After months of restraint forced upon me by Covid regulations, the wheels have came off my book-buying wagon.
Back in early March when I met up with three bloggers in a Cardiff bookstore, I had no idea that would be the last time for six months that I’d walk through the door of a bookshop. If I’d only known, I would have spent more time browsing the shelves instead of walking out with just one book: my reserved copy of Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and The Light.
The closure of physical bookshops didn’t stop my buying books of course.
Like so many book lovers around the world, I relied on on-line purchases throughout this crisis. Local independent bookshops in Wales, like Book-ish at Crickhowell and Griffin Books in Penarth did a fantastic job, keeping me (and my parents) supplied as best they could even when supplies from warehouses got delayed and launch dates were postponed. But on-line shopping simply can’t compare favourably with the real deal. If you know what you want, on line ordering is super-efficient. But if you’re in the mood to be surprised, then it’s not a great experience. You can’t browse, pick up books at random just because the cover attracts the eye, and sample some of the pages. There’s no buzz and no thrill of discovery.
But now shops have been re-opened I’ve ventured into a bookshop for the first time. It was a strange experience, what we’re all coming to think of as the new normal. The atmosphere was so subdued with very few customers (I counted 4 including myself), check out staff behind protective screens and “closed’ signs on the cafe. It wasn’t an atmosphere conducive to browsing unfortunately. So I didn’t linger for long, just enough time to pick up three debut novels: Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi (shortlisted for the 2020 Booker Prize); The Girl With the Louding Voice by Abi Dare (shortlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize 2020) and The Private Joys of Nnenna Maloney by Nzelu Okechukwu bought purely because it’s set partly in Pune, India where I spent a few days in 2014.
A few other books have managed to sneak into the house in recent weeks.
From a little free library that has just opened in my village I picked up a lovely Oxford World Classics edition of The Good Soldier by Ford Maddox Brown and Family Matters by Nina Bawden. I’ve read a few of her novels so far and she impressed me with her insight into family dynamics.
I couldn’t resist the temptation of a discounted offer from Salt Publishing. So have ended up with The Litten Path by James Clarke. It’s a debut work set in a mining community and is described by Salt as “Grimly honest and tender, tough and lyrical, comic and painful, it is about class friction, the clash between the urban and the rural.” You by Phil Whittaker deals with a scenario that’s become sadly very common: the estrangement of a parent and child following a marital breakup. Whittaker tells the story of a father whose teenage daughter cut him out of her life after he left her mother. Now he is hoping to effect a reconciliation.
Also added to the bookshelves are two new publications that I’d ordered immediately I heard about them. The Wild Silence by Raynor Winn is a follow up to her wonderful memoir The Salt Path in which Raynor and her husband Winn, walked a 600+ mile coastal path after they were made homeless. The new book finds them living on an old cider farm as a result of a generous stranger. In Two Minds by Alis Hawkins is the third in her historical fiction series set in Wales, featuring the coroner Harry Probert-Lloyd. I loved the first book in the series, None So Blind for its evocation of 19th century rural Wales. Now I just have to decide whether to read the new one or go back to book number 2 which is also awaiting my attention.
The post has also brought me three novels that I won in a giveaway with Dome Press. The only one I’d heard of previously is Blood Orange by Harriet Tyce which features a female lawyer who takes on the case of a woman accused of murder. Tangerine by Christine Morgan grabbed my attention when I saw it described as a novel of obsession and control played out in the medinas and backstreets of 1950s Tangier; a blend of Highsmith and du Maurier. Both of these sounds good choices for dark winter nights. The Last Day by Andrew Hunter Murray, is going to challenge me to read outside my normal reading zone. It’s a dystopian tale that imagines a world where as a result of a solar catastrophe earth’s rotation has come to a full stop. One half of the globe is now permanently sunlit, the other half trapped in an endless night.
What I haven’t mentioned are the ten e-books I bought; the product of over-enthusiastic late-night clicking. I should really try to curb this habit because I rarely get around to reading electronically these days.
The result of all this buying is that my TBR has shot up again. If I can exercise some restraint for the remainder of the year it should stay below the end of 2019 level. But if it doesn’t, I’m not going to fret about it when the very act of buying can bring so much pleasure (plus give some badly needed income to booksellers and authors).