About KerenM

Business Development Assistant for HarperCollins Publishers. Follow me on Twitter @Rabbitrunrunrun

Under the Covers

charlie+and+the+choclate+factoryYou’ll notice that there’ve been more book cover posts than reviews recently – I’m currently plodding my way through Lauren Beukes’s The Shining Girls (not the easiest read of my life) and trying to avoid reviewing books from last year. But anyway, I thought this new Charlie and the Chocolate Factory cover warranted a mini post since everyone seems to be talking/complaining about it.

I think a lot of the criticisms of this cover are just knee-jerk responses: ‘It’s not as good as Quentin Blake’, ‘What does it have to do with the story?’, ‘It’s pornographic!’, ‘It’s supposed to be a children’s book, this isn’t appropriate’. There’s obviously some basis to these critiques, but mostly they seem to be coming from old Roald Dahl fans – those familiar with the old Quentin Blake version. Some people just don’t like change. Certainly, it’s different to the covers illustrated by Quentin Blake, but is different always bad? It’s arguably a more mature cover, but, as many people have said already, the content of the book is very mature. Instead of trying to downplay the explicitness of the content with a younger cover, we need to be more aware of the ability for young readers to digest mature content. This can be seen across all kinds of media: film, music, books and games. But anyway, that’s a topic for another day…

As for it having ‘nothing to do with the story’, I disagree. The story explores the nature of children who have been spoiled and ruined by their parents – it’s about children, family and the relationship between the two. The cover represents that perfectly. Also, I don’t see how this could be inappropriate, and people who think it’s more closely linked to Lolita are out of their minds. Just because there’s a little blonde girl on the cover. Sigh.

All that being said, I don’t particularly like it. I prefer the Quentin Blake covers. But this all just comes down to modernisation, and targeting new readers and new markets. If you don’t like the cover, you don’t like the cover. I think this one just comes down to personal taste. Like it or lump it.

The Man Booker Longlist – why are we waiting for publication?

man-booker-prize-2014_0

The longlist of thirteen titles has been announced, but we can only get our hands on eight of them? Is this a prize for the public, or just for publishers?

It doesn’t seem entirely fair that the public aren’t able to get fully involved with the Man Booker this year, and what’s more unfair is that certain publishers are choosing to purposefully not bring forward publication for their titles. This is despite the fact that HarperCollins imprint Fourth Estate is to bring forward its publication date for Joseph O’Neill’s The Dog to 31st July since it was longlisted for the prize. It just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me…

From a publisher’s point of view, surely being longlisted for the Man Booker is phenomenal for sales – most people will be desperate to get their hands on a copy so they can make their own mind up about who should be shortlisted, and who should eventually win. Isn’t that what book prizes are all about? Generate a bit of publicity, a bit of chatter and buzz about a book and an author, provoke discussion and debate and then ultimately crown a victor to the combined cries of celebration and commiseration? How does any of this work if people can’t read four of the books on the list? What happens if they’re shortlisted? It’s just ridiculous. It’s just squandering free publicity. How frustrating for the public, and undoubtedly for the authors too.

2014_booker_novelsFrom a personal point of view, I often supplement my reading with these book prize longlisted titles, and it’s extremely irritating to have a book flaunted in my face and in the media when I can’t read it. A cynical part of my brain tells me that this is just an elaborate way for the big publishing companies to pat each other on the back about how well they’re doing. It’s a bit of competition between publishing houses, and seems a bit elitist and alienating to everyone else. Is the Booker just a prize for publishers, or for everyone? I really don’t know any more.

In an article on The Bookseller site, Simon Key from the Big Green Bookshop is quoted as saying:

It is just stupid that nearly half the books aren’t even out yet. The Man Booker Prize is trying to stand out from the Folio, why doesn’t it do that by being inclusive and selecting books which are already published so that the public can get involved? What’s the point in keeping it just for the publishing industry? How are booksellers able to make a song and dance among customers when we can’t offer them the books? They have changed the rules so that Americans can enter, why don’t they change the eligibility to ensure the books have to be published?

The word ‘inclusive’ jumps out at me. It should be inclusive, of smaller, independent publishers, as well as the public. The problem with a lot of these big book prizes, and I’m probably the zillionth person to harp on about this, is their exclusivity. As Simon says, the Booker seems as though it’s trying to fight against this criticism by including American titles, but that’s only a small fragment of the whole picture. All we’re asking for is the ability to read the books that we’re being told we should read, isn’t that what you want, Booker Prize? Isn’t that the whole point of you? Sigh.

Under the Covers (HP part 2)

hp bloomsbury cover 1So I wasn’t planning on writing a blog post today, but then I stumbled upon yesterday’s Guardian article about Bloomsbury’s new Harry Potter covers, designed by Jonny Duddle. It seems like only yesterday that they redesigned them – maybe the radical modernisation of acid green and fuscia pink covers didn’t do much for sales figures and they thought they should retrace their steps.

There are things I like and things I don’t like about this. On the one hand, I like the original style best. I like the reproduction of scenes from the book. I like how they bring the book to life with magic and colour, and I appreciate the fact that they stimulate the imagination of young readers – the original audience of the Harry Potter books. That is to say, I like it when it’s done well, and I’m not entirely sure that these covers fit the bill. Especially when paired along with the Scholastic US covers. I’ve already written at length on these covers, but here’s an example if you haven’t read it:

new_cover2This isn’t the best example, but Google them and have a look. There’s something about them that couples imagination and magic with the more mature voice that Harry adopts as the story progresses. Really wonderful stuff!

I can’t help but think that the new Bloomsbury covers are a bit bleh (technical term). Harry looks like a child in these covers – even the later ones where he’s a bit older and wiser.

hp bloomsbury cover 4Look at his wee face! That isn’t the Harry that I’ve come to know and love, sorry Bloomsbury. Even though I didn’t particularly like the neon covers that were just recently published, I still admire the bravery of taking such a different approach, and I like that there’s something different out there for new, older readers. With these books, I feel like Bloomsbury are just returning to an old formula but some ingredients are missing or muddled.

hp filmOne last thing I’ll say about the covers (maybe ever on this blog, as I think we’re getting a bit HP heavy…) is that I like how we haven’t just been punted books with film stills on the cover. At least, I haven’t seen any. If they exist, please let me know in the comments! I think it’s pretty great that the publishers are so innovative with the HP covers, still designing and creating and imagining. So let me just finish by saying that, although I don’t love the new Bloomsbury covers, I still appreciate the effort. Thanks Bloomsbury and Scholastic for being brilliant!

(I’m honestly not obsessed with Harry Potter, just appreciate a good bit of book cover art!)

 

Last week, Freight Books read…

Sorry we’ve been away for so long! It’s been an extremely busy July at Freight Books, and I’m afraid we were so preoccupied with creating some fabulous new reads that we forgot to keep on top of all the brilliant books that are already out there! Forgive us!Kate Tough Head for the Edge

Head for the Edge, Keep Walking by Kate Tough (Cargo, 2014). I very much enjoyed this book. It’s the first book in a long time that I felt I could actually relate to, which is nice considering the main character is so charming and witty! It’s the kind of character that you hope to see a glimmer of yourself in, though it’s not always the case…

Jill’s story begins with the end of a long-term, serious relationship with a man who has, seemingly, chosen his career over her and moved abroad to pursue it. If you’ve only read the first ten pages, you can be forgiven for thinking that the character is a bit of a relationship martyr, and annoyingly obsessed with this guy. It would have been tedious if the author wasn’t able to explore Jill’s distress in such a poetic, beautiful, and witty way. It was genuinely really, really, funny! Despite the book beginning on such a downturn, the character’s personality shines through and you find yourself wondering how anyone could dump this girl! She’s brilliant! But then she starts unraveling the details of the break-up, and the classic ‘it’s all his fault’ mantra starts to creep in, and you find yourself doubting Jill’s logic, which actually just makes the book more interesting. She’s flawed, but so is everyone.

I don’t even take off my coat. I beeline for the walk-in cupboard in the living room. Moving a portable heater to one side, I can access a large cardboard box to reach inside. Both blind hands are required to lift out a smaller box placed there in July; when I swore I’d never do this.

Cross-legged on the rug, my coat-seams cut into my armpits as I hold him.

My lungs remember air.

I slip-stop through the glossy stack: him alone, me and him, headshots, full-length family groupings. Set against: landmarks and landscapes and sun-loungers and celebrations.

Today has been a subway train rumbling towards this point, now arrived – I have to hear his voice. Just for a moment. The sound of it. I need to. I must.

I guess the point I’m making is that Jill is a real woman. She isn’t perfect, but that isn’t a problem. And the author feasts on every aspect of Jill’s life, not just the relationship stuff (which reeks of anti-feminism in my book). The author delves into Jill’s relationships with her friends, her parents, her health, as well as her career and desire and actions to progress within a company – trying to achieve her goals and improve her life! It made me laugh every time I read something and thought ‘that thought has definitely crossed my mind before’.

The funny stuff lies mostly in her forage into online dating, where she meets a host of interesting characters (one of whom asks her to treat his penis like a gear stick – I’ll let you make up your own mind about what that could possibly mean).

I found this book to be a really enjoyable, easy read. Totally perfect for reading outside in the sun. The story is gripping, emotional, honest, funny and little gems of poetry glitter throughout. I was hooked. I want to hear more from Jill and her friends!

Last week, Freight Books read…

The Original of Laura cover

The Original of Laura, by Vladimir Nabokov (Penguin Modern Classics). This is my first blog post in a wee while. and I’m ashamed to say that it’s because I’ve been drawn into the world of young adult fiction. Namely the Divergent trilogy: Divergent, Insurgent and Allegiant. I thought that, after my Hunger Games post, folk might not be interested in reading another review on a teenage angst trilogy. If I’m wrong, by all means let me know and I will write that review! But anyway, today I will be rambling on a bit about The Original of Laura by Nabokov, his last, unfinished novel about the seductive Laura, or ‘Flora’ as is her real name. She is immortalised in fiction by one of her many lovers, and the knowledge of her infidelity drives her husband to self-destruction.

A short description of her appears at the beginning of the book, and it beautifully highlights the way that the reality of Laura intermingles with the fiction that has been invented:

She was an extravagantly slender girl. Her ribs showed. The conspicuous knobs of her hipbones framed a hollowed abdomen, so flat as to belie the notion of “belly.” Her exquisite bone structure immediately slipped into a novel – became in fact the secret structure of that novel, besides supporting a number of poems.

I don’t know if, had Nabokov had more time to finish the novel, he would have revealed more of this woman to us, or if the whole point is that she never gives herself wholly to any one person. She seems fragmented, illusive. Not entirely likeable, but that’s not the point.

Vladimir-Nabokov-001

The novel has been published, admittedly, against the author’s will, as he requested that the work be destroyed if he were to die before completion. His wife agreed to this, but never managed to fulfill the promise. Nabokov’s son, Dmitri, writes extensively in the introduction to the book on his decision to publish against his father’s will. He explains that it was entirely likely that his father did not believe that Vera, his wife, would be able to destroy the manuscript (as she had rescued an early draft of Lolita from the fire in the past) and that he knew that the book would eventually be published. I feel torn with regard to this. On one hand I think that the author should decide whether or not their work ever sees the light of day, but on the other hand I can’t imagine a world without Lolita, and it would have been burned if Vlad had had his way. It’s so tricky to know what the right thing is.

Having read The Original of Laura, I can see why Nabokov might have made such a request. His writing style is not one that lends itself to a posthumous publication. He seems to just write things as they come into his head, constantly adding notes to himself, and reproducing copy at different stages in the manuscript to work out where it should appear in the final piece. Solely taking this into consideration, I would argue that Dmitri had no right publishing the book at all, as it isn’t an accurate representation of Nabokov’s work and skill – the final piece pales in comparison to Pale Fire and Lolita.

the-original-of-lauraindexcardHowever, there was another reason to publish the book. Dmitri has given an insight into his father’s life as a writer, and has also reproduced the index cards with Nabokov’s scrawled notes and writing. It’s fascinating to be able to closely inspect his writing process, to see the words scrubbed out and replaced with better alternatives, the underlined phrases that he deemed important for some reason or other. It adds a whole new layer to textual analysis. The book even has serrated pages, so you can remove the index cards and rearrange them as Nabokov probably did.

It’s definitely worth a read, not only for the romantic and delectable turns of phrase so unique to Nabokov, but also for the fascinating insight into the author’s thought process. Any Nabokov fan should have Nabokov’s last novel on their bookshelf.

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.

Out with the old, in with the renewed

Century relaunches Star Wars booksSo I recently read on The Bookseller website (one of the few articles I was actually able to read in full as a non-paying freeloader) that Century, an imprint of Random House (or Penguin Random House if you’re being fancy/correct), will be ‘relaunching its Star Wars novels to become part of the “unified Star Wars storytelling future”‘. This bugged me, and I had a think about what my problem was. I mean, I have to admit that I’m excited about the prospect of the new Star Wars films, but is it really necessary to relaunch the entire franchise? Continue reading

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

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