Book Review: The Bookshop Book, by Jen Campbell

When I first received this book in the mail, I expected to read it in bits and pieces, splitting cv_the_bookshop_bookmy reading times between it and a novel.

Instead, I had the whole thing cover-to-cover, devoured within three days. As a dedicated bibliophile, a lover of libraries and second-hand and novelty bookstores, something in this one touched me to the core of my being. Sure, some of the descriptions of these exotic and intriguing bookstores were a little brief, but others filled me with a sense of both inspiration and hope.

This book takes you on a journey around the world − across the United Kingdom, Europe, the Americas, Africa and Asia, with lamentably few from Australia (and even fewer from New Zealand). Each shop is described in brief, some with a fuller history, intermingled with passages from book bloggers and authors, all speaking of their love of literature and (in some cases) describing their own, perfect bookstore. Audrey Niffeneger, Cornelia Funke (who is as poetic in her speech as her writing), Bill Bryson, Joanne Harris and more, big-name authors aplenty, all giving us a little insight into their literary world. We are also treated to bookish quotes and a scree of random facts − one of my favourites concerning the existence of the word “abibliophobia”, the fear of running out of things to read.

There is a bookshop on a barge in the UK (soon to move to France), a donkey-back library in Colombia; in tree-houses, re-purposed factories and even underground. All of them run not by corporate businessmen, seeking to make money, but by the dedicated souls who truly love their literature and the shared experience of enjoying a book. In an age when the digital era is fast overtaking the physical, where CDs and DVDs have become largely redundant, and books being replaced by e-readers, when the once-dedicated book giants, like Borders, have been forced to diversify or fade into obscurity, it is genuinely heart-warming to see that there are dedicated individuals keeping the spirit of reading alive.

This is a beautiful little book, a keepsake and memento for those of us who love to wander the shelves, stroking the spines and imagining the journeys on which a book can take you. Or, indeed, the journeys on which it has already been, the people who have read it, cherished it, and passed it on.

Reviewed by Angela Oliver 

The Bookshop Book
by Jen Campbell
Published by Constable
ISBN 9781472116666


Words of the Day, Tuesday 22 October 2013

words_of_the_day_graphicThis is a digest of our Twitter feed that we email out most Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Sign up here for free if you’d like it emailed to you.

Book reviews
Flying high with a double review, @e_heritage reviews The Infinite Air & One Summer: America 1927 @RHNZ

Page and Blackmore GOT THE GOLDFINCH! Donna Tartt’s new book ‘The Goldfinch’ flew in this morning. The plot circles around a…

This book sounds brilliant. Rise and shine: the daily routines of history’s most creative minds. The Guardian

Author interviews
What irks you in poetry?’ ‘The ‘isn’t-my-life-lovely’ poem.’ Anne Kennedy talks to Paula Green

“The journey has been so much fun.” David Jason talks about his career as his long-awaited autobiography hits stores

In the mood for a bit of old-time comedy (biography)? Giveaway: One Leg Too Few, about Cook & Moore

Learn about Pomarine Jaegers, Pacific Mollymawks, and NZ Tomtits with our Birds of NZ giveaway @AUPBooks

Announcing the next guest speaker at the @WintecPressClub free lunch extravaganza staged on Nov 15 via @waikatonews

Everybody! VUP have moved the WAKE launch from 5 to 6 November, 6pm , at Unity Books

Still a few tickets left to see 11 outstanding women writers at The Women’s Bookshop Ladies Litera-tea in November…

At your request, Wellington City Library is pleased to announce adult box fort building!

Look out, Auckland – Pip Adam and Elizabeth Knox are coming your way on 3 November

Book News
Letter to all booksellers from VUP re The Luminaries distribution/reprints

NZ Post’s official The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug stamps & coins are available for pre-orders online at  #TheHobbit

On the topic of book pricing, here is our lead from last week’s Read

From around the internet
The continued conversation about the problem of e-book pricing

“My Life As a Young Thug,” by @MikeTyson:

Bookish baby born in Barnes & Noble 

Interesting article – is Google killing our university libraries?

My fabulous list of NZ bookshops that stock poetry for children

Remembering James K Baxter today. Baxter Basics his poems for children

Book Review: The Infinite Air, by Fiona Kidman, and One Summer: America 1927, by Bill Bryson

Both books are currently available in bookstores.

Human flight is extraordinary. It’s easy to forget, these days, when commercial flying has become as monotonous as commuting. But to fling ourselves into the sky, to zoom at speed through the air, and to safely land in the place we were aiming for – these are spectacular acts.

Two books recently published bring this to life: The Infinite Air by Fiona Kidman, and One Summer: America 1927 by Bill Bryson (both from Random House). The former is a novel about pioneering Kiwi aviator Jean Batten, the latter is a pop history of the USA in 1927, the year Charles Lindbergh became the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic. They’re both excellent.

Opening a Bill Bryson book is like settling cv_one_summer_america_1927down with an old friend for a long, luxurious chat. His books are always packed full of interesting information, but he never sounds like he’s lecturing, simply that he’s happened to come across some wonderful stories that he wants to share with you. His enthusiasm is infectious, and you find yourself becoming immersed in all kinds of things that you had never before considered: baseball scores, historical numbers of US newspapers, the actual amounts of ticker tape in a ticker tape parade. Bryson has that special historian’s delight in discovering connections, uncovering links between Lindbergh and the stock market crash; between Babe Ruth, Al Capone and the invention of television.
The central event of One Summer is Lindbergh’s iconic cross-Atlantic flight, made the more extraordinary the more you learn: his youth, and lack of training; the surrounding disasters; the extreme dangers of early aviation; the limited technology, especially in terms of navigation; the clumsy, primitive aircraft (not even a covered cockpit!). Bryson’s point, though, it not just that Lindbergh was the first person in the world to fly the Atlantic solo; he was the first ever media superstar. The international press was still developing, and Lindbergh was one of its earliest darlings. Column in inches ran to the truckloads across the world; his slightest move was front page news for years. The ticker tape parade in New York City that greeted him after his flight is still the biggest there has ever been. He couldn’t go anywhere without being mobbed – and he hated it.
cv_the_infinite_airCut to 1936 and aviation is still big news. jean Batten’s record-setting solo flight from England to New Zealand led her to be hailed as the most famous woman in the world. Whereas Bryson’s book is enthusiastically packed with data – engine makes, aircraft design, fuel types – and is firmly placed in the context of US history, Kidman’s novel brings us intimately inside Batten’s head, and keeps us there, torn between admiring fascination and uneasiness.
Batten’s ambition, determination and achievements floor me. Goals for women in her time were meant to centre around marriage and family. Batten instead wanted fame – she wanted to explore the world – she wanted to soar. She wanted to do things not only that no woman had done before, but that no one ever had. And, despite all obstacles, including precarious lack of funds and periods of severe depression, she set off, got the training, scraped together a plane, and triumphed magnificently. In a Bryson-esque twisting together of the histories of famous people, we also learn that Batten knew Winston Churchill, flew at the same airfield as Edward VII, hung out with Noel Coward, chatted with Queen Elizabeth, was ‘adopted’ by Louis Bleriot, and served as a muse for Ian Fleming’s first James Bond novel.


Jean Batten and Buddy the cat

Kidman does a superb job of bringing this magnificent tall poppy to life, and we are enthralled by Batten’s victories even as we are repulsed by her aloof selfishness, and pity her intense isolation. The drive that made her succeed bulldozed through her personal relationships, leaving her unhealthily close to her mother and largely friendless, estranged even from her brothers. Ultimately, though, Kidman sympathises: marriage, for Batten, would have meant the clipping of her wings. The men of The Infinite Air are largely boorish and jealous, chiding Batten for her arrogance and withdrawing support as she dares to succeed.

I highly recommend reading these books in tandem. Bryson gives a lively account of the context of early aviation and its global sense of new possibilities, setting out the ways in which certain people and feats became emblems of the ever-increasing possibilities of human daring. Kidman’s beautiful prose and textured characterisation help us experience the freedom of flight, the whoop of joy heard over the roar of cantankerous engines, the sheer miracle of breaking the bounds of gravity. Kidman and Bryson illustrate in glorious technicolour how Batten and Lindbergh aspired, in every sense of the word. I salute them for it.

Reviewed by Elizabeth Heritage –

The Infinite Air
by Fiona Kidman
ISBN 9781869797928    

One Summer: America 1927
by Bill Bryson
ISBN 9780857522146

Both of these books are distributed by Random House NZ