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?