Tag Archives: books

Foxed pages? Don’t you dare leave that thing here!

Every so often I go through ‘stuff’ and put together bags for charity of things I can’t sell or which will take too long to sell. I did a book purge recently and rocked up to my local Salvation Army shop with a car boot full and happily unloaded the boxes for inspection.

“We don’t take books,” the woman said sniffily.

“Eh? But you sell them!”

“Not books with brown spots on the paper. It could be mites or anything nasty. We only take books that look new. No charity shops take old books any more.”

Well bugger me. One of the delights of charity shops was finding that one book in the series you were missing, or spending 50c getting something from an author, perhaps a bit obscure, you hadn’t tried before, or finding something out of print you’d been wondering about. Continue reading

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Book Review: The Folly of French Kissing by Carla McKay

The folly of french kissingI was intrigued to find this book in the crime section of a bookshop last week; the cover looked anything but crime-like and hinted of 18-30s chick lit. The blurb on the back was promising, however. Judith Hay, the innocent victim of a scandal at the school at which she teaches, leaves her job and decides to try her luck living in the Languedoc. The village she settles in has quite a large British expat population, which causes friction with the locals, but it’s cheap and the weather is sunny and hot. Judith settles in and learns more about her fellow Britons – in fact, more than she’d like to know.

There’s no murder (quel dommage!) but you do hope that someone will clock the brutish and abusive Lance Campion or the bullish Bill Bailey on the head. That person could be the mild-manned bookseller Gerard, who has an alter ego in his head called Ged who metes out punishment to people to mistreat books (the paragraph in the novel describing Ged is one of life’s joys). But no, this is not about murder. It’s about secrets, nasty secrets, and Judith finds herself unwittingly in the middle of them. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing…

This book has an engaging and well-drawn cast of characters. It has intertwining plot lines, some of them touching very serious topics, and a true sense of place. Carla McKay writes authentically about the region as she has lived there herself. You can feel the summer heat, see the buildings in the village clearly through her eyes. There is a tendency to cliche with regard to the French, however. Having said that, I thoroughly enjoyed it except for a couple of things.

The time warp. One character, Jean, is trying to find her daughter who is in her mid-twenties. However, the daughter left school in 1984 apparently. As the book was published in, and apparently set in, 2012, this would make the daughter pushing 40 rather than 25. Her mother searches for her on Friends Revisited and Facebook, so we know that this is a 21st century book.

This editing anomaly leads me to the second, and more irritating, problem: Bad proofing. Honestly, there is no reason why a book should be published with so many errors. Commas placed where they ought not to be and missing where they should be. Quotation marks left out. The odd grammatical and spelling error.

Carla McKay is a journalist and as a professional writer should have ensured that proofing was carried out properly. I’m very tempted to read it again this time with a pen and a bottle of tipp-ex so it’s the pleasure to read it deserves to be.

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Farewell my local bookshop

When we first moved into our house here seven years ago, I was delighted to find that our local, unprepossessing shopping centre was the home of that veritable treasure: the independent bookshop.

Richard stocks a diverse range of books and is happy to order in for his customers. In fact, he keeps a database of those of us who eagerly hoover up each new release by particular authors. Bless him, he phones me when these books come in and tells me he’s putting aside a copy for me.

This is personalised service by someone who loves books and loves to talk about books.

Last year Richard opened a second shop, fifteen minutes’ drive away, vowing at the time he would keep his original bookshop open.

And until now, he kept to his word. I was saddened to hear last month that he is closing the shop near us at the end of this month. Saddened but not surprised, really, as his new shop is in a slightly better socio-economic area which augers well for sales.

I visited my bookshop today. All books are 25% off and he is even selling the handsome wooden bookshelves they are displayed on. Every bookshelf has a sold sticker on it. Half the bookshelves are empty already.

Unfortunately I couldn’t find any fiction to buy as I had the latest by my favourites and didn’t see any authors I’d like to start exploring. I did, however, buy Rachel Khoo’s The Little Paris Kitchen. It must be kismet; I’ve been looking for that book in Richard’s shop for months, dithering about whether to order it in as modern cookbooks, with their pages of photos and funky layouts, are quite expensive. Until today it hadn’t been in stock. Now it’s mine at 25% off and my mouth was watering as I flicked through it over lunch.

Come 1 November, however, I will have to look for my book fix elsewhere. I can drive to the nearest Dymocks or Angus & Robertson – I forget which, they are quite interchangeable – at the bigger shopping centre 7 minutes’ drive away, or go that bit further and pay Richard a call at his new shop. I’ve been buying books on eBay for years so that won’t change, and increasingly I am buying Kindle versions as they are cheaper and we are running out of bookshelf space and space to put new bookshelves.

The nice thing about my local shop – particularly nice for Richard – is that I was prone to impulse buy, simply because the shop was there and I was going to the shopping centre anyway to buy groceries.

I know Richard will still keep my name on his database and call me when something I like comes in, so he may pick up an impulse buy or two when I go to pick it up. But it won’t be the same… it’s been such a pleasure, and these days a luxury, to have a bookshop only five minutes’ walk from home.

It’s increasingly hard for independent booksellers to compete against the big chains of bookstores, and online buying. I should be grateful that Richard didn’t shut his local doors earlier, and hope that his new bookshop can not just survive, but thrive.

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When five bookshelves just isn’t enough…

Pile of books with additional catI would hate to try and count the books I own. Even with an annual purge of books I’ll never re-read the library overflows over five six feet tall bookshelves, with books wedged in wherever possible. There are now two tall and perilous piles of books sheltering against one of the bookshelves. Luckily the cats haven’t thought to use them as a stepping stone to the windowsill yet! I estimate that between my husband and I we have thousands of books. We both re-read most of them too.

I’ve now come to the conclusion that I should, despite my love of holding that thing made of paper, start collection more series as e-books. I had the best intentions there late last year when a friend put me onto Rita Mae Browns’ Mrs Murphy mystery series. I bought the first two in the series as e-books very cheaply, then to my dismay found that the publishers hadn’t issued the other 16 as e-books. They were only available as hard copy. As I was hooked by then, I bought them on eBay either new or second hand from international sellers (much cheaper!) and they form part of one of the perilous piles. I’ll be reviewing them as a series shortly.

Where and why do we buy our books? Our local bookseller gets a lot of business from us; he knows us well and has our preferences on file so when a new book by a favourite author is available he’ll give us a ring. He also regularly institutes that dangerous and money-grabbing invention, The Bargain Table. He’ll take boxes of remaindered new books from the publishers and sell them for anything up to 75% off the original price on big trestle tables in the middle of the shopping centre. Books in Australia are expensive; a new paperback will cost you at least $25, a trade paperback $35 or more. So The Bargain Table can see us grabbing four books for the price of one.

The danger with The Bargain Table is that one takes chances on authors one hasn’t read before. Sometimes we put the book away, half-read, with no enthusiasm to read the rest as it’s absolutely turgid and wondering why we bothered buying it. These books usually go straight into the charity box we keep near the front door and I feel guilty that I have done the author a bit of a disservice – writing books is a hard slog. If we find an author whose work we really enjoy, however, it’s likely we’ll start buying more from that author (see Rita Mae Brown above!).

Airports are another trap for the reader. My husband travels quite a bit and he often comes home with a new gem from the excellent bookshop in the domestic terminal at Sydney airport, where you can buy books that are not simply the top 100 bestselling paperbacks you typically find at airport bookshops.

Church fetes and second-hand shops are bliss – here’s where we pick up the books missing from series we’ve collected years before. Paperbacks for 50 cents, anyone?

eBay is another favourite of mine for tracking down missing books from series that I can’t seem to find anywhere else. It’s also a place where I dispose of unwanted books in good condition from time to time.

I often get asked by friends – typically the ones who don’t read very much at all – why we don’t just borrow from the local library. Firstly there’s not one in walking distance but the main reason is that if I have a hankering at 10pm to read a particular book, I have it to hand. I’m a fast and voracious reader. I should probably use the library for cost reasons alone though; I have never dared tot up how much I’ve spent on my reading habit. Books are an addictive drug!

Slowly however the e-book collection is growing, as even with purges those piles aren’t diminishing, and e-books, like The Bargain Table, are substantially cheaper than real books. I’ve got used to reading on my iPad now but admit that I do tend to bolt e-books and speed read through them. If I have made any new year resolution this year it’s to stock up on e-books rather than hard copies. There just isn’t space in our cottage for a sixth bookshelf!

What’s your book collection? Does it fit neatly on your shelves, messily on them, all over the floor, in boxes, on an e-book reader, or in your local library?

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Online, on iPad or hard copy – how do you read?

If somebody asked me what my greatest passion in life was, I’d say ‘reading’ without any hesitation. Give me a spare few minutes and I’ll have a book in my hand, typically a novel rather than non-fiction, as I do like to escape. I also enjoy flicking through magazines but don’t get the same ‘read many times over’ value I get out of books.

As we head towards Web 3.0, I find I’m ingesting my reading now in different ways, and each has its own pleasures.

Rather than buy hard copy magazines on a regular basis (apart from UK Country Living… my guilty pleasure) I read mags online, usually in the form of a website but occasionally on my iPad. It’s a different reading experience reading a website; I find my attention span is shorter because there might be something more interesting to click on. Like many web users I’m either hooked in the first para or two or I’m off in new directions.

iPadTake the best of printed and online worlds and you can read a magazine on the iPad which offers you a superior interactive experience, if it’s done right. National Geographic, for example, is pretty good at this. As yet I haven’t really deeply explored the world of magazine apps from a reader’s perspective, as I’m a cheapskate and there aren’t many free ones which appeal to me, but I’ve sampled National Geographic’s offering.

The key phrase in the para above was ‘if it’s done right’. When magazine and newspaper apps launched for the iPad many of them simply jumped in not to get left behind, with the result that their iPad app wasn’t much more than a glorified PDF. Apps are capable of far more interactivity than a PDF with a couple of links. Put it this way: if I’m going to fork out $8+ for a magazine in app form it had better offer me a more fulfilling experience than the paper copy for the same money. I expect videos, links, pages which expand with more information at the touch of a link, photo galleries, and some real interactivity. (One advantage with magazines in app form is that one can zoom in on the pictures!)

Back to your plain vanilla online mags – ie, a website which has specific sections and is updated at regular intervals, and centres around a particular interest, hobby or ism. Most of these now feature regular blog articles, so are updated on a daily or almost daily basis, falling in between a news site and a magazine site in terms of  new material being posted. These are the sites I’ll flick through first thing in the morning or, depending on how busy my day is, while dinner is cooking. I’ll typically view them on my laptop in the morning and the iPad in the evening.

Hard copy magazines are my tea break joy. As I’ve said I only buy one regularly, and I’ll make it last and dip into it for several days until I’ve read it cover to cover. I archive my old copies rather than chuck them out or pass them on, as I get design ideas from some of the properties featured in them. (One day I really must go through the four year old pile and clip or scan the stuff I’m interested in and give the older ones to charity.) There is something truly satisfying about reading a paper copy, and while I revel in the vast amount of information available on the net it’s not the same as picking up a real, old-fashioned magazine.

The same goes for books. I have book reader software on the iPad and iPhone, and went through a mad phase of reading books electronically when I got the iPad last year. I’ve downloaded dozens of free ones I have yet to read. Having electronic editions of books is a boon when I’m on public transport – I can read on the iPhone while I listen to music on the iPhone, and don’t have to weigh my bag down with paperbacks. It’s also great for travelling for the same reason. The books I have on my iPad are ‘plain vanilla’ with no interactivity in them; basically electronic versions of classics and mysteries.

As a reading experience e-books for me are about convenience. I wouldn’t read an e-book in bed, as I do with hard copy books. If I fall asleep and drop a paperback it’s no big deal. If I fall asleep and drop an iPad or iPhone it could be expensive.

E-books do have advantages in that the electronic version is typically at least half the price of a new release hard copy, and of course they don’t overload our already overflowing bookshelves (currently five big ones plus more books at my mother’s house). I’m slowly warming to them. After all, a good novel is about the story, not the medium you read it in.

What about you? Paper or screen? What works for you and what do you prefer and why?

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