Friday, 30 November 2012

Something for the Weekend 5 Books No.5!

Hello, I'm Lachlan, the manager of our Humanities Dept, and this week it's my turn to reveal 5 books that changed my life. I can also confirm that the promotion is now up and running. Do pop in this weekend and have a look, and then buy the books that I've recommended so I can lord it over my colleagues.

This book completely changed how I think about politics, society and, well, just about everything. She was a phenomenal person with an extraordinarily clear and resilient mind. This exploration of what constitutes the public realm is a stunning piece of political and moral philosophy, and probably her greatest work. She gets written about a lot but I still think she's neglected. I'd really like it if she was alive so I could be her friend.

The only reason I haven't chosen the Collected is because it is intimidatingly large. Also, an earlier Selected was my introduction to Auden so I guess it changed my life first. I really don't know where to start. Just read the poems. They taught me that it is possible to have all the normal human feelings (fear, jealousy, love, sympathy) but about poems written by a dead person I'll never meet.


77 Dream Songs- John Berryman 
In this landmark book Berryman invented a form to hold what he had to say. It's a kind of broken and demented sonnet but uniquely his. It's a stunningly original exploration of a life, written in every conceivable register from esoteric philosophy to baby talk. Berryman's voice is idiosyncratic, disturbing, heartbreaking and very funny. The Dream Songs rid me of any illusions about the romance of psychological pain.

This book showed me what novels can do. It's enormous but still it seems barely credible that he manages to fit in all that he does: family, class, God, justice, all the history, politics and sociology of 19th century Russia you're ever likely to need, there's theology, love stories, lust, murder. It would be easier to list things that aren't in it. And somehow it still reads like a thriller. It's ridiculous.

I keep this on my desk because I want it so frequently. Everything about these stories and their author fascinates me. He wasn't a prophet or anything like that; just a strange and singular storyteller. He understood the modern age better than anyone else, which is what allowed him to be funny as often as he is desperate. These stories taught me what black humour is.


Monday, 26 November 2012

Women's History Event

On Friday evening we were thrilled to invite Louise Raw and Emelyne Godfrey to our shop for a discussion of women in Victorian society.

Louise had been to the shop before, last Christmas, to talk about her book, Striking A Light and was pleased to see our new capacity to hold in store events – between the 2 events, the audience grew from around 8 people to almost 50!

Louise made an impassioned speech for the women who, in 1888, led the first strike of unskilled female workers which actually achieved something, and influenced other, more famous strikes such as the Dock Strike of the following year. Louise talked about the dangers of them working in the factory (such as losing fingers and then being sacked because without 10 fingers, you couldn’t make matches) and the horrific phossy jaw, caused by the white phosphorus they were forced to work with (even though safer alternatives existed). The accepted story was always that the higher class Annie Besant had led the strike, but Raw argues that although the article Besant wrote for ‘The Link’ magazine entitled ‘White Slavery in London’, was possibly a catalyst for what followed, it would have been odd for an upper class woman to convince hundreds of working women, of Irish descent to strike without pay. Striking A Light gives the power and credit of one of the earliest moves for unionisation back to the women who benefited.

Emelyne Godfrey, speaking at her first bookshop event, talked about the challenges women faced in London to keep themselves safe, as she writes about in her new book, Femininity, Crime and Self-Defence in Victorian literature and Society. Much like the match workers who fought for safer working conditions, the Suffragettes and other women’s groups fought for their safety. With the introduction of the Cat and Mouse Act, it was necessary for the Suffragettes to be able to protect themselves from being arrested, so they learnt ju-jitsu to physically fight off the policemen sent to bring them in. She also talked about H.G. Wells’s controversial novel, Ann Veronica. Emelyne examined this book as a testament to the growth in women’s sports and read an extract where Ann manages to fight off unwanted advances from a man.

The event finished with some really insightful questions from the audience, who were obviously very interested in the topics being discussed. We also got lots of positive feedback from the audience, so I'm sure this won't be the only event of its kind we put on in Blackwell's.

There was quite a queue of people waiting to get books signed and talk to the authors!

Friday, 23 November 2012

Something for the weekend '5 books.. No4'

Something for the weekend '5 books that changed your life' No 4.

In this weeks '5 Books that changed your life' Robyn, who works in our Humanities department, tells us why she loves these books & why you should give them a try.. You can find all our Booksellers '5 books..' recommendations in our new display next week!*

The Handmaids Tale - Margaret Atwood
This novel was my first encounter with Atwood, and the gradual slippage of a society into a paranoid theocracy is brilliantly and terrifyingly portrayed. It leaves you questioning the systems of control that exist in your own life.

The Book Thief - Markus Zusak
Narrated by Death, and a very different Death to the character found in Pratchett, The Book Thief is a beautifully constructed story about the flaws within human beings and how we can overcome them.

Lizzie Dripping - Helen Cresswell
Although technically a children’s book, I used to read these to my Grandma when I was little and I’m sure she enjoyed them just as much as I did. Brilliant tales involving a little girl and a witch who sits on gravestones.

I wrote my dissertation on Hobbes, so I may be a little biased, but this text deals with everything from kings, to the innate nature of men, to the proper length a sentence should be. Quite dark in places, it’s a seventeenth century philosophy text that remains relevant today.

I have a suspicion that this may be the best book ever written. Completely beautiful and devastating throughout, Roy reveals the lives of one family and their community across thirty years in Kerala, India.


*all being well.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Something for the weekend '5 books..' No3

Something for the weekend '5 books..' No3

In the third of our '5 Books that changed your life' series (in-store promotion coming soon) Amelia, our events manager, tells us about her picks.

Brideshead Revisited: I read this when I first became a bookseller, over 6 years ago. It was one of the first (modern) classics I managed to finish - I always picked up classics I thought I should read and not ones I wanted to read - and it's brilliant. I have gone on to read more modern classics and more Waugh as he's brilliant. I have read Brideshead Revisited twice so far and I'm sure it will be a book I go back to throughout my life and I'm sure I will enjoy it equally with each read.

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe: My best friend recommended me this book and I was a little sceptical about whether I would enjoy it as it wasn't a book I would have picked up without her. I'm glad I listened as it has become one of my favourite books (and I have now read all of Fannie Flagg's books). I now love having books recommended to me by people as you can discover something new and read a great book while you're at it!

A Midsummer Night's Dream: This was the first play I ever saw at the theatre. It's also one of my favourite Shakespeare plays and I love Shakespeare. This play showed me that Shakespeare can be funny, moving, clever and modern, and not just be something that is studied boringly at school. Obviously seeing Shakespeare acted out is the best, but I also enjoy reading the plays as you can see all the nuance in his amazing language. A Midsummer Night's Dream was the start of a great love for me.

Jerusalem: It took me a while to discover that modern drama can be every bit as great as Shakespeare. The play that exemplifies this for me is Jez Butterworth's Jerusalem. It is an amazing play with an incomparable main character and tells the story of a typical rural village in England and at the same time the death of this very way of life. Butterworth's language is just amazing and remembering Mark Rylance speaking it makes the play worth reading over and over again.

The Song of Achilles: I started reading Song of Achilles because we had an event with Madeline Miller in the shop - and it has become one of my favourite books. I have so far bought it for two of my friends and I plan to buy more copies of it. It has made me want to read The Iliad and The Odyssey and about the Greek myths, as well as seeking out other adaptations of the classic works. I can't think of any other books which have inspired me to read so many other works related to it.


Friday, 2 November 2012

Something For The Weekend - 'Five Books That...' No. 2

Continuing the 'Five Books That Changed Your Life' theme (and in preparation of the forthcoming promotion), Den Patrick, the Science Fiction and Fantasy specialist at Blackwell writes about his picks:

Perdido Street Station by China Mieville was an absolute departure from anything else I'd read at the time. This book was heaving with ideas, baroque prose, and sprawling narrative. New Crobuzon, a city terrorized by nocturnal predators, is bewildering, harsh and fantastic. Not unlike London. This book made me think and setting finger to keyboard and trying my hand at the black art of writing Science Fiction and Fantasy.

Imajica didn't inspire me to start writing, but it did get me thinking about fiction in new ways. This book, by Clive Barker, is epic in all senses of the word; meshing a contemporary setting with magic and unsettling strangeness (and often outright horror). This is the work of a master craftsman, one who's read the rules but cheerfully disregards them. The characters are superb too, and even the supporting cast are absolutely spellbinding (pun intended).
I'd let my reading habits dwindle in my twenties. Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan, was a shot of pure Science Fiction adrenaline that reinvigorated me. This is a novel that sweats machismo from every pore, part Crime Noir, part Cyberpunk, all violent. And what could be more baffing than a client who hires you to investigate his own suicide? Warning: contains pace, heart, swagger, and more guns than a Matrix sequel. And there are two sequels with the same truculent protagonist. Heaven.
The Lies Locke Lamora is a high point of modern Fantasy, and one that impresses on account of its lyricism and the wonderful characters who inhabit the city. This is a Fantasy novel free of all the tired tropes: no all-powerful aged wizard, no boy who would be King, no thieves with hearts of gold or namelss Evil. If there is a novel to aspire to (and is completely beyond my reach), then it is this one. Scott Lynch has created something really special, and I frequently suggest this book to anyone looking for a new read.

Strunk & White's Elements of Style is a book that anyone even half serious abut writing should own. Aspiring novelists, bloggers, journalists, copy editors -- there's no one that couldn't use a little help wrangling the English language into a more beautiful shape. It's a great little book for bus journeys, where you can dip in and learn something new each time.

Den is a contributor to the forthcoming anthology, A Town Called Pandemonium (Nov 29th) and has three Fantasy books released by Gollancz in Autumn of 2013.