Booksellers’ Week: The Questions

Bookcase 1 sept

Independent Bookshop Week 2016 

Book questions

I’ve been tagged by Erica of the marvellous website The Bookshop Round the Corner - in the run up to Independent Bookshop Week, inspired by the Booksellers Association, she has moved a Youtube meme over to bloggers. Vloggers are taking part in an IBW Tag answering questions about books, and as Erica says – we can do that on our blogs! I loved reading her answers, and I love her bookshop-centred blog, and I recommend both very highly…

And now I am going to answer the bookshop questions:

1. What book(s) are currently in your bag?
Always a thick one and a thin one on the go, depending on which is more convenient for the journey and the bag. Right now the third of the Elena Ferrante Naples series is the thick one. The thin one is an obscure academic mystery called Landscape with Dead Dons by Robert Robinson – for a blog meme I am doing.

2 What’s the last great book you read?
What was Lost by Catherine O’Flynn. People have been telling me to read it for years, but I ignored them and it turns out I was completely wrong – it’s a fabulous book, a masterpiece.

3 What book have you gifted the most? 
Good question. I tend to have a standard couple of books that I give everyone, then it changes after 6 months. Recently I was dishing out Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a while back it was Nina Stibbe’s Love Nina, before that it was Where d’you go Bernadette by Maria Semple.

But if I had to pick one it would be

– that’s the one I buy up copies of whenever I see it for giving-away-purposes. It’s a phenomenal book. Sometimes I see it on someone’s shelf and I say ‘oh so glad to find another fan’ and they say ‘you gave it to me 5 years ago’ and then they usually admit they haven’t read it yet. One person at a time. ‘We are all the better for being loved.’

Bookcase 1 Oct

4 What’s your favourite independent bookshop?

I live in Winchester, and Wells bookshop in College Street (a couple of doors from the house where Jane Austen died) makes the choice easy. It’s everyone’s idea of an old-fashioned bookshop.

5 What’s been your favourite book recommended by a fellow book blogger?
Last year my friend Col of Col’s Criminal Library recommended Falling Angel by William Hjorstberg and I am still recovering from reading it. It is a quite extraordinary book. I chose this from the many excellent recommendations people have given me, because it is a book I would never have found or read on my own.

Bookcase 1 Nov

6 What’s your favourite bookshop memory?
I think I might have been 10. When I had my hair cut, there was a little extra time while my mother was having hers done, and I used to visit a bookshop a few doors away. I would then report back at a set time. While I was in the bookshop I would be looking at books and reading them and also sighing and wishing I had money to buy them. One time when I got back to the hairdresser’s, a friend of my mother’s was sitting next to her, and on being introduced to me gave me some coins and said ‘would you like to buy some sweeties for yourself?’ I thanked her manically and ran to the bookshop where I was able to buy 2 paperbacks, just picked them up and paid for them, and then I ran back. (The friend was wildly over-impressed by this, that I didn’t buy sweets, and that I instantly knew which books I wanted.) It was possibly the most dream-come-true moment of my entire childhood. Imagine.

7 What do bookshops mean to you? What do you love about them? Expectation and glory.

8 What are the books that made you? Which books have most affected or influenced you?

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith. The entire works of Agatha Christie, and countless other detective stories. Joyce’s Ulysses. Proust. Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies. Nancy Mitford, Marilyn Robinson, Ford Madox Ford, Rosamond Lehmann. Noel Streatfeild. Margery Sharp. Sybille Bedford’s A Legacy. The collected letters between Nancy Mitford and Evelyn Waugh. Hundreds more.

Bookcase 1 Dec

9 What book do you recommend readers gift for Father’s Day?
The Man with the Golden Typewriter: the Letters of Ian Fleming. Completely riveting for anyone, an ideal present, you don’t have to be a fan, and has made me embark on reading all the James Bond books again.

10. What book is currently at the top of your TBR pile?
The Theoretical Foot by MKF Fisher. She is my favourite food writer of all time: this is a re-discovered ‘lost’ novel and I am really looking forward to it…

bookcase 1Jan


  1. I'm on holiday soon and I'm tempted to take it with me! It's one of those books that stays with you!

    1. Great holiday reading! It certainly stayed with me, and I look forward to re-reading it one day.

  2. What a lovely set of questions and answers, Moira! And you and I definitely have some commonalities when it comes to books that have influenced us. Now you've made me think of my own best bookshop experiences, too; I've had some great ones. Now off to look into Falling Angel..

    1. Thanks Margot! It's fun when people ask you good questions, and then are interested in the answers. I feel self-centred but happy...

  3. Moira, I enjoyed reading your answers to the Bookshop Questions, particularly your response to your favourite bookshop memory. How many kids would buy books instead of sweets? I'm sure I did not. "No Great Mischief" by Alastair MacLeod and "The Man with the Golden Typewriter: the Letters of Ian Fleming" have caught my attention. There is so much variety in your reading.

    1. Thanks so much Prashant - I feel a real centre of attention with doing your interview at your blog last week and this now - and no overlap! There's always something interesting to say about books isn't there?

  4. I do so enjoy reading people's bookish secrets and memories. So I'll share one of mine. Many years ago someone other than you gave me a copy of No Great Mischief and I put it on my shelves to read 'one day'. For some reason it never called to me and somehow it disappeared from my collection - I moved A LOT for a few years there and also had a lot of house guests so my books have always had a way of disappearing - but only recently the person who gave it to me asked me if I had ever gotten around to reading it. I blushed and stammered.

    If I give someone a book I never ask them that question :)

    1. Very wise. And perhaps it is good that we are geographically far apart and not likely to stumble on this problem! In fact I try to give people books rather than lend them: in my experience you love a book, you push it on someone else, they never read it and never give it back. End result: you, who love the book, have no copy. X has no interest in the book but has a copy. So at least if you give them their own copy that doesn't arise...

  5. I could spend all day looking around bookshops (and when me and the wife go to Hay-on-Wye that's exactly what we do). Nowadays a lot of bookshops are big chains selling brand-new stuff, but despite a lot of closures the second-hand market is still hanging on, and there is a lovely place about three quarters of an hour from me that appears to be thriving.

    My great bookshop memory comes from the time when I was a student, and idly wandered into a shop for a little browsing. I discovered the first fifteen years worth of the STRAND MAGAZINE, all bound. Forty Quid. I'm not good at presenting a poker face at the best of times, but I tried to ask nonchalantly "Is that for the lot?" He replied "Yeah. I need the space".

    I handed over the dosh, and spent the next few days ferrying the thirty volumes from the shop. Of course, I had to live on beans-on-toast for a bit, but it was worth it!

    1. Great story! And there will never be a time when second-hand bookshops aren't alluring. I have been to Hay many times, but not recently - time for another trip.

  6. I'm so pleased you took part in this, it was great reading your answers - especially the one to question six, a wonderful bookshop memory!

    1. Thank you for asking me - I loved doing it, and loved reading your answers.

  7. These are great questions. I loved "What was Lost," and liked, "Where did you go, Bernadette?" This reminds me to read "Americanah."
    I don't know "No Great Mischief" or "Falling Angel."
    I love bookstores and libraries. While a child, my family went to the library a lot and I loved that; I could pick out any books and take them home for awhile.
    I love the smell of books and looking at them in bookstores. It's like a bakery to me.

    The books that you loved and that influenced you bears no similarity to the books that shaped me. I think it's because you grew up in Britain, and I in the U.S., and the books I was exposed to were mainly by U.S. authors.

    The first "adult" book I read was "The Jungle," by Upton Sinclair. It opened my eyes to so much about working conditions and the meat industry. At 13, I gave up meat for awhile.

    Then I was influenced by Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath."
    And I read Theodore Dreiser's "An American Tragedy" and "Sister Carrie." And due to my mother's influence, I read "Nana," by Zola which raised my consciousness about a lot.

    But, nonfiction, Frantz Fanon's "The Wretched of the Earth," opened my eyes about a lot; it's one of the top five nonfiction books that influenced me.

    Back to fiction: The women's and Civil Rights movements happened, and with that, a lot of good fiction. So, Alice Walker's "The Color Purple," and later, Toni Morrison's "Beloved" and her other books were very important.

    I did read mysteries starting with Nancy Drew, then the Great Holmes and some others, but stopped and then picked up again due to the advent of Internet crime fiction blogs.

    And right now I'm in the Isle of Lewis with Peter May's trilogy and loving it. And I'd say that Fred Vargas, Donna Leon, Sara Paretsky, Tana French, Eva Dolan, Sarah Ward, Arnaldur Indridasson, Sjowall and Wahloo, and so many other mystery writers have added a lot to my life. (And I'm forgetting so many more.)

    And now, sorry I wrote a whole column here.

    1. Don't say sorry, I loved reading your answers! It has extended the range of the blogpost. I know and like many of the books you mention but not all of them -I must go and look some up...

  8. I did look up Alistair MacLeod and No Great Mischief. Looks interesting, but I don't know if I want to read another book now bout poor Scots pushed out of their country by landlords during the "clearances."

    Just finished Peter May's second of his Lewis Trilogy, want to finish it but need a distraction.

    Fallen Angel looks a little too "horror" oriented for me.

    1. The MacLeod is about other things (the clearances are very much in the past)- family, and emigration - but it is a sad book. But also full of redemption and hope!
      Falling Angel is not one that I think you would like tbh.

  9. I agree with Cathy, many things I have read about Falling Angel makes me think it is too much horror for me. But I have heard so many recommendations I will have to try it anyway.

    1. It's not for the faint of heart! I would hesitate to recommend it to anyone directly: all I can say is that I loved it, even though it is very shocking and gruesome.

  10. Definitely not for me. I may read MacLeod's book sometime.
    I'm so involved with the Isle of Lewis that I must read the third book in May's trilogy, and he just published a new one also set there, but a stand-alone.

    1. No, didn't think so re: Angel. I haven't read May, but have heard such good things from you and others...

  11. Peter May excels at character development, flashbacks in history and descriptions of the isle of Lewis. I felt like I was there.
    Several readers want him to bring back the character of Finley MacLeod, star of the Lewis Trilogy.
    I got a good sense of how difficult it has been for people to earn a living there, no opportunities. Terrible poverty in the southern islands in the Outer Hebrides, and brutality for orphans sent to work as indentured servants until 1960.
    Definitely worth reading, and the mysteries are good, too.

    I have learned a lot as well as enjoyed the books. The writing is quite good.

    And as for reading Angel, when I was a young teenager, the film Psycho was released. My cousin, a year older, saw the movie and told me about the shower scene. I didn't take a shower for a week and I didn't even see the movie.

    My sister told me when she saw horror movies, I'd run out of the room. I believe it. So, no horror in books.

    1. Well, I am persuaded about Peter May.
      And horror is definitely an individual taste. There's a lot of it I don't like at all, but there's a few good ones have set me shivering...

  12. How I enjoyed this post! And now I have too many more items to add to my "try to find" list.
    One of my most striking bookshop memories is one time when I was on a trip to Cuernavaca, Mexico (first and only time there) [not a long trip, since I live in nearby Mexico City]. I had some time on my hands, so I said, “I think I’ll go to the bookstore.” I set off randomly down the avenue from the hotel without any idea of where I would end up, and after about 20 minutes of walking, came upon a used book store, where I found a copy of Eco’s ”Name of the Rose” in Spanish. Hardcover, 40 pesos. Perfect! I’d recently read it and had wanted to push it on my husband. That it was in Spanish was even better, since he could then read it in his first language.
    My most gifted book is Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time. I also gift her Brat Farrar and any Alice Munro.
    I have another question for all of you: Do you ever DIY additions to your books?
    Are there books into which you have inserted your own foreword or afterword? I’ve done this with a few books where facts came to light after publication of the novel that shed new light on the story. Or where the novelist took for granted some common background knowledge of his/her time that the modern reader is less likely to know.
    I’ve also mocked up book covers for a few historical novels so that I could enjoy them without having to look at their horribly wrong-period cover illustrations.

    1. Oh what great answers you have to these questions! I love the idea of inserting your own extra pages, that is brilliant. I once passed a book onto my brother and I put a note in the beginning telling him something like he should not be put off by the first section, stick with it to another part etc etc. When I got the book back, he had written 'to everybody else', adding his own comments and recommendations to my instructions. But you're right, we should all take it further!


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