Hislop, John Boyne and Tom Robb Smith. These are authors who count their book sales in the single figures (1 million, 2 million...) They were all so kind and ready to share their thoughts and experiences as writers. We were supposed to talk about the wars they have written about, but we got onto the subject of the publishing industry, loosely centred around the book Fifty Shades of Grey. Did it really get people to read more? Did it count as reading? How did they feel about its success? We could have talked about this for the next hour... Maybe we should have done.

In the afternoon I talked to Peter F. Hamilton and Stafn Bachmann. Peter's book, The Great North Road, was a revelation to me as someone who never reads science fiction. Just the breadth of imagination and the way he maintains the tension throughout the 1000-odd pages. There is a lesson there for every writer, whatever the genre they are writing in. And Stefan Bachmann, barely twenty, with 2 books to his name, four more on the way and a fledgling career in music composition for film. It was enough to make me feel old and redundant.

In the evening I had the opportunity to interview John Boyne before the screening of the film The Boy in the Blue Striped Pyjamas. How did he feel the film measured up to the book? By the end of the screening I think everyone had agreed that the film was different, certainly not worse and maybe even better. The film enlarged the adult characters in the way the book's nine-year-old narrator Bruno couldn't. The changes they made to fit the film medium changed the story in places but took nothing away from the power of the narrative. It's the first time I have seen an entire audience stay in the cinema until the end of the credits.

On Sunday, I interviewed my old friend Laura Spinney about her book Rue Centrale. We were joined by two of her interviewees, Yago of  free hug fame, and Ruth Braewen, the mid-wife. Hearing them read their interviews brought the book to life and gave us deeper insight into their words.

This was followed by a bilingual reading with David Vann reading in English and GĂ©rald Blocher in French. If you've never heard David Vann speak then I suggest you check him out on youtube. He's so funny, so outrageous. His style is to meditate for about 30 minutes before he starts writing. Then he rereads the previous 30 pages of his current book. Then he writes. He doesn't know what is going to come out, doesn't plan, but he trusts his instincts to write the truth.

I guess I had some revelations during the festival. The Absolutist by John Boyne is a fantastic book. I urge you to read it. So is The Great North Road, this coming from someone who has never read science fiction. I am reading David Vann as quickly as I can get my hands on it. These just conform to my personal taste. You could read any of the authors I mentioned and enjoy yourself.

I also realised that the best writers are the ones who are most authentic, both on the page and in real life.

What suprised me was how few local writers were at the festival. How can you be a writer and not a reader, or not at least curious to hear from other writers?

At the end of the festival someone said that my role in all this was to be a catalyst. I am not sure I agree with this. The role of a catalyst is to trigger chemical reactions and yet remain unchanged at the end of the process. I certainly didn't remain unchanged....

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Book Reviews on the Old FM

World Radio Switzerland is closing down at the end of August. Somehow the ministry for Swiss broadcasting decided that it wasn't worth subsidizing. Quite how they arrived at this decision remains a mystery. It will be off air at the end of August.

This means that the Spead Read will be coming to a close. On Monday they broadcast my second-to-last selection of books. I have to say out of all the broadcasts I have done this is one of my favourites. I think I have got three really strong books. You could read any of these and come away having enjoyed a satisfying read.

Enjoy - there's only one more left. The books reviewed are:  

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain
Stoner by John Williams
Strange Stones: Dispatches from East to West by Peter Hessler

Friday, 12 July 2013

Summer Reads

I took a train the other day between Lausanne and Montreux, which is about 20 minutes down the track. I slightly appalled myself when I realised I had packed 3 books for the  journey, as well as a newspaper.

So you can imagine that deciding what I am going to take on a two-week holiday is a painful kind of pleasure.

After much consideration, I have narrowed the choice down to five or six. Here I am restricting myself to the top four:

Transatlantic by Colum McCann: This Irish writer is very close to the top of my list of favourite writers of all time. His newest book starts with the first transatlantic crossing made by aeroplane. This idea of whether we can link the new world with the old develops in the central theme of the book. It's an interesting question for an Irish writer living in New York. I have read the first few chapters and am loving it already.

 The Art of Fielding by Chad Harback: This is a new author, this is his first book, and I am reading it on the recommendation of a friend.

I have to say that I love novels with an American voice and, having read the first few pages, there it is, rich and authentic. The book is also endorsed by Jonathan Franzen. 

It's a  Bildungsroman (coming of age novel - I had to look it up too!) about a genius, young baseball player called Henry Skrimshander. Sounds like the best thing for a hot summer's evening.

The Old Ways : A Journey on Foot by Robert Macfarlane: Macfarlane is a travel writer in the sense that he uses the landscape to reflect what it is to be human. In this book he sets off from his Cambridge home to follow the ancient tracks, holloways, drove-roads and sea paths that form part of a vast network of routes criss-crossing the British landscape and its waters - the kind of journey that send shivers up my spine.

Knowing Macfarlane's style I am expecting a slow-burning book that will stay with me for years.

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter: The cover first attracted me to this book - I love the retro, technicolour feel. It's a love story about a young Italian who watches a beautiful American woman walk out of the sea. Fat-foward a few decades and an Italian man turns up in Hollywood searching for her.

I am hoping the book will live up to its cover, but even if it doesn't I hope to look cool at the beach reading it.

 All these books are of course available at your nearest and dearest independent bookshop. 

Monday, 10 June 2013

Iain Banks is dead....

I was very sad to read that Iain Banks passed away yesterday. I didn't read every book he ever wrote, but the ones I read left an indelible mark.

Banks wrote more than a dozen works of fiction and, writing under the name Iain M. Banks, the popular science fiction Culture series.

He is an author who many people will not have heard of, so I thought it would be worth considering the book that I best remember.

Banks wrote The Wasp Factory in 1994. It was his first novel. His publisher, Abacus, put together a
The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks
memorable black and white cover with the key items of the novel -  a burning dog, a catapult, roman numerals - represented by pictograms.

The book is narrated by Frank Cauldhame, who lives with his father on an isolated island somewhere in Scotland. Franks has spent a lot of time alone and is an odd child. He imbues objects with mystic powers and, because of his strange upbringing, is forced to hide when people come to visit his father.

Much of the early part of the book is devoted to Frank's retelling of how he killed three of his young cousins before he turned ten. The story's violent climax arrives when Frank's brother escapes from a mental hospital. It ends with a twist you can't see coming.

I haven't read this book for at least five years, but I can still remember most of the scenes. In that sense I would compare it to The Road, another book which has stayed with me over the years. Macabre, bizarre, gothic. Original, surprising and humorous too.

When the book came out it courted controversy for its depictions of violence. However,  it recently made it onto one of those Top 100 Books of All Time lists, showing that the book has wide appeal.

I have read other books by Iain Banks, but I keep coming back to The Wasp Factory.  I believe it's a modern classic. As the expression goes, read it and weep.

You can buy The Wasp Factory (paperback, ISBN 9780349138909) from us. Select whichever delivery option suits you. Please note that we do not mail outside Switzerland.

Choose from the following delivery options

Thursday, 4 April 2013

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay

Michael Chabon is one of those authors who I've heard good things about, but somehow never got around to reading.

Having yet another friend eulogise this author I decided to finally pick up The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 2001 (you can see just how far behind the times I really am.)

The book relates the partnership Sam Clayman, a Brooklyn layabout, and Josef Kavalier, a Jewish refugee from Czechoslovakia, who create a sensation with their Escapist comic strip.

Their story is laced with humour and tragedy. Kavalier left behind his family when he fled the Nazis and he spends time and his considerable fortune on trying to spirit them to America. Clay, the business brains in the partnership, keeps making bad deals for their franchise.

Two things struck me about this book. I can be quite conservative in my reading tastes and will shy away from bizarre stories, but there is an element of the fantastic in the writing which I warmed to. The book is also very funny, with acute character observations I am sure every reader will relate to. 

It's a long book - more than 600 pages - but it doesn't feel like a slog. Each chapter has the feel of a short story and you can read it in bit-sized pieces. Strongly recommended for people looking for something new to get their teeth into.  

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Lausanne: City of Stories

Literary Event at the Bookshop

Lausanne has long been an inspiration for literature. Dickens, Byron and Shelley all wrote here and the city has provided the backdrop for numerous novels.

Two recently published books continue this tradtion and I am very pleased to invite the authors to the bookshop to dicuss how the city  inspired their work.

Laura Spinney will be speaking about her book Rue Centrale in which she presents a portrait of a European city, Lausanne, painted in the words of the people who live and work there. The book features interviews with 70 people encountered in the street, in their bedroom, on a barge or in the belfry of the cathedral. Laura is the author of two novels and as a journalist she writes for publications including National Geographic, Nature and The Economist.

Daniel Tschumy is the author of Place du Nord et autres lieux, a collection of short stories mainly inspired by locations around Lausanne. His other works include collections of poems, short texts and a travelogue about a trip in South America. He currently teaches English to high-school students in Lausanne.

The discussion will be moderated by Jo Ann Rasch, a poet, editor and author of Blowing Feathers and Transitions.

Lausanne: City of Stories will take place on Tuesday, 12th February at the Zinema. The event will start at 19.00. 

The discussion will be in English and French. Please sign up here if you are interested:

Monday, 7 January 2013

Mother, I think I might have a problem....

Top book picks for 2012

For ages now I have been meaning to write about the top books I read in 2012, but I've been dogged by two problems, my chronic laziness and my inability to remember even half the books I read. Then these two factors coincided to create an amazng outcome.

In a moment of folly I decided to tidy up all the books that I had left lying beside my bed, in the loo, on the sofa and random chairs and tables. I took a photo of the pile I made and it turned out to be an excellent cross-section of everything I have read in the last few months.

So here are my top picks for 2012, starting from the top.

White Noise by Don Delillo - top of the pile and top of the list. Genuis going full throttle. Read twice.

Thank You For Smoking by Christopher Buckley - Funny in parts. Tongue-in-cheek book about the tabacco industry. Halfway through. Will finish but not reread.

Glamorama by Bret Easton Ellis - Everyone should read one book by this author. My suggestion would be this book or American Psycho. This is a story about vacuous celebrity. Finished but won't read again.

Tokyo Vice by Jake Adelstein - An American becomes a crime reporter for a leading Japanese newspaper. Read and reread and strongly recommend.

The Dudley Smith Trio by James Ellroy - Gritty noir detective fiction. I would suggest this book to hard core fans. The Black Dahlia is a better entry into his work.

Where The Hell Have You Been by Tom Carver - Monty's grandson describes his father's escape from an Italian POW camp and the effect Monty had on his family. Read but wouldn't reread. WWII buffs only!

Invisible Monsters by Chuck Palahniuk - Moments of genius, moments of utter dross. Struggled to finish.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce - a retiree makes a pilgrimage across England to get to the bedside of a dying colleague. A good story book that looks at relationships between older people. Liked but wouldn't reread.

The Etymologicon by Mark Forsyth - Found this on, not suprisingly, in the little room. A step-by-step look at the evolution of English words. Fun to flick through. Read and reread.

Girlfriend in a Coma by Douglas Coupland - I have been reading this author since I was a small boy in short trousers. Not as good as Generation X but have reread numerous times.

Place du Nord by Daniel Tschumy - Short stories in French set in Lausanne. Very interesting and am making my way through.

The Story of English in 100 Words by David Crystal - I am amazed that this guy still has things to say about English given all the books he has read. He still does and he is still interesting. Read and reread.

Classic Cocktails a Modern Shake - Sadly out of print, but my reference for literary cocktails.

The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster - Auster's first book and still a classic. Veeery disappointed with his latest autobiography A Winter Journal. I found myself skipping pages!

Invisible Monsters by Chuck Palahniuk - why do I have two copies of this book?

Fifty Shades of Grey by E L James - still in pristine condition if anyone wants it.

The Case for Working with Your Hands by Matthew Crawford - the author argues that skilled labour is more rewarding than office drudge. Who can disagree - but maybe labours the point a bit. Reread.

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote - I have very nice memories of reading this book by a canal in Amsterdam. Haven't managed the feat of reading it twice.

Winning! by Clive Woodward - England rugby fans only I suspect....

A Week at the Airport by Alain de Botton - short, sweet and immensely readable. The philospher spends a week at Terminal 5 in Heathrow and simply recounts his observations. Awesome book that I have reread many times.

This is How by Augusten Burroughs - having only recently come to this author I have read almost his entire ouevre in the last month. This is a self-help book laced with dark humour and ancedotes. Worth reading, but suggest Dry for people looking for an entry into his work.

All My Friends are Superheroes by Andrew Kaufmann - A short but sweet romance and a tonic to read.

The Sweet Life in Paris by David Lebovitz - An(other) American in Paris with recipes! Dipped in and out of but no read in its entirety.

Two more books which I loved in 2012 but weren't in the photo are The Plague of Doves by Louise Erdrich and Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden. These books make my top 5 books of the year.

The Plague of Doves is essentially a number of short stories made into a novel. What sets this book apart is the masterly use of language amd the originality of the characters. A love story, a murder story, a story of generations of native Americans. Loved it.

The Three Day Road is about two First Nation friends who served as snipers in the Second World War. The story covers their time in France, as well as the experiences of one of their parents who remained in Canada. A deeply moving story that I thought about for many weeks afterwards.