Welcome back to our new monthly feature - The Booksellers' Book Club. Here you will find out what Avid staff members are currently reading, have just read, and plan on reading next.
TRENT - SF expert, author, bookseller
The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe by Kij Johnson
I just finished reading The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe by US writer Kij Johnson. It’s part of Tor’s excellent series of novellas, and it just won the World Fantasy Award for Long Fiction. I liked it so much I’ve ordered some stock for the shop. Kij Johnson has been writing wonderful short fiction for a while now, but this book was quite extraordinary. It’s set in the Dreamlands of HP Lovecraft, and Kij has given them a wonderful spin, addressing the more than latent misogyny in Lovecraft’s work. Vellitt Boe, a late middle-aged woman professor in one of the universities of the Dreamlands must go on a quest to waking world in order to save her university from vengeful, cruel and extremely arbitrary gods. The Dreamlands are beautifully described, the action sequences thrilling, and a small amount of balance is provided to the Lovecraftian Mythos. I’d love to see more of this sort of work, rich, vivid, and a lot of fun.
Kij Johnson has also recently written a sequel to the Wind in the Willows called The River Bank. I can’t wait to read it, not least because it is illustrated by the extremely talented Kathleen Jennings - I've seen the illustrations and they are exquisite.
On Writers and Writing by Margaret Atwood
I’ve been reading Margaret Atwood’s On Writers and Writing, which was originally published under the much more evocative title Negotiating with the Dead. It’s a wonderful series of essays built around a lecture series that she gave in 2000. It’s also helped me with the draft of the book I’m writing - which actually spends a lot of its time negotiating with the dead - the perfect gift for the writer in your life, or someone who’s interested in the process of writing. [Writing]
Daemon Voices by Philip Pullman
Which leads neatly to Philip Pullman’s Daemon Voices, yet again a series of lectures turned into essays looking at the writing process, and story telling in general. There’s some great stuff in here, and it’s a wonderful insight into his writing process. [Writing/ Essays]
Draft No. 4 On the Writing Process by John McPhee
Draft No. 4 On the Writing Process by John McPhee is a structuralist’s dream. I love reading writing books on genres that I don’t write (poetry writing guides are wonderful - Particularly Mary Oliver’s Poetry Handbook) you pick up so much. John McPhee’s exploration of writing long-form non-fiction focusses on structure though his argument is that ‘It’s meant to be about as visible as someone’s bones’. The biggest take away from all of these books is that everybody struggles to get it right, and that everyone does it differently. Stories have particular commonalities in their shape but the making of them varies from writer to writer, something I find very reassuring. [Writing]
SPENCER - bookseller, events assistant
The Sparsholt Affair by Alan Hollinghurst
I have just finished The Sparsholt Affair, by Man Booker Prize winning author Alan Hollinghurst. Broken into five parts, The Sparsholt Affair chronicles the lives of a group of friends united by their interests in art and literature. The story chronicles the impact of the ‘Sparsholt Affair’ on the lives of the friends and those around them from 1940s Oxford, at the height of the Second World War, through to London in 2012. It is at times a cryptic exploration of human nature filled with drama, humour and sub-plots.
Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie
I am currently reading Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie, a story exploring themes of terrorism, love, faith and family. It follows the lives of three siblings making their way in the world while grappling with past tragedy and the death of the father they hardly knew. A father who happened to be jihadist who died on his way to Guantanamo Bay. Although a work of fiction, it is timely in its consideration of radicalisation, the role of the West and governments all over the world. It is also an examination of the effects of misguided policy on the ‘War on Terror’.
To Read Next:
Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
Next on my list to read is Sing, Unburied, Sing winner of the 2017 National Book Award, by Jesmyn Ward. Set in contemporary Mississippi it explores themes of race and poverty in America’s deep south. An author on the rise, Ward has won the National Book award twice and was this year awarded a grant by the MacArthur Foundation.
CHLOË - Avid social media manager, website assistant, bookseller
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
The bardo is a key concept of Tibetan Buddhism: it’s a middle, or liminal, spiritual landscape where we are sent between physical lives. In this book, President Lincoln is mourning over the death of his 11-year-old son, Willie, who died of typhoid. It's 1862, so the story is set at the dawn of the Civil War. Saunders weaves historical accounts with his own multi-voiced narration as Willie is visited in the bardo by his father. Willie is surrounded by spirits in suspension who long to tell their own stories of woe and the circumstances that prevent them from moving on to the final death.
It’s not the easiest book to read - the text is interspersed with fragments of newspaper articles and letter extracts, and is complex it its depths - but it’s certainly rewarding. It’s bizarre and surreal, sometimes humorous, but also incredibly moving and thought provoking. [Fiction]
Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew Sullivan
This book follows the story follows Lydia, a 30-year-old bookseller who is confronted with the suicide of a loyal young customer named Joey in her bookshop. Joey was an ex-con and one of Lydia’s best customers. He left Lydia a series of messages hidden inside the bookshop’s books, and Lydia hopes to discover the reason for his suicide by decoding them. Meanwhile, Lydia’s horrific past is dredged up. We discover that Lydia was the sole survivor of a terrible murder when she was only 10 years old. The perpetrator was never discovered. Joey’s suicide and Lydia’s past merge together to create a dark and twisty mystery filled with eccentric characters. I would tentatively classify this as bubblegum crime. It’s an addictive thriller with dark elements, but nothing too scary that will keep you awake at night. I would recommend this to someone wanting an addictive beach read. Readers who liked Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan will also enjoy this one. [Crime]
Nevermoor by Jessica Townsend
There was a lot of hype about this book and people were claiming it as the next Harry Potter, so, obviously, I was skeptical. But I loved it! It is magical, funny, absurd, addictive - all the best things. The story follows Morrigan, a cursed child who is fated to die at midnight on Eventide. But, her fate is interrupted by Jupiter North, a zany member of a secret society who wants Morrigan to join. But to do so, she must complete a series of difficult and dangerous trials. If she fails, she must go back to the real world to confront her deadly fate. This book is for adults and kids alike, and just so much fun. The best part - it's part of a trilogy! I can't wait for the next instalment. [Young Adult]
Tales from a Tall Forest by Shaun Micallef
Micallef reimagines classic fairy tales and weaves them together to create a seamless world of myth and magical beings. In classic Shaun Micallef style, he adds an element of absurdity that makes you laugh out loud. For example, Little Red Riding Hood appears as the Tiny Poncho Girl; an evil monkey becomes existential after wishing to be made a God (he realises that secularity is taking hold of the kingdom); and the King’s daughter becomes addicted to kissing amphibians in the hopes of turning one into a prince. It's a fun and easy read, filled with stunning illustrations by Jonathan Bentley. [Short Stories/ Fantasy]
KRISSY - events manager, author, bookseller
The Incest Diary by Anonymous
I have just finished The Incest Diary by Anonymous. This book is one of two books that my book club will read in January and February. It is not essential to read both of them to come to book club. The other book is Testosterone Rex a science book about the myths of testosterone and the new science which is questioning gender stereotypes. I have a feeling that The Incest Diary will lead to the most intense discussion out of the two books. It is a slim volume but a powerful first person account by a woman who was abused by her father from when she was a young girl right into her twenties and how that abuse has gone on to shape her whole sexual identity. The anonymous author doesn't pull an punches. It is written with a brutality and an honesty that is uncomfortable and is infused with resignation, desire and anger. The quality of the writing is so good that any material would have been compelling penned by this writer, but the subject matter coupled with that pure clear voice makes this a unique book and one that will deeply trouble any reader. Not an easy read but an important one. [Biography]
The Invisible War: A Tale on Two Scales by Ailsa Wild, Ben Hutchings, Briony Barr, Gregory Crocetti, and Jeremy Bar
This graphic novel just won the Most Underrated Book Award for 2017 and it is a beauty. So glad I was alerted to it. It is a fascinating story about a nurse, Sister Annie Barnaby working on the Western Front in World War 1. It follows her journey in real size and also it shrinks right down to the size of the tiny microbes Shigella Flexneri that are the colony associated with dysentery. It is a fascinating scientific look at what actually happens in the spread of a disease at a micro level - the colony are quite chatty and discuss their situation amongst themselves - and also what happens at the human scale when a dysentery outbreak occurs. A fascinating book told in both the micro and the macro. I am glad it wont this award because more people will find it now and it won't be the most underrated book for long. [Graphic Novel]
My Cat Yugoslavia by Pajtim Statovci
I am currently reading My Cat Yugoslavia by Pajtim Statovci. This is a novel about migration, dispossession and features a pet snake and a talking cat. The book cuts back and forth between a seventeen year old Kosovian girl who is given in marriage to a young man she met once for a brief moment, and a lonely young Kosovian man in Finland who buys a pet python for company, hooks up with random men he meets on the internet and finally moves an extremely attractive talking cat in to his apartment. This is a book about migrants and the scars that migration leave on the next generation. Come for the talking cat, stay for the deeply unsettling insights into second generation migrant existence. [Fiction]
KATHY - bookseller
The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher
I just finished reading The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher. Fisher's wry humour and perceptiveness fills the pages. It is also sad in parts, because of her death shortly after publication and because she was extremely self-deprecating. She includes excerpts from her diaries around the time of A New Hope, when she was head over heels for co-star Harrison Ford. These entries chronicle their affair and show her as the vulnerable, sensitive counterpart to her strong and wily screen self. Poems written at the time showcase the confusion and roiling emotion of a first love/lust amplified by being in the public eye. Photos of Fisher as Leia along with the candid text itself reveal a woman who, for better or worth, was inescapably tied to Princess Leia Organa of Alderaan. [Biography]
Difficult Women by Roxane Gay
I am currently reading Difficult Women by Roxane Gay while I travel around Japan. It's confronting and saddening - not exactly light travel reading - but is inspiring nonetheless. [Short Stories]
To Read Next:
Speaking of women challenging the status quo, my current 'to read' list has a theme of being nonfiction by or about women in music. I love reading about women changing the game and holding their own in the music industry. Some on my list include:
• Devotion by Patti Smith. This compact book looks to be a beautiful blend of poetry, essays, and images to inspire creativity, from the genre-defying Smith. [Essays]
• A Sick Life: TLC 'n Me: Stories from On and Off the Stage by Tionne 'T-Boz' Watkins offers a glimpse into 90s group TLC and also details how having sickle cell disease has impacted T-Boz's life.
• Woman Walk the Line: How the Women in Country Music Changed Our Lives (edited by Holly Gleason) is a collection of essays celebrating female country musicians from June Carter Cash to Loretta Lynn.
SARAH - head book buyer, bookseller (of the year!)
Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
This month I read what could be my pick for book of the year - Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward. Set in contemporary Mississippi coast, Jojo is thirteen years old but prematurely adult. Both of his parents are inconsistencies in his life, Michael, his white father who has been in prison for the past 3 years, and Leonie, his black mother with a drug problem, so Jojo is surrogate parent to his 3 yr old sister Kayla while they live with their maternal grandparents; Mam is bed ridden and slowly dying of cancer, while Pop shares stories of his own incarcerated youth to the eager audience of Jojo. When Leonie gets word that Michael is to be released early, she packs up the kids to drive up and bring Michael home, to show they are still a real family. Both Leonie and Jojo have ghosts (literal ghosts) that are not easy to shake, as they search for truth in their stories. Sing Unburied Sing is a powerful, empathetic and haunting look at race and family in the post-Katrina south, that left me reeling long after the final page. [Fiction]
1947: Where Now Begins by Elisabeth Asbrink
I also read 1947: Where Now Begins by Elisabeth Asbrink, a journalist who through this book argues that 1947 was the year that set the stage for our modern society. Each month is given a chapter, and it follows the story threads of different characters who played an important role in history - from Christian Dior creating his New Look, the UN developed the concept of genocide and human rights for a post Nazi world, Simone de Beauvoir wrote The Second Sex and George Orwell wrote Nineteen Eighty Four. The stories are personal and the characters are deeply human, juxtaposing the small and trivial with the grand and sweeping, although it is very Euro/American-centric, the writing is informative and entertaining - this is no dry history book. [History]
Over my short break at Christmas I am hoping to catch up on some of the amazing titles I've missed this year - including The Power by Naomi Alderman and Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie, but I also have a few manuscripts to get through so I'll see how I go. So many books and so little time!
BRI - events assistant, bookseller
The Woman Who Fooled the World: Belle Gibson's Cancer Con by Beau Donelly and Nick Toscano
A Garden Wall in Provence by Carrie Knowles