Saturday, 14 November 2009

Literature Is A Luxury, Fiction Is A Necessity...

Here's a better version of the image that uses the above quote.

One that has some info about the shop itself, and so might work a little better as an advertisment. As ever feel free to print it off and put it up anywhere you think pepople will see it...

You might also start seeing this next image about the place. A handmade charmer by the redoutable David Chatton-Barker...

Click the pictures to embiggen (at least I hope they will, I think I've done it right).

All the best to you. And hey, what with Christmas coming, why don't you spread your budget that much further... buy second hand! Quality AND quantity! A nice little package of books instead of just one. But if it's new books that you want, or it's something we don't have, don't forget we can also order new books for you at 20% off their standard price...

Perhaps it's a message worth spreading - there's a lot of interesting little shops in Fore Street. Don't just buy the same old shit this Christmas, get something different, something interesting... something unique. Books, Music, Vintage Clothing, Retro Furniture and oddities. You can find all of these things and more down in the West Quarter.

If you're reading this you're probably already a convert. But spread the word, remind your friends. It's worth walking down the hill. Worth venturing past the end of High Street. Who knows what you'll find.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Are you a Junky for the written word?

I've been playing with some images for the shop of late. Thought I'd let you see...

One is overtly an advertising image. The other just image I thought I might use in the shop, but loking at it, I reckon it could be reworked as advertising.

If you've any comments or ideas, feel free to let me know. Also, since we're a small shop on a miniscule budget (advertising budget? what's that!?) please also feel free to print them off and put them up in your place of work, on the notice board at your local library or communtiy centre or where ever else might take your fancy without getting me in trouble with the Law!

I really like the above image. It's Preston Sturges by the way - and if you don't know is films, you SHOULD. He was a contemporary of Frank Capra (IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE) but produced probably more consitently brilliant film comedy. Rent or buy a copy of SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS and check him out. You'll thenk me. It's where the Coen Brothers got the title O' BROTHER WHERE ART THOU from.

Anyway, looking at it again as I preview this before posting, I like it all the more. Keeping it simple, I think I'll just replace Chesterton's name with READ & RETURN BOOKSHOP and our info.

Don't think I've quite cracked this one. It sort of works though. What d'you think?

Tuesday, 20 October 2009


I've just finished reading another book by Graham Joyce, who you may remember I was heaping praise on in an earlier post.

As well as writing for adults, he's been quietly writing the kind of children's/teen books that make me whoop with joy. The kind of children's books that I think rank up there with David Almond. But Joyce is darker.

TWOC and DO THE CREEPY THING were urban tales of supernatural happenings, while THREE WAYS TO SNOG AN ALIEN took on the eternal mystery that are Girls. Read this book and remember just how fascinating and strange these creatures seemed to your teenage eyes (and quietly admit that nothing has changed since - they still don't make any sense, even when you live with them, but by god they make out lives interesting! ;-P)

Joyce's most recent book for children is another supernatural tale, THE DEVIL'S LADDER. This one dealing with Sophie and James, two fourteen year olds from different schools (one posh public school the other a local comprehensive) who are both 'savants'. They can see things other people can't. They have weird dreams, that aren't quite dreams, Sophie calls them 'shimmers', and they have direct meaning in the real world. And they can see demons. Hanging around people. Sapping the life from them.

Now, I could go into the plot here, but I'm not going to. In part because, it's actually quite slim and I don't want to give it away. It's delicate, and like much of Joyce's writing, so much of the joy is in the surprises. In finding things out for yourself. Finding things out about the characters that you don't expect, being caught off guard.

And you will be. I've no doubt. I was. In a scene I should have seen coming. But didn't.

What's wonderful about Graham Joyce is how he keeps turning the characters and situations. Just when you think you've got it nailed, he twists the knife. Reveals something new. His characters are constantly surprising.

And his writing is so deceptively simple. You almost don't notice it's there. There's nothing in his style to get in the way or draw attention to itself. You almost don't notice that you're reading. You're just listening to a voice inside your head, telling you a story - or more likley SHOWING you a story. Because, at the top of his game, you're right inside there. Right inside the action, right inside the characters, feeling what they feel, seeing what they see... it's incredibly immersive.

By the end of THE DEVIL'S LADDER I was itching for more. And indeed it sets up the posibility of this becoming a series, leaves the possibility that we will see more from Sophie and James. I really hope we do.

By the end of this book it's like Joyce has set up the possibility of a series that is - in many ways - John Silence/Thomas Carnaki for kids. If you don't know those two names, put them into google, because you're missing out. Let us simply say that in their particular supernatural sub-genre, they are THE MEN to beat.

A couple of minor quibbles. Firstly, Faber should really think about re-doing the cover art. It's lacklustre at best, cliched and a little dull at worst. C'mon Faber, you're better than this. A good cover reallly makes the difference. It's the doorway to the book within (see earlier posts for more of my thinking). It grabs your attentiona and it sets the tone. This current cover isn't doing much of either.

Secondly, I had a weird time with the first few pages. Maybe even the first chapter or so - it felt a little underwritten. And having said you don't notice Joyces style (which is it's brilliance, it's deceptive simplicity - indeed the reason that the emotion of the writing hits so very close to home, I did notice a little here at first. Maybe it's me, maybe I need to take another look at it, but it almost felt like I was reading a detailed outline at first, that the story took a little while to settle in and find it's voice. I could be wrong there, it's just a feeling... and to be fair, by the end of chapter 2, I was hooked. If it took a little longer to get it's claws sunk deep in me - well, I'll forgive it that. Because when it's claws came out, they sank deep, gave me a tangible shiver, and wouldn't let me look away until the end.

All in all, THE DEVIL'S LADDER is good strong stuff. Genuinely unsettling. Genuinely dark, with a genuine edge of danger. Not for the faint of heart. Give it to kids with gumption.

Saturday, 10 October 2009


October. Autumn. The smell of wet leaves rotting...

Time to embrace the little chill that makes you shiver. Endulge your dark side with a spooky tale or two.

Whether you love the classics: M.R. James (as good as it gets), J.Sheridan Le Fanu (there's a lovely copy of Unle Silas in the window at the mo'), William Hope Hodgeson (we've got The Ghost Pirates in store), Bram Stoker (never forget that Dracula still works as a novel - no film has ever quite lived up)...

Or something more contemporary: James Herbert (we've got an awful lot of him in store, and I don't think he's as valued as he should be), Kim Newman (clever and entertaining and weird), Peter Straub (perhaps the great classicist of contemporary horror), Ramsey Campbell (still one of the best),

Graham Joyce (we've got a copy of The Tooth Fairy in the window, and it's a bloody good on, the kind you don't shake off for days), Ray Bradbury (king of the October Country - a collection we don't have at the moment, but I'm looking for - but in the mean time there's always Something Wicked This Way Comes or Dandelion Wine) or good old Stephen King...

We've got something to cater for all tastes.

Hell, why not have a laugh and try some Guy N. Smith - The Slime Beast anyone? Or Night Of The Crabs!?

C'mon, get in the mood. The Ghosties and Ghoulies, and long-leggity Beasties are roaming the streets this month. Huddle up inside where it's safe. Read up on how best to defeat them if you need to. Enjoy the danger from the safety of your own home. The devil has all the best tunes... but the pact of a horror novel is that at the end of the day we know he'll put down his pipe, so we can stop dancing and return to our lives in safety.

"There is no delight the equal of dread." So says Clive Barker.

Enjoy an exquisite shiver.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Liverpool reads, but can Exeter?

So, it's been a little while. Perhaps because I'm having a little conflict as to what this blog is really for.

It doesn't feel like a place to moan about the negative aspects of the job, or complain on days when things are quiet. So what's it for?

It's a blog. And blogs aren't necessarily great as advertising. They are, however, pretty great for communicating.

So maybe that's what this should be. I'll endevour to make it so.

Of great joy to me recently was the news that Graham Joyce won the British Fantasy Award for his pseudononymously published novel MEMOIRS OF A MASTER FORGER.

For anyone who doesn't know Graham's work - well, you're not alone, but you're missing out! He seems to be one of the best kept secrets in literary Britain. His novel THE LIMITS OF ENCHANTMENT is one of my favourites. A brilliant book set in the sixties dealing with midwifery, social change and hedge magic. We've got a couple of his books here in the shop SMOKING POPPY (in which a father travels to Thailand when his errant daughter is arrested for traficking drugs) and THE FACTS OF LIFE which deals with a large family of sisters and elements that might be magic, might be psychosis. It's set during WWII and features one sequence during the Sheffield blitz that makes the temptation of attempting an adaptation on screen a mouth watering one. It's almost psychedelic in its intensity.

He also, as it goes, has written a number of books for older children/teens, and, once again, they're absolutely cracking reads that push him up there with Kevin Brooks and David Almond as being amongst the best writers for children/teens that we have.

Indeed, I can't help but think that he is like David Almond for adults (although every right thinking adult should give David Almond a try - he's THAT good). Almond has been recieving quite a lot of attention lately, and rightly so. I can only hope that Joyce might get the same. In the mean time though I'll continue to enjoy the sense that Joyce's writing gives me that I'm part of something not many people know about. Something very special indeed...

Mention of David Almond leads me nicely towards some vague ideas that are floating in my head...

Almond was recently involved in Liverpool Reads. His book THE SAVAGE (illustrated beautifully by Dave McKean) was given out freely by the thousand to the people of Liverpoolin order to get them all reading and talking.

It's a briliant idea, and something I'd love to see done in Exeter. Maybe not in quite the same way, and perhaps (starting small and all that) not on quite the same scale, but something like it would be a wonderful way of encouraging reading (it's ostensibly a childrens book, but could just as well be called a book about childhood, and the amazing illustrations mean it's not intimidating to the non-reader), and perhaps inspiring imagination and creativity in response...

Anything that gets people reading can only be good. Anything that engages the imagination can only benefit us as individuals and as a society. It is my honsest belief that some of the apalling things we see and hear about from kids and adults alike are a result of a profound lack of imagination. Without the ability to imagine, to dream, we cannot empathise (an act requiring the power to imagine what it might be like to be in someone elses shoes). And without empathy, what are we? We are an unthinking, uncaring, uncivilised, increasingly brutal culture.

A society that can no longer imagine something better, imagine a way to improve, is a society on the wane. It is a society that is isolating itself from its fellow man and from the world.

That's a bit of a pretentious way of saying things... I'm not sure it even quite conveys what I mean. But the essence, perhaps, is there.

It's not something we're going to set out to solve from this single tiny bookshop. I've no illusions. But perhaps in some small way we can do something, here in the shop perhaps, and/or in conjunction with other people and other organisations. I'm not a great organiser, so if anyone has any ideas/interest, please let me know.

But it seems a fundamental thing that we must excercise our minds and the minds of our children in particular - so that it's second nature - to think, to imagine, to ponder, to day dream, to see round corners, to create new worlds, to imagine life as it is NOT being lived, but how it might be. Without it the world, and its future, will be a place bereft of delight, bereft of new ideas - artistically, scientifically (most new science is an act of profound imagination - standing on the shoulders of giants to see ever farther ahead), architecturally... in almost every endevour of mankind (indeed, in the act of endevouring itself).

Imagination is creative thought. Without it, we are doomed to entropy.

The world I live in can escape this. By sheer Will. By imagination.

Inculcating this in ourselves and in our children is as important as breathing. Without it, sooner or later - as a people - we will suffocate and die. I really think it's THAT important.

Doing something about this doesn't need to be hard. It should even be - almost by definition - fun. Thought is stimulating. It's like sex for the mind. What else is an idea if not a kind of birthing?

The only other thing it can be is magic... in the simplest terms an idea (more demonstratively a book, or building or a work of art, but it's true of thought itself) is a rabbit out of a hat. It's something out of nothing...

Doesn't that make you feel proud?

We're each and every one of us a sorceror... a god.

Doesn't that idea tickle you? Inspire you? Just a bit?

Friday, 21 August 2009

Blavatsky meets Vonnegut

While the progeny of Madame Blavatsky and Dennis Wheatly remain on display, they've piled up into the corners to make way for a selection of Kurt Vonnnegut - although five minutes in Slaughterhouse 5 has already gone.

Vonnegut - who died this year - was one of the great minds of SF (although the literary estblishment might claim he wasn't anything so low; like Margaret Atwood's claims for Oryx and Crake at which we shake our heads and smirk a little, eyebrow's raised).

Slaughterhouse 5 seems to have found its way onto many a sylabus these days, and so is fairly widely read - it was made into a fairly decent film as well if memory serves, directed by George Roy Hill, who directed BUTCH & SUNDANCE...

But I digress.

We've got some of his other stuff:

GALAPAGOS, CAT'S CRADLE, DEADEYE DICK, SLAPSTICK and GOD BLESS YOU MR. ROSEWATER are all currently sitting in our window. Why don't you come and take a peak, pull a tooth as I like to think of it, since when a book sells from the window, it leaves a gap... buy a book, put it under your pillow and make a wish. You never know what might happen...

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

The Brood Of Madame Blavatsky...

An almost complete set of 'Dennis Wheatley's Library Of The Occult' came into the shop this morning, and are now lining the front window on display.

Some good titles and some very good authors (J.K. Huysmans, William Hope Hodgeson, John Cowper-Powys, Mathew Lewis)... though the covers are sadly lacking in black cockerels and scantily clad women - they're almost tasteful (and in case of W.H. Hodgeson's Ghost Pirates frankly dull). Not at all the illicit looking books I used to see on market bookstalls in my youth.

Friday, 14 August 2009

Ukraine's Got Talent...

Dave McKean tweeted a link to this clip and it really is something beautiful to behold, so I'm reposting it here.

Watch in wonder...

Great isn't it.

And while we're at it, did you ever see this:

There are things in the world that make me smile at their seemingly simple wonder. Things that are like honest to god magic to watch. Art god-dammit, with all the attendant affects that Art is supposed to have on you when you see it.

Listening to Sir Christopher Frayling's commentary on La Belle Et La Bete as I write this. Marvelling as I look up at the gorgeous images and simple old fashioned 'stage magic' effects, that despite their - in a sense - overt unreality, are so completely enchanting, so completely moving and magical, how they reach right inside you to tickle the heart and mind, and make you smile.

After a sort of grumpy, clenched up week (which I may go into later, if I've got something productive to say about it - I don't want to bore you with it), things like these - and finding great new writers and writing - are like ice water in the desert.

Friday, 24 July 2009

Let Your Mind Off It's Leash...

Okay, so the Horror display didn't quite come off... but it might yet.

I got distracted by some of the rather wonderful SF & Fantasy coming in to the shop. Not the avergage Dungeons & Dragons/Lord Of The Rings type rips offs, nor the Star Wars/Star Trek Space Opera's either. I'm talking about the kind of writing with IDEAS. The kind of writing that doesn't forget the human element in SF/Fantasy...

I'm talking Harlan Ellison's SHATTERDAY - one of the most amazing collections of short stories that I;ve ever read, and which doesn't pull it's punches in confronting you with all your weakest least admirable qualities. A book that confronts you and tells you to grow the hell up. I honestly think it made me a better person.

I'm talking about J.G. Ballard - may he rest in peace - who until recently was by far one of the finest writers on the planet, and certainly that this country has ever produced.

I'm talking about Richard Matheson's THE SHRINKING MAN - made into a brilliant B-Movie by Jack Arnold, but the book is A+ writing. Man's place in the universe stuff, but as exciting and emotional as anything I think I've ever read. Certainly as good as his other classic I AM LEGEND (which no film adaptation has yet come close to getting right, unless you count Night Of The Living Dead, which enters the ball park).

I'm talking Michael Moorcock, one of the most prolific and richly entertaining minds in British SF/Fantasy...

I'm talking Ray Bradbury's THE HALLOWEEN TREE - which really is perfect for October (coming soon), and even though it's a children's book, really, it's a wonderful read.

Enough. I think you get the picture.

Don't just take your body for a Holiday this year... send you mind out somewhere special. Let your imagination off it's leash. Let it see the sights in far off lands, the like of which your eyes may never see.

A book is a dream that you hold in your hands...

Start dreaming.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Have An Adventure This Summer..

That's the theme in what was the Doctor Who window... old fashioned adventure. The kind of thing attatched to being read while you were on holiday, away from home, that somehow made it extra exciting.

Try some Leon Garfield: 'Devil In The Fog', or G.K. Chesterton's 'The Man Who Was Thursday' which I can't reccomend highly enough. Marcus Sedgwick's 'My Sword Hand Is Singing', Susan Cooper's 'The Dark Is Rising', Tony Hawk's 'Round Ireland With A Fridge' or H.G. Wells' 'First Men In The Moon' - all this celebrating of the Apollo Moon Landings and we Brits got there first. Turn of the century no less, in the name of Queen Victoria!

We're seeing some interesting old SF & Fantasy coming in at the moment, James Branch Cabal, Fritz Lieber, Theodore Sturgeon...

And a good few more contemporary classics - Betty Smith (A Tree Grows In Brooklyn), Graham Greene, F. Scott Fitzgerald etc.

Thought I might flag up our rather well stocked Horror section, to be found - fittingly - in the basement, with a display of covers from the late 70's and early 80's. The kind that used to dare you and scare you as a kid. The kind that promised so much you were almost afraid of what might lurk inside.

Or I might just do a display of Guy N. Smith, a pretty awful writer with wonderfully shoddy pulp titles like 'The Slime Beast' and 'Night Of The Crabs'. They've got covers to die for in many cases. They're trash, but they're well packaged trash - and just bad enough to be fun in the right frame of mind.

We'll see what I dig most of from the section... whatever puts the biggest grin onto my face will be the winner. Whichever way it goes, they'll be i the window soon. Why don't you stop and take a look...

Thursday, 9 July 2009

So, one week down... many more to go.

It's been good. A little slower on those first few days than I would have thought, but not catastrophic - eyebrows were raised, but we didn't go running for the hills. And it's picked right up since then, so things are looking good.

Which is great, since we need to be able to tick over for a little while before making moves on new stock, and new ideas - building on what we already have, and adding to it. We're taking nothing away here. For any loyal customers reading this who've been with the shop since way back when, we're here for you still. You're the backbone of our enterprise (one might say the engine room, if you want to make a Star Trek analogy).

We just want to bring a few new people into the fold. In the months to come, we hope to improve our Childrens section, enlarge it if possible, if space permits/can be bent to our will; refresh the SF/Fantasy; add a little spice across the sections in general, jbring their flavour to the fullest.

Elsewhere, we're looking to maybe start doing some kind of events in store. There's already plans for a Bookclub - or rather and existing bookclub is likely to be using us as it's base and would like to invite more people to join in. More details to follow.

we'd also like to introduce regular/semi regular readings to the shop. Hearing a story read aloud, when it's read aloud well, is a wonderfull thing, so I'm going to look into that. It's a dying art, but one that I sense is having something of a comeback. More and more people I know (myself included) say they read to their partners, in bed, or instead of television, or while the other is cooking or whhatever. It's a lovely thing to do. And really, a story can often be a whole different thing read aloud. Spoken out loud, a story can take on a life of it's own, find it's personality, express itself. It might be funnier than you thought it was, or scarier. The rhythm of the thing comes to the fore in ways you hadn't thought of before, because you'd never had to get your lips or tongue around it, never had to take a breath.

We'll see what happens with this idea. It's something that will need some planning and searching for good readers. But if it works, it could be something magical.

We'll keep you posted.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Expressing Ourselves...

I like making window displays, thinking up themes, and descriptive phrases that might catch the eye, hook the mind, or raise a little smirk.

The line-up of Fontana Agatha Christie novels is doing well to catch attention, and indeed to sell itself. And I'm rather fond of the 'DO YOU NEED A DOCTOR?/THEY'RE BIGGER ON THE INSIDE' window of Target Doctor Who novels. A certain kind of person stops to have a good look and a smile, and from inside the shop, behind the counter, I look up and think - 'You're one of us...'

It's all just a way of letting people know the character of the place of course. And there really are some delights within... I've been finding all sorts of gems in the SF/Fantasy stocks (with some help from our friend Jez). Fritz Lieber collections, Tim Powers, a first collection of 'The Best Of Interzone', Gene Wolfe's 'Island Of Dr. Death' and many more. There's quite a treasure trove to be found in here. A veritable browsers delight.

Of course, putting the good stuff out on display is a double edged sword. It says look at me! I'm interesting! You didn't even know you wanted me but look, take me home! And then somebody does...

And you're pleased. Not only because you're making money, but because you've introduced someone to something GOOD.

And then you realise that you have to find something else. That if you're any good at this, and people keep on buying your recommendations (like you hope they will) you're going to have to get out there and hunt out more, find the cream that other folks are missing because they don't have the eye. And you somehow have to do this despite not being in the position to hire anyone just yet to look after the shop while you go out on the hunt...

Of course as soon as things are paying for themselves, and fully on ther feet, you can just go to the wholesalers, find the cream of all the new stock, the missing things that aren't being pushed by British Publishers so much, distracted as they are by paying to get their new 'bestsellers' into the Waterstones chart, or bargaining to have the public buy them as part of '3for2' deals.

In the mean time shops like us slip round the back and pull the curtains wide on smaller stranger, much more interesting treasures. Books that might just change you. Books that make a difference. Books that you will treasure, instead of leaving them in hotel rooms smelling of sun-tan lotion and the sea.

I've just finished reading Philip Pullmman's CLOCKWORK, which is a lovely little story that would probably make a great Christmas Day TV movie treat. I've also got MAUS on the go, finally. It's been sitting here since christmas past. I can safely say that it lives up to it's reputation. At the same time I've got an itch to go back and read more Ursula Le Guin, but Diana Wynne Jones's HOUSE OF MANY WAYS is looking at me; whispering and winking from the shelf. As is Michael Chabon's GENTLEMEN OF THE ROAD (which I didn't get into first time around - and I LOVE Michael Chabon - but which I re-read a bit of the other day and it seemed like now might be it's time), but then Michael Moorcock's MOTHER LONDON is doing much the same, and Harlan Ellison's* DEATHBIRD STORIES, and for that matter Glen David Gold's follow-up to CARTER BEATS THE DEVIL, SUNNYSIDE, and, and, and... it's no good they're ganging up on me! And they all look so good!

What can I say, I'm a book slut. So sue me. I'm even thinking I might have to read at least ONE of the books in our really rather popular US Romance section. Let's call it 'research'. Just so I have some idea of whhat I'm talking about. I'll let you know if I get past page 1.

*Mentioning Harlan Ellison, I must just point you all towards a wonderful documentary about him that's currently avaliable on DVD from the states, called DREAMS WITH SHARP TEETH, it's a wonderful look at this immensley talented, highly entertaining, witty, angry, irascible old man, who - though largely known as an author of SF and dark fantasy - has written every kind of story under the sun, not to mention award winning scripts for televison, and is probably one of the finest writers that America has ever produced. If you don't believe me, ask Dorothy Parker.

Thursday, 2 July 2009


That's right.

We're in there. We're open!

Okay so it was open the day before we stepped in, but hey, this is something to celebrate!

Typically, the weather been either so good everybody's been down at the beach, or so weird and wet and warm that it was messing with peoples minds, so they wandered dazedly right past us... fools! Don't they know the cavalcade of curious things we have inside!?

Anyway, we're working through the shop, checking out what we have, what we need, what we think needs rearranging. Don't mind us if we're faffing about when you come in. Feel free to interrupt us. We're there for you after all.

If you're someone who already knows the shop, don't worry it wont change too much. We're just going through it with a fine tooth comb to make it a little bit more user friendly.

SF/Fantasy on ground floor, was New titles only, but it will now be a mix of new and used.

Crime will become Crime/Thriller... but other than that nothing too much will be changing.

Once we've found our feet and the shop has earned a little money (you gotta make a bit to spend a bit) we're hoping to introduce more New stock, which is to say New titles. A touch more of the literary, but not at the expense of what already works. We just want to be able to appeal to as many different READERS as possible. We try not to be snobbish in our tastes, nor reversely snobbish. A damn fine yarn is a damn fine yarn, whether it's one thhat grabs you by the throat, or tickles the inner workings of the mind.

What we have at the moment is a foundation. A good foundation at that. But we wannt to build on it. So if you do come in and don't find what you're looking for... come back another day. Keep trying us.

Hell, if we don't have what you're looking for in stock, we can order it (so long as it's in print). We offer a 20% DISCOUNT ON ALL NEW BOOK ORDERS. And remember, we can get things in from the United States, which opens up a whole world of possibilities.

So keep your eyes peeled. There's a lot to come. Check us out. We're friendly and enthusiastic. We want you to find something GOOD.

Our phone number is at the top of the page. Our email is:

'A book is dream you can hold in your hands...'

See you in the shop.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

On the dotted...

Signed the lease today.

Had a declaration sworn - first time I've had to 'repeat after me' since I got married, which made me smile and gave the whole moment happy and exciting associations.

So excited to get in and get started. Get to know you all. And bring you GOOD BOOKS!


Sunday, 21 June 2009

Doorways to the worlds within...

Ah bugger it. I was going to leave it for a while, give people a chance to read the other post, maybe even wait until I was acually installed in the shop behind the counter before I followed up on the book covers post, but enthusiasm is getting the better of me (read previous two blog entries for context on what I'm talking about here).

I was wondering if I shouldn't simply post once a week, regular like - but I'm not that sort of person. Why wait?

Here we go. Let's start with one of my favourites. THE DARK IS RISING SEQUENCE...

I love this cover. It says everything about the feeling that I get now - and got as a child - from the books that make up the sequence. Expect scans of the covers of individual novels in the future, they too were wonderful. Does anybody out there know anything more about the artist who did this, Michael Heslop? Or Maggie Heslop, who seems to have a very similar style? Are they related? Is one a pseudonym? Any info greatfully recieved. Something about this cover emanates foreboding. It says that this will not be easy. It may even be dangerous. That the world of this story is right out there around you, so you had better watch out.

The film did not come close to doing any kind of service to Susan Coppers book. It seems a shame to me that it wasn't made into a childrens TV series of the kind they used to make that scared the shit out of you just before you had your tea. You know the ones: CHILDREN OF THE STONES, THE OWL SERVICE and the like.


We read this at school, or at least we started. I went on Holiday part way in and didn't read the end for many years to come. John Gordon, though, came to our school. The first author I ever saw in the flesh. Our teacher had made us all write a novelette. Something that seemed insurmountable when first sprung on us, but now seems like a gift. A wonderful thing to do, if for no other reason than making us write something that long and finish it, show us that we COULD.

Mr. Gordon judged them and picked some of the best. Mine wasn't one of them. Mine was a stitch-up worthy of Victor Frankenstein, mixing elements from THE MONSTER SQUAD, Terence Fisher's DRACULA, THE LOST BOYS, WARLOCK (Julian Sands not Jimmy Stewart), a little bit of a kids horror story by Terence Dicks that might have been called VAMPIRE!,a dash of THE GOLDEN CHILD, and lines of dialogue nicked from THE PRINCESS BRIDE and REAL GENIUS. Oh, and a demon on the cover that I copied from a junior edition of THE DEVIL RIDES OUT (a junior edition, I swear to god!). Glad to say I've since moved out from underneath the influences, but I think I stitched all together fairly well...

Again I'm drawn to why these covers so appeal to me, why the touch me and seem to me so RIGHT. Looking at them agaain, I think it's something to do with colour, their attatchment to the landscape. They seem to represent stories and ideas that are palpable connected to the landscapes in which they are set, and the world in which we live, all the while also finding deep resonance and immediate connection to the weight of mythic history imbeded in the culture, traditions and indeed the LAND around us and on which we stand. Current writing, and covers - on the whole - don't seem to have that (David Almond being a big exception, Cooper and Wynne Jones likewise). Much of what is written today, and certainly the way it's represented in the cover art seems as divorced from reality, lived experience and perhaps more importantly emotional/imaginative experience (which let's face it holds more sway when we are young - the world around us being far more maleable, much les set, much more new to us, much less understood).

Anyway, it's a thought. There'll be more. I'll end on some that are less personally connected to me, more upbeat, but no less wonderful. I think these are lovely covers.

Front... and back...

You might notice that all of these are Puffin books. Time was when they not only lead the children's field, they almost were the childrens field. It's a much more crowded market these days. But still I can't help but think that Puffin might have lost there way, just a little. I'd like to see them get the brand back on top. Historically, it just seems to be where they belong.

TO BE CONTINUED... (sometime)

Friday, 19 June 2009

Never Judge A Book By It's Cover?

That's what they say isn't it?

And it's sound advice. I've seen some atrocious covers desectrating otherwise wonderful books.

And yet...

And yet, I've got something of an obsession with book covers, especially old ones. That's partly nostalgic. There's a certain type of cover that graced the books in the library when I was growing up that really does affect the way I see the world when I look back. And still colours the way I see the world today.

But it's also because they were often simply better back then. There's still some great work going on today. But like the lost art of the movie poster (oh how I miss thee), for the most part, innovative, evocative cover illustration/design seems largely absent, especialy on childrens books.

And it's such a huge part of how you read the book. I didn't think it was until I happened to be reading Diana Wynne Jones EIGHT DAYS OF LUKE, a great little novel, and in many ways the template for Neil Gaiman's much more adult AMERICAN GODS (he thought so enough to ask Mrs Wynne Jones if she was okay with him writing it).

The first time I read it was in the current paperback edition. It looks like this:

Not bad... and inside there are illustrations (Chris Riddell? I'll have to check) anyway they're good, but a little cartoony. A little 'light'. Anyway, I read the book. Enjoyed it a grat deal. Then forgot it (as it goes I highly recommmend it, Diana Wynne Jones really is a National Treasure and should have been in the honours list).

A year or two later, I was having another Diana Wynne Jones binge (my reading often goes in cycles, and there are authors that I always come back to). And I picked up a 2nd hand paperback of an older Puffin edition. This one here:

I read it. And it was like a whole new book. It was more real. I felt it more. It seemed more meaningful. It seemed darker. There are no illustrations in this one. Only the cover.

No doubt I had changed a little in the time between readings - that's part of the pleasure of re-reading books, how they change as you change, how you see different things.

But I also think it was because of that cover. A light bulb went off in my head - though it's so obvious I'm sure it's something that I always knew, but had never felt so strongly as now, nor articulated it as I did at that moment. The cover is your doorway into the book - literally and metaphorically. It absolutely affects how you see/imagine what's within. These two covers are very different. And I think that was the main reason that I reacted/'saw' the book so differently. And it just makes me crazy when I read a book who's cover got it wrong. By which I mean they got the favour of the imagery wrong, the tone, the texture, the feeling (yes I know that's all subjective and I know it's really quite ephemeral, that's why it's so hard to get it right, but also why it's so important that publishers DO). When they get a cover wrong, it is actually an obstacle to reading and engaging with that books - not least bbecause some folks won't even pick it up, let alone give it a read. But even those who do, are having to overcome the imagery of the cover, rather than be lead in to the story by it.

No doubt I'll burble more about this topic as we go on. But in the mean time watch this space for more examples of GOOD covers that come through the shop. Evocative covers. Covers that either represent the book well, or are really quite arresting in and of themselves...

I'll be scanning them in to share them with you... oh, okay, and to advertise the kind of thing you might find within our lovely shop. THE READ & RETURN BOOK SHOP. That's on FORE STREET. EXETER. DEVON. UK... number 124. You really should look in...

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Children's Books & Dave McKean...

Dave McKean is one of the finest graphic artists working today. His remarkable work with Neil Gaiman on The Sandman, Mr. Punch and so on earned him a legion of admirers.

Recently he's been most visible in the UK doing children's book covers and illustration. And god, do we ever need him - check this one for David Almond's book THE SAVAGE...

Great, itsn't it? Full of emotion. Full of mystery. Beautiful, and slightly threatening at the same time.

Remember when children's book covers were dark, tantalising, spooky things that drew you in and made your wary of them at the same time? I do. Those covers were part of the texture of my childhood. Covers that graced the bookc of Susan Cooper, Alan Garner, Diana Wynne Jones and others... you can expect an ongoing thread to crop up on this blog about it, as I bemoan the current state of illustration and cover design.

But for now, let's take some solace from one of the good guys. The outstanding Mr. Dave McKean... he's just done a set of stamp designs, based on British Folklore and Legend, with tiny stories/descriptions by one of my favourite authors, Neil Gaiman.

Fantastic aren't they? They'd make you excited to receive some mail. But I can't help wondering what might happen when you give the things a lick...

Available at your local Post Office right now.

Friday, 12 June 2009

Coming Sooner...

Everything you can see here is me testing things out, playing around with format and background, finding out what I can do with blogger.

Nothing is permanent as yet... I'm just seeing how things look. Having some fun with textures and light and so forth.

If you're visiting - sorry there's nothing much to see. Not yet anyway...

But there will be. Soon.

In the meantime, the shop is open and running. Why not pop in. Take a look around.we believe in browsing. Have a look around... get carried away...

There's sackloads of good stuff inside!

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Coming Soon...

Yes that's right... this blog is COMING SOON.

The blog of Exeter's READ & RETURN Bookshop. Which I'm taking ownership of July 1st.

The blog won't look like this for long. This is just a holding spot.

But for the immediate future, the blog will be our web page. Contact details, etc, and a place to tell you about some of the quirks of life amidst 2nd hands books.

See you July 1st!