Friday, 23 May 2014

Books To Cheer You Up!

There's a song in the film Frozen called 'Reindeers are better than people' [best Disney film ever by the way] and I would argue that sometimes books are better than people too. Now don't get me wrong, people are great and life would be absolutely terrible without them, but sometimes people say and do the wrong things and that's when I turn to books to find solace. If you're feeling at all down because of the sheer insensitivity of other people, then why not try one of the reads below. These books all made me laugh in public, when only moments before I had been battling with internal rage, and that means they're really funny as it can take a lot to make me laugh even at the best of times:   

1. Happyslapped By A Jellyfish by Karl Pilkington

Some people think that Karl Pilkington is nothing more than a whingebag, but he never fails to make me smile. He always has a unique perspective on the world around him, and I read his books precisely so that I can revel in his unusual thoughts and see his take on things. All of his books are basically travel diaries, but travel diaries unlike any other. Karl never sugarcoats anything, and his diary entries are usually concerned with the more mundane aspects of travelling life such as the cleanliness of the toilet in the villa and what the local supermarket was like [although Karl does seem to have much worse luck than me in this regard] and as such, his accounts seem much more real than other travel diaries, which often gush too much and sound false. Karl's brand of real yet amusing pessimism always manages to make me feel better.    

2. Herrings Go About The Sea In Shawls by Alexander Abingdon

I picked this book up from a stall outside of a bookshop in New York on the strength of the cover alone. The title still tickles me ten years after buying it , and Dr. Seuss' accompanying illustration is just perfect - the herring's self satisfied smirk as he parades around in his shawl just pleases me immensely for some unexplainable reason. The content of the book ain't bad either; it's a compliation of children and teenagers' exam and classroom mistakes all of which are entertaining and endearing as only children's miguided logic can be.

3. Never Hit a Jellyfish With A Spade by Guy Browning

If you're ever unsure about how to deal with everyday occurrences such as asking for directions or standing in a queue, then Guy Browning is your man. He is the master of the 'how to' article and he discusses the proper etiquette for every situation you can think of, from wearing shorts to putting people at ease, and no matter what he happens to be discussing he always puts a funny, uplifting slant on it.     

4. Is It Just Me Or Is Everything Shit? by Steve Lowe and Alan Macarthur

Sometimes when you feel down you don't want to read life affirming things, you don't want to count your blessings, you want to wallow in misery, and for some reason wallowing actually makes you feel better. If you like to think about miserable things when you're feeling down then this is a great place to start. This book is basically a collection of rants about modern life, which may get you started on internal rants of your own [which in turn should distract you from your real problems]. The rants in the book are all tongue in cheek and though they may seem negative, are actually strangely uplifting - this book definitely has gotten me through some difficult moments, and so has its sequel. 

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Books to get you in a Summer mood!

It is a grey day today [which I am enjoying actually, as it makes staying in a lot cosier] but I know that most people can't wait for it to be summer. So, without further ado, here are four books that are guaranteed to get you in a super summery mood [and yes, two of them are teen reads...but so what?] 

1. A vision of Paradise by John Dyer

John Dyer is one of my favourite artists because his pictures are so vibrant and full of colour,  and they have a terrific energy to them. His artwork always inspires me to travel  - in fact, I actually booked a trip to the isles of Scilly on the strength of one of his pictures. If you like daydreaming about seascapes then this book is for you, as it showcases some of Dyer's best prints. 

 Flowers And Fun Porthminster Beach by John Dyer 

2. The Summer Book by Tove Jansson

Sometimes I wish I could disappear from society and live on an island [although I would probably get lonely after a week.] In this lovely book, Tove Jansson examines what it's like to do just that, as the backdrop for her tale is a remote Finnish island with only two inhabitants - Sophia and her grandmother. Whilst most people would probably get bored with only one other person for company, both characters are good at creating their own entertainment - in fact they are enraptured with the minutiae of the natural world around them. This book is great for teaching you to stop and smell the roses, and what better time to do that than summer?    

3. The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants series by Ann Brashares

I love the premise for these books.  Four completely different teenage girls magically all fit into the same pair of jeans [even though they are different shapes and sizes] and they all take turns in wearing them. If something exciting or interesting happens to them whilst they're wearing the jeans, they they write about it on the jeans themselves. They actually use the jeans as a means of keeping in touch through posting them, as they are away having different summer escapades. Each book focuses around a different summer, and when I was a teenager, it was a ritual of mine to read one of the series each year [although I think I did read two in one year once]. I shall definitely be reading the last installment this summer, which catches up with the girl's lives ten years later.      

4. The Wanderer by Sharon Creech

This book is all about adventuring and exploring, and therefore it is perfect for a summer read, as I do strongly believe that summer should be all about discovering new horizons and stepping outside of the norm. It tells the tale of teenager Sophie embarking on an epic voyage across the ocean from Connenticut to England with her cousins in tow. I love how Creech imagines life at sea [her book seems very well researched] and I love how the sea becomes a character in its own right, always moving the story forward. This book makes me want to set sail for distant shores [though I do always get seasick..] and go on an adventure of my own - luckily this summer, I will be!   

Sunday, 11 May 2014

What it's really like working in a bookshop

Three years ago, before I was a nanny, I worked part-time in a university bookshop. Now, you would think that since I love people and I love books, that working in a bookshop would be my dream job [and before I started working there, so did I!] but actually working in a bookshop wasn't that much fun. Now, I know some people believe that work shouldn't be 'fun', but that's not a view I subscribe to at all - we spend so much time working that I think it should be something we like doing [if at all possible - though I know how hard it can be to get any job sometimes]. So consider this post a warning to anyone dreaming of working in a bookshop and bear in mind that if you do end up doing this job you will have to do the following:

1. Lift lots and lots of heavy boxes/books

Those shelves aren't going to stack themselves! Just because you work in a bookish environment,  it doesn't mean that you won't be expected to do lots and lots of manual labour. Beware, law books are usually the heaviest [and usually the ones that have to be lifted on and off the shelves the most often as they are constantly being revised.]

2. Stock Check

This was the worst aspect of the job by a long way. The shop I worked in sold lots of stationery, and believe me when I tell you, there's nothing more boring than counting how many biros you have in stock. As well as counting pens, doing a stock check also meant locating Every. Single. Book in the shop and checking them off a list. Usually there would be a couple of books that would be impossible to find as they would be hiding underneath some rubbish in the back room, and hours would be lost searching for them.

 Counting pens is oh so stimulating...though they are pretty.

3. Serve difficult customers

Now, actually bookshop customers tend to be a polite bunch, but in amongst the lovely people, there's always one tryng to get a 'special' discount, getting ratty with you because the book is cheaper on Amazon and asking for a refund on a dog-eared, clearly well thumbed book. There's also always the person rattling the shop shutters during your lunchbreak or the person who is annoyed that their order hasn't arrived yet. And then there's the kid who deliberately mixes up the pen display whilst he has a row with his mother...

4. Promote Sales

I don't really like doing a hard sell on customers. I think that bookshops should be low pressure places where people come to relax, and that doing a sales spiel will actually result in less sales. However, my boss didn't share the same view as me [and I think you'll find that a lot of bookshop managers are the same] and every so often he would get me to say annoying things like 'do you want a pack of highlighters with that reference book?' which would usually result in a customer looking at me with a blank stare.

5. Have an existiential crisis

Some bookshops are busier than others [and some girls are bigger than others...! Sorry, couldn't resist The Smiths reference] but my bookshop was very quiet, and most days we didn't have that many customers [and I think this is sadly a growing trend in bookshops] and so there was plenty of time for me to question what I was doing with my life and what my purpose was exactly, and why I existed. In order to give me something to do whilst having my existiential crisis, my boss would get me to rearrange the shelves [more heavy lifting!], sweep the floor and dust needlessly. I think there's a lot of potential for boredom working in a shop without many people in it and that was certainly true in my case. Fortunately the job didn't put me off reading. Books actually turned out to be the best refuge from the bookshop...every lunch hour I would escape into a book...just so I didn't have to think about working with them anymore.

Anyone else have a bad experience working in a bookshop? Let me know in the comments! 

Saturday, 3 May 2014

My Favourite London Bookshops

London is undoubtedly a literary city; there are blue plaques everywhere asserting that Thomas Hardy lived here, or Charles Dickens lived there, there are pubs dedicated to writers and there are cafes designed for book readings, some of the biggest and best libraries in the world are to be found here and of course, there's a huge array of bookshops to choose from. As I've said elsewhere, I don't often buy books in bookshops, but I do love to browse them, and these are my favourite places to do just that:   

1. Waterstones, Piccadily

Some people might object to chain bookshops, but I'm not one of them. It's always easy to find books in Waterstones, and in my experience Waterstones staff are usually very helpful. This is my favourite branch in London because not only is it the biggest branch [in fact it is Europe's biggest bookshop - there are six floors of books!], it is also rather lovely looking with it's broad staircases, it's impressive frontage and vibrant displays. And when you're done browsing, there's the 5th floor cafe to chill out in, which has brilliant views, and fabulous food.    

2. Daunt Books, Marylebone

If you're a travel book collector [like me] then this is the shop for you. Shelves and shelves of travel books, including the lovely big lonely planet ones just waiting to inspire you. Again, this is a good- looking bookshop with a pretty stained glass window dominating the back of the shop, built in shelves, and old fashioned lettering. Plus they give you tote bags when you purchase something, so you can declare your love for their books to all and sundry after you've left.  


3.Brixton Bookmongers

This is actually my nearest bookshop, but that's not why it's made the list. This one is great for finding obscurities [I particulary love their magic section, as I found a purple velvet spell book in there the other day, which made me feel like a character in a fantasy novel] and is definitely one of the cheaper bookshops to buy from, as all the books are secondhand. There's also a squishy green sofa in the back which is super comfortable if you want somewhere to sit while you decide what to buy.            

4.Black Gull Books, Camden

This was actually the first bookshop I visited in London aside from my local, and I remember loving the fact that there were books seemingly spilling out of the shop, as there are shelves inside and out. As with the rest of the shops in Camden, there are many unusual treasures to be found here [I once found a beautiful copy of Tolkien's The Silmarilion tucked away almost out of sight] and it's a good sight for people watching, as well as book browsing, since it's located in a sunny yard, very close to Camden Lock.

What are your favourite bookshops in London or elsewhere?