How far do you go?

Story line_500

 

There are many ways of choosing books to read. Some people go by the ‘blurb’ on the cover or the subject matter as suggested by the title, others by the first few pages, some by the last few pages, and yet others simply by the reputation of the author.

Having chosen one, how do you decide whether to read it from start to finish or to abandon it?  

If I can get through the first ten or so pages, I will continue reading it. So, I conclude from this that when I am writing a book it is very important to engage the reader from the very first page. In addition, when the book appears on sites like Amazon, the sample that becomes available for potential buyers is these first few pages.

If I am not enjoying a book by the hundredth page, I will happily stop reading the book, and then choose another. If, on the other hand, I am fully enjoying or finding a book interesting as I reach page 100, there is a very good chance that I will read the whole book.

What is your decision-making process for deciding whether or not to stick with a book?

So near, but so far

WRITING

 

I have been working on the manuscript of my latest book, about whose subject I will write sooner or later.

I have reached a stage at which I keep reading through the whole text, trying to put myself in the place of a potential reader, and from that position I make modifications, which I hope will improve the quality of the book. Each time I look at it, I make more changes, many corrections, some additions, and many more deletions to eliminate my natural tendency towards verbosity. So, my book is nearing completion, but has far to go before publishing it.

Soon, I will be ready to show my manuscript to some kind volunteers to get their candid (I hope) opinions, comments, and criticisms on what I have produced so far.  If I do not do this, I will become self-satisfied and the book might begin to suffer. Also, I need to know whether what I have written is, in priciple, likely to be worth reading! Then, it will be back to the ‘drawing board’ to modify my work in the light of what my test readers tell me.

Finally, I will need to proof-read my book, format it properly, and add a few illustrations before publishing my ‘oeuvre’. From conceiving an idea to finishing a book based on it is a long process, frustrating at times but largely enjoyable.

A few words

 

For the past few months I have been working on the manuscript of my latest book. I am not telling you what is going to be about. You will have to wait to find out!

I was reasonably happy about the way it was going, but a little worried that I was including too much about matters distant to the topic on which I was planning to focus. Some of the less relevant material might easily have been considered controversial and possibly hurt the sentiments of some of my potential readers. This worried me somewhat.

A couple of days ago, an old friend, whom we had not seen for a few months, came to dinner at our home. During the meal, I told him what I was writing about. Immediately, he reacted that what I feared was controversial might easily get me into trouble if my text was read by a certain type of person. 

For a couple of hours, I was downcast. I thought that maybe I should just abandon the project, which has taken up so much of my spare time during the last few months.

Next morning, I woke early, feeling inspired. I turned on the computer and removed the ptentially ofensive material from my draft text. Then, I read through what was left of it, and realised that by trimming it down, my text was far better than it had been before. It had become tighter and more focussed on the subject I want to portray.

I am always amazed how important a very few words of advice can be.

Why I started to write

Cuneiform_240

 

Well over 10 years ago, I came across a website specialising in genealogy relevant to my background. I was curious about my ancestry, but knew very little about it. So, I registered with the site.

One of the sections of the website allowed members to insert surnames alongside towns with which the surnames were associated. So I put my mother’s maiden surname next to the name of a small town in South Africa, where she lived with her parents as a young child. I did the same with my father’s surname. The idea behind this particular section is fo researchers to see if any of the surnames that they are looking into match entries that other researchers had entered. For example, I might have entered ‘Goldberg’ alongside ‘Cape Town, South Africa’. If another person was interested in ‘Goldberg’ families either in Cape Town or South Africa searched this section of the website, they would find all of the Goldbergs in Cape Town or South Africa, which had been entered by other researchers, alongside a link for contacting the person who had entered the information.

So, I entered the two names as described earlier, expecting very little or nothing to happen. My skepticism mas ill-founded. Two days later, I received a message from someone, whose name I did not recognise. He had found my mother’s maiden surname alongside the small town where she lived in South Africa. My new correspondent had worked out that he and I are second cousins. Subsequently, he sent me a family tree for my mother’s father’s family. 

When I told my mother’s brother about this beginner’s luck, he added to it by giving me the family tree for another of my ancestors. One thing led to another, and soon I had compiled an enormous composite family tree. 

My wife commented that it was all very well collecting ever increasing numbers of names to add to my family tree, but that it was not particularly interesting. She suggested that what would be far more interesting would be to look into what the individuals on the tree did when they were alive. This proved to be fascinating, and was the reason that I began writing and publishing books and articles. I fell in love with writing. Regular readers of this blog will know by now that my interests are no longer confined to tales about my ancestors.

 

Picture shows Cuneiform writing at the British Museum

Seize the opportunity

North Germany

 

I have always enjoyed browsing the shelves and piles of books in second-hand bookshops. During my adolescence in the 1960s, I bought many old travel guidebooks, such as were published before WW2 by the likes of Baedeker, Michelin, Murrays, and so on. These items were not highly valued by collectors in the ’60s and were very reasonably priced. This was just as well because my spending power at that time was not great. My self-imposed rule was that I would not buy anything priced over £1 (Sterling). One of my prized purchases in that time was a pre-WW1 Baedeker’s guide to Egypt. I paid six shillings (30 pence) for this already rare edition in the second-hand department off Dillons university bookshop, which faces the Engineering Department of University College London. This shop is now a branch of the Waterstones chain of booksellers.

Most of the bookshops that I visited regularly were in or near Hampstead, which in the 1960s had at least eight second-hand booksellers. There was one shop that I visited occasionally on the corner of Fleet and Agincourt Roads, Once I entered it and found a copy of Murray’s Handbook to Northern Germany, which was published in the late 1880s. I was fascinated by this book which described Germany long before it was divided into East and West Germany, which is how it was in the 1960s. I looked inside its cover to discover its price. My heart sank. It was priced at one pound and ten shillings (£1.10). It was well over my price limit. I could not decide whether or not I should break my £1 rule … only this once. I did not. Reluctantly, I left the book behind in the shop. I had never seen a copy of this book before, and as I walked away I wondered whether I would ever see another.

In the 1980s, I was still collecting old books including travel guide books. By 1983, I had a car and drove to see friends all over the UK and elsewhere. Often, I visited friends in Cornwall. My route took me through many small towns, all of which I explored with a view to discovering second-hand bookshops. Honiton in Devon used to contain several well stocked booksellers. On one trip I entered one of them at the western end of the town and made an exciting discovery. Yes, you have probably guessed it already. In that shop, I found another copy of the guide to Northern Germany. Nervously, I looked for its price. By now, I had abandoned the idea of limiting my spend to £1, which in the 1980s would have been insufficient to buy any of the old guidebooks that attracted my interest. The volume I found was £7, which was good value in the 1980s. I snapped it up and paid for it with pleasure.

Nowadays, if I see a rare book that interests, I seize the opportunity to buy it, provided that it is not outrageously costly.

Book sniffing

As long as I can remember, I have been sticking my nose into any book that I am reading so that I can smell its pages.

I suppose that in brand new, recently printed books I am smelling the paper and the ink. Books printed in different countries often have distinctly differing odours.

As books get older, the smells of their pages change. This is both the result of ageing ink and paper and also a consequence of the environment in which the book has been stored. For example, if the book has been housed in the shelves of a reader who smokes, the pages acquire a tinge of the smell of tobacco and its smoke.

At first, I believed that I was the only person who sniffs the interiors of books, but now I know that I am not alone. The world of book readers is divided into page sniffers and those who do not poke their noses into books for reasons other than reading.

A lovely discovery

I always enjoy finding bookshops that are out of the ordinary. Although bookselling chains such as Waterstones in the UK and Crossword in India are well stocked with popular titles that are likely to sell well, it is the quirky or niche bookshops that I particularly seek out. The one-off bookshops usually keep a far more interesting range of books than the chains.

Here is a short description of a lovely specialist bookshop hidden away in a residential district of Ahmedabad, not far from the River Sabarmati, on whose bank Mahatma Gandhi set up one of his famous ashrams.

This small gem of bookshop, the Art Book Centre, in Ahmedabad is a wonderful discovery. It was recommended to us by Mr Shukla who is the General Secretary of the Ahmedabad Textile Mill Owners Association, which is housed in a masterpiece by the architectural genius Le Corbusier.

The bookshop, a true life Aladdin’s cave, is on the first floor of a residential building. It is reached by a steep ladder like staircase typical of those found in houses all over Gujarat. The steps lead to a balcony which is festooned with colourful folkloric items. A doorway leads from there into the shop itself.

The walls of the small, cosy shop are lined with neatly stacked book cases. Piles of books rise from the floor. On the walls and in between the book cases, there are numerous folkloric artworks and practical items including beautifully embroidered and printed textiles. We were welcomed by Manarbhai and Ketan, one of his two sons. They invited us to sit down.

Manarbhai worked for many years as a typist in the Mathematics Department of the University of Gujarat. He was no ordinary typist. He was able to type mathematical equations, which was no easy feat in the era before computerised word processors became available.

Manarbhai began his book business as a part time enterprise. In 1970, he converted part of his home into what is now his shop. At first, he only opened his shop on weekends. Now, it is open every day between 10 am and 6 pm.

The shop specialises mainly in books on art and architecture. It contains many books about textiles. Many of the volumes available are rare editions. If what you wish is not stocked, Manarbhai and his sons will do their best to source it, and then send it to you anywhere in the world.

It soon became apparent to us that Manarbhai and Ketan are extremely knowledgeable about books in the fields on which they specialise. They are also sensitively intelligent salesmen. Very quickly, they assessed our particular interests and began showing us books that were in harmony with them. We came away with a valuable selection of books that will help satisfy our curiosity about the fascinating history of the city of Ahmedabad.

This is a bookshop for true book lovers and collectors. It should be on every bibliophile’s itinerary. What Manarbhai cannot find for your bookshelf is probably not worth having.

Address: near Jain Temple, Madalpur, Ellis Bridge, Ahmedabad 380006

 

This article is adapted from http://www.gujarat-travels.com

Book shopping

I have been addicted to buying and owning books since I can first remember. Since my youth, the ways of purchasing books have changed considerably, not least due to the use of the Internet.

BOOKSHOP 0

When I was a child, there were two main options open to the purchaser of books: new and second-hand. Both types of books had to be bought in shops. There was also a third option: book clubs. These issued a list of books, which the customer ordered by post. Many of these clubs discounted books but made it a condition of joining that a member should make one purchase a month or every several months.

Every Saturday morning when I was a child, that is during the 1950s and ‘60s, I used to accompany my parents to Hampstead Village in north-west London. Each visit included spending time in the High Hill Bookshop, which used to exist on Haverstock Hill. My sister and I were each allowed to choose one book each week. It was that way that I built up my collection of Tintin books, written and illustrated by Hergé. In addition to these, I bought many books suitable for children and young adolescents.

To reach the High Hill Bookshop, we used to walk along Flask walk, where there used to be a shop that sold used, but not quite antiquarian, books. This was opposite what is now one of Hampstead’s only remaining second-hand books shops, Keith Fawkes. It was at the now non-existing shop that I believe my love of second-hand bookshops began. I recall finding a used but detailed guidebook to Indonesia and Malaysia one Saturday. I had already been bought a book at High Hill. My parents said that I could not buy the guide-book that day but if it was still in the shop the following week, I could buy it then. Sadly, it had been sold when I returned the following Saturday.

Hampstead was rich in second-hand bookshops in the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s. One of my favourites was in Perrins Lane.  At number 25 Perrins Lane, there is what looks like a small, typical late 18th/early 19th century terraced house. This was the home and shop of the second-hand book seller Mr Francis Norman. John Fowles, author of “The Collector”, “The Magus”, and “The French Lieutenant’s Woman”, wrote in his “The Journals (Volume 1)” that Norman was:

“… a bluff, awkward, friendly second-hand bookseller with a mind like a jackdaw’s nest and a shop which must rank as one of the dirtiest, most disorganised and lovable in North London. … Prices vary according to Norman’s mood.”

That was in 1956. Ten years later, Norman’s bookshop had become a regular haunt for me and my friends the Jacobs brothers. By then, Mr Norman, whose name I only discovered recently, seemed to us to be a very old man. We used to call his, un-named shop, ‘the old man’s shop’. It was just as Fowles described.

In “Old Books, Rare Friends: Two Literary Sleuths and Their Shared Passion”, M Stern and L Rosenberg wrote of Mr Norman:

When he moved from his Gower Street basement to Hampstead Heath, he had moved not only his books but all the dust and grime and debris …”

Mr Norman did not mind us spending hours rummaging through his totally un-organised heaps of books. I believe that he enjoyed our company. Every now and then, he would read something out of a book, often in Latin, and began to guffaw. We had no idea what he had found so humorous. I found all kinds of wonderful books in his shop, including several beautiful world atlases dating from between the two World Wars. Mr Norman never charged us much for whatever we managed to dig up in his ground floor shop. He kept the valuable old books on an upper floor in his personal quarters. Occasionally, on Sunday mornings, we would visit Mr Norman’s shop when it was closed. We used to knock on his front door, and he would open up the shop for us, still dressed in his pyjamas.

By the time I knew Mr Norman, he was a very sad man. Fowles writes in his “The Journals (Volume 2)” that in November 1968, he visited the ‘Old Man’s shop’ and learnt that not only had Mr Norman recently lost his fifteen-year-old daughter Janey, when she slipped off the roof of his shop whilst trying to rescue her cat. Also, his wife had been so seriously schizophrenic, and he had not seen her for years. Mr Norman had had to be both father and mother to Janey. In addition to all these misfortunes, Mr Norman had lost his first wife and family when they were all killed by a V (‘flying’) bomb in WW2. It is no wonder that Norman told Fowles:

Money does not mean anything to me now … The shop keeps me alive, that’s all I keep it on for.”

BOOKSHOP 1

All of that was long ago. Today, there are still bookshops that only purvey brand new volumes. There are still antiquarian bookshops, but their number is decreasing. And, there are newcomers on the scene. There are the familiar on-line booksellers like Amazon, ABEbooks, and Bookdepository, which sell new and used books over the Internet. These are useful for buying books at discounted prices. However, browsing on-line bookshops is more tedious than looking at physical bookshelves in a bookshop. I have to admit – and I hope that no one running a physical, real bookshop will be upset by this – that if I find a new book in a real bookshop, I will often buy it on-line if that allows me to benefit from a discounted price. Clearly, not everyone thinks like me because there are still many large bookshops occupying prime sites in Britain’s main shopping precincts and streets.

For the lover of hard to find books, the Internet offers another useful facility, namely http://www.bookfinder.com. This incredibly useful site allows the reader to search all over the world for books that are not available locally. If the book is still available for sale, bookfinder will let you know where they are available, and at wat price, and will then allow you to buy it. This system helps both the customer and the book seller. Say, for example, you have a bookshop in a hardly visited town in Alabama, which attracts the footfall of only local customers. Buy listing your stock on bookfinder, people all over the world can become aware of your stock and pay for it.

BOOKSHOP 2

The advent of the Internet may have made book buying more versatile, but nothing quite beats the book buyer’s excitement of browsing the overstocked shelves of a somewhat shambolic second-hand bookshop. So long live dusty second-hand bookshops and book-filled charity shops (‘thrift shops’)!