Wednesday, January 16, 2008

World's top bookshops

The world's most beautiful bookshop, the Boekhandel Selexyz Dominicanen in Maastricht, according to The Guardian. Read all about it here. It's essentially a giant modular bookshop frame erected inside a Dominican church. If they had erected the self-same framework inside an aircraft hangar, and stocked it with the same books, it doubtless wouldn't have won. The prize is going to the church, then, even though as part of the permission to use the building, it was stipulated that the shop would not impinge on the church building in any way.

Brussels also got a mention, in the form of the art bookshop Posada. Choosing a shop that sells art as well as art-books might seem like cheating. But not as bad as voting a church Best Bookshop.


Saturday, January 05, 2008

Poll: Most beautiful children's book


A Flemish paper is running a poll to find out the "most beautiful children's book of all time".
As well as Dutch and Flemish titles (only to be expected) the list already contains the likes of Charlotte's Web and The Cat in the Hat, Where the Wild Things Are and The Snowman.
I take it their definition of "beautiful" is as wide as can be, since they include not only Sendak and Briggs, but also books like Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, which as far as a recall didn't have a lot of beautiful illustrations, if indeed it had any.
So let me throw the question open to readers: What do you think is the most beautiful children's book of all time?
Already noted:
Beatrix Potter (all)
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Alice in Wonderland
Le petit prince
Tracy Beaker
Pippi Longstocking
Guess How Much I Feel Like Throwing Up Love You
Winnie the Pooh
Vote in comments, as often as you like.

Grapes 2.0

"Reading pushes the pain away"


"Reading pushes the pain away into a place where it no longer seems important. No matter how ill you are, there's a world inside books which you can enter and explore, and where you focus on something other than your own problems. You get to talk about things that people usually skate over, like ageing or death, and that kind of conversation - with everyone chipping in, so you feel part of something - can be enormously helpful." Others say the same: "I've stopped seeing the doctor since I came here and cut down on my medication"; "being in a group with other women who have what I had, breast cancer, didn't help me, but talking about books has made a huge difference."

The reading cure | Review | Guardian Unlimited Books

Blake Morrison in The Guardian on book groups

Monday, December 24, 2007



Carver had been up all night reviewing Lish’s severe editorial cuts––two stories had been slashed by nearly seventy per cent, many by almost half; many descriptions and digressions were gone; endings had been truncated or rewritten––and he was unnerved to the point of desperation. A recovering alcoholic and a fragile spirit, Carver wrote that he was “confused, tired, paranoid, and afraid.” He feared exposure before his friends, who had read many of the stories in their earlier versions.

Life and Letters: Rough Crossings: Reporting & Essays: The New Yorker

I've read much more by Raymond Carver than about him, so this article was a real revelation to me: basically, Carver's famous and much-imitated bare-bones style was not his own, but was imposed on him by an editor, Gordon Lish.

While of course it's not at all the only thing he had going for him, nevertheless the Carver style is a major feature of his work. It shocks me slightly that it was something he not only didn't produce himself -- Lish cut out over-writing, lengthy descriptions, sentimentality and so on -- it was actually something he disagreed with and tried to counter.

The article in the New Yorker's winter fiction issue, which is out here at any rate but which is all online, is accompanied by a selection of letters from Carver to Lish. From this:

July 15, 1970

Hombre, thanks for the superb assist on the stories. No one has done that for me since I was 18, I mean it. High time I think, too. Feel the stories are first class now, but whatever the outcome there, I appreciate the fine eye you turned on them. Hang tough.

To this:

July 10, 1980

Please look through the enclosed copy of “What We Talk About,” the entire collection. You’ll see that nearly all of the changes I suggest are small enough, but I think they’re significant and they all can be found in the first edited ms version you sent me. It’s just, not just, but it’s a question of reinstating some of the things that were taken out in the second version. But I feel strongly some of those things taken out should be back in the finished stories.

There's also a case-history of one of Lish's edits, showing the original Carver and the changes made by Lish. It doesn't sound especially fascinating, but it is. And like it or not, every single edit is an improvement, making the story more Carver-like.

Altogether an excellent piece of coverage, very detailed and very revealing. And it made me want to go back to the stories again, whoever was responsible for them.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

The reading community


More alarming are indications that Americans are losing not just the will to read but even the ability. According to the Department of Education, between 1992 and 2003 the average adult’s skill in reading prose slipped one point on a five-hundred-point scale, and the proportion who were proficient—capable of such tasks as “comparing viewpoints in two editorials”—declined from fifteen per cent to thirteen.

The Department of Education found that reading skills have improved moderately among fourth and eighth graders in the past decade and a half, with the largest jump occurring just before the No Child Left Behind Act took effect, but twelfth graders seem to be taking after their elders. Their reading scores fell an average of six points between 1992 and 2005, and the share of proficient twelfth-grade readers dropped from forty per cent to thirty-five per cent.

The steepest declines were in “reading for literary experience”—the kind that involves “exploring themes, events, characters, settings, and the language of literary works,” in the words of the department’s test-makers.

Twilight of the Books: A Critic at Large: The New Yorker

Bella Italia | Review | Guardian Unlimited Books

Her book is a grand buffet of curious delights. Riley writes to entertain as well as to inform, and never holds back when there is a choice anecdote to relate. We are told how to create a table-top rocket by applying a match to the rolled wrapper of an amaretto biscuit, and how the fettuccine Alfredo that appear on every Italian restaurant menu in the US were invented to charm Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford on their Roman honeymoon.

Understandably, there are also times when Riley seems to get lost in her own erudition. The notion of tipicità, literally "typicality", is fundamental to the way Italians think about their food: it means the way a dish typifies or embodies its place of origin. Riley uses it, in Italian, without explanation and without an entry of its own. She also refers constantly to the great cookery writers of earlier eras. Figures such as Platina, Scappi, Corrado and Artusi have fascinating stories of their own, and they are hugely important in the long history of Italian food. But repeated cross-referencing to these and other names will probably become tiresome for the uninitiated.

Bella Italia | Review | Guardian Unlimited Books

Casterbridge hotel for sale


A hotel immortalised by Thomas Hardy's novel The Mayor Of Casterbridge is expected to sell for around £3m, an estate agent said today.

The Kings Arms Hotel in Dorchester, Dorset, has played host to Queen Victoria and George VI since it was built in 1720. But it is most famed as the central location for the action in The Mayor of Casterbridge. Michael Henchard, the eponymous mayor of the novel, carries out most of his official business at the hotel and finally faces his debtors and creditors at a bankruptcy meeting there.

Hotel immortalised in Hardy novel up for sale | News | Guardian Unlimited Books