“I have just returned from a visit to my landlord…”

Right, time to finish up whatever you’re reading and crack the spine on your copy of Wuthering Heights because our summer reading officially begins on Wednesday, 21 September 2011.

Let us begin:

“I have just returned from a visit to my landlord – the solitary neighbour that I shall be troubled with.”

The summer reading group is very casual and self-directed ESPECIALLY since many of us will be reading on our summer holidays.

If you like, pop over to our Good Reads discussion page – it’s the place to talk about the book, who you liked (or didn’t) and how you’re going. It’s also a great place to motivate yourself if you get a bit behind.

I’ll be reading my copy in Auckland and Northland on my road trip. In fact, I’ve cheated and scheduled this post so am probably packing my copy of Wuthering Heights into the car as you read. Happy summer reading!

See who else is reading this book with us.

by Emma McCleary, Web Editor at Booksellers NZ

Judging a Book by its Cover

And why the hell not.

Usually used as a cautionary moral, don’t judge a book by its cover, has always rankled a little. For many years I harboured a secret guilt that I did just that, judging by veneer, only looking skin deep, ya-da ya-da blah. Then I saw a friend put an inordinate effort into choosing a frame for a painting. When questioned her response was, ‘It has to fit’. I don’t see why the same shouldn’t apply to books.

There’s a striking irony that exists in cover art (though this might say more about me than my argument…): the USA, a place known more for being a giant mall, where neither style nor substance win over marketing, produce the best book designs – not just the covers, but book production. Yet the UK, which has that air of Continental Artistry and intellectual depth, where substance travels hand in hand with design, produces more lacklustre tomes.

That’s painting with pretty broad brushstrokes and, of course, there are many exceptions, but I’ve found it generally holds true. If one takes the same book from each market, and holds them side-by-side, it’s pretty easy to pick the US edition. Unfortunately the commonwealth market follows the UK trend.

As a youth I was a SF geek of the first order. Book covers were an integral part in my selection process, revealing the genre of the book, its subtext and tendency. Many were awful, tacky images involving spaceships and weird aliens, often embossed on a slightly metallic looking cover. But I was often after exactly that sort of book. Hard or literary SF usually had more complex covers, maintaining the futuristic signifiers while conveying an added literary dimension.

Here is an excellent example of an indulgent, genre-fied SF cover, which tells you pretty much exactly what you’re going to get (dinosaurs and laser cannons!).

The Iain Banks title, is a counter example, a rich novel of depth and splendour, whose cover reflects its SF subject matter and literary aspirations.

I think one can and should be able to judge a book by its cover. Book design should reflect its content; be it crime, literary fiction or non-fiction (many new books are deliberately designed to closely resemble successful books of the same theme for exactly that reason – The Da Vinci Code and its clones being an obvious example – possibly lazy, but definitely effective, if only for booksellers like myself).

Our brains are wired to make judgements, so the information our eyes feed it should assist that process. A well designed book is a beautiful thing, not to mention an excellent way to catch the public’s eye. You can follow cover designs like bread-crumbs, leading the shelf-perusing reader along paths of visual cues and treats, out of the forest of overwhelming choice to the meadows of historical fiction, through the sleek hallways of SF, and into the dark alleyways of crime noir.

Here are some wonderfully designed books, exemplars of being able to judge a book by its cover, designs that capture something essential of the book while also being beautiful to look at:

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We’re taking a poll…

This winter a group of Booksellers NZ people, booksellers, publishers and people we’d met on the Internet signed up to read Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. And some of us actually did it!

The whole thing was entirely self-directed and pretty very informal. There were a few discussions on Twitter about the book and more lengthy conversations through a Good Reads group. I liked it and think we could do it again – create an informal reading group around one of the classics.

So I pose two questions:


by Emma McCleary, Web Editor at Booksellers NZ

Inspiring Reluctant Readers

It scares me when a Mum comes into the shop and picks up a two-inch thick book and says “is this book good for my reluctant reader?” Arhhh.

Having an 11year old reluctant reading son I have that market sorted, and I can tell you with the range of books available for the 6-11 year olds there is something for everyone.

Walker Books seem to be producing the best titles for this market. Danny Baker, Record Breaker, The World’s Biggest Bogey by Steve Hartley is one of my favourites. Apart from having a disgusting storyline, which both boys and girls love, it’s full of entertaining pictures that makes the reader giggle and want more.

Out with Captain Underpants, in with Fleabag Monkey Face is another Walker Book series that I would highly recommend.

My theory is “it doesn’t matter what they are reading, as long as they are reading.”

And if the School librarian and the parents can get pass the toilet humour, I can guarantee I could have your kids reading after trying one of my revolting books.

If one of my nauseating picks really don’t work, never fear, there are plenty more we can try.

Random House have renamed and re-jacketed the Charlie Small Journals. A series of nine books, which have my most amazing illustrations and really make the reader feel like they are Charlie Small.

There are three things I have learnt from children.

  1. The Jacket has to look stimulating
  2. The book can’t be too big, and
  3. The chapters can’t be too long.

Scholastic have that that market covered with the Geronimo Stilton series. Up to number 42, Geronimo takes the reader on a wild adventure and fills them up with non-fiction facts without the reader knowing they are being educated.

Ready to take the hesitant reader to the next level? Remember The Fonz from the TV Series Happy Days? Well Henry Winkler struggled with Dyslexia through his childhood and had written a series of books about Hank Zipzer, the World’s Greatest Underachiever. And I can guarantee they are just as cool as The Fonz.

Sharing is one of the most important lessons I have learnt from the reluctant reader. I explain to mums and dads that they must ask “What is happening in your book?” or read what they are reading so you can talk about it.

Read together, not always out loud. In my house we have a 30 minute reading time where ”you read yours and I’ll read mine”, then we talk about each other’s books.

There is nothing more exhilarating than sitting on the floor and reading a book with a child, or just talking about what book excites them.

My staff think I’m nuts some days, when I put on the weird voices and flap my arms around acting out a scene. You should try it, it makes you feel great.

by Julia Phillips – owner of Benny’s Books.

Me and the Mechanical Hound

I re-read Fahrenheit 451 recently, pondering the digital revolution. When I first studied this book, I sat at a wooden desk wearing a blue tartan skirt and computers were as huge as fridges and glowed and hummed in one darkened room of our high school. The future felt light years away.

In Fahrenheit 451 wars were fought in 45 minutes, the walls of Montag’s house were multiple TV screens and his wife was written into a live soap opera. At night the mechanical hound bounded through the city hunting down books and their readers. I imagined his eyes as a red radar- a bit like Kit in Knight Rider – only malevolent.

Yet Bradbury’s vision of the future has never entered the mainstream vernacular in the same way as Orwell’s 1984 and the looming presence of Big Brother. Maybe we have British reality TV to blame. It seems unlikely now that books will be universally outlawed and burned. The world’s libraries are already being collated online. At work we are selling e-readers and people are buying them. The commuters are keen, because the e-reader is a portable way to read on planes, trains and automobiles.

In the 21st century, a book is a brick, a weight that can tug down your bag as you run for the bus on a wet and wild, black tongued night. E-readers also have the ability to adjust font size. Finally that elusive search for the large print book is over. The lovers of literature and freedom of speech don’t have to slavishly memorize their favorite stories line by line (though some of us do this anyway). I-phone has an app for this: you can carry a library in your pocket.

Like most booksellers I have mixed feelings about the digital revolution. Now I find myself obscurely endeared to the mechanical hound. Perhaps he could be trained to round up remainders? I imagine him as a robotic form of a Penguin Donkey, his stomach a large ante-chamber stuffed full of paperbacks.

Reading Fahrenheit 451 again, what struck me most is the implicit wish for a life lived deeply. Montag is a fireman who covets the books he is meant to destroy, his passion is ignited by the words that fly out of each page like sparks. His world explodes into flames. Now, the mechanical hound and I just need to come to terms with the fact that e-books don’t burn at the same temperature.

by Megan Dunn, Borders Wellington

Reading Anna Karenina for winter

A while back in a fit of enthusiasm, I pledged (on some random blog that I’ve now lost the link to) to read Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy during 2011.

Working at Booksellers and signing up to Good Reads has really improved my reading this year. I’m reading more and I thoroughly enjoy having a job where I know what the latest book news is and what the newest books are. It’s very handy for making book recommendations wider than my own taste.

But I digress… after I’d signed up, I tweeted to let others know and suggested that other people might like to join me. Anna Karenina (as our Twitter audience confirmed) is one of those books you’ve either meant to read or got halfway through and mean to finish some day.

I actually know nothing about the story but it’s Russian so I sensed it would be bleak and ideal reading over winter (I’m a fan of adding to bleak with more bleak). So now on Twitter I have a little club of people who are going to join me in reading Anna Karenina in winter. We’re starting on Tuesday, 21 June (the shortest day) and I’d love you to join us. I’ll give a reminder on the blog once the day is coming up and then it’s all go.

If you’re keen you can either mark your diary now, or leave a comment below to say, “Hello I’ll join you.”

If you’re on Twitter, then the Anna Karenina for winter reading club is: rachaelking70fangbookshelenlehndorfcovermebooksSophieFernMarkHubbard33penguinbooksnz

Some of my workmates are joining me too.

By Emma McCleary, Web Editor at Booksellers NZ