Tag Archives: Cardiff

A year in books – John Maguire

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.

stack-of-books

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’.

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Bear Island Book Exchange

Remember when the best bit about the days between Christmas and New Year was spending your book tokens? We do. Let John Maguire take you for a stroll to a literary garden in our latest wander around our favourite bookshops…

Books wash away from the soul the dust of everyday life. In Cardiff, the city that brought us Shirley Bassey and the Doctor Who re-boot, you will find, or indeed stumble upon, a fabulous book store that will revitalise the soul.

bear island

Described simply as ‘the real deal’ by its proprietor, BEAR ISLAND BOOK EXCHANGE in Cardiff Market is sandwiched between a sweet shop and a deli. A commixture of smells combust in the air, fresh fish from Ashtons, the fishmongers (tenants in the market since 1866), strong coffee, Mediterranean spice and the leafed pages of worn and well-read paperbacks.  Books that have been lived in, crammed with notes and the odd coffee-stained pages that almost tell a tale in their own right.

ashtons cardiff

True Detective, Vintage Comics, Commando Action magazines, a heavy laden, almost cascading, mountain of Mills and Boon, rare and Antiquarian books crowd the shelves. The books are haphazardly organised by genre, this forces you to look at new authors, instead of opting upon tried and tested writers. I always feel like a literary pig, sniffing out new creative truffles in amongst the written foliage.

true detective

This little overgrowth of literature is like a well-loved piece of garden, blooming throughout the year, ever-changing. A tiny literary paradise where I  always find at least one book to buy, one I may have read before and want to revisit or pass to a friend, like Brooklyn by Colm Toibin, or books that I have for one reason or another not got around to reading, like my latest acquisition Bald Twit Lion by Spike Milligan.

true crime

Either way, it is a magical place to visit. A relief from the chain book stores that pop up in every city high street, like literary McDonald’s. BEAR ISLAND BOOK EXCHANGE is thankfully a blot of individualism on a piece of town planning parchment paper that has become the same everywhere, a blueprint of monotony.

Here is to the real deal! Happy hunting!

Mills-and-Boon-008

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