Monthly Archives: January 2014
Our favourite book stores series reaches ‘the Venice of the North’ as John Maguire finds treasure gleaming under the grey Mancunian skies…
Window designs for high street stores are generally clinically prescribed to the last detail. The retail Stepford mantra being retail is detail, retail is detail.
During my time managing a book store in the smog that is London (a chain that later went bankrupt); I was constantly up against the Universality of Bland.
One example of my battles with the fat men in retail, landed me with a verbal disciplinary for my inventive window homage to The Book of Bunny Suicides: Little Fluffy Rabbits Who Just Don’t Want to Live Any More (2003), black comedy cartoons drawn by author Andy Riley.
Another time, I was forced to get rid of the CLASSICS section to be replaced by BRATZ top trumps. A sorry affair! However, my anarchic streak kicked in; the punters of the store signed a petition that, of course they had decided to set up themselves. I mean, the General Manager would never have the audacity to perform such a ‘thought crime’, to indeed rage against the machine; biting the corporate hand that fed him, now would he? Anyhow, enough back story!
So present day: when I came up to the window of PARAMOUNT BOOKS, on a charcoal grey Saturday morning in Manchester, a smile did instantaneously plaster across my face. It was I believe bordering on Heath Ledger’s Joker. The glass plastered with an Aladdin’s cave of temptations.
Vintage BOXING WEEKLY, a DR WHO surplus of literary memorabilia, European literature, Old JUDY and DANDY comics and an entire BRUCE LEE magazine collection, ‘unread’ and ‘untouched’ since publication in 1977.
A frame of originality! A stark contrast to the generic high street windows, trying to be bang on trend. Stepping inside the store, classical music flooded the space and the question was simple,
Where do I begin?
The other retail mantra, eye line is the buy line is not the motto here, everywhere you look there are distractions: a cellophane-clad copy of Ian Fleming’s, THE SPY WHO LOVED ME, a haphazardly stacked pile of NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, pulp horror and a scattering of books that makes up the poetry section, also to add to the charm there is a basket of fruit comprising bananas and garlic. A spell-binding cave that you could actually lose whole years, not just hours in.
I was delighted to find an autobiography by Dirk Bogarde. My appreciation for this phenomenal actor began when I caught a screening of VICTIM at Fact, Liverpool and was accentuated to another level when I saw the movie, THE NIGHT CALLER. I also didn’t mind the film adaptation of DEATH IN VENICE. I particularly loved this book, as I read it in Venice and for a fleeting moment I was momentarily back there on the Lido di Venezia.
This is what PARAMOUNT BOOKS does to you, it’s like the whole experience starts the monkey mind swinging from tree to tree, re-visiting memories and thinking about the past, the now and a feel of optimism for the future.
This kind of place exudes something that can only be labelled as magic. A good friend of mine tipped me off to it and it is this type of personal recommendation that keeps little hidden treasures like this haven being re-discovered.
For those who have not yet visited, I am envious because I guarantee you will recall your first time. It is I think the Vatican of Cool.
John Maguire introduces poet Andrew McMillan…
Sparse, physical, unpoetic, ordinary; four adjectives used by the poet Andrew McMillan to describe his work.
Andrew is currently lecturing in Creative Writing at Liverpool John Moores University and has an impressive creative catalogue, including publications such as Salt Book of Younger Poets and work in The London Magazine and Under/Current to name a few.
His second pamphlet of work, The Moon is a Supporting Player, is playful and at times is like a kind of literary jazz. There is a solid structure and form with the language and imagery springing from the pages.
backslash of corrugated roof single cheek
of light across the broad chest of city
the potholed avenue the moon has been reduced to
The work screams to be read out loud, at times the poetry is somewhat cinematic.
Tippi Hedren appears as a tree
such reading elegance uncreased
under a stress of raven stoic
The simplicity of the language paints pictures in the mind’s eye.
Singular lines have a richness that are like literary delicacies.
I love you with the trailing leg of
a gull heading north
McMillan is a fan of writer Thom Gunn,
The poet I love before all others is Thom Gunn, he was the first writer I think I fell in love with. Geoff Hattersley is a great poet and deserves more readers than he has.
Red Squirrel Press, based in Northumberland, have just published his new pamphlet, which is one long poem called ‘protest of the physical’; the piece was written after splitting up with a long-term partner. He is currently pulling together poems in preparation for his full first collection to be published.
The poet is keen to continue developing his craft,
I think in terms of my own stuff you always want the next thing to be the best piece; otherwise you wouldn’t carry on writing. Reading at literature festivals and things is great because, as well as flogging the books your publisher wants you to, you can read new stuff out and see how it goes down – getting that instant feedback from an audience is wonderful.
My book shelves are like a finely pruned tree, books are added and it can at times get unruly, some are given away, some stay. In 2013 I have seen several new beautiful blossoms appear and a few titles that have gone straight into the compost.
I started the year with Stephen King’s ON WRITING, given to me by a gifted local play writer, Paul Williams. An honest and candid insight into the craft of writing and the demons that nearly destroyed King’s talent, till creativity helped to decimate them and turn negative experience into the positive.
I enjoyed Stephen Spender’s THE TEMPLE, which reminded me of Goodbye Berlin. Alan Hollinghurst’s THE SWIMMING POOL LIBRARY was a fantastic exploration of human character, yet I felt the water started to become shallow towards the end of the story and my interest waned.
I read the WORLD FILM LOCATIONS: LIVERPOOL, purely from a narcissistic angle, as I had contributed three pieces on films shot in the Pool of Life, The Fruit Machine, In the Name of the Father and Dancin’ thru the Dark.
I spent four months of the year – April, May, June and July – working on my play PORN0VISION which was staged at the Lantern Liverpool. This meant I kept away from fiction and consumed solely SIGHT AND SOUND and the newspapers.
Stephen Leather’s NIGHTMARE reignited my taste for pulp horror in August.
THE MARRIED MAN by Edmund White introduced me to this writer and I developed a hunger for his work, taking in HOTEL DU DREAM, another work of fiction, then the factual GENET, a biography of the playwright and then THE FLANEUR, a wandering around Paris, which made me yearn to re-visit the City of Light and lose myself in its sophisticated decadence and Bohemianism.
KEEPING FAITH by Toni Piccoult raised some interesting questions about religion, yet didn’t offer any attempts of explanation, it failed to keep my faith.
THE NIGHT CIRCUS by Erin Morgenstern simply a magical spectacular, a feast for the imagination.
As Autumn turned to Winter, my need for tales of terror developed, starting with THE HOUSE OF SMALL SHADOWS by Adam Nevill, tapping into my innate fear of puppets.
A tapas of terror was provided with Susan Hill’s DOLLY, THE MAN IN THE PICTURE and THE SMALL HAND.
TENNESSEE WILLIAMS’ Autobiography was titillation with a capital T, part National Enquirer, part poetic, an insight into the warts and all life of the American scribe.
ABSOLUTE BEGINNER Patsy Kensit’s self-penned offering on her life was four hours of my life I will not ever get back. But my passion for her disco hit I’M NOT SCARED, means all is forgiven.
In stark contrast, APRIL ASHLEY’S ODYSSEY was inspiring and captivating, even with all the name dropping.
Patti Smith’s JUST KIDS, about her life with Robert Mapplethorpe in NYC during the Seventies, is possibly THE best biography I have read………all glamour and damage, seduction in piss elegance!
Gave into the word of mouth hype and read John Williams’ STONER, a beautiful observation of the human soul, an Everyman tale that actually made me cry on the train at the end pages. Craven Arms on the Cardiff line will always be etched in my memory box now.
Now in beginnings of 2014, I have nearly finished P.L. Travers’ MARY POPPINS, surreal little tales from the Nursery, it has also provided me with a new mantra to get organised in the year ahead, ‘SPIT SPOT’.
Books have gone into and out of boxes this year, with the weight restrictions of international travel making it easier to borrow and pass on instead of adding to the permanent collection. I have also had to admit that, despite my early protestations to the contrary, the eReader is a very useful machine. That said, as last year’s list contained six ebooks while this year I downloaded five, perhaps I am not quite ready to give up on print yet.
After a cracking start to the year, where at times I was whipping through a book a day (oh, the beautiful reading weather that is England in January!), reality intruded and it became almost impossible to get through one a month (ah, motherhood). And yet I seem to have finished the year only one short of last year’s total and that is without counting the almost nightly re-reads of Beatrix Potter, The Hungry Caterpillar and other joyfully rediscovered childhood favourites.
Here then is my list of books read in 2013, in chronological order, with links to reviews I wrote along the way and some further thoughts following:
- Good Behaviour, Molly Keane
- Finding George Orwell in Burma, Emma Larkin
- A Life in Letters: P. G. Wodehouse (ed. Sophie Ratcliffe)
- Stuart: A Life Backwards, Alexander Masters
- Instead of A Letter, Diana Athill
- The White Cities, Joseph Roth
- Ellis Island, Kate Kerrigan
- The Assault, Harry Mulisch
- Bring up the Bodies, Hilary Mantel
- Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg
- Homage to a Firing Squad, Tariq Goddard
- Racing Through the Dark, David Millar
- Ratcatcher, Tim Stevens
- Maus, Art Spiegelman
- The Diamond Smugglers, Ian Fleming
- That’s Not Funny, That’s Sick, Ellin Stein
- From Russia With Love, Ian Fleming
- All At Sea, Memories of Maritime Merseyside, Evelyn Draper and William David Roberts
- The Undercover Economist Strikes Back, Tim Harford
- Call For the Dead, John le Carré
- The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, John le Carré
- Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, John le Carré
- Churchill’s Wizards: The British Genius for Deception 1914-1945, Nicholas Rankin
Highlights of the year were Finding George Orwell in Burma, The Assault and Homage to a Firing Squad which all told very personal stories in attempting to unravel great conflicts. In spite of all the plaudits, I found Bring up the Bodies a less enjoyable encounter with Mantel’s admittedly outstanding characters.
In non-fiction, P. G. Wodehouse’s letters were a hoot – as if you would expect anything less – and his thoughts on Mr Orwell raised a wry chuckle. David Millar’s ride on the dark side of Le Tour de France’s peloton and (full disclosure, good friend) Ellin Stein’s whip smart tale of the National Lampoon crew making it from Harvard chancers to Hollywood legends, shared a compelling sense of the shadows concealed within hubris and humour, for all their differing subject matter. Stuart: A Life Backwards will stay with me for many years to come and is a must-read, albeit a harrowing one at times.
I finished the year with a run of gripping, classy and classic spy novels, comparing and contrasting the old masters Fleming and le Carré for a soon-to-be-produced (honest!) ten minutes hate review.
Thanks to everyone who has read or offered their comments on the site over the last twelve months and a very merry New Year to you all. May it be full of great books and the long journeys, bad weather days and cosy tea rooms that allow you to fully appreciate them!