Tag Archives: Penguin

A Bibliophage in Eboracum (York)

We promised a return to our reviews of favourite bookshops and here is John Maguire, taking a trip across the Pennines to gorge himself on volumes…

When writer Neil Gaiman cited in his novel, American Gods,

What I say is a town isn’t a town without a bookstore. It may call itself a town, but unless it’s got a bookstore it knows it’s not fooling a soul,

he was absolutely correct.

Eboracum (if you were around in Roman 71 AD), otherwise known to the common traveller as York, is fortunate to have many subtle bookstores,  jewels in the city’s Crown of Architectural splendour.

I have visited York through the years. The first occasion notably was a stay at the former home of musical composer John Barry. I am always entranced by the season of autumn, but particularly in York. The city backdrop is a canvas painted with a thousand leaves.

autumn york

I guess the way a heroin addict needs to know a dealer is close by, an alcoholic the nearest place to purchase liquid poison, a fitness fanatic the gymnasium, so the book aficionado needs to know the precise location of a book emporium. This is how I first found my way to Fossgate Books and I have been re-visiting ever since!

Of course, a genuine bibliophage never really travels alone and my trusty vintage briefcase, (where I keep my notebook, pens and papers) always has a mini-library for emergencies. This past weekend I travelled with The Flaneur by Edmund White, the chilling House of Small Shadows by Adam Nevill and I always have a copy of Jude the Obscure to hand. What a Bible is to a Roman Catholic, Hardy’s tale of self-education is to me. The religion of the written word is my chosen spiritual pathway, yet they never have that option to tick on the equality and diversity screening forms.

Fossgate’s was scribbled purposefully in my itinerary for the weekend, which also included a visit to Castle Howard, the setting of the television rifacimento of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited. It was Fossgate’s that started my collection of vintage covered Penguin Classics; here I purchased a battered copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover. I now seek such Penguin Classics like a pig sniffing out truffles. Every trip to a book palace is like a search for hidden treasures.

lady-chatterleys-lover

One of the great charms York offers is that some of the streets do NOT adhere to the flat pack style of high street planning that is rampant across the United Kingdom. The one size fits all model, the universality of non-uniqueness. The Body Shop, Carphone Warehouse, Subway etc. etc. etc,  I am sure are present but they are not rammed in your face like most UK cityscapes. It is also quite nice to not to have every other shop be a Tesco Express, as the case in my home town, the Pool of Life. You are never more than five yards away from a rat in a bustling metropolis, but in Liverpool it’s the exact same statistic for the good ship Tesco Express. Every little apparently does help!

Perhaps, the downside to York is the multitude of ghost tours on offer. Some may say there are more ghouls than people, with every homestead and dog kennel having an alleged ‘haunting’. The supernatural is to York what The Beatles are to Liverpool, a cash cow that is indeed milked completely and well and truly slaughtered.

What treasure did I find this time in Fossgate’s to feed my appetence? A hardback M.R James Ghost Story collection with crafted illustrations. My heart was elated when I asked the proprietor if he had any M.R James in stock and I was impressed that in the catacomb of books he could also give me the exact location of it upstairs.

It is the scent of the written word that slaps you in the face when you enter through the door of Fossgate’s. The cocktail of aromas, hard to define, undisturbed dust blended with aged paper. A stockhouse of the whole gamut of human experience. It’s then when the fragrance hits me, I know I may not be in my native dwelling place, but I am without a doubt home.

fossgates

So when in York, seek out this little temple of knowledge, it would be felonious not to.

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Finding George Orwell in Burma by Emma Larkin

Monday 21 January was designated by someone as Orwell Day, in commemoration of the anniversary of the writer’s death. Penguin Books offered a generous discount off the ‘Classic’ editions of his works and various media outlets took the opportunity to highlight his journalism. Lib Com had one of the best examples, this essay on the myth of freedom of the press, as evidenced by the difficulties Orwell experienced in finding a publisher for Animal Farm. The New Statesman went one further and declared Orwell Week, prompting the Spectator to point out that the writer and the NS editors had not always seen eye-to-eye, quoting this from an Orwell Tribune column:

Do remember that dishonesty and cowardice always have to be paid for. Don’t imagine that for years on end you can make yourself the boot-licking propagandist of the Soviet regime, or any other regime, and then suddenly turn to mental decency. Once a whore, always a whore.

As someone who has always preferred to mark Orwell’s birthday, I suggest ignoring all of this hoopla, especially as it seems a reasonable bet that he would have hated the idea of Orwell Day. Instead, pass some time with Emma Larkin’s Finding George Orwell in Burma, a mixture of travel, historical and political writing, which contains much to surprise and inform even the dedicated student of Orwell.

FindingGeorgeOrwellinBurma

Despite having spent over two years living in Asia, before reading this book I had to confess to ignorance of all but the broadest facts of Burma’s recent history. How the country journeyed from the colonial past depicted in Orwell’s Burmese Days to control by its straight-out-of-Nineteen Eighty-Four military junta via the betrayed revolution of Animal Farm is detailed here, not only with factual observations but also through the lives of Burmese people. On her travels through the cities and countryside – ostensibly researching locations that Orwell and his mother’s family lived in and visited – Larkin encounters former prisoners, booksellers, journalists, teachers, the remnants of the Anglo-Burmese population and many others determined to share their stories in spite of the dangers. On expressing her surprise at their vitality, one friend retorts:

What did you expect? That we would all be sitting around on the pavements crying?

That would certainly be one likely response to coping with Burmese levels of doublethink, elements of normality everywhere from the tea shops – ‘an integral part of life’ – to the love of books and reading for pleasure – mention that ‘books are sold… at the night-time book bazaar in Mandalay’ and my ears prick up. Yet those same tea shops are ‘treated by the regime as potential breeding grounds for anti-government activities’ and thus the happy hunting grounds of informers, while one writer tells her that they are:

free to write whatever we want. We’re just not free to have it published.

Visits to dilapidated colonial buildings, old Christian cemeteries and key locations in Orwell’s history carry the story along, including one to the Police Training School – still used to house policemen today – where the young Eric Blair was trained in the methods of surveillance and population control that the military continued so enthusiastically after the British left. As a foreign female tourist, Larkin attracts attention from Burma’s diligent security operatives wherever she goes. In this fascinating interview, she talks about the methods she uses to avoid attracting attention and to protect her sources. (She also selects her five favourite books about Burma if, like me, you are keen on further discovery.)

Larkin seemingly has her own version of doublethink, captivated by Burma’s beauty while despairing that the army’s control can ever be relaxed. It must be like visiting a good friend serving a life sentence in prison, as one interviewee describes the population as the 50 million hostages of the regime. Aung San Suu Kyi – released from house arrest since the publication of the book – and her National League for Democracy perhaps offer some hope. Yet, as she travels, Emma Larkin muses on Winston Smith’s words from Nineteen Eighty-Four,

Where does the past exist?

and their relevancy to Burma, where all mention of the huge uprisings which took place in 1988 and their suppression have been erased from official histories. Restoring the country and its people to ‘normality’ will be no easy task.

A quote from the New York Times on the back of my paperback edition of Finding George Orwell in Burma notes that the book

uses Burma to explain Orwell, and Orwell to explain the miseries of present-day Myanmar.

It is an excellent and engrossing read, informative yet not in a dry way, featuring characters who, although they must be heavily disguised, remain vital and lively companions. I found it to be an illuminating tour through a country which shaped Orwell, informing his most celebrated books and turning him from disaffected colonial policeman into a writer unafraid to denounce totalitarianism, wherever he found it.

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How much??!

They spent over three hundred grand on the CPS website.

Julia spent the square root of feck all on ten minutes hate.  Which one do we think looks better?

Think I might change tack and start tendering for government IT contracts.  At this rate I could undercut all the competition and still have enough to keep me in single malts, vintage Penguins and rare, hand-crafted fountain pens.

Photo from the Guardian, hat tipped to the ever-wonderful Richard Wilson

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‘…even crack dens glow…’

This is beautiful, just beautiful:

Last month I installed new bookshelves in a room in my house. They’re black, and my painter offered the unsolicited opinion that they might look depressing when completed. I knew he was wrong because, at the very least, the paperback shelf couldn’t help but have a cheerful orange zing a zing that comes from the Penguin spine, the most wonderfully insidious default interior design statement in our culture. Even crack dens glow with Penguins on the shelf

Douglas Coupland

Douglas Coupland’s Penguin Anniversary Project, Speaking to the Past, is available on Flickr here.

I have been collecting old Penguins for a while now, mostly because I want to read them, but also because of how god-damn gorgeous they look when you have a shelf full of the beautiful things.  Sadly, they are all boxed up now, but one day they will be taken out to glow again.  And now, thanks to Mr Coupland, I know that I will never be content until I have black shelves to keep them on.
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One glorious year of ten minutes hate!

ten minutes hate celebrates its first birthday today. Twelve months of venting spleen on the internet and having it vented right back at me has been funny, inspirational and thought-provoking.

I have had help from some exceptional people, especially the lovely ladies who designed my Penguin-tastic header, but, today of all days, I will avoid the temptation to get too ‘Sally Field Oscar acceptance speech’ on your asses.

Instead, it is time to show some uncharacteristic love to you, dear readers.

This copy of Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell, 1954 edition, will be awarded to the writer of the funniest or sharpest comment on any ten minutes hate post, new or old.

Of course, this isn’t my personal copy of Nineteen Eighty-Four but, rest assured, it is infinitely doubleplusgood, with a great cover as well as including that authentic second-hand book mustiness.

You could choose from the most popular posts of the last year: Stop being a sap!, I had this perfect dream or Victory cigarettes for all, my reviews of subjects as diverse as Kraftwerk in Manchester, Ross Kemp: Middle East or bloody Lark Rise.

Alternatively choose a subject via one of the tags in the ‘Memory Hole’ on the right.

You can have as many attempts as you can fit into the next seven days without risking becoming a non-person at your Ministry for excessive internet use.

What do you have to do to lay your grubby mitts on the book?

  1. Comment on any ten minutes hate post, from today until midnight on Sunday 14 March
  2. Post anonymously, but if you want a chance of the prize, please be sure to leave a real email address
  3. My decision is final and will probably be completely unscientific, but realistically, any comment which makes me laugh out loud stands a good shot at winning (no pressure)

Forward, brothers and sisters, to Victory!

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