Last week, Freight Books read…

After the Fire, a Still, Small Voice by Evie WyldAfter the Fire, a Still Small Voice, by Evie Wyld (Vintage). There are many covers to the book, but I think this is my favourite, especially for the way it ties in with my favourite book of 2013. This is Wyld’s first book, and it has made me inconceivably content because it proves that All The Birds, Singing was not a one-off, and Wyld will be writing many more excellent books in the years to come. ‘Prove it,’ you say, and so I shall.

‘At least he’s getting out of the house, chicken,’ his mother said to him as they watched his father lope down the street, away from them, his towelled bread held tightly to his body. He would go out until lunchtime and then come back, so that his mother could run her fingers through his hair, straighten his collar and sit him down for a sandwich or a piece of cake. After lunch he would go out again, mumbling something about looking for work, but the work was never found, and with Leon running the place they had no need of extra money anyway. When his father returned he’d be wobbly and thick-mouthed, looking at his tea as though it were dangerous, picking and sorting through the food rather than eating it. Then the routine became worn and thin in the middle so he returned later and later for lunch, glassy-eyed and drunk, and then not at all, only for supper, when he would be anxiously and darkly stared at by his wife, and he’d look at the floor, his eyes as wide as they could open, his breath hard in the back of his throat. Those nights he had to be herded up to bed by Leon’s mother and she said quietly, ‘hp, hup,’ as they climbed the stairs. Leon watched out of the corner of his eye as his mother touched his father’s face, only to have him flinch away; then her sad look made him pat her hand, but quickly like she would burn him.

This is a long extract, but I wanted to reproduce it in full because it exemplifies one of the crowning features of this novel, and that is the treatment of PTSD in the novel. The novel covers the Korean War and the Vietnam war, which many Australians were dragged into through aggressive recruitment and conscription. We are shown how a community attempts to reabsorb those damaged by the conflict, to begin to heal, only to be confronted with yet another war, and yet another generation of men coming back without a sense of place. This part of the novel is concentrated on Leon, the son of Jewish refugees, whose father is a wonderfully skilled baker. Descriptions of making sugarwork into wedding figurines are worth savouring.

The second story thread running through the novel is that of Frank, a man broken by childhood trauma, who can find solace (or something close to it) in solitude. He escapes  to his dead grandparent’s house, surrounded by sugarcane and scrub, and attempts, slowly, to rebuild his life. Naturally, this proves difficult. I really don’t want to give away anything, because this novel deserves to be read fresh, as a debut from an hitherto unknown author.

So all I will say is this: both strains of this story are utterly necessary and utterly brilliant.

Advertisements

Ciao!

So, you haven’t heard from me (Robbie) in a while, because I’ve been on holiday, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t seeking out interesting gobbets of information to feed you with, one of which to follow. I’ve also got reviews up my sleeve for a whole plethora of books, including Evie Wyld’s debut novel, Judith Schalansky’s The Giraffe’s Neck, and the 1180 page epic tome by Michael Schmidt, The Novel, A Biography (I admit, I haven’t read it all yet, but I will make that clear) and many others that I can’t bring to mind at this moment. For now, though, let me tell you about an Italian publisher who is doing something rather special.

Beautiful sea urchin

There are a lot of sea urchins in Italy (I think this is a different species, however)

Whilst I was on my version of the Italian Grand Tour (going to as few places as possible, and only if they are very quiet) I came across a bookshop, and being of a mothlike bookish persuasion I was drawn inescapably in, even though I struggle to find enough Italian to ask for a glass of white wine. Inside I saw a lot of books, some of which I liked the look of and some that I didn’t, but one particular imprint caught my eye for three reasons: they were brightly-coloured enough for my sun befuddled eyes to be able to see them clearly, they were by ‘canonical’ authors I could recognise easily, and they were cheap. Seriously cheap, and for reasons I will go into in the following paragraph-but-one I will tell you why this is praiseworthy, and why it should be held up as an example to the publishers of so-called classic literature in this country. But before I do that I should give you a picture of one of these books, because so far all I’ve given you is a sea urchin, and tell you a bit about the publisher (I only know a bit).

Dante's Divine ComedyNewton Compton Editori may not seem like the most Italian of names (without the helpful Editori, anyway) but it is Italian through and through, having been started by a Vittorio Avanzini in Rome in the 60s. NC is primarily interested in publishing classic fiction, but have recently moved into contemporary translations, which we thoroughly approve of. They produce two forms of Classic – their paperback, which sells at 1.90€ (about £1.50) and a hardback (3.90€ // £3.10). They have only just put up the prices on their paperbacks, so if you fly out quick you can still swipe copies for only 99 cents (like I did).

Oscar Wilde's the Importance of Being ErnestThe reason I feel like this is noteworthy is that these books are not poorly made, are not going to discolour in a week (I’m looking at you, £2 Penguin Popular Classics). I tested my paperback copy of Bulgakov’s Cuore di Cane in Italy by leaving it in the baking sun whilst taking my siesta, holding it in my armpit whilst walking along the sea wall of the port, and it also spent quite some time lightly folded over in the bottom of my bag on the flight home, where it came out looking pretty healthy. What I am alluding to here is that Classic can be cheap (more on this in a moment) and well made, because you will sell hunners of them so they can be printed in bulk, which reduces the cost of production massively. Flaubet's Madame BovaryRight, cost. I have talked about this in passing before, but this gives me the opportunity to have a good rant. For many of the cannonical classics there is no living author, and often no rights either. Thus, if I wanted to, I could typeset, print, bind and sell a copy of Great Expectations tomorrow and wouldn’t have to pay anyone (If I did all the production). So how is it that companies (Cambridge Modern Classics and Penguin Classics being the big players here) can rationalise a £9.99 price tag (going all the way up to around £17 in some cases) for a book where there is no advance or royalty needing covered?

Bulgakov's Master and MargheritaNow of course, occasionally you will change the cover, or order a new translation, or even deign to actually pay an academic to write a forward, but largely these texts haven’t changes for decades. Just imagine the money being taken, and (in my opinion) taken unfairly.

978-88-541-6972-2I would like to hear any defense of the extortionate prices involved for out of copyright text, so if you have one please let me hear it. I have heard it said that a cheap classic will put people off buying modern fiction, but it just doesn’t wash with me, because what is on offer is a completely different experience.

Last week, Freight Books read…

the_hunger_gamesThe Hunger Games, Catching Fire and Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic).I’m back from my holiday! I can tell you all missed me terribly (unless you didn’t notice, in which case fair play, but also shame on you). I’ve been in Turkey for a little while doing some exciting water sports, but also, most importantly (and relevantly), I’ve been reading.

When I go on holiday, I don’t like to read anything too challenging, or really in any way ‘literary’ (forgive me for using this term, but it hopefully illustrates my meaning). I like to be carried along by an exciting plot, not assessing the author’s use of language or rhythm (although, admittedly, it’s difficult to switch this off when reading anything). Now, I’m going to stray as far away from the term ‘trashy’ reading as possible, but again, you all know what I mean by this. Easy reading. Holiday reading. Some of us veer towards romance, some mainstream fiction (i’m just wildly throwing around terms now, apologies). I lean towards teenage fiction, and this is why I decided to take all three Hunger Games books with me – The Hunger Games, Catching Fire and Mockingjay.

First, I’d like to say that even though I read these on holiday, I in no way mean to suggest that these books are ‘trashy’. I think they’re brilliant. Easier to read because they’re targeting young adults/teenagers, but not lacking in depth. The characters experience real traumas – like, bad things happen to these people. It’s hard going in places, and the dystopian subject matter isn’t dealt with in a subtle way. There is true oppression at work, and society’s fight for political change has real resonance with today’s world. I found myself completely shocked in places, not expecting the violence to be so graphic in what is, essentially, teenage fiction (if you disagree, please let me know, this is just my opinion).

The-Hunger-GamesI know The Hunger Games books have been done to death in the media, particularly with the new films, but I don’t really care. I spent nearly two weeks reading these books so I’m going to let people know what I think about them. Verdict: incredibly awesome, though simple language and description in places reminds you that you should probably be reading something else. Why are some of the best books for teenagers? It hardly seems fair…Next stop: the Divergent books! (though I don’t have the excuse of being on holiday for reading these ones… hmmm, when’s the next bank holiday?…)

The Bookseller’s Dozen #4

Continuing our monthly feature of Scottish independent bookshops.

This is one of my personal favourites! When I studied in Edinburgh last year I was fortunate enough to be based in the Merchiston campus – a mere 3 minute walk from this intimate, friendly bookshop. The bookshop boasts a regular programme of events including ‘big name authors as well as writer’s workshops and story-time for the under 5’s’. They also have a children’s bookgroup, and provide support for adult bookgroups.

The Edinburgh Bookshop has also won quite a few accolades, including The Scottish Independent Retail Award for “Best Independent Bookshop” in 2012. It was also featured in the The Independent’s “50 Best Bookshops”. On their website, they say that their emphasis is on ‘unusual, intelligent and topical selections of titles to offer the customer a clever and refreshing choice’. They certainly do that!

121602-premises-photograph-for-the-edinburgh-bookshop-eh10-4dh1Bookshop: The Edinburgh Bookshop

Owner: Marie Moser

Location: 219 Bruntsfield Place, Edinburgh, EH10 4DH

Open Since: 2007

How did you get into bookselling in the first place?

I have briefly worked for The Edinburgh International Book Festival and James Thin in the past, but really I am just a booklover, who lived locally and jumped at the chance to take over the shop.

What sort of books do you sell?

A wide range for both Adults and Children. We try to edit our choices to include a selection of great classics and the best of new titles – as well as quite a few books which make it in just because they sound really interesting!

What’s popular at the moment?

Adult titles: Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah, Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty First Century” and Andrew Greig’s Fair Helen.

Children’s titles: Jonny Duddle’s Giagantosaurus, Michael Buckley’s Sisters Grimm and William Sutcliffe’s Circus of Thieves.

Have you got your eye on a book at the moment?

Louise Welsh – A Lovely Way to Burn. A cracking page turner – I read it in one delightful sitting.

What makes an Indy bookshop better than an online or chain retailer?

The personal touch and the Booksellers’ knowledge and advice. We can help you find the perfect book for you or the person you are buying for. We’re also on your doorstep (if you live in Edinburgh), and can get you almost any book within 48 hours.

Aside from selling books, what else goes on in the bookshop?

  • Storytime for the under-5’s twice a week – a riotous start to the day!
  • A monthly Book Club for Children aged 7-16 where they can talk about what they’ve been reading and find out about new titles.
  • Two or three author events every month across a range of Adult fiction and biography.
  • We also like to dress up and join in for World Book Day, Red Nose Day etc. I’ve already been a pirate with underpants over my trousers and come to work in my pyjamas, and I’ve only had the shop for 18 months!

EDBS_Inside4Do you have any weird and wonderful bookshop stories to share?

Most of our weird ones are featured in “Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops” – Jen Campbell used to work for us !

For me, dealing with our younger customers is very rewarding– and I am very touched to realise that, for some of them, coming to the Bookshop is a big part of their lives. At Christmas, one five-year-old insisted on coming in to show me his letter to Santa before he sent it – I was welling up! Another has called his dog after a character in his favourite picture book.

Do you have any interesting events coming up?

We are very excited to be doing an event with Ruth Thomas in May – as she is one of our favourite hand-sells. Her book, The Home Corner, is wry and witty – so the event should be a real joy.

What does the next year hold for the Edinburgh Bookshop?

Continuing to try and offer the best customer experience and service we can. Building on what we already do in-store, and improving our events programme – especially for children and schools.

You should get yourself down there and have a browse at what’s on offer! They are open Monday – Friday 10-6pm, Saturday 9-6pm and Sunday 11-4pm.

Follow The Edinburgh Bookshop on Twitter @EdinBookshop or on Facebook.