Sunday, 24 April 2011

Judge a Book by its Cover.

Articles bemoaning the end of the physical book shop sadden me... 

I can't describe the feelings that well up when I am in a book shop, from Waterstones to the rows of antique book stores opposite the British Museum, or the light, airy confines of the London Review of Books shop, or the dark pannelled Daunt's on Marylebone High Street. I just love trailing my fingers across spines old and new, picking things out, excited about the journey ahead.

My favourite book shop of all is John Sandoe's, just off the King's Road, where I remember a very deep, involved conversation with one of the proprietors about the relative charms of the Jennings books. I was a fan of Jennings' Little Hut, whereas he liked According to Jennings best of all... I must have only been about ten, but that conversation, standing in the shadow of bookcases so tall you feel dwarfed, with all that black wood and the slick, colourful spines, will stay with me forever. The time taken by someone who could have chatted to my parents, rather than me, in an effort to make a sale, will forever be treasured, and that is just one of a thousand moments I've had in that shop that remind me that selling books is more than just about ease and low price. (Hello Amazon!) 

Okay, so sometimes it is... When I need a book for book group, which I don't particularly fancy, and know will probably go charity-shop-wards soon enough, or if I am getting an excruciatingly expensive employment law book that's £50+ in Hammicks Legal Bookshop ( - not that I don't love it, but god, the prices are EYE WATERING!!!) and it's £12 on Amazon.

But I still want the little stores to be there. The ones that present me with the greatest adventures you can have in your own head. I love finding treasure, from the day Claire talked me into buying Red Velvet and Chocolate Heartache in an anonymous Waterstones, to the expedition where I asked Karen in John Sandoe's for a recommendation of some unusual books to read on a plane; coming out with Richard Russo's Empire Falls and Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake. Empire Falls remains to this day one of my personal high points of literature, and represents a great achievement for me. It was the first book - aside from one of the trashy romance novels, literally Mills and Boon stylee, that got me through two years of ilness (and still do get me through the bad patches of depression and panic I am still occassionally plagued with), that I read from cover to cover when I recovered from a debilitating and incredibly confidence sapping health issue that kept my teenage self from getting up, going to school, and having a normal life for far too long. The concentration it took to read that book was something I did not think I could do, but thanks to Karen, and to an amazingly rich tapestry of words, I found the experiences I had been sorely missing during my "lost" months of ilness, and gained back a small ounce of confidence in my own ability to bounce back.  That tiny achievement in the scheme of things still keeps me going today.

I digress.

When you're in a book shop, how do you choose the book? I tend to go for a cross between an analysis of whether or not I have heard of the author, whether I like the title and the cover, (nothing pink or curly or too fussy thank you!!!) and whether it feels right in my hand. I like little slips of books, and massive doorstops too. I hate a book to be too large or chunky to hold, though if it is large in size, let it be easily opened - and kept - at the right page... 

Some of my favourite "come to me" books I've encountered lately have been:

The Coralie Bickford-Smith designed Penguin Classics... Particularly The Hound of the Baskervilles.

Seriously... How awesome are all the bugs? I'm not the world's biggest Sherlock Holmes fan, though Benedict Cumberbatch did do an awesome turn... But this book, with all its Antipodium tones really ticks the book buying box for me. Judging a book by its cover? Oh yes.

I so want this skirt... But that book is the Next Best Thing!!! =D (Photo from Cupcakes For The Eyes)

This Jane Eyre edition is also stunning. I think it really evokes the atmosphere of the book, and as I take great pride in choosing to own the editions of books I think are the best representation of the words inside, I'd buy this over other editions any day...

The cover art is by Petra Börner. I think her work is generally pretty awesome...

What about The Long Song by Andrea Levy?

I just LOVE the colours of this book, shortlisted for last year's Man Booker Prize. Take Andrea Levy's name, add a story about Jamaican Plantation life - my mother spent a while in Jamaica in the 70s, and its culture and history fascinate me - and put a kick ass cover on the front, and I'm SOLD!

What about you guys? Any stories to tell, or books that just took your breath away?

Hope you're all having a truly lovely long Easter weekend!!!