That Was The Year That Was – part 2…

After a brief pause (for an evening of wine, cheese and Deathly Hallows part 2…) here’s the rest of my highlights of 2017.

July

51yytgdLxSL._AC_US218_Lots of excitement in Bradford during July as the Literature Festival takes over most of the city’s major venues. I always love working at this festival – the talks cover themes from feminism to cricket and Jane Austen to the Partition of India. There were so many interesting events and books  that I’m still playing catch-up – I still have to read Adelle Stripe’s Black Teeth and a Brilliant Smile – and, because I’m working on bookstalls I hardly get to see any of the talks. I did find time, however, to read a few books during the month including one which definitely makes my top 5 for the year. I began the month with a new Matt Haig (always a joy) and then a new Rachel Joyce. Given the fact that my new favourite place in Halifax is a record shop it should come as no surprise to find that The Music Shop was a 2017 favourite.

August

51dtYojn65L._SX316_BO1,204,203,200_Another bit of holiday time for me – a regular trip to a folk festival means plenty of time to spend sat in a field with friends, a glass of wine, a good book and great music as a backdrop. I enjoyed some Irish romance, a new twist on psychological thrillers and some good old-fashioned historical fiction but I think my top read for the month was a post-apocalypse narrated in part by a foul-mouthed dog.

September

35512560September means lots of ‘back to school’ books in the shop and the start of all the big books coming out in time for Christmas. I took the chance to read John O’Farrell’s follow-up to Things Can Only Get Better (after deciding the only way I could react to the politics of 2017 is to laugh at it) and a new history of medieval queens by Alison Weir. Highlight of the month’s reading for me, however, was a warts and all look at the world of secondhand bookselling. I’m not sure if anyone who has never worked in retail would laugh quite so hard at Shaun Bythell’s adventures but I loved it. Personal highlight of the month though was a visit from my Mum – always a joy!

October

34728079I read a couple more really enjoyable potential Christmas bestsellers in October. I’m a big fan of Sarah Millican as a comedian – I’m even more of a fan now after reading her warm and humane (but slightly filthy) biography/self-help title. During a period when so many famous figures turned out to have feet of clay (that reached their necks in some cases) it was also heartening to hear that Tom Hanks is as nice a guy as he seems – his book of short stories showed that he is also intelligent, thoughtful and a pretty good writer. My favourite book for October, however, was a Japanese novel about a man trying to rehome a cat. It doesn’t sounds much when I describe it like that but it was a beautiful book – another top 5 contender.

November

9780091956943Christmas is starting to loom. Yes, we put the decorations up and get the cards and gift-wrap out early – but by the end of the month it is all about selling lots of lovely books so we take our chances when we can. There is still time to read a bit too – my highlights for this month were a densely plotted (and occasionally mind-boggling) novel from Nick Harkaway featuring high-finance, sharks and alchemy and an eagerly awaited new book from Andy Weir. For sheer readability and fun though it is Weir’s Moon-based crime caper which makes it onto my 2017 top 5.

December

Not a big month for new books – more a culmination of the previous eleven really. There are some fun humour titles but not much else. So I have spent much of the last four and a half weeks getting ahead on the new titles coming out in early 2018. Lots of reviews to come there – watch this space I guess. Like many others, however, I would describe my personal December highlights as time spent with my family and friends (with some running achievements – like my 100th parkrun – and an awful lot of chocolate to take into account too.

Here’s hoping you enjoyed some of the books I have reviewed in 2017. I look forward to carrying on in 2018 (but I may try to keep better track of my favourites….)

Jane

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The Diary of a Bookseller – Shaun Bythell

I like to read all sorts of things. In fact, I’d almost go as far as to say I have a bit of a morbid fear of not having anything to read. Never mind worrying about crashes, delays or even *gasp* running out of tea, my worst fear is a long journey without a book. I’ve been known to read, in great detail, the ingredients list on a pack of buffet-car crisps or every word of the inflight magazine and the safety instruction but, of course, I prefer a book. I’m not, as you may be able to tell from this blog, fixated on one type of book – I’ll read lots of fiction genres, history, biographies, science-writing as well as books written for children and young people – but I do have my favourites. I love history (both in fictional and non-fiction forms), to wallow in a good post-apocalypse or books that make me cry a bit: but the one things that will almost guarantee my interest is a book about books themselves. Like most people I enjoy reading about someone I can identify with – I like stories about booksellers. That sorts out my fiction needs but, generally speaking, booksellers aren’t really famous enough to feature in the biography or history sections. Although, of course, most booksellers aren’t Shaun Bythell, who runs The Bookshop in Wigtown, Scotland’s Book Town. We visited the town (and most of its bookshops) a few years ago on a short holiday in the Galloway area. We stayed at the Galloway Astronomy Centre so that Rob could play with big telescopes at night and during the day he ferried me round various art galleries and bookshops. A blissful few days marred only by the total elusiveness of the local red squirrels. The visit to Wigtown to see the bookshops (and pick up a book or two, obviously) was a highlight – if I’d read this book first we may have had to visit every day instead of just once.

35512560This book is, as it says on the cover, a diary of a year in a secondhand bookseller’s life. On the factual side we are told how much the till took each day and how many online orders the shop received (and was able to supply) – this gives quite an insight into how financial vulnerable small independent retailers are. But the bits that I, and many others by the look of the reviews, really enjoyed was the no-holds-barred account of each day’s interactions with staff, neighbours and customers (both the paying kind and the looky-loos). I’m sure anyone who has ever worked in retail has had ‘moments’ where they have been confused, amused or shocked by the comments and reactions of customers – although I don’t think many could describe these interactions as amusingly as Bythell does.  Not always in the most polite way (especially when talking about some of his staff) but with honesty, wit and a fair amount of dark humour. Think Black Books and you won’t go far wrong. What does shine through though is the love of the job itself – buying in stock, working with authors and helping people to find the books they want (even if they didn’t know what that book was) – and of reading. I’m a little bit jealous of Bythell’s life – the job, the beautiful part of the country he lives in and the community he is a part of –  but his sales figures make me worried that it’s a life that is under threat. The best thing I can think of to do is to plan a return trip to Galloway – taking lots of book-buying cash with me. It’s a tough job, but I think I could manage it…

Jane