Friday, 7 August 2009

Laura Dockrill and Bookarmy's First Film Shoot!

Yesterday, Laura Dockrill visited Bookarmy Towers to do some filming with us. For those of you who don’t know who Laura, aka Dockers MC, is, where have you been?
As well as appearing on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour, BBC Radio 6, many UK national newspapers, this year she headlined Latitude Festival’s Poetry Arena.

Laura is a poet and illustrator and at only 23, she is a rising star. She has been compared to the likes of Quentin Blake, described as a poet for the ipod generation, charged with making poetry cool, and tipped by The Times as one of the top ten literary stars of 2008. The accolades just keep coming, but rest assured this isn’t hyperbole; this lady is really good. Not only is she an excellent performance poet, she’s also a lovely person with colourful clothes, who doesn’t mind in the least if it takes several takes to get a video clip just right.

If you want to see Laura in action we will be putting up our very first bookarmy author video next week. It features Dockers MC performing one of her own poems and then reading another piece by poet Lemn Sissay.

If you can’t wait until then, take a look at Laura in action at Latitude last year.

Posted by Hannah

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Have you heard about the UK's most prolific library book borrower? No? Well, take a look

Posted by Hannah

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

'Serena', by Ron Rash

The book I've been struggling to put down this week is Serena, the latest novel from American poet and author Ron Rash. It's an absolute doorstopper at almost four hundred tall, tall pages, and I must admit the prospect of getting stuck in there wasn't immediately appealing. Apart from anything else, it doesn't fit in any of my bags. How could I be expected to read something that doesn't fit in any of my bags? It just didn't seem right.

Once I finally did manage to get past my sizeism, however, it took only a few minutes to realise that while the book may be long, it certainly isn't long-winded. Rash's prose is sparse without being spartan, and as tough and unyielding as the Serena of the book's title. The new bride of Pemberton, a logging tycoon based in the inhospitable mountains of North Carolina, Serena arrives in her new home and instantly takes control of not only her husband's business but of every last person she encounters. Unfortunately, her power over Pemberton has come about nine months too late, and past indiscretions haunt him in the form of his illegitimate baby son, Jacob. Serena is initially as undaunted by Jacob's existence as she is by every other obstacle she comes up against, but when a miscarriage renders her infertile, her thirst for vengence is awakened.

Rash's writing, although stripped back, is beautifully expressive, and his skill for characterisation is truly superb. Serena herself is an utter triumph of the imagination; Rash really does have the courage of his convictions, and unlike many authors he doesn't lose his bottle at the crucial moment when it comes to creating an out-and-out baddie. Marvellously self-serving and calculating, Serena is feared and admired by everyone she meets. The men at the logging company spread - and, to varying degrees, believe - rumours that she is some kind of monstrous superhuman. She trains an enormous eagle to catch snakes and rides around on a majestic white arab with the bird perched on her arm. She confronts death perhaps not joyously, but certainly indifferently, and killing things (deer, bears, people. Lots and lots of people) doesn't phase her at all. In one deliciously overwrought scene she makes love to Pemberton, who is soaked in the blood of a man he has just murdered at her behest, and allows the red to stain her own stomach. If you've been suffering from wishy-washy bad guys lately, Serena is guaranteed to cure what ails you.

If there is a flaw in this magnificent character, it is only that her wickedness is so unremittingly extreme that she does occasionally run the risk of tipping over into campy pantomime villain territory. Fortunately, Rash's ever-controlled, evenly-paced prose acts as the perfect foil to his anti-heroine; no matter what heights of diabolical excess her personality may threaten to soar to, his words never fail to contain her, even as the action gathers towards its explosive climax in the book's final chapters.

Although Serena has been out since 2008, Canongate are releasing a new edition of it which will hopefully help to garner its author the attention he most certainly deserves. You can - and should - pick it up in the UK from the 6th of August 2009.

Posted by Eilidh

Monday, 6 July 2009

Samuel, Skeletons, and Swine Flu

Last Saturday, on the south bank of the river Thames, I settled down to watch a performance of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner:

It is an ancient Mariner,
And he stoppeth one of three.

"By thy long grey beard and glittering eye,

Now wherefore stopp'st thou me?

I first read Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem when I was ten. The only lasting memory I have of it is the line ‘Water, water everywhere/ Nor any drop to drink’. Quite a pathetically scant memory to have of my first encounter with one the best loved poems of the Romantic period. I can’t blame it on the teachers, they were fantastic, but it’s a long poem to learn to love at ten, especially when you are reading it to yourself. But had I participated in an all singing, all dancing performance of The Ancient Mariner like this one, I’m sure I’d have remembered at least the poem’s story. The primary school children who took part in this south bank performance, I know will remember more than one solitary line.

The performance, which was a co-production between The South Bank Centre and The Young Vic, incorporated dance, acting, music and a wonderful huge marionette skeleton. It was clear a huge amount of time, preparation and effort had gone into this hour and a half performance. The music was brilliant, the conductor had the children exactly where she wanted them and the whole space around was used. There was flag waving, flare lighting and an ice-cream van – why not?! But the only thing that I found a little disappointing was that the Ancient Mariner was reading from a script. At the time I thought this a little tardy, but then, when googling the performance, I read it was because swine flu had hit the actor cast for the part and a replacement had to be found at the last minute, so all was forgiven. Get well soon, Ancient Mariner.

London Literature Festival runs 2nd-16th July.

Posted by Hannah

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Review of Eleanor Catton's The Rehearsal

The Rehearsal is a Russian Doll of a novel. Let me explain. The story is based around a student-teacher sex scandal at a local girls school, but instead of these two characters being the protagonists of the novel, it is told by those around them, some of whom neither the student nor teacher have ever even met.

The characters of the novel are all performers – a saxophone teacher and her host of students, a drama student and his father who is really a one dimensional psychoanalyst, disturbed and disturbing. Each of them is affected by the scandal in one way or another, some directly but most, indirectly. The relationship is the nucleus around which all the other episodes of the story are wrapped layer upon layer, one play inside another, like a Russian Doll.

The reader is placed in the position of an audience member watching a play, or rather several interwoven plays at various stages of rehearsal, but a rehearsal for what? This line of thought could take us on a philosophical path, but as the novel offers no grand over arching conclusion, perhaps we shouldn’t continue, other than to say Eleanor Catton engages with the idea of performance, and how we are often cast to perform a role we wouldn’t necessarily choose for ourselves, with humour and confident creativity.

All this talk of characters may have mislead you. This novel isn’t a character based book. Mostly the characters are little more than shadows that pass across the page; characters in a play script you are reading rather than watching, without much flesh or personality. This isn’t a criticism of the book. The novel doesn’t suffer in any way due to the reserved character studies. In fact, I think this aspect makes the book because it allows the ideas of identity and relationships to shine, and the words to dominate, which, in the words of Emily Perkins, ‘makes language seem new’:
The overhead lights have dimmed and she is lit only by a pale flicking blue, a frosty sparkle like the on–off glow of a TV screen. The saxophone teacher is thrust into shadow so half her face is iron grey and the other half is pale and glinting.
(read a longer excerpt)

Eleanor Catton is an exciting new writer and I'm already looking forward to her next book.

Posted by Hannah

Friday, 19 June 2009

Bookarmy's First Author Interview

On Wednesday, I conducted bookarmy’s first face to face author interview with Kate Pullinger. We met in a cafe in Shepherd’s Bush, London. To be honest, I was a little apprehensive, this being my first BA interview, but thank goodness, Kate was absolutely lovely. We talked about her new book, The Mistress of Nothing, and her work with digital storytelling, but I’m afraid that is all I’m going to tell you. I’ll be adding the interview to the site soon, so if you want to know what Kate actually said, keep checking Kate’s author page.
We will also giving away 5 signed copies of The Mistress of Nothing throughout July, so look out for how you can enter.

Posted by Hannah

Monday, 15 June 2009

Litro Live, 11th June '09

Last week I went to Litro Live, an event run by the excellent Litro magazine and hosted by the Betjeman Arms in St. Pancras International Station. Books, booze, music and, well, trains; what more could I have asked for?

Unfortunately I arrived a couple of hours late owing to the tube strike (curse those workers; it’s almost as if they don’t care about my social engagements at all). However, I was in time to catch readings from Geoff Dyer, Jake Arnott and Gemma Weekes. Gemma is also a singer and performed briefly after she’d finished reading. Her music was perfectly designed to accompany wine, and it was very lovely and relaxing indeed – probably my favourite part of the evening.

Copies of works by all the authors were on sale but - as my book-hoarding tendencies have recently been reaching levels that may be indicative of some kind of serious personality disorder - I decided to be strong for once and resist the urge to buy. I did, however, take a photo of Jake Arnott’s novel, which seems like the next best thing to actually owning it. It instantly caught my eye because, as you can see, it’s very pretty and bright and I’m a magpie when comes to very pretty and bright books; I DO judge them by their covers, I’m afraid.

I also had my first experience of witnessing the DJing talents of Jamie Byng, otherwise known as the man behind the immensely successful revival of Canongate’s fortunes. This happened quite unexpectedly and was actually somewhat surreal. I was the tiniest bit tipsy and for a moment wondered if my eyes were deceiving me. However, hallucinations of prominent literary figures in incongruous circumstances have never previously been amongst the symptoms of my intoxication so I had my doubts. I headed home not long afterwards to do the Google homework I really should have done beforehand, and discovered that spotting Jamie behind the decks is not as rare an occurrence as one might imagine and that he apparently does this sort of thing quite a lot. Who knew? Not me, obviously.

Although this was the first Litro event I have been to I hope that it won’t be the last, and if you happen to be a London-dweller I would strongly recommend checking out their website for details of their monthly live shows.

Posted by Eilidh

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Better late then never, I guess, but here are some of our photos from Hay Festival.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Beginning of the end for textbooks?

Just in case you missed it, earlier this week Arnold Schwarzenegger announced plans to scrap all textbooks in Californian schools and replace them with the digital information. This is in an effort to curb the growth of a budget deficit already $24.3bn in the red. Hmmm, I’m not sure…

See what you think, read Schwarzenegger's speech here.

Posted by Hannah

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Congratulations, Marilynne Robinson!

Yesterday evening, Marilynne Robinson was announced the winner of the Orange Prize for her novel Home. Robinson is no stranger to the world of literary accolades, already having a Pulitzer as well as a PEN/Hemingway award under her belt. This latest win raises her grand total of prestigious awards to three - one for every novel she has written. Not too shabby.

As I blogged yesterday, I was lucky enough to hear her (along with fellow shortlisters Ellen Feldman, Samantha Harvey, Kamila Shamsie, Samantha Hunt and Deirde Madden) read from their nominated books at the Southbank Centre a couple of days ago. If, however, you didn't happen to have the time, the money or, erm, the inclination to attend - fret not! You can now experience the exquisite joy of a Marilynne Robinson reading courtesy of this charmingly shaky video we dug up on YouTube, just for you. Enjoy!

P.S. If you think you know a thing or two about the Orange Prize and its past winners, you can test yourself in Bookarmy's Orange Prize quiz here.

Posted by Eilidh

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Orange Prize Readings '09

Since it was founded in 1996 by Kate Mosse, The Orange Prize for Fiction has been the subject of much controversy owing to its exclusion of male writers. However you feel about this attempted affirmative action (I’m not too sure that I feel all that positively about it myself), there’s no denying that the prize-giving is one of the most significant events in the British literary calendar. With the winner set to be announced today in a lavish awards ceremony, the past couple of months have seen those on the shortlist take part in string of events to get the public familiar with their names, faces, and, most importantly, their work.

I spent yesterday evening at a night of readings and discussion with the six shortlisted authors, none of whom I have read before. The weather was unbelievably stunning – the perfect day to sit around listening to the buskers outside the venue, London’s Southbank Centre. Inside, however, the ambience was slightly less agreeable. I had expected that the audience would consist mostly of arty publishing types, but to my surprise the room was jam-packed with a very diverse range of people spanning all ages. The sweltering heat generated by the crowd combined with the coloured lighting (orange, of course) made me feel a little bit like I was toasting under a grill. I can only imagine it must have been even worse for those on stage. However, the host, Radio 4’s Fi Glover, remained cool and composed throughout. She began by introducing the six authors, describing their work as “the type of books you want to press into the hands of strangers”.

First up to the podium was the bookies’ favourite to win, Ellen Feldmen, author of the fact-based novel Scottsboro. Her prim black suit, matching prim black bob and calm American voice contrasted sharply with the highly disturbing subject matter of her reading: a false accusation of rape made by two white girls against nine black teenagers in the American South during the depression era. Feldman went on to explain that she had remained so true to the facts of the original case that there is only one character in the book that she created herself; and even this one figure, a reporter named Alice, was born out of merging two women really involved in the trial. This, as far as I’m concerned, makes Feldman’s vivid imagining of the situation, as seen through the eyes of one of the supposed victims, all the more impressive and all the more courageous. To take the bare factual bones of a high-profile case and climb inside the minds of those involved is not something to be undertaken by a timid writer and from the section Feldman read it’s obvious that she has the poise required not only to pull it off, but to pull it off with a true flourish.

Feldman was followed by Samantha Harvey, the only debut author nominated for the prize this year. She seemed, quite understandably, somewhat overwhelmed by her situation, and she endeared herself to me immediately by opening her reading with the words “this is quite terrifying, I admit”. I had been utterly in awe of those on stage since I arrived, unable to stop thinking about how daunting the task of displaying the contents of one’s imagination to the intense scrutiny of an auditorium full of people must be. It was strangely reassuring to see that one of the authors, at least, did not appear unnaturally fearless.

Harvey’s novel, The Wilderness, is about Alzheimer’s and the problematic nature of identity without memories. She read initially in a soft, faltering tone which, although most likely the product of nerves, aptly reflected the quiet sadness behind her novel. By the time she had finished her reading and sat down to answer Fi Glover’s questions, her confidence had clearly increased and she provided fluid, well-thought-out answers.

Next up was Samantha Hunt, author of The Invention of Everything Else, a fictionalised account of the life of eccentric inventor Nikola Tesla. Hunt's stage presence was such that to be bored by her would actually demand a conscious effort on the part of the spectator. She even sang parts of the text, and adopted different voices when reading dialogue from each character as one might do when reading to a child. The section Hunt read was about the relationship between her protagonist and his employer, Thomas Edison, and even in this brief reading her talent for characterisation shone through. The combination of a fascinating topic, of which I know very little, and the author’s lively performance brought the book alive, and I found myself adding it to my mental to-read list only a couple of minutes into the reading.

Deirdre Madden’s delivery of her text was less theatrical although the titular character of her book, Molly Fox’s Birthday, is an actress, and she read a passage describing Molly's starring role in a performance of The Duchess of Malfi. Madden admitted that the world of acting was something “alien” to her, having never even appeared in a school production, and it is a testament to her skill as a writer that she managed to conjure up so vividly and convincingly the atmosphere of a world so foreign to her own experience. She was very funny and more than a little bit cutting, dismissing Fi Glover’s statement that Molly had seemed to her to be older than she was described, with a sharp Northern Irish ‘I’m not sure why you thought that.’ This exchange raised a (slightly awkward) laugh from the audience.

Marilynne Robinson’s reading of a section from her book Home was characterised by rich, descriptive language which betrayed the deep melancholy at the root of this tale about the relationships between the members of a fractured family. Interestingly, Home was written as a companion to her critically-acclaimed novel Gilead, featuring a shared cast of characters and the same setting. She stressed, however, that it’s in no way a sequel, taking place as it does at the same point in time as the original novel rather than afterwards, and that she intended for each of the novels to be autonomous. The characters of Home, she added, “felt like characters who wanted a novel, so I thought I might as well give it to them.”

The last to read was Kamila Shamsie, whose nominated novel is Burnt Shadows, a book that accomplishes the rather tricky feat of spanning "sixty years and five countries". Although all the different books’ passages were wonderful, and so varied in tone and content as to be almost incomparable to one another, it was this one, along with Samantha Hunt’s, which most sticks in my mind. Some of Shamsie’s words are nigh-on impossible to shake, although one couldn’t be blamed for wanting to shake some of them; for example the description of the devastation wreaked on a church by the bombing of Nagasaki, leaving behind only melted rosaries and human fat stuck to the walls.

The event rounded off with a brief Q+A session with audience members, during which someone sitting a few rows behind me came up with the very silly yet, oddly, quite inspired idea of asking the authors to describe their respective writing processes using the metaphor of a garden. The responses were pretty impressive considering they were completely spontaneous, and the majority of the authors seemed to be in consensus that their gardens would feature a great deal of wilderness and not a great deal of control on the part of the gardener. However, judging by the evening’s readings, I can only say that this modesty seems greatly misplaced. I’m looking forward to finding out which of these deserving ladies will get their hands on the £30,000 prize, but no matter who manages to scoop top place, I have a horrible feeling my purse is going to be significantly lighter very soon as I lose the will to fight the urge to run out and buy all six of these very unique books.

Posted by Eilidh

Monday, 1 June 2009

Bookarmy at Hay Literary Festival

The summer season of literary festivals is now in full swing. As you may have read on Friday’s blog entry, I escaped Bookarmy Towers and spent the day wandering around a Welsh field in the stunning late May sunshine, at the Hay-on-Wye Literary Festival. For those of you who haven’t heard of Hay Festival before, imagine a field full of big white tents, with a grass quad in the middle littered with people reading and lounging on deck chairs, sipping Pimms and eating strawberries against the backdrop of the beautiful Black Mountains. Idyllic.

The idea was for me to go to Hay and blog throughout the day directly from the field of white tents. However, this was hampered by a Blackberry melt-down, leaving me unable to tweet, blog or upload pictures to the site. Very annoying - next time, I’m taking an iphone. Thankfully, I was saved by the good people of Hay-on-Wye, who took pity on me as I went door to door begging for a computer and internet connection, so I was able to send back to Eilidh in the office some news and pictures –Sarah, if you are reading this, you were a saviour. Thank you very much for letting me use your computer!

If you love to read and have never been to Hay, you are missing out. As the town’s welcome sign says, Hay is a ‘town of books’, and they’re not exaggerating. Contained within this small, beautiful town, by the Wye river, together with its very own crumbling Arthurian castle, Hay boasts around 30 bookshops, some specialist, and each a unique treasure trove of wonderful books in which any bibliophile can lose themselves amongst the high shelves.

Hay Festival used to be in held in the centre of town, with venues in the castle and the local Primary school, but in recent years it has become so popular that it has moved location to a field about a kilometre out of town. This has allowed the event to grow and include music events in the evening. However, it does mean that when it rains wellies are essential; but I guess this is true of all festival-going in the UK.

The first event I booked myself into was Jacqueline Wilson. On entering the tent each of us was handed a raffle ticket. This ticket was to decide which members of the audience would be lucky enough to get their books signed. This was very necessary because two years ago at Hay, the demand for Wilson’s signature was such that she stayed in the festival bookshop for over 6 hours scribbling her name on fans’ books to avoid anyone being disappointed. What a star.

She was fantastic; engaging, in control and oozing stage presence, she told the audience about her journey to becoming one the most successful children’s writers. Did you know that she is the Jackie behind ‘Jackie magazine’? Or that, for the first 3 months of her working life, she lived in a linen cupboard in a women’s church hostel in Scotland? I did try and tweet all this from the event but I think it got lost in cyber space. (By the way, which is better, the google phone or the iphone? – all opinions gratefully received).

I gave my raffle ticket to a little girl sitting next to me whose pile of Wilson books sat so high on her lap she had difficulty seeing over the top. Sadly, my ticket wasn’t a winner and the little girl’s books remained unsigned.

I then went to a comedy current affairs event. Four comedians commenting on the top and more trivial news stories of the day, with some audience participation. I learnt a lot: Jesus showed himself in a jar of marmite, Remains of the Day is to be made into a musical, and the craze for adopting monkeys to combat ‘empty nest syndrome’ is sweeping America. Check out the stories – brilliant.

Hay is never just a place to see and hear some of the world’s greatest writers discuss, debate and illuminate their works, but as suggested by this year’s festival strap line - ‘Ideas May Blossom’ - Hay is not just a festival about books; it’s a playground for the imagination. With comedy, music, film screenings, debates about religion, science and climate change, Hay is more than a literary festival. Hay turns the private and solitary act of reading into a public, celebratory event where readers can discuss all aspects of all types of books, and connect with authors and one another; a bit like bookarmy really, but without the need for wellies and waterproofs.

Looking forward to next year already.

To listen and watch a selection of the Hay events, try clicking here and see what goodies you can find.
Posted by Hannah

Friday, 29 May 2009

Bookarmy goes to Hay Festival '09

This morning we sent our trusty editor, Hannah, off to see what she could see at the carnival of literary delights that is Hay Festival 2009. Hannah has been acting as Bookarmy's eyes and ears at the festival, and we've already got a sneak preview of some of what she's been up to from the photos and other updates she's been sending us throughout the day.

Hay Festival was founded in 1988 by Peter Florence, who recognised Hay-on-Wye, with its disproportionately high number of bookshops, as the bibliophile’s paradise that it is. Every year, the population of this tiny town swells as people travel from far and wide to enjoy literary events, comedy and music in an idyllic Welsh setting. Bookarmy consider ourselves very fortunate to be amongst these literary pilgrims this year, but we office-bound staff members are more than just a touch envious of our editor - just look how perfect it is there! It’s no wonder the festival has grown and grown ever since it began.

Hannah will have crossed back over the Welsh border again by Monday, so you can expect lots of info from her next week about all her literary adventures and exactly which authors she managed to spot!

Posted by Eilidh

Friday, 22 May 2009

The Little Giant of Aberdeen County, Review

Over the past few days, my dreary tube journeys have been made just a little more tolerable thanks to Tiffany Baker’s debut novel ‘The Little Giant of Aberdeen County’ , a modern-day fairytale about the trials of being different. Baker’s heroine and narrator, Truly Plaice, is a girl who literally doesn’t fit in; born so oversized that her mother dies pushing her out, she keeps on growing upwards and outwards long into adulthood, leaving her towering over the menfolk of her small-minded hometown, Aberdeen. Her future appears bleak from the outset; so vast that she can’t find girl’s clothes to fit and is forced to cross-dress, Truly’s appearance provokes nothing but amusement and revulsion in her pitiless neighbours. Her beautiful sister Serena Jane, by contrast, is admired by all and seems destined for great things...

It’s hard to continue without giving away the entire plot, so I won’t. In any case, ‘plot’ seems like the wrong word to use in relation to this book; it’s best described as a story, and a very lovely one at that. Subtle it’s not, of course, but since when have fairytales been subtle? Aberdeen is peopled by a range of larger-than-life characters who possess attributes rather than personalities, each individual being representative rather than realistic, and no-one’s actions are really sufficiently motivated. This isn’t necessarily a failing; after all, it’s nice to be able to root for the goodie and boo the baddie once in a while, without any of that bothersome ambiguity as to whose side we’re meant to be on.

In case there should ever be any doubt about exactly what message we are intended to take from the lives of our cast of caricatures (there isn’t), we are helped along by useful explanatory paragraphs. Truly, for example, reflects at one point on the misfortune of her nephew Bobbie having been born male, because ‘he’s such a beautiful child’ and ‘Boys weren’t meant to be pretty. They were meant to be sturdy, and rough, and rugged as mountains . . . they were meant to be just like me.’ This - along with numerous other similar passages - helpfully ensures we understand that sometimes people just don’t conform to society’s expectations and that’s OK.
Strangely, the sledgehammer approach works far better than it logically should for Baker. This is largely because her fairytale style actually demands thematic simplicity and clarity; this is a story with a moral after all, so it has to be apparent what that moral is. The lesson offered by Truly’s narrative is far from ground-breaking: beauty is on the inside, different does not mean bad, even ugly ducklings can find love, flouting conventional gender roles is ok, and so on and so forth. In other words, ‘accept yourself and accept others.’ Hackneyed, yes, but also heart-warming in a way that just can’t be denied.

What the book really owes its success to, however, is Baker’s extraordinarily visual imagination. Each page of the book is peppered with beautifully rich and seemingly effortless metaphors which showcase the author’s eye for a unique image. These act as the perfect complement to a tale which is propelled along by characters’ reactions to external appearances, and it’s obvious that this is the area in which Baker’s strength as a writer truly lies.

Like all fairytales, this one ends with a happily-ever-after for the protagonist, and you’ll find yourself turning the pages so quickly you’ll have reached it before you know it. This book is definitely one for the ladies, but anyone who has seen the pretty floral cover and read the enthusiastic praise from ‘Marie Claire’ and ‘Good Housekeeping’ magazines adorning the jacket is at no risk of being misled as to the novel’s intended market.

‘The Little Giant of Aberdeen County’ is released in the UK on March 28th, 2009.
Posted by Eilidh

Monday, 18 May 2009

J.D. Salinger

Any bookarmy member who has been with us since our first public outing last November may have noticed that the bookarmy team have a bit of a soft spot for J.D. Salinger. And why not? The Catcher in the Rye is a must read not only because it’s a brilliant novel, but also because it continues to have great cultural significance:
It is reported that over 250,000 copies or sold every year, it is studied by almost every other American high school student, and it has been present at several high profile assassinations including John Lennon’s, where his murderer Mark David Chapman carried a copy in his pocket, saying later that the novel explained his actions.

The Catcher in the Rye is still hugely significant and helped to make Salinger a literary giant. The author withdrew from public life in the 1950s, but now we have a sequel to The Catcher in The Rye, not by J.D. Salinger but by John David California, called Beyond the Rye.

My first reaction on hearing the news was, “Oh no! It won't be the same”, while simultaneously wondering if it was actually true (as did Wikipedia, as it turned out), but this initial outcry was swiftly followed by: “brave man”, after I discovered that it was in fact true and more than this, it is California’s debut novel. Although California has dedicated Beyond the Rye to Salinger, J.D. hasn't authorised it, and without his input, can this really be considered a sequel to Catcher, let alone one that will satisfy the millions of fans?

As yet, I haven’t been able to get my hands on a copy, so I can't give you any insight into whether it is any good, but this is the synopsis:

A 76-year-old man wakes up in a nursing home in upstate New York. This seemingly normal day brings with it an unnerving compulsion to flee his present situation and embark on a curious journey through the streets of New York City. Powerless to resist these strange new urges, Holden Caulfield, like a decrepit marionette, finds himself in the midst of bizarre and occasionally depraved escapades. Is senility finally closing in or is some higher power controlling the chaos? 60 years after his debut as the great American anti-hero, Holden Caulfield is yanked back onto the page without a goddamn clue why.

Hmmm, not sure and neither are the readers of The Bookseller's blog, one commenter declaring:

'This really should never be published. As people have said before, it is absolutely wrong for someone random to cash in on a literary classic. If Salinger wants to write a sequel, fine; but this should never be classed as anything other than what it is: a 'fanfic'.'

If anyone has read Beyond the Rye, or knows any more about it, please let me know.
Posted by Hannah

Thursday, 30 April 2009

Some Brief Thoughts about Exclamation Marks!

While writing this month’s newsletter (arriving in your inbox today), I realised that the entire page was littered with exclamation marks.

Why, I asked myself, did I feel the need to include even one, let alone fourteen?

I know that the overuse of the mark is frowned upon, and admittedly they made the newsletter page look untidy, but there was no denying that they also made it look friendly. The exclamation mark at the end of the heading ‘Welcome to Bookarmy’s May Newsletter!’, made the otherwise ordinary title seem personal, exciting, uplifting even, just as ‘Hi’ communicates a rather even-toned greeting, adding an exclamation mark injects genuine pleasure into the same salutation: ‘Hi!’

But why does this one symbol hold so much meaning? Why does it have the power to alter the meaning of words and change the entire tone of a sentence?

Then I found that Stuart Jeffries had been musing upon the very same subject:

Just in case you are wondering, I culled the fourteen exclamation marks to just two.

Friday, 24 April 2009

As many of you will have noticed, we've recently implemented quite a few changes to, so I want to update you all on exactly what these are. The main changes are:

- A new homepage featuring lots of info about what's happening on the site (you can see the new page by logging out)

- A new layout for the books section of your profiles. We now display cover images for the books you've added. The books are also now displayed over several pages rather than in one long list so that those of you with several hundred books don't have to scroll for years to get to the bottom of the page.

- Everyone should now be able to add line breaks to their forum posts.

- Ticker settings (you can find this button on your profile pages) mean that you can choose which news alerts you receive and which ones you don't want to see.

- Changing your password is now more secure as it requires confirmation from your email address.

- You can now choose whether to display your real name on the site or not using the 'display real name' check box which you can find on the 'update profile' section of your profile page.

- The entire site is now displayed in a slightly larger font that is less squashed and just generally nicer to look at.

As always, we appreciate any feedback you can offer us on any of the changes we've made, and we ask that you don't hesitate to inform us of any problems you're experiencing with any aspect of the site so that we can fix it for you!

Thursday, 16 April 2009

I have recently been introduced to a poet called David Kay, whose poems never fail to provoke a reaction from me –mostly a smile.

It's like I always say:
"here's something,
you've never heard before,
that doesn't really apply,
to me,
or my methods,
but it'd be great,
if they did.

Dirty Dancing
There comes a time,
in every Englishman's life,
when he must learn salsa,
to save his relationship.

If he does not,
another man,
will dance salsa
all over the relationship,
and these,
are the very seeds,
of betrayal.

For salsa is ok,
in South America.
Salsa is not ok,
in South East England.

Visit his blog to read more and then post your comments on our Poetry forum.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Book Review - The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet

When you start to tell someone about a book written by a brand new author, it is always tempting to compare the writer to another more established, well-known author.
Okay, I will immediately pigeon hole debut author Reif Larsen and say that The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet will be enjoyed by lovers of J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, and the quiet analytical approach to life of the 12-year-old protagonist, Tecumseh Sparrow Spivet, is very like that of Mark Haddon’s central character in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time.

Although these are accurate comparisons, to be honest, they aren’t very helpful and somehow make ordinary a novel that is anything but. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever read a book quite like it.

It is the story of a brilliant young cartographer, who lives on a ranch in Montana with his father, a silent cowboy, his mother Dr Clare a coleopterist, his bored teenage sister, and his brother Layton who although not around, haunts the pages. T.S. has for a while been submitting maps and illustrations to a wide range of institutions and publications and now his extraordinary work has been noticed by the prestigious Smithsonain Institution, only they don’t know he is twelve. (synopsis)

The book is a thing of beauty. I read one review that described the cover as ‘dull’. Not a bit of it. Designed to resemble one of T.S.’s coloured notebooks, I think the cover is exactly right for this novel. The margins of the book are filled with delicately drawn maps, diagrams and illustrations of T.S’s journey across America to receive his Smithsonain award. Lines and arrows point to the different drawings, politely interrupting your reading flow, adding more detail to the story through an aside comment or a brief connected thought.

One of my favourite maps is entitled ‘Freight Train as Sound Sandwich’ in which T.S. pictorially uses the analogy of the different elements the make up ‘John’s Pork Chop sandwich’ to map the different layers of sounds that make up the noise of the train hurtling along the tracks (it’s on page 97 of my copy).

For me the margins make this book, which is a nice change as the margins in most books are just the vacant spaces left in the printing process.
The drawings and maps are a big distraction; they make you stop half way through a paragraph and turn the book on its side to look at a map of how you might be able to shake God’s hand, or to study how Layton pumps his fist. I like that. I like the invitation to wonder through the book. And for me, that is the purpose of the drawings.

They offer the reader a new route through a book, we don’t have to slavishly read right to left and down the page. We can follow each arrow as it appears and read the margins, or we can finish the page and go back to look at all the drawings in one go, or we can ignore them all together –although that would be a shame. Rather than a one-way street of text as in other novels, this book is an invitation to create and follow new paths.

I’ve always thought that comparing new books with old favourites makes the debut novel less new and exciting, and to do that to this book would be terrible. So yes, if you like Mark Haddon or The Catcher in the Rye, give this books a go, but there is a lot more to it than that. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It is both a beautiful artefact and a great story.


Monday, 6 April 2009

Charlotte Perkins Gilman fans

I just come across this blog while editing our entry for Charlotte Perkins Gilman - it's a must for all fans of the wonderful writer.

Monday, 30 March 2009

Author videos on bookarmy!

We have just launched our video page. We have only just started adding clips to author and book pages, and have about 300 so far, but we will be adding more clips every week so there will always be something new to watch and comment on.

You have always been able to chat about and to authors on bookarmy, but now you can also watch them talk about their books in their very own words.

We have a few favourites amongst the first clips, including Laura Dockrill’s brilliant performance of her poem ‘Rude Girl’, Tilda Swinton reading from Steven Hall’s mesmerising story, The Raw Shark Texts, and a wonderful illustrated trailer for Rivka Galchen’s Atmospheric Disturbances. Also, take a look at the trailer for Alex Burrett’s originally titled My Goat Ate Its Own Legs – make sure you have the volume up for this one!

At the moment, users cannot upload their own videos, but if you have any suggestions for a book or author video you think we should feature, please let us know.

Monday, 16 March 2009

I love this site!

Have a look at this link.
It made me chuckle!

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

A book review that will make you want chocolate.

I spent this morning getting my teeth into Return of the Chocoholic Vampires, the first book in the new children’s series Zac Zoltan’s Mad Monster Agency.

It’s jam-packed with comic- style illustrations, complete with speech bubbles, to make reading more fun. This will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the creators, Knife and Packer – the men behind several high-profile cartoon strips, including Private Eye’s ‘It’s Grim Up North London.’

Featuring secret identities, a baking-obsessed troll named Odd Dan and an invasion of chocolate-loving vampires, there’s enough chaos and lunacy here to grab the attention of even the most discerning child. Return of the Chocoholic Vampires is released on April 6th, 2009.

Friday, 6 March 2009

Just a quick one- we are giving away 30 free copies of The Piano Teacher, by debut novelist Janice Y.K. Lee.
To see how you could get your hands on a copy visit I want a FREE book, now.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Have you read....

Happy World Book Day everyone!

I was rather amused to read about the survey that came out today, all about reading habits. Apparently a lot of us say we have read such and such a book, when in truth, we haven’t even glanced through the first chapter. 42% of people polled admitted to have falsely claimed to have read George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, 31% War and Peace and 25% James Joyce’s Ulysses.

Now, like me you probably don’t think that it was particularly necessary to have a poll to discover that people lie about reading some books, but I do think it is really interesting the titles people pretend to have read, because this must mean these are the books we rate as giving you a higher, what is it? Intellectual status?
So what is it in particular about these books that suggest one is ‘well read’ ? Odd.

If this is a case I think we all need to read, and I mean actually read cover to cover without only pretending, Alain De Botton’s Status Anxiety.
See the list here.

Friday, 20 February 2009

One of the bookarmy members has posted a great link to the Five Dials online magazine, in our Coffee House forum, and I thought I'd post it here so all could enjoy it.

I particularly enjoyed the article about W.G. Sebald in issue number 5.

If you don't know Sebald's writing, you are missing a real treat - Austerlitz is a must, must read.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

The site is alive! It is brimming with activity and after countless months of hard work, here at bookarmy HQ, we are happy to see so many people chatting and getting involved. Not least, the bookarmy authors who are joining the site and furiously adding books to reading lists.

Amongst the authors who have signed up this week: author of The Saga of Darren Shan, Darren Shan, Stephen Hunt, author of The Court of Air and The Rise of the Iron Moon, and international bestselling author of The Alchemist and Veronika Decides to Die, Paulo Coelho.

I can report that officially (well according to his bookarmy profile) Darren Shan has read 383 books, earning himself the status of Librarian. He also has quite a curious profile picture – take a look, or see if you can catch any of the bookarmy authors in the bookarmy author’s forum.

Friday, 6 February 2009

hello and lovely to have you with us. The Beta site is open (hurray).

bookarmy is more than a social site for books. We want to be able to tell everybody that visits what (and who) they should read next. We need your help to make this possible - review, rate and recommend books and authors and we'll bribe/reward you as much as we can.

As you can see - we have a killer African holiday as a prize up for grabs this month (as well as hundreds of books) so get reviewing....

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

If you have taken me up on the invitation I posted on Friday, calling all book lovers to have a look at bookarmy, you will have noticed that you can't access the site because it’s still in private beta. This is because unfortunately we have had to postpone our public beta until next week – sorry, but it’ll be worth the wait, we promise!

Friday, 30 January 2009

We are coming to the end of our private beta. On Monday we are throwing open the bookarmy doors and inviting the world to stop by and have a look around.
We have been working very hard to make sure the site is in tip top condition for its world premiere, so if you haven’t been able to see the site yet, stop by on Monday and let us know what you think.

We will still be in beta so there will be some things that need tweaking and everyone’s feedback will be invaluable in helping us make bookarmy even better.

Hope to see you there!

Friday, 16 January 2009

Some sad news: John Mortimer, the author of Rumpole of the Bailey books, has died aged 85. As well as an author of novels and screenplays, Mortimer was also a barrister and appeared for the defence in the famous 1960s trail of D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover.

In May ’07 I went to see Mortimer at Hay Literary Festival. Although his brain and perhaps more importantly his wit, were still razor sharp, his illness left him breathless, and the filthy Welsh weather lashing against the festival tent made hearing him a little difficult, so he was joined on the platform by fellow author and friend Kathy Lette. The show belonged to Moritmer. It was clear from the beginning that the interviewer and Lette were there purely to entertain the audience while Mortimer took short breaks between recounting tales of his barrister days.

His best anecdote from that appearance has been repeated in newspapers today:

"I found criminal clients easy and matrimonial clients hard," he said. "Matrimonial clients hate each other so much and use their children to hurt each other in beastly ways. Murderers have usually killed the one person in the world that was bugging them and they're usually quite peaceful and agreeable."
Read his obituary

Monday, 5 January 2009

Happy New Year!
Sorry we’ve been a bit quiet over the festive period, but we are back and brimming with plans for the year, but we still want to hear from you.

You can post any comments in our chat forum, ‘feedback’, or if you find something on the site that isn’t quite working properly, post your findings on our ‘broken things’ forum.

Also, don’t forget our weekly prize giveaway. Every week we award a selection of books to the best book review, the most helpful community member and to the person who has submitted the best book and author recommendations. To find out how to enter, visit the ‘competitions, quizzes and rewards’ page.