Tag Archives: #IBW2015

“A good read can mean many different things”

Veronique discusses what constitutes a good read, the necessity of wine at book discussions, and Per Petterson’s ability to set the mood.

I moved to London a year ago and when people ask me what I like best about London, I always reply with ‘my local bookstore’. But I must admit, although they carry a treasure of a diverse collection, I mainly go there for the people.

The owners Jonathan and Justine have created a wonderful meeting place for people who like to read, discover, share and have a nice time. They host numerous events, monthly book groups, thick book groups, book launches, literary events, author readings… They both have a passion for books and authors and also for people who like books. Everything is made accessible and from the first step into the store you’re made to feel at ease. No stuffiness here. High brow literature or crime novels, everything is presented with the same passion and down to earth manner.
Jonathan brings, in a very soft spoken way, a wealth of knowledge of the literary world to the table (local or global). And Justine brings a lot of spirited insights.
And apparently book discussions work better when everyone arrives with a bottle (admittedly, the non-alcoholic bottles are in minority). Not to forget the writer-in-residence, Karen, who has a wicked sense of humour and somehow manages the diverse opinions and responses at book club!

I love the variety of books that I’ve read thanks to the book group. I love Per Petterson’s ‘Out Stealing Horses’ the most, which got me on to ‘I curse the river of time’. What I love about Petterson is that his books are about creating a mood, about introspection and the growth of a person. And that book discussion was also very memorable – everyone had something to say. We each grasped that there was more to the book than just the words. People felt connected, like something had awakened in them, but there were nuances in the way that people read things – some found the mood distanced, cold and depressed; others found it aware and present. We all agreed that it was a powerful trigger.

Out Stealing Horses

by Per Petterson

Out Stealing Horses-Per Petterson

£8.99 Vintage Paperback
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Available now in store and online

The book club has taught me – through Jonathan, Justine and Karen choosing books that are a ‘good read’ – that a good read can mean many different things. For that reason, James’ Salter’s ‘A Sport and a Pastime’ and A. M. Homes’ ‘The End of Alice’ are both memorable – I wouldn’t have read them were it not for book club, and they challenged me in terms of style and strucure with Salter and in terms of uncomfortable subject matter with Homes. The subsequent discussions surprised me too!

The thing about Bookseller Crow is that it’s not about selling books: it’s about reading, discussing and sharing books.

“Books assemble here as if planted in a garden”

Michael Sinclair shares his experience of Bookseller Crow’s Book Club, and nominates his pick of the books read.

If itʼs possible to have a bookshop with a feeling of unselfconsciousness about it, then, this is the place. The exterior and interior combined in such a way as to give a sense of freedom, in a natural way, say as for a garden – thatʼs Bookseller Crow. Books quietly arrive and assemble here as if planted in a garden, all the books given this privacy akin to plants within a walled garden. Everything there is solely about variety and the joy of reading unencumbered by the promotion attached to main stream booksellers. Every book sitting quietly, waiting to be picked up. And I think it has to be said that this laid back non-interventionist feeling, everything for the best of reasons – this garden – fosters in every best sense, the book club.

On the first Wednesday of every month when the closed notice goes up there is the book club, cosily surrounded by a womb of books. The quietness of books assembled all around is a comfort, and for anyone who enjoys reading, who needs to read, this is the place to be. An opportunity to listen and share with others the privacy of having read. Easily said, but less easily done, and for that to work well a place needs to be special. My pick of our reads this year is among Muriel Sparkʼs ʻThe Ballard of Peckham Ryeʼ, Per Pettersonʼs ʻOut Stealing Horsesʼ and Mohsin Hamidʼs ʻHow to get Filthy Rich in Rising Asiaʼ. Hamidʼs engaging and wonderfully observed and witty ʻself helpʼ manual, Per Pettersonʼs profound, muted and intensely private exploration of the inner self, and Muriel Sparkʼs insightful, and cuttingly intelligent take on, well, what really cannot be anything else but our behavior. and ……..Iʼll go for Muriel Spark.

The Ballad of Peckham Rye

by Muriel Spark

The Ballad of Peckham Rye-Muriel Spark

£8.99 Penguin Paperback
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Available now in store and online

Being a South Londoner and having memories of the area and time when she wrote this book gives it a known past for me, redolent with memory. In the writing there is both a feeling of the headmistress and puppeteer. Giving orders whilst at the same time controlling, and I get the feeling she would not have suffered fools gladly. No ambling, stripped to the bone, books short, and like a dart she seems to find the bullseye. There is absolutely nothing to take away or add in her writing. As a child on the bedroom carpet enacts a war with toy soldiers, so does Spark make her characters perform in this book, looking down on them; a puppeteer controlling a puppet. One could almost imagine a ʻroll callʼ of the characters before they appear in language . She makes them do what she wants, and with unwavering intent. The main protagonist in this story, arguably, has the skill of every confidence trickster, but ultimately as Spark has it, cruelly, disassembles those around him as a child would pick the wings off a fly! A ghastly fascination in seeing what they can do, so simply, with such effect. A fascination with the ease which they have to convince and control others. Metaphorically, this book could be applied to many levels in our lives when people want to get something from others, successfully or otherwise, sometimes to their own detriment. Sadly, and often, there are no winners.

“When I shop elsewhere, I feel unfaithful…”

Bookseller Crow’s Reader in Residence reflects on her relationship with the shop, prompted by Independent Booksellers Week 2015:

It’s a peculiar thing, book-related guilt. There are many varieties: I-spend-too-much-money-on-books; I-buy-books-that-I-don’t-read; I-only-joined-a-book-group-to-have-a-night-to-myself; I-should-read-more; I-spend-time-reading-when-I-should-be-washing-up; I-don’t-read-enough-by-women. I don’t suffer from any of those any more, but I do have a new source of personal torture – Cheating on Bookseller Crow.

When I moved to Crystal Palace, a friend in the area insisted that I visit Bookseller Crow, and I obliged, before even unpacking any boxes. The atmosphere struck me at once – a relaxed space where books take centre stage – and then the selection of new releases had me dizzy with excitement. The prime ingredients of a great bookshop, to my mind, are the ability to roam and browse freely, and a fantastic range of books. But as any independent book shop devotee will tell you, there’s more to it than that.

We now have the ability to roam and browse freely from the comfort of our sofas, with an obscene range of books at the end of our fingertips, to say nothing of low prices and the convenience of having something delivered to your door. I know I’m not the first bookworm to say ‘ducks to that’: for a start, this purported ‘convenience’ thrives when we know what we want, but is not especially good at helping us discover things. That’s not just because what we’ve liked in the past is not an infallible guide to what we’ll like in the future (we’re transforming our tastes and our sensibilities every day, every time we read), but it’s crucially because we don’t always know what we think when we finish a book. Reading is a sophisticated activity: we bring something to each book that we pick up, to make meaning, to participate in the final act of creation. Reading is active, and the action doesn’t always end neatly as we turn the last page: we often need to ‘put something out there’ to anchor the experience of reading.

Getting to grips with what we discover when we read, and what that will help us discover in future books, is a human endeavour. It’s not about formulas, or logic, or ‘sentiment analysis’. Worthy bookshops know this, and are a source of book chat – whether over the counter as you decide between this and that; or at more formal gatherings like book clubs and writer events. Bookshops trade in these two commodities: books that have a price tag; and book chat, that is priceless. For me, paying cover price for a book, paying a small price for a ticket to hear an author read, and committing (almost) exclusively to buying all my books from Bookseller Crow is a very small price to pay for the space it affords me: to think, to learn, to be.

I’ve had a number of deeply profound reading experiences, though I’d be hesitant to say that any particular book has ‘changed my life’. Where books have failed, Bookseller Crow has succeeded: the shop has a superbly positive impact on my daily life through the shop’s twitter account (frankly hilarious and sometimes borderline anarchic), its book club (a terrifically opinionated bunch of people full of integrity, depth and a streak of hedonism), its regulars (always have a smile, if not some astonishing insight about life, the universe and all the fish), and the writers that have crossed the threshold (Miriam Toews, Tom Drury, and Andy Miller are some of my highlights).

Of course, the shop is merely a symbol – something that people flock to. It’s not really the shop that brings me such benefit, but the people that work, shop and hang out there. That’s why, when I occasionally buy a book on impulse somewhere else, I feel bad: I’m missing out on an opportunity to develop a relationship, one that’s been growing for over a year now. This relationship has introduced me to things like the brave independence of Galley Beggar Press, it provided an opportunity to ‘read myself fitter’ and it recently blew me away with a recommendation of All Involved.

All Involved

by Ryan Gattis

All Involved-Ryan Gattis

£12.99 Picador Hardcover
Buy now
Available now in store and online

Independent Bookseller’s Week gives us pause to think about what makes this bookshop great – and to note that it makes a mammoth effort to engage its customers all year round. There’s lots that makes Bookseller Crow unique, that make it a King amongst independent book shops. Its customers – or perhaps it’s more apt to say friends – fierce loyalty is only the tip of the iceberg.

Bookseller Crow’s Reader-in-Residence has a top tip: abandon the frustrating search for your next book, and let Jonathan be the only ‘moment of truth’ you need: join Flight Club for a book a month, hand-picked by Jonathan and sent directly to your door.