Last week, Freight Books read…

fiftyyearsword coverThe Fifty Year Sword, by Mark Z. Danielewski (Cargo Publishing). This book was a pretty challenging but fascinating read. There are so many little things at work here, that I couldn’t help but stop reading in places to admire the care taken to not only show the text in an interesting way, but to also create a unique reading experience. I’m not sure if it’s new – something like this probably exists elsewhere – but I’m yet to read another book like this one. Continue reading

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The Bookseller’s Dozen #3

Continuing our monthly feature of Scottish independent bookshops.

The Watermill Bookshop is found in a beautiful converted oatmeal mill in Aberfeldy. They were awarded UK Independent Bookshop of the Year in 2009. As well as books they also  sell music, food and drink in the café, and next door is an affiliated homewear shop. What more could you want? An exhibition to have a look around? They also have an art gallery. The Watermill’s latest venture is Film of the Book, where they host the screening of adaptations at the local cinema. On the 20th of May it will be Brighton Rock.

The Watermill Bookshop 2Bookshop: The Watermill Bookshop, Café & Gallery

Owner: Kevin Ramage

Location: Aberfeldy – a lovely place just 90 minutes from Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Open Since: 1995

How did you get into bookselling?

It’s a long story. Let’s say gamekeeper turned poacher. Continue reading

Last week, Freight Books read…

Pig's Foot by Carlos AcostaPig’s Foot, by Carlos Acosta (Bloomsbury Publishing), translated by Frank Wynne. Pig’s Foot is a temporal traipse through the history of Cuba. The narrator, Oscar Mandinga, leads us through the four-generation family history of Pata de Puerco (guess what this translates to), a Macondo-like slave village in Cuba’s deep south.

This is a rather remarkable debut novel, clearly a labour of love, which describes the landscape and, above all, people of Cuba in delicious technicolour. The currents of bloody revolution that flow around this little village, the changes that occur, and the wonderfully-drawn characters that inhabit it, all add up to a rich and satisfying meal. Continue reading

Last week, Freight Books read…

sadbookMichael Rosen’s Sad Book, by Michael Rosen (Walker Books). So this isn’t actually a book I read last week – I read this book last year, but I thought I’d sneak in a wee review just because it’s so brilliant! I’ll attempt to keep this as upbeat as possible, but the book is, well, really sad. I’m not ashamed to admit to blubbering a bit in the children’s book section of Waterstones on the day that I bought it.

I found this book while on a field trip to Waterstones as part of my Children’s Literature module at Glasgow University (taught by Kirstie Blair, brilliant module, highly recommend it). There were a few teary faces in the Michael Rosen corner and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Continue reading

Last week, Freight Books read…

[Cover] by Amy Todman[Cover] by Amy Todman, published by Brae Editions. Amy Todman is a Glasgow-based artist and researcher who I have actually met on a couple of occasions, one of which was a walk through a rather uninspiring coppice woodland near the most confusing notapub in Scotland. I really like her visual art, so when she sent me an email asking if I’d like to review a book she’d written I jumped at the chance.

[Cover] is a tricky one to review, because there isn’t much text involved here. A series of anonymous vignettes are played out on each page, detailing the life of an artwork. From conception to completion, what we see here is the collaborative process often involved in the creation of an artwork.

It is also a narrative of loss and uncertainty and (in my reading of it) of love. The (novel?novella?story?book? – I think book will work) book is full of an half-alphabet of characters, from A to O (thankfully no more, as it becomes hard to remember the ties going on between them) who, in a way that I have yet to discover, manage to have distinct and interesting personalities despite the sparsity of words and lack of names. The closest I have come to diagnosing the key here is that each character has carefully designed actions, and it is these actions that keep them apart from one another, but that is so wooly an explanation to be useless. Continue reading

Something about Elitism, probably

An article on my RSS feed recently caught my attention, a post by Swapna Krishna on the Book Riot blog entitled On the Perils of Feeling Dumb While Reading. This has now been latched on to by the Guardian, who are doing an open comment feed about Which books make you feel stupid. I think that to some extent Swapna is conflating the issue of not being ‘clever’ enough with not enjoying a book that everyone else seems to rave about, but the main thrust of her argument rings very true with me – for many people the act of reading is not just a pleasurable activity, it is an intellectual exercise. Last week my colleague wrote about the comments of Lynn Shepherd, who among other things said that people shouldn’t read Harry Potter because they should be reading something ‘more stimulating for grown-up minds’. Now, I am in the camp of people who don’t like the wizarding series, but that doesn’t stop me from seeing that this is simply rubbish. Reading is an intellectual act, yes, but it is an intellectual act no matter what is read – the intellectual bit is in the translating of squiggles on a page into brain pictures. This rang small bells inside my head about something I’d read earlier in the year, about people lying about the books they have read. I searched onwards.

Searching for why people read books

In September 2013, the Guardian conducted a poll of 2000 people to discover the books people claim to have read but actually haven’t, with 1984, War and Peace and Great Expectations at the top of the rankings. This in turn seems to be copying (ALLEGEDLY) a poll conducted on Book Riot in July of last year of 828 readers, where Pride and PrejudiceUlysses and Moby Dick triumphed as being the most unread books listed. The one that I find particularly odd is the listing for Ulysees, as I’m pretty sure having pretending to have read that requires you to also pretend to have a solid grasp of about seven European languages, as well as a firm footing in ancient Greek and Latin, and to know your myths like the back of your hand. That would take a whole lifetime of blag. But why do people feel like they have to lie about these things? What is it that we are supposed to think about a person who has read 1984, and what should we think about them if they haven’t? Continue reading

Under the Covers

‘New York Times bestselling author and illustrator, Kazu Kibuishi, created extraordinary new covers for each of the seven
Harry Potter books.
In each of the new cover illustrations he perfectly captures a
pivotal moment from that specific book.’

hp usI’ve been keen to do a blog post on the exciting new Scholastic (US) and Bloomsbury (UK) Harry Potter covers so here I go! I’m going to start by looking at the new US covers as I absolutely adore the new illustrations – I think Kazu Kibuishi has taken a lot of inspiration from the original covers (the UK ones have gone in a wild new direction). Kibuishi has retained a similar style, though his drawings have a greater depth to them – they almost look three-dimensional!

He has also used the finer details from each book, and from the world in general, to render a rich fabric to the cover designs. I also think (and this is entirely my preference) that he has selected much better scenes from the book in which to place the characters on the cover. The moment where Diagon Alley is revealed to Harry, and he takes that first stroll down its cobbled streets, is the moment where everything becomes real to him. Up until that point, Hagrid’s words could still unravel. When Harry sees the Wizarding World for himself, the story really begins. The new cover places Harry in the heart of Diagon Alley and I thought this was a much more apt welcome to new readers.

Harrypotter_1

New (left) and original (right)

There’s also something much more adult about these covers, despite the fact that they are still targeting children. I think he has taken a leaf out of the book of the film adaptations and chosen to show the dark side of the Harry Potter story. And it is pretty dark when you think about it. And I think any rendering if the cover, or the story itself, that attempts to disguise the inherent darkness of the text is doing it an injustice, because it’s the darkest moments that really reveal the soul of the story. It’s the most terrible twists that bind you to Harry and his world. Continue reading

Freight’s Friday Feature

 This is almost veering off into Tell it Like it is territory. But I’m not entirely telling it how it is. I’m more attempting to point out how someone else has told it how it isn’t.

jk rowlingSo I read a very frustrating and provocative article by Lynn Shepherd on JK Rowling’s role as a writer who (shockingly!) didn’t immediately decide to give up writing when she earned a ‘vast fortune’ off the back of it.

Before I go into this in any depth, if you haven’t read this article by Lynn yet, you should do it now: click here.

All done? I know there’s a part of your brain going ‘she has a point kind of, doesn’t she? I mean, big bad mainstream authors do kind of ruin it for the little guys, don’t they?’ I have to admit, I sort of started thinking that way – I was reluctant to jump on the hating Lynn Shepherd bandwagon. But then I thought some more about it. It seems as though Lynn is trying to justify this tyrade against Rowling by asking us to agree that popular, arguably mainstream authors are making it more difficult for struggling authors to find agents, publishers and buyers when the books hit the shelves. That’s fine. You can make that argument, and I’m sure many other authors out there would feel that pain and empathise. What you can’t do is couple a self-righteous comment on the closed community of publishing/journalism with an attack (and I think it is an attack, albeit one that seems to constantly premise with ‘I don’t mean this in a mean way, but…’) on one of the world’s most successful, charitable and charismatic writers. Particularly when you haven’t even read any of her most successful works. Continue reading

Last week, Freight Books read…

When I called that Nazi ‘mate’, that did it for them! I wonder what I’m going to do next. Because I will do something, I know. I just don’t yet know what it will be…alone_in_berlin

Alone in Berlin, by Hans Fallada, translated by Michael Hofmann (Penguin Classics). I’ll start by saying that this is one of the most perfectly paced books I’ve ever read. For a book with so many key characters, and totaling not far off 600 pages, the story is so carefully structured, revealing little bits and pieces to you as you creep through the text. This is a storyteller who doesn’t show all his cards at once, and despite the book’s dealing with factual events, Fallada manages to keep you in suspense until the very last moment. Continue reading

Kickstarter for A Bird is not a Stone: Palestinian poetry in translation

A Bird is not a Stone is a collection of contemporary Palestinian poetry, translated and reworked by Scottish poets into English, Scots, Gaelic and Shetlandic. The bilingual collection will be published by Glasgow’s Freight Books in summer 2014.

Book cover artwork provided by Raed Issa

Book cover artwork provided by Raed Issa

It is our wish to write a blog that deals with books, book covers and other things unrelated to Freight Books, but we decided it was apt to do a small post on one of our titles, A Bird is not a Stone. This publication, edited by Henry Bell and Sarah Irving, is a stunning collection of contemporary Palestinian poetry translated by 25 of Scotland’s very best writers including Alasdair Gray, Liz Lochhead, James Robertson, Jackie Kay, William Letford,  Aonghas MacNeacail, DM Black, Tom Pow, Ron Butlin and John Glenday.

Liz Lochhead

Liz Lochhead

Sarah Irving and Henry Bell have set up a Kickstarter page for the project and are raising money to help fund travel between Palestine and the UK for the poets, as well as to supply Palestinian libraries, schools and universities with this unique new anthology. Continue reading