Archive for March, 2014

Top 40 books by Nobel literary and peace laureates

March 20th, 2014

1/Alice Munro (2013) – Selected stories (£9.99)

2/Mario Vargas Llosa (2010) – Feast of the Goat (£8.99)

3/Doris Lessing (2007) – The Grass is Singing (£8.99)

4/Orhan Pamuk (2006) – My Name is Red (£8.99)

5/Orhan Pamuk (2006) The White Castle (£8.00)

6/Harold Pinter (2005) – The Birthday Party (£9.99)

7/J.M. Coetzee (2003) – Disgrace (£8.99)

8/Imre Kertesz (2002) – Kaddish for an Unborn Child (£8.99)

9/V.S. Naipaul (2001) – A House for Mr Biswas (£10.99)

10/Jose Saramago (1998) – Blindness (£8.99)

11/Dario Fo (1997) – Accidental Death of an Anarchist (£8.99)

12/Seamus Heaney (1995) – Death of a Naturalist (£9.99)

13/Kenzeburo Oe (1994) – Silent Cry (£8.99)

14/Toni Morrison (1993) – Song of Solomon (£8.99)

15/Derek Walcott (1992) – Selected Poems (£16.99)

16/Nadine Gordimer (1991) – No Time Like the Present (£8.99)

17/Naguib Mahfouz (1988) – Palace Walk (£9.99)

18/William Golding (1983) – Lord of the Flies (£7.99)

18/Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1982) – 100 Years of Solitude (£8.99)

20/Saul Bellow (1976) – Herzog (£9.99)

21/Pablo Neruda (1971) – Selected Poems (£9.95)

22/Alexandr Solzhenitsyn (1970) – One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (£7.99)

23/Samuel Beckett (1969) – Complete Dramatic Works (£17.99)

24/Jean-Paul Sartre (1964) – Nausea (£9.99)

25/John Steinbeck (1962) – The Grapes of Wrath (£9.99)

26/Boris Pasternak (1958) – Doctor Zhivago (£8.99)

27/Albert Camus (1957) – The Outsider (£7.99)

28/Ernest Hemmingway (1954) – The Old Man and the Sea (£5.99)

29/Ernest Hemmingway (1954) For Whom the Bell Tolls (£6.99)

30/William Faulkner (1949) – The Sound and the Fury (£8.99)

31/T.S. Eliot (1948) – The Wasteland and Other Poems (£9.99)

32/Herman Hesse (1946) – Siddhartha (£9.99)

33/Thomas Mann (1929) – The Magic Mountain (£9.99)

34/William Butler Yeats (1923) – Collected Poems (£10.99)

35/Knut Hamsun (1920) – Hunger (£10)

36/Rudyard Kipling (1907) – Kim (£7.99)

Nobel peace laureates’ books

37/Liu Xiaobo (2010) – No Enemies, No Hatred (£13.95)

38/Barack Obama (2009) – Dreams from My Father (£9.99)

39/Nelson Mandela (1993) – The Long Walk to Freedom (£14.99)

40/Tenzin Gyatso, 14th Dalai Lama (1989) – A Profound Mind (£8.99)





Starving writers

March 5th, 2014

Someone once told me that a novelist who began his career in the 90s gave him the following piece of advice: ‘If ever you make back your advance on a book, fire your agent’.

That it is coming more difficult to survive as a writer – as a novelist in particular – is a common complaint. We have been hearing a lot about how publishers has been getting progressively more ruthless about dropping their midlist writers, how advances are shrinking, and how a first book is now make or break.

Robert McCrum wrote an article about it this weekend in the Observer, profiling a handful of authors who have had bestselling books in the past but are now struggling to make ends meet.

Some of this he puts down to the financial crisis, but a large part of it he attributes to effect that the digital revolution – combined with the neo-liberalist agenda of the big tech companies – has had on copyright. He says that before the year 2000 people who produced a creative product could expect to receive a reasonable financial reward for their endeavours. Now digital dissemination has made this impossible.

This argument might be true for film and music, but I don’t think it holds as much water when it comes to books. Yes, people are buying less (Nielsen BookScan recorded a 6.5% fall in 2013), but is that because they are stealing pirated versions instead? Digital books are certainly better controlled than digital music, and Amazon has played a big part in this (not that I’ll be queuing up to thank them).

Which takes me back to the beginning of the article. The ridiculous advances that were being paid out up until the crisis were unsustainable. They were speculative, and they were a symptom of the culture of excess which led to credit drying out.

But that doesn’t mean it’s all doom and gloom. New fiction is doing better than ever in our shop; Go Ghana Go by Taiye Selasi and The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer are both in our top 5 bestsellers at the moment. Bring on the young blood!


Bookseller of Silicon Roundabout

Are indies elitist?

March 1st, 2014

I know I’m a little late to the party, but the article Eleanor Catton wrote before Christmas about literary elitism has got me thinking.

In it she makes the argument that we tend now to read books as consumers rather than as critics, and that our responses are therefore guided by consumerist expectations. We are passive, we want to be entertained and we feel cheated when the ‘product’ demands that we bring something in order that it can be enjoyed:

‘Consumerism, requiring its products to be both endlessly desirable and endlessly disposable, cannot make sense of art, which is neither — not desirable, because an encounter already is, and not disposable, because an encounter exists relationally, in space and time.’

All good stuff.

It made me wonder, if this is true, what it means for bookselling. By virtue of economic necessity many bookshops are becoming more specialised. Many areas of the market – pop-fiction being a particularly good example – are dominated by Amazon and the supermarkets. I think it would be fair to say many readers see these books as consumer commodities: they are imminently interchangeable. Publishers understand this and have become very adept at advertising these books’ contents on the cover. See a solitary silhouetted figure walking down an empty road? You know you are getting an American thriller. It’s like how when you see that big yellow ‘M’, you can already taste the Big Mac in your mouth.

Because of this interchangeability price is high up the list of readers’ selection factors. Obviously indies aren’t going to be competing on price, we don’t have the buying economies blah blah yada yada.

So we specialise. In the case of our bookshop when it comes to fiction our focus is literary. We have a large photography section. These choices of course aren’t made purely on the basis of necessity; we also choose to sell these things because we like to sell them.

Which leads me to ask, does specialisation carry with it a whiff of elitism? And does the fact that bookshops are getting more specialised mean they are getting to be elitist?

Catton’s article carries a dictionary definition of elistism as ‘the advocacy or existence of an elite’. As she notes, pretty weak. By only picking books that we think are ‘better’ you could suppose that, within the definition, we are being elitist. And by rejecting these books the mass market is making the distinction that they are – if not better – at least not interchangeable.

Now, you’re going to tell me that’s not an answer to the question. And you’d be right. I’m not entirely sure what I think. Elitism is too emotive a word, I cannot separate it from its sociological freight. But I do think it’s a question worth asking.

Whadda y’all think?


Bookseller of Silicon Roundabout