#bookadayuk Hooked you into reading: The Fairy Tales of Hans Christian Andersen and The Brothers Grimm

For those of you who have been following the #bookaday posts, I’ve been up in the Alps for a week. I’m back and refuelled, and will pick up with the posts and get back to writing. We drove the length of the Grossglockner Pass, which is the highest and one of the most beautiful roads in Europe. Here are a few photos before I write about what hooked me in to reading. It seems fitting that the photos are of Europe, the home of the writers I want to talk about.

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I was influenced by so many great authors throughout my childhood. While I enjoyed Enid Blyton, Judy Blume and Noel Streatfeild early on, what hooked me in to reading was primarily fairy tales. I loved Hans Christian Andersen’s The Princess and the Pea and, although I wouldn’t necessarily subscribe to the Happy Ever After endings, there was something magical about the idea of anyone being able to feel a pea beneath layers of mattresses. Children often want to believe the unbelievable, don’t they? Think Peter Pan, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe; or, in my case, The Lochness Monster, the Abominable Snowman and the Tooth Fairy. The first two exist, don’t they? Anything implausible, I believed in it. Such was my hopeless and incorrigible imagination. The thing is children want to believe in unreality, they want a world beyond the real and the plausible. And I think adults sometimes look for the same thing. It’s why we read fiction.

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And then there were the Brothers Grimm’s fairy tales: Rapunzel, Hansel and Gretel, Cinderella. I devoured them all, utterly absorbed in another world. Hansel and Gretel grabbed my attention for the suspense as the children become lost in the woods. I liked the idea of a house made of sweets, and was always captivated by images of the roof. I have started to make a European gingerbread house at Christmas, a tradition in Germany which comes from this story.

In Germany, there’s a rhyme that’s said about Gingerbread Houses that comes directly from the story of Hansel and Gretel:

Knusper, knusper, knäuschen,
wer knuspert an meinem Häuschen?
Der Wind, der Wind,
das himmlische Kind.

English Translation:

Nibble, nibble, gnaw
Who is nibbling at my little house?
The wind, the wind
The heavenly child.

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I’ll also throw in Joseph Jacob’s Jack and the Beanstalk. A giant at the top of a beanstalk? Really? These imaginary worlds are a wonderful escape from the real world and teach children about the far reaches of the imagination. And you are never too old to read them.

Einstein said, “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.” While I am certainly no genius, I find his quote interesting because it suggests a link between the imagination and the intellect. What are your thoughts?

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#bookadayUK The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho

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This is a short #bookaday post today as I’ve already posted photos of yesterdays trip to Sopron, Hungary. Today’s #bookaday challenge is to choose a book that reminds you of someone you love. My husband bought and read this to me on our honeymoon. I love being read to (although it doesn’t happen often), and the magical settings of the book and the nature of the holiday at the time has burned this story into my memory. I look forward to going back and rereading it someday.

The Alchemist was first published in Portuguese in 1988, written by Brazilian born Coelho, and has been translated into 56 languages. It follows the story of a young Andalusian shepherd named Santiago in his journey to Egypt, after having a recurring dream of finding treasure there.

The book is an international bestseller and has sold more than 65 million copies worldwide. It has become one of the best-selling books in history, setting the Guinness World Record for most translated book by a living author.

It’s not necessarily my favourite book but it is evocative and full of imagery, and the memories of hearing the story are what remains.

 

#bookaday Forgot I owned it: The God of Small Things

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This one has been on my shelf for a while but I found it the other day, having forgotten all about it. Has anyone read it? In the absence of any views on the book, here is the blurb:

The God of Small Things (1997) is the debut novel of Indian writer Arundhati Roy. It is a story about the childhood experiences of fraternal twins whose lives are destroyed by the “Love Laws” that lay down “who should be loved, and how. And how much.” The book is a description of how the small things in life affect people’s behaviour and their lives. The book won the Booker Prize in 1997. Compared favorably to the works of Faulkner and Dickens, this is a modern classic that has been read and loved worldwide. Equal parts powerful family saga, forbidden love story, and piercing political drama, it is the story of an affluent Indian family forever changed by one fateful day in 1969. The seven-year-old twins Estha and Rahel see their world shaken irrevocably by the arrival of their beautiful young cousin, Sophie.

#bookaday Favourite Book From Childhood: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

The Bookseller has announced that Harper Collins imprint The Borough Press is launching a social initiative for booklovers to share books they love on Twitter and Instagram using the hashtag #bookaday. It will begin today, Sunday 1st June, and run throughout the entire month. Where has the year gone? How did we get to June? I will be blogging briefly on my book choices each day throughout June.

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I have many childhood favourites, but The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe sits at the top of the list. I’m sure you know the story but for those who don’t, it’s a fantasy novel for children (and adults!) The first of seven in The Chronicles of Narnia series, this one is probably the most well known. The setting is Narnia, a land of talking animals and mythical creatures that the White Witch has ruled for 100 years of winter. Four children are evacuated from London to an old country house in England during World War 2. Lucy, the youngest, discovers the land of Narnia through a wardrobe in a spare room. The others take some convincing but soon follow. TIME magazine included the book in its “All-TIME 100 Novels.” In 2003, it was listed at number 9 on the BBC‘s survey The Big Read. It has been published in 47 languages.

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Why did I chose this one? I think there was something about the other-worldliness of the story that appealed to me as a child. The idea of a whole world on the other side of all that we know made me curious. I also related to Lucy’s difficulty in convincing her siblings that Narnia existed. There were times in my childhood where people I trusted didn’t believe me when I told them something important. I think a lot of children/adults can connect with this theme. Then there is the struggle between good and evil, between the White Witch and Aslan. Isn’t there always a struggle between good and evil in our minds and in our wills? There are so many themes in the book that I think anyone can relate to. Overall, it’s a magical tale of four children on a journey of discovery, who are willing to battle for justice in a land that not everyone can see. Their different characters and responses to the situations they encounter are, in my eyes, what make the story work. And the illustrations…

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Have you read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe? Join the conversation.

The Joy of A Bookshop

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There are current and heated debates about paperbacks versus eBooks in every crevice of the book-loving community, and for good reason. Some fear the closure of many and, possibly in the future, all bookshops, but I believe and hope that this will not be the case. I posted a while about about library finds and old books and the pleasure of finding a unique or out of print book. I want to delve into what it is about bookshops that give people so much joy. I promise to balance this by looking at eBook purchases and the benefits of this in another post.Bookshop-Window

In my years of living in London I spent many hours in Waterstones and Borders (admittedly now closed in the UK) scanning bookshelves and sinking into a seat with a stack of books to skim before buying. The feeling of being surrounded by books gives me a sense of calm and brings with it a dose of quiet anticipation, a hope that I will stumble across something brilliant. Recommendations are wonderful, and I often go in search of specific books, but I love finding something fresh and unexpected, picking up a book by a new author who I have not previously heard of, and sinking into an unexpectedly good story.

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The look and feel of a book cover appeals to me aesthetically, it says something about the nature of the book and the author; it provides just enough of a taster to know what to expect of the book in terms of genre and style. I really appreciate striking and unusual cover design and, as much as you can see the thumbnail image online, it is never quite the same experience as holding the paper between your fingers.bookshop

I love the scent of the paper and the physical turning of the pages, the ability to flick back and forth. I like to see books on a coffee table and the spines of the jackets on bookshelves. I enjoy the colours and the graphics. It is a pleasure that I miss when reading an eBook (and I do also read many eBooks).

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Physical books, for me, hold a nostalgic quality and stimulate my senses in a way that eBooks don’t. I often buy hard copies of books that I have read and particularly enjoyed on kindle, just to be able to keep a physical copy. I like to keep classics and travel books in paperback or hardback. I will never tired of the experience of bookshops and I hope that eBooks and paperbacks will continue to live in relative harmony and without the need for a fight.

I’ll leave you with a look at more bookshops and reading spaces and this short video:

Photo credits:

foxedbooks.com, aprettybook.com, bookmania.me, global.oup.com, artstheanswer.blogspot.co.uk

The Fine Art of Bookselling

Christina James is a crime thriller writer of the literary variety. Her novel In the Family was published in November 2012 and her next DI Yates novel is due to be released in June 2013. She has written a guest blog post today on her experiences as a bookseller. Thank you, Christina.

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You might think that bookselling is like any other retail activity and, up to a point, you would be correct.  Bookselling consists of acquiring the right ‘product’, setting it out in an attractive manner and making sure that people who are interested in it are able to find and purchase it – and that throughout the process they are treated with unfailing helpfulness and courtesy from the moment that they walk into the shop.  You could say the same of selling cheese or hats or computer games.

Booksellers, however, have always known themselves to be special.  There are numerous reasons for this, some of them valid.  Booksellers are part of that small, select band – its other members include jewellers, posh dress-shop proprietors and some other sellers of luxury products – commonly classified by marketing gurus as ‘high-end retailers’.  It is not unknown for some booksellers to consider themselves a cut above even these illustrious peer-group members, on the grounds that what they sell feeds the mind.  Therefore, the argument runs, their customer service aspirations are of a different order from those of a jeweller who seeks to make a couple happy by conjuring up the perfect engagement ring or the chocolatier who provides the crowning accompaniment to a romantic date.

So far, so bad.  I am a great fan of booksellers in general – I do believe that they are among the great unsung heroes of civilisation – and probably of 95% of booksellers in particular.  But it is true that there is an annoying minority of booksellers who ponce around giving themselves airs, thus ensuring that all but the most erudite and determined customer is either too scared to enter the shop in the first place or, faced with silence or a supercilious greeting, beats a hasty retreat.  It’s amazing how every fresh generation of booksellers seems to breed a few of these – and how, against all odds, on the whole they manage to survive.

Anyway, back to what booksellers do.  Acquiring the right product is not as easy as it sounds when there are more than a million items to choose from UK publishers alone.  No bookshop can stock more than a fraction of these.  An average bookshop may hold 25,000 titles, a large one twice this figure.  ‘So what,’ you might think, ‘I can’t get every brand of T-shirt in Debenhams or even every brand of deodorant in Boots.’  That’s true, but the difference is that a bookseller’s customers expect to be able to find every book that they want in their local bookshop.  Of course, it’s not possible for the bookseller to fulfil all their expectations, however obscure, but he or she does have to get to know the (constantly-changing) preferences of the local community well enough to be able to score a good hit-rate and also to have an efficient, speedy ordering service in place for the titles that, inevitably, aren’t in stock.

Making the product look attractive is what retailing is all about.  No room for special pleading there, perhaps; except that a bookshop contains hundreds of items that have been arranged according to a system (by category, alphabetical order, Dewey decimal, whatever) and the more successful the shop is in attracting customers, the more likely it is that these items will be lifted out for inspection and returned to the wrong place.  The staff of a sizeable bookshop spends a large percentage of its time just tidying up the shelves.  Then there is the risk of damage.  No bookseller wants to stop a customer from browsing – it is what gives bookshops their unique feel; what makes them, in jargon parlance, ‘destination stores’ – but at the same time repeated handling is bound to leave some of the stock grubby, dog-eared or broken-backed. (One of my pet hates is to see someone callously ‘back’ a paperback.  The screeching of gum and binding as this evil act is perpetrated and the resulting mutilation is as hard to bear as watching a butterfly being broken on a wheel.)  Finally, there is the problem of outright theft – again, the curse of all retailers, but particularly difficult to control when the items being pilfered will slip easily into a bag or pocket.  Security systems help, but they are not infallible.  Bookselling margins are already tiny before being further eroded by ‘shrinkage’.

Finally, there is the challenge of making sure that the customer finds the book that she or he wants, or is even surprised and delighted by being offered a book that pleases but of whose existence s/he has been previously unaware.  In order to achieve this, a bookseller needs not just to understand  the local market, as already mentioned, but to have an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of both backlist and forthcoming titles, along with a highly-developed power of recall.  This is much more difficult than it sounds and is where the bookselling profession really comes into its own.  Booksellers make serendipitous links between what the customer likes and what is on the shelves, dozens of times a day.  Unfortunately, you only get to hear about the times when they drop the occasional stitch.  For example, one of the national newspapers once ran a prominent story on how its reporter had gone into a well-known bookshop and asked for Amsterdam, the novel by Ian McEwan, only to be directed to the travel section.  The member of staff in question was a Saturday girl and, needless to say, she was mortified.

Apart from the three great planks upon which bookselling is constructed – getting the books, displaying them, connecting them with the right customers – there is a myriad of other tasks associated with running a good bookshop, from handling goods-in and returns to keeping the shop floor areas clean and hazard-free to managing complex staff rotas, meeting publishers’ representatives and organising events.

I think that I have just proved the case that good booksellers are special.  And the real crème de la crème of the bookselling industry reinforce their specialness by keeping this to themselves.  They take a modest delight in practising their skills in an understated way, knowing full well that the best way to win and keep customers is by understanding that ars est celare artem.

Christina James Gravatar (1)Christina James was born in Spalding and sets her novels in the evocative Fenland countryside of South Lincolnshire.  She works as a bookseller, researcher and teacher.  She has a lifelong fascination with crime fiction and its history.  She is also a well-established non-fiction writer, under a separate name. You can follow Christina on her blog at www.christinajamesblog.com and on twitter @CAJamesWriter.