Monday, 30 November 2009

Favourite book shops - Daunt Books

There was a really good profile of Daunt Books in the Evening Standard on Friday.

Specifically why they are booking while Borders collapsed. Extract:

"Daunt Books, the five-store chain with branches in Marylebone, Hampstead and Holland Park, has seen sales rise 7% this year, with double-digit increases over the past two months.Founder James Daunt admits the recent surge is due to poor comparables, but says that business is “booming”.

“We're doing well because we have good staff who concentrate on selling good books,” he says. “The products available now are fantastic — although there isn't a single book that's doing massive business, 30 or 40 histories and biographies are selling really well.” Daunt reckons his competitive advantage is his “bricks and mortar”. His stores host author talks and events “almost every night” — next month Michael Palin and Will Self are amongst the billing. “We make our stores really nice places to come into,” he says."

Full article here

Friday, 27 November 2009

Bad Sex Awards

Hilarious, if pretty much NSFW set of extracts from nominees in this year's Literary Review Bad Sex Awards, featuring work from Nick Cave, John Banville, and Philip Roth among others.

I think most sex scenes, taken out of context like this, would seem pretty hilarious; I actually like the Nick Cave one and it's made me more likely to buy the book.

Rent an Author

This is a neat idea from the US - the charity 826Boston, which is dedicated to helping students aged 8-18 (no, I can't work how they got to '826Boston' either).

Raise $1,000 and your book group can have a well known author at your book group.

Any London authors want to try something similar? We can't guarantee to raise $1,000, but we can feed you lots of cheese...

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Next meeting - Netherland by Joseph O'Neill - Wednesday 25th November

The next meeting will take place this Wednesday, 25th, at Dan's flat in Clapham.

We'll be discussing Netherland by Joseph O'Neill, a book about New York post 9/11.

Here are some links:

The Guardian's review at the time of publication:
"At times it's hard not to wonder whether O'Neill, who's the author of an admired memoir as well as being a long-term member of the Staten Island Cricket Club, might not have done better to write a memoir-essay on New York cricket. And when Hans starts spending time with the eccentric denizens of the Chelsea, some readers might worry about what Joan Didion once called New York's "insistent sentimentalisation of experience". Yet O'Neill's take on the notion of the American dream is both unsentimental and cleverly attuned to that notion's grip on the local imagination. Perhaps stories of striving immigrants and America's ambiguous promise speak to New York reviewers on frequencies inaudible to outsiders. O'Neill has said that he wrote the book as "an American novel ... My first novel as an American novelist", and in this respect, he seems to have succeeded."

This from The Times:
"Hans's gradual understanding that the American dream has a dark underside for striving outsiders such as Chuck is particularly well rendered; for example, when Hans emerges onto the New York streets after a nightmarish tangle with the city's bureaucracy while trying to get a driver's licence. “I was seized for the first time by a nauseating sense of America, my gleaming adopted country, under the secret actuation of unjust, indifferent powers. The rinsed taxis, hissing over fresh slush, shone like grapefruits; but if you looked down into the space between the road and the undercarriage, where icy matter stuck to pipes and water streamed down the mud flaps, you saw a foul mechanical dark.”
Chuck's tragedy is that he never really sees this darkness, never understands that America might value his energy while having no time for his dreams. Or, as a would-be investor in his grand venture explains, “there's a limit to what Americans understand. The limit is cricket”. "

A 5 star review on Amazon:
"If you, like me, don't care for, or even understand the game of cricket, don't fear that you'll be embroiled in endless descriptions of the thwack of leather on willow, this novel is not about cricket in that way. Cricket is a mechanism to explore the city of New York with its ability to create the diaspora of almost everywhere else. What captivates is the voice of Hans describing his life, his love for his wife, Rachel and his child, and the gift of friendship with Chuck, who has endless stories to tell, as well as fantasies to dream about.
Wry, gentle, sensuous and sensitive, Hans battles to understand himself, his wife and the city of New York and we learn much about the history of the city and its inhabitants in this stunningly intimate and moving narrative. This is an absorbing and captivating read, one of the most memorably pleasurable books I've come across this year."

& a 1 star review:
"The basic idea of this book is appealing. Cricket in New York has a quirky ring to it. Quite why the additional quirk of a Dutchman playing it has been introduced, is hard to say. It smacks of O'Neill simply trying to squeeze all the things he knows about, into one novel. It doesn't work. There is not a love of the game flowing through the words - it is too carefully aimed at Americans who have never heard of the game. Hence, the cricket-as-metaphor idea falls flat on its face. It is perfectly possible to write about cricket and the characters who love it. But not if you're trying to explain the rules to the reader. After 250 pages, you don't care what the ending is. There is no `big reveal', no satisfying outcome. Hans just stops gently whining. Nothing has hung together; nothing has resonated or given you pause for thought. This is an Emperor's New Clothes novel, which has somehow been marketed into a success, by implying that if you do not love it, you're intellectually unworthy of it."

& one final one stressing the connection / similarity with The Great Gatsby:
"Many tout this as the top book of 2008—and it's easy to see why. Netherland is a stunning read, a 21st-century send-up of The Great Gatsby—the Gatsby figure, in this case, a charming, enigmatic immigrant from Trinidad, Chuck Ramkissoon. The Nick Caraway narrator for the book is Hans van den Broek, a Dutch banker living in Manhattan, whose wife, in the aftermath of 9/11, leaves him for their home in Britain. Lost and abandoned, Hans turns to the game of cricket to fill time and alleviate his loneliness. It's how he first meets Chuck Ramkisson. O'Neill gives us a kaleidoscope view of New York—a world of immigrants and Wall Street bankers, of shifting identities and aspirations, of solitary desolation and odd relationships. Chuck, a gregarious, charasmatic, and tireless entrepreneur, draws Hans in through the force of his personality—and it's mainly through Chuck that we see the variety that is New York."

Email me (or ) if you need the address. See you on Wednesday!

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Writers don't get paid as much as you'd think

This is a fascinating article written by author Lynn Viehl, whose book Twilight Fall (no, not part of the Twilight series) was a New York Times top 20 best seller.

"My advance for Twilight Fall was $50,000.00, a third of which I did not get paid until the book physically hit the shelf — this is now a common practice by publishers, to withhold a portion of the advance until date of publication. Of that $50K, my agent received $7,500.00 as her 15% (which she earns, believe me) the goverment received roughly $15,000.00, and $1594.27 went to cover my expenses (office supplies, blog giveaways, shipping, promotion, etc.) After expenses and everyone else was paid, I netted about $26K of my $50K advance for this book, which is believe it or not very good — most authors are lucky if they can make 10% profit on any book. This should also shut up everyone who says all bestselling authors make millions — most of us don’t."

Buy lots of books, and don't feel guilty about buying expensive books - the authors work hard for the money!

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Missing the point

I love the feature in Amazon that lets you look at reviews for a book specifically by how many stars people have given it.

For example I read Me Cheeta, the fake autobiography of the chimp in the Tarzan films, by James Lever, on a recent flight, and was laughing like a drain for a lot of it.

It's really just a very bitchy, funny, showbiz memoir, which probably makes a lot of stories up, and steals others from books like The Moon's a Balloon. It's great fun, especially if you like films from the 30s and 40s.

Some reviewers on Amazon have rather hilariously missed the point though, like this one:

"My book group read this book as we had been impressed by the reviews, but we all, without exception, thought it was awful: badly written, tedious, with no redeeming features other than the photographs. We tried, and failed, to find it amusing. We tried, and failed, to understand what the reviewers saw in it, and it's a mystery to me how it has made it onto the "long list" for the Booker prize!"

Or perhaps it's me that missed the point. Anyway, the story about David Niven, Johnny Weissmuller, two dwarfs, a lion, a Rolls Royce, and Cheeta is worth the price of the book alone - and that's only about 2 pages of it.