10 Feel-Good Books

March 26th, 2015 by JasonBurley No comments »

One question that we get asked at the bookshop, possibly more often than any other, is to recommend a heartwarming book; one that makes you feel better just by reading the first page. Now, since our natural proclivities tend to draw us towards books that trace the darker themes (armegeddon scenarios, suicide pacts – that sort of thing), we find this question a difficult one to answer.

In order to be better prepared we have put together a list of ten books guaranteed to warm even the stoniest of hearts. We hope you enjoy them.

And that the world doesn’t end before you get a chance to finish them…

- Bookseller of Silicon Roundabout

To Kill a Mocking-Bird by Harper Lee

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

The Help by Katharyn Stockett

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Tuesdays With Morrie by Mitch Albom

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupery

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TfL- gaining lucrative piece of real estate at the expense of the existing shops under Old Street roundabout.

November 30th, 2014 by Editor No comments »

I am the sole owner of the bookshop in Old Street roundabout. I have been there since 2002. I have run my bookshops without interruption since founding them in 1984, celebrating my 30th year as a prize winning independent bookshop proprietor this year.
1/ My comments on TfL’s road layout are essentially of disbelief: TfL should have had the traffic modelling available in a visually accessible format at the start of the consultation period. I am informed that it is not currently in a suitable format for release, and will not be available until Christmas time. I think this significantly undermines and invalidates TfL’s consultation through significant lack of appropriate information. It is impossible to judge how well the traffic will flow without this visual modelling. The modelling information is key to this consultation and it is essential that all information relevant to the traffic flow is available from day one of the consultation period. Lacking the modelling flow video is effectively disinformation.
2/ As a life-long cyclist and someone who daily cycled to Old Street for 12 years, I want to point out that the proposed cycle lanes are too narrow for the number of cyclists potentially using them. The speedier cyclists will feel impatient having to slow down to the pace of the slowest cyclists and waiting at even more red lights. This may lead to poor cycle lane and traffic lights discipline, that will, in turn, impact on the other vehicles using TfL’s proposed layout. I believe TfL’s proposals will potentially lead to a number of serious collisions and possibly fatal cycling accidents.
3/ There is a need for more bicycle parking spaces than have been sketched in. Cycle security is an important part of maintaining the number of cycle users. This under estimation of the need for cycle racks betrays an essential lack of proper commitment to the cycle user.
4/ I consider the northern pedestrian crossing is a compromise between serving people walking north along City Road and those walking east along Old Street. Where TfL depict the crossing in TfL’s pamphlet is not going to feel acceptable to those people walking to the bus stop travelling east along Old Street because of the extra time and distance it will take them to get there. I suggest that people will end up running over the road across the traffic in order to speed up their crossing. I think that the crossing should be moved further east to favour those walking to Hoxton and Shoreditch. Hoxton and Shoreditch are well known for their night clubs where alcohol is consumed to excess-I do not think the safety of inebriated revellers returning to the tube station has been accurately factored in when designing TfL’s proposed pedestrian crossing and in your decision to remove the completely safe subway access. TfL’s proposals will lead to increased pedestrian accidents.
5/ By removing subway access TfL will be directly affecting the flow of customers from my bookshop and thereby reducing the value of my business, my lease and my livelihood. My shop draws in customers from London and the UK, who come specifically to my business. But I also depend on a constant flow of passing customers. So I object to the closing off or the reduction of any of the existing subway access. It is not acceptable to effectively deny customers access to my business. I am deeply unhappy with the removal of the pedestrian ramps because that will also reduce pedestrian access.
6/ My business depends on the natural light shaft or light well that has existed since the roundabout was built and that is of great advantage not only to me and my business but to all users of the subways. I do not agree with any plans that would affect that crucial access to light, denying existing users what they have come to believe is there for the common benefit.
7/ The loading bay access road that currently exists would be lost in TfL’s proposals. The suggestion is to build a new loading bay. However, the siting of this new bay would be within the congestion zone- currently our loading facilities are outside the congestion zone. The financial implications are potentially very large: £12 per day extra for every delivery, on every weekday of every year from the implementation of your plans. Currently I would expect to receive in the region of 5-10 deliveries from different people or companies every weekday. The loading bay needs to be excluded from the congestion zone or relocated on a part of the proposed scheme that is outside.
8/ Access for shop deliveries and for putting out rubbish will be unacceptably inconvenienced in your proposals. Currently I have use of a dedicated service lift and lift area that is immediately adjacent to the dedicated and remote loading bay at street level. TfL’s proposal is wholly inadequate as a like-for-like replacement. Firstly the new lift would be shared with the general public. This is inappropriate and may lead to accidents, when, for example, I am receiving a pallet of boxes of books and the pallet accidentally knocks into a passenger because pallets are obviously cumbersome and hard to steer accurately in crowded situations. Traders using the lift with large quantities of bulky,smelly and dirty rubbish, do not travel comfortably in lifts side by side with smart commuters, disabled people and the elderly. The existing lift is already used at capacity during busy times, without any public usage- the general public will make demand for a single lift unacceptable.
Secondly TfL’s proposed lift is much further away from their proposed loading bay and may or may not involve taking goods up or down from one level to another; it will also not be isolated from the public, as it currently is for good reason.
The existing shops have no back areas for storing waste or rear entrances for processing deliveries; your proposals would make dealing with accepting deliveries and taking out rubbish worse than they already are and they would become intolerable unless provision is made for a second dedicated lift, for example, closer to the loading bay.
9/ The maintenance and security of Old Street station has historically been complex because of the cross authority confusion and has led to poor standards in the past and present. I see no written commitment in TfL’s proposals to them stepping up to accept responsibility for providing unbroken security and maintenance for the proposed areas above and below ground. Due to the location of Old Street roundabout, the need for cleaning and for security against anti-social behaviour is far greater than in many other locations in London. I would not be willing for this commitment to go unacknowledged in TfL’s proposals.
10/ Since temporary retail units are proposed on the surface of the roundabout, I would like to see assurances that no other bookshop would be allowed to rent one of the new spaces taking unfair advantage of the twelve years of goodwill that I have built up in my bookshop below ground.
11/ I am unaware of what provisions are proposed for mitigating the disruption to my business during construction. Perhaps some of the more disruptive, noisy or dusty work can be undertaken late in the evenings, at nights or during the weekends. I need to see more detail in the proposed building processes.
12/ There is no mention of my shop or any other neighbouring shops in TfL’s proposals. I believe that TfL have a duty of care as landlord to these shops to protect their livelihoods as much as they possibly can. I want TfL to enshrine that duty of care into their proposals since our customers, staff and ourselves, the owners, come to this site every day and will be profoundly effected by the construction and by the detailed design of what TfL are proposing. I am unhappy and find it unreasonable that so many key components of TfL’s proposal are subject to change or uncertainty. Supporting, encouraging and protecting existing businesses and their employees is enshrined in all the strategic literature on all building developments in this part of London. TfL need to incorporate support for existing businesses into their written proposals. If TfL continue to ignore existing businesses in their written proposals they are acting outside the spirit if not the specific legal undertakings of strategies that have been legally agreed.

I believe TfL’s proposals have the praiseworthy merit of looking at cyclist safety, but are all to easy to deconstruct. The only clear beneficiaries, when the detail is examined (as much as possible without the vital traffic flow modelling video), are TfL- gaining access to a lucrative piece of real estate that is currently an important part of the service infrastructure of the existing shops under the roundabout.

TfL to Sweep Away Independent Shops at Old Street

November 4th, 2014 by Editor No comments »

My meeting with TfL suggests that there will very soon be a public consultation about the street layout. It is a very complex layout aiming to ensure a regular flow of vehicles through Old Street, with new bicycle lanes. It also means a larger exit from the ticket hall towards Starbucks; it also possibly implies the levelling of the roundabout and rebuilding more expensive shops at the cost of the existing shops. TfL are not interested in giving leases on the new shops to the existing businesses. The existing businesses are just being asked to close down and go away. If we agree to go we will not be allowed to disclose details of our leaving- a ‘gagging order’. Much of the latter has been left open to interpretation- the only settled scheme being the street alterations (“peninsularisation”). This uncertainty makes running a business much more difficult. The lack of offers of alternative accommodation is a failure by TfL to adhere to the principles laid out in all the development plans. This is a real threat to those people currently employed in and who run the businesses in Old Street Station. TfL want to exploit what is potentially a billion pound plot of land by firstly clearing away the existing occupants- the bookshop, gift shop, key cutters, Nincomsoup, two cafes and flower shop. Almost inevitably us independents will be replaced by chain stores with larger premises paying premium rents to sell the same repetitive things found in every high street in Britain. You may or you may not want to support us, but it looks like we’ll be swept aside in December 2015, save a miracle intervention.

In France the state helps indie bookshops. In the UK it helps them out of business.

July 23rd, 2014 by Editor No comments »

In France new laws have been passed to materially support independent bookshops, because bookshops are considered in France to be of cultural importance.

My bookshop in Old Street station in London has been in business for thirty years. But TfL, a state enterprise, have defied my pleas and given a six month lease to Moleskine in a shop virtually facing my own. Moleskine sell blank books and our bookshop has built up a significant trade in Moleskine blank books.   In a typical month Moleskine sales represent about 17.5% of our turnover. So  UK state intervention is effectively threatening the survival of our bookshop.

TfL allegedly has plans to close down our Old Street Station ticket office and to lease the space out to a Click and Collect centre, which will further threaten the survival of our independent bookshop.

What do you think about TfL’s decisions in this case?

Is it right that TfL should conduct its affairs in such a bullying fashion?

Damned Cycle Accident Statistics

July 23rd, 2014 by Editor No comments »

Cycle accident statistics only record incidents of death and of ” serious” accident; and “serious” accidents are only recorded if the victim stays in hospital overnight.

How many cyclists in London like me have been victims of serious accidents but have not stayed in hospital overnight?

I was knocked down on a cycle route by a driver hitting me off my bicycle eleven weeks ago. Since then I have made sixteen visits to hospital on separate occasions, I have had an operation under general anaesthetic, still have my left arm immobile in a sling (I have at least six more weeks more to go in a cast and I am left-handed)- how is such a disruptive accident caused by a driver who has subsequently been sent by the Police onto a course to improve their driving, not serious?

Do you think my accident should be re-classified as serious (at the moment it hasn’t been considered statistically whatsoever)?

Does ignoring the type of accident I had completely skew the picture of the safety of cycling in London?

Please tell me if you had a similar bike accident or know of one?

I think “serious” accidents should reflect people who cannot work properly after so many weeks and who have been left fearful of cycling to work in future.

I’d like to take this moment to thank all my friends and customers at my book shop who showed concern for my recovery and apologise for the length of time it is taking.

Bookseller of Silicon Roundabout Knocked Down

June 6th, 2014 by admin 1 comment »

A month ago a car from a side road smacked into my bicycle at 8am without looking and knocked me down. I didn’t open my bookshop. I couldn’t work at  my own business premises for the entire first week. The aftermath took hold.  Five hospital visits later, my situation remains unresolved.

At the time of impact, the right hand cycle handlebar gored me. My stomach muscles ripped aside and my liver and colon were bruised. A scan on the day showed spots on my liver and the pain was intense. 4 weeks later the pain remains but has diminished. I phoned my GP 3 days running but now have to anxiously sit out the weekend to wait for a comment on the latest CT triple scan.

A  hospital physio diagnosed my left wrist as possibly fractured.  I am left-handed. It’d been in severe pain for 3 weeks. Two visits later, my wrist was in plaster and my scaphoid can finally begin to heal over the forthcoming 6 weeks.

Exhaustion is usually a temporary state; but, since my road accident, it grips me from when I wake until I sleep at night. My sleep is fitful now whereas I was regularly the soundest sleeper you could imagine.

I cannot drive a car or ride a bike; can only write or perform any fine motor skills with my left hand with severe discomfort.  Lifting is painful for my wrist and my abdomen.  My social life revolved around sport- now my football, squash, badminton and tennis kit are unused.

The fact is that I am not a physical or emotional wreck, but I feel like one; other people’s worse circumstances & suffering  to one side, the aftermath of my bike accident has been profound for me. It does help for me to write feelings down when I feel particularly low.

I hope my conscientious, light-hearted,  relaxed, well-exercised,  old Bookseller of Silicon Roundabout returns in the next month or so.

Jason’s Road trip

May 12th, 2014 by Editor No comments »

I am Jason and I run a bookshop. On Thursday 8-5-2014 at about 07:56 I was bicycling to work on a route I have taken for the last 12 years. I live in Stoke Newington. I was travelling south on Whitmore Road where it becomes Pitfield Street. The light was normal but there was a slight drizzle or very light rain. As I passed the junction with Hoxton Street on my left, I noticed a car proceeding towards me very quickly. I was wearing high visibility, cycling waterproof top , black waterproof bottoms with reflective strips and a cycling helmet. It was clearly my right of way. Before I registered any danger I felt myself flying and landing on the road in excruciating pain. I howled loudly. I was spread-eagled on my front. I do not recollect losing consciousness. Opening my eyes, I saw that I had landed on a part of the pedestrian zebra crossing. I summoned all my energy to crawl or slither off the road in case another car struck me. As I was curling into the recovery position I heard someone asking if I was alright. I said “no”. I heard a voice saying “Call an ambulance”. I repeated the words “Call an ambulance”. I heard someone else saying “I am so sorry. I was rushing to take my daughter to school”. My eyes were closed. I was in agony. Minutes later someone in a green uniform said they were a passing paramedic and instructed me not to move. They went through some questions to assess my condition, which I was able to answer. Following that, the ambulance personnel took over. There was a process of maybe 15 minutes whereby I was supported into an ambulance. That was followed by a lengthy delay where a policeman asked me questions and finally supplied me with a small blue book of information about the accident. I was admitted to the casualty department of the Homerton Hospital. I spent about six or so hours undergoing constant checks and tests. I received an ultra sound and a CT scan on my abdomen. I was administered painkillers. I was advised to remain in hospital under observation for a further period of about 5 hours. I discharged myself and was taken home. I have been in constant pain since then. 48 hours later I have taken photos of my injuries. I am still in a state of shock. I have been told by the hospital consultant that my stomach muscles have been severely torn. My internal organs have been bruised and apart from that, I have suffered several skin abrasions on my face legs and hands and also further bruising. I cannot sleep without waking with pain. My lower intestines contort me in pain. I am using a walking stick, a sling, ice packs and have had a session of cranial osteopathy.

But I am now on the mend & hope to be back at work soon.

Today, I visited the book shop for an hour. It has been as if I had stepped into an alternative reality for four days and I’m now being allowed brief visits back to my old life…

All Change

May 7th, 2014 by admin No comments »

2014-05-07 11.40.36

Old Street Station has just undergone superficial rebranding (it’s still just a station with a dozen shops) but this station may also become the model for TfL to replace established independent businesses in other tube stations with Pop-up businesses. Our hairdresser, newsagent/printers, shoe shop, clothes shop and phone stall have all gone.  All these independent businesses are (or were) established and mature shops serving longstanding needs for their customers.

The remaining businesses in Old Street Station have more secure leases that pre-dated TfL and have been able to stay. TfL had asked the bookshop to accept a pay out, to leave and give way to another Pop-up unit as well – but we declined the offer.

The electric bike shop, business seminar company, spectacles, pressed juice, and marshmallow Pop-ups are the first replacements; the newcomers are allegedly paying up to four times the existing rents. The Pop-up shop managers that I have talked to are essentially running marketing exercises, using passengers of Old Street Station to gauge reaction to their products. They’re relatively inexperienced if not completely new to the marketplace and so are enthusiastic to learn from their brief visits and  seem to think that the existing shopkeepers and general public are universally excited by their arrival.

There has been an expensive design makeover of the subway tunnels and shop fronts at the same time. TfL are rumoured to have paid in the region of £1,000 per window for some of the shop graphics they’ve had installed and costly security guards are paid to patrol the station for long hours and escort homeless people away from the premises.

The overall tidying up of the infrastructure (after decades of neglect) has been welcomed by everyone, passengers and shopkeepers alike.  But what do the regular commuters and station users really think about losing day to day facilities and supplies in exchange for a sort of rolling exhibition of luxury products (bicycles costing tens of thousands of pounds each!)? Is it merely an inconvenience that you may no longer be able to buy a last minute print-out from a memory stick or have a mobile phone sorted out, have a haircut or buy some new shoes or clothes? Old Street Station’s previous  reputation  as a useful shopping centre in an area of sandwich and coffee chain stores will be knocked back.

If  TfL were to close down their ticket offices too,  to lease them out to Amazon for collection lockers or similar commercial ends, then our tube stations would take on an altogether less useful and more questionable role in passengers’ daily lives.

I would always welcome change for the common good; but wonder who these changes are going to effect and who they are going to profit…

Bookseller of Silicon Roundabout

Despatches from the London Book Fair

April 14th, 2014 by admin No comments »

The bunting is down, the boxes packed. The face muscles of the publishing world can relax for another year.

All of us at Camden Lock Books went along to the fair on different days. Jason was there on the first morning and came back with the question: with only 1000 bookshops left in the UK, what do all these people do?

Fair point I thought, when I went on Thursday. It was certainly busy. I found it heartening that whilst cultural commentators left right and centre are prophesying a bookopalypse there are still a dizzying number of people doing… well, something.

I heard two talks by YA author Malorie Blackman and she was also positive about the future of publishing. She spoke of how writers have had to respond to a increased pressure from readers for immediacy, caused – in part – by growing up on a diet rich in multimedia. She also said that with the increased focus by the American film industry on YA books (and focus I mean piles and piles of cash), it has become more difficult for British writers to break through. She said that we shouldn’t worry though and that the funding is still there – provided that you are writing about vampires, werewolves or the end of the world.

As a side note I was really pleased to hear an author speak who has such strong and clear ethical convictions. They permeate her writing in a way that is neither onerous or preachy. You can just tell that she cares.

I also saw a talk by an affable chap from the digital team of Hodder that was encouraging in the sense that their non book products are still being imagined as supplements to books. For example it was the 15th Anniversary of David Almond’s Skellig last year and Hodder created a fancy all-singing all-dancing ebook, but it was released alongside a gift hardback. So make of that what you will.

My abiding impressions were of bewilderment and exhaustion. How did everyone else find it? Get in touch here or on our facebook wall.

SF

Bookseller of Silicon Roundabout

You know you’re a bibliophile when…

April 3rd, 2014 by admin 1 comment »

When I was seven years old I almost knocked myself out.

Not particularly unusual. I was a clumsy and absent-minded child and my early life was a string of near catastrophes. My poor mum was constantly snatching me out from under the wheels of articulated lorries and putting out fires in my hair. And I have three brothers god help her.

But on that day I was being particularly careless. It was world book day and we’d had a fair at school. We’d all got those £1 book vouchers – the perfect foil for manipulating your parents into buying you a new book.

I chose Captain Underpants. For the uninitiated, it’s a brilliant book about two cheeky chappies who hypnotize their headteacher – causing him to strip down to his y-fronts and prance around like shit superman. It’s hilarious.

So hilarious in fact that I couldn’t put it down. Not even to walk home from school.  So there I was, merrily minding my own business, when out of nowhere appears this lamppost. Right there on the side of the road, totally unexpected. And before I know it I’m seeing stars. I was initially furious but on reflection I mellowed; it did prevent me from wandering out into the road after all.

So next time someone bumps into you on a tube platform or a crowded street because they’ve got their nose buried in a book, just remember…

It’s me. I’m that guy.

SF

What’s you earliest inspiration or memory about your love of reading? Share them with us in the comments or on twitter (#babybibliophile)