Books of choice

Beerwolf_500

 

I HAVE LOVED READING ever since I was first able to master this skill. During my childhood, we used to drive to Hampstead (in north London) every Saturday morning. We always used to visit the now long-since closed High Hill Bookshop on Rosslyn Hill. Our parents allowed my sister and me to choose one book each Saturday and bought them for us. Week by week, my collection of the adventures of Tintin by Hergé grew until I had all the episodes that had been published in English. There was little, if any, censorship of our choices. However, I had the distinct impression that my parents preferred that we avoided books by Enid Blyton. So, I have not yet had the pleasure of reading any of her extensive literary oeuvre.

I discovered and fell in love with “Mad” magazine, which was not available at High Hill Bookshop. I bought copies of it at a local shop, using my pocket money. My parents appeared not to approve of the magazine, but my father (not my mother) was always happy to read my copies of it when I had finished with them. “Readers Digest”, like Enid Blyton, did not fulfil my parents’ criteria of ‘good’ literature. I enjoyed leafing through this periodical and particularly remember reading and re-reading an article written by someone who was conscious during his brain surgery. I did not need to buy “Readers Digest” at full price as it was possible to buy boxes crammed full of old issues, sold as a job lots for a few pence at local jumble sales.  

There was only one book that was deemed strictly forbidden during my childhood. It was “Struwwelpeter” by Heinrich Hoffman, published in 1845 and reprinted many times since then. It is a series of moral tales about children who misbehave. For example, when Konrad disobeys his mother’s instruction not to suck his thumbs, an itinerant tailor appears and cuts off Konrad’s thumbs. Each tale is illustrated by frighteningly graphic illustrations. On afternoon, my sister and I, who had discovered this book by accident, were interrupted by my mother. She seized the book and tore it into pieces, which she stuffed into the wastepaper basket. Apart from this violent reaction to a book and the hints that Enid Blyton was to be avoided, I could read pretty much anything I wanted.

At school, books were recommended as being worth reading, especially those by famous 19th century British authors. I never read any of these. For some unknown reason, probably contrariness, if someone told me that I ought to read a particular book, this put me off even opening it. I wanted to read what I had chosen myself, not what had been chosen for me because it might be “good for you”. Similarly, if someone tells me that this or that food item is “good for you”, I do not rate that as a positive recommendation.

At Christmas 1963, we were in New York City. A friend of my parents, ‘E’, met us in the book department of FAO Schwarz, a toy store on Fifth Avenue. She wanted her son and me each to choose a book as a gift from her. E showed me a thick encyclopaedia of anthropology, which she had decided either that I would enjoy it or that it would be good for me. Well, I took one look at it and decided to check out the other books on display. I homed in on an illustrated history of the FBI. It was filled with intriguing black and white photographs, some quite gory. I took the book to E, who looked at it disapprovingly and then asked whether I was sure that I did not want the fine book on anthropology. I was sure, and a few minutes later I became the proud owner of the book about the FBI. E’s son, who was clearly more easily influenced by his mother than me, chose to buy the anthropology book. Years later, he qualified as a psychiatrist and I as a dentist. I am not sure what can be concluded from that.

My parents’ suggestion that there was something not quite right about Enid Blyton left a lingering doubt about the author in my mind. In the mid-1990s, I began visiting India regularly. There, I discovered wonderful bookshops, some of which were (and still are) much better stocked than those in London. What surprised me in those shops were the huge numbers of books by Enid Blyton on sale. Clearly, Enid was well-read and her books much purchased in India.  So, when I heard that there was going to be a lecture about Enid Blyton and India at the Nehru Centre in London, I felt that this was not to be missed. The speaker was none other than Enid Blyton’s very articulate daughter. She told us that British educators often frowned upon her mother’s works (just as my parents had done). The reason they were not keen was that it was considered that Enid’s vocabulary was not rich or varied enough. She revealed that when the texts of her mother’s books were analysed numerically, the vocabulary used I them was, in fact, no less rich or varied than that employed by other authors writing for the same age groups.  

In recent years, I have changed. Maybe, I have become a little less stubborn about book recommendations. If someone suggests a book to me, I no longer instantly reject the idea of reading it. There is a good chance that I will look it up to see what others think of it. If it is about a subject that might chime with any of my interests, there is a good chance that I will buy a copy and add it to the ever increasing pile of unopened books waiting to be read by me.  However, you will still not be able to find Dickens, the Brontes, Thomas Hardy, or titles that would “be good for me” on their spines.

Which?

oxfam BLOG

 

The Oxfam secondhand bookshop in London’s Portobello Road is one of my favourite haunts. It has a great stock of books on a variety of topics and the people who work there are very friendly.

Recently, I entered the shop ad headed towards the ‘History’ shelves. Near them, there was a male customer speaking with a female shop assistant. They were standing next to a cardboard box filled with dictionaries.

“Which of these dictionaries do you reccommend?” the customer asked, “the Collins or the Oxford?”

“It’s a a matter of taste. Both are good.”

“But which do you prefer?” asked the customer.

“I prefer Oxford.”

“But why?”

“I have always used Oxford. I like its approach to spelling. I used it a lot when I used to work in a publishing house,” responded the lady, edging away to escape her persistent questioner. He turned to me.

“Which do you prefer?” he asked me.

“Oxford.”

“And why do prefer that?”

“No good reason, ” I replied,”it was the first dictionary we were given at school. Maybe, that’s something to do with my preference.”

“And which authors do you think are good?” he asked me, adding, “I have just given away my television.”

I could not reccommend the books I have written, as that would be immodest and likely to prolong this conversation.

“Thomas Love Peacock,” was the first author’s name that entered my head.

“And?”

“You could also try John Buchan. You know the chap who wrote the Thirty-Nine Steps,” I suggested.

“Never heard of him.”

“Balzac is also good in translation,” I added.

“Hmm. What about this one?” the customer asked me, holding a novel by George Orwell.

“He’s also good.”

At that point, I was ‘saved by the bell’. My fellow customer’s mobile ‘phone began ringing at a very high volume. It sounded as if a fire alarm had gone off. He rushed out of the shop.

I went to the cash desk to pay for my latest purchase. When I had finished, my new acquaintance came back into the shop, and said to me:

“Sorry about that. You are real gent. It was nice talking with you.”

I left the shop and will probably not visit again for a long time as viral considerations are forcing it to close indefinitely.

One book, two titles

COVER GUJ a blog

The prices of books varies greatly from one country to another. In India, many books cost far less than their equivalents sold, for example, in Europe. Readers in India buying books that have to be imported from ‘the West’ often face high charges due to delivery from afar. I have tried to address this problem with a couple of books, which I have written. My solution is outlined after the following introduction to one of my books about India:

My wife, who is a fluent Gujarati speaker, was born in Bombay. Her father’s family originated in Gujarat and her mother’s in the former Princely State of Kutch, which became part of the State of Gujarat after India became independent.

Both my wife and I have visited India regularly from our home in the UK, yet neither of us had ever been to Gujarat until early in 2018. We felt that it was high time that we visited the parts of India connected with her heritage. I have published a book that describes that first trip. We did not visit everywhere in Gujarat, but the places we saw, our experiences, and the people we met ranging from autorickshaw drivers to former royalty, and our experiences, are described my book. All of these have made us want to visit the region again and to explore it further.

I have long been fascinated with tiny enclaves. I have visited places such as Andorra, San Marino, Mahe (in Kerala), Pondicherry, and Llivia (a part of Spain surrounded by France). Gujarat contains two such places, the former Portuguese colonies of Daman and Diu, territories surrounded by Gujarat but separated from it by borders. We included them on our journey and discovered that though small in area, they are filled with interest.

Gujarat was the birthplace of many celebrated persons, including Narsinh Mehta (poet), Dayanand Saraswati (philosopher), Shyamji Krishnavarma (Sanskrit scholar and freedom fighter), and politicians such as: Mahatma Gandhi, Dadabhai Naoroji, Vallabhai Patel, Morarji Desai, and Narendra Modi. Yet, undeservedly, it is a part of India less frequented by tourists than many other places in India (e.g. Goa, Kerala, Rajasthan, and the ‘Golden Triangle’). I hope that what you will read in this travelogue will whet your appetite and encourage you to make plans to visit Gujarat.

The idea of my book is to unwrap the attractions of Gujarat to make them better known to those who have not yet visited this region of India.

What I have written above is to introduce you to a book I published in 2018 with the title “TRAVELS THROUGH GUJARAT, DAMAN, and DIU”. This book is available from on-line booksellers such as lulu.com, Amazon, and bookdepository.com. When you buy my books from these suppliers, they are produced in Europe or the USA and then shipped to the buyer. If they are bought by people living in India, their prices become very large (in comparison with average Indian book costs) because of additional postal charges. For example, TRAVELS THROUGH GUJARAT, DAMAN, and DIU can cost up to 1500 Indian Rupees (‘INR’) and another book, which I have recently published, “IDEAS, BOMBS, and BULLETS” can cost purchasers in India over 800 INR.

To make my books more affordable in India and priced at a rate closer to comparably sized books in the Indian market, I have re-published the two books mentioned above with an Indian print on demand outfit called pothi.com. The travel book has been revised and I hope improved. I have renamed it “GUJARAT UNWRAPPED”. My book about Indian patriots in early twentieth century London, “IDEAS, BOMBS, and BULLETS” retains its original name.

When ordered through pothi.com and delivered in India, GUJARAT UNWRAPPED is priced at 296 INR (plus minimal postage) and IDEAS, BOMBS, and BULLETS comes to 395 INR (plus minimal postage).

To order GUJARAT UNWRAPPED FROM POTHI.COM,

click: https://pothi.com/pothi/book/adam-yamey-gujarat-unwrapped

To order IDEAS, BOMBS, and BULLETS FROM POTHI.COM,

click: https://pothi.com/pothi/book/adam-yamey-ideas-bombs-and-bullets

IMPORTANT:

It is worth nothing that purchasers ordering the books from pothi.com BUT not having their books delivered in India, face huge postage charges.

 

 

 

Learning to read

The Anglican cleric Reverend Wilbert Awdry (1911-97) is best known for his series of children’s books based around the now well-known Thomas the Tank Engine. He published his series of books about railways, The Railway Series, in 42 volumes between 1945 and 2011 (two were published posthumously). Each volume was a small colourfully illustrated story about railway engines with faces and personalities. Being a lover of trains from an early age, I devoured and enjoyed these stories from the earliest day that I was able to read to myself.

 

engines

 

One of my favourite of Awdry’s books was called Eight Famous Engines. I cannot remember why I liked it, but I do remember that I mis-read the word ‘famous’. For several years, I thought that ‘famous’ was pronounced ‘farm house’. It puzzled me that the book seemed to have little or nothing to do with agriculture, but that did not stop me from liking the book and re-reading it many times from cover to cover. It was only when I had outgrown these railway books that it dawned to me that  the letters f.a.m.o.u.s spelled ‘famous’ and not ‘farm house’.

In addition to the Awdry railway books, I enjoyed leafing through a particular  well-illustrated geography book, which I used to borrow often from the local public library. One of the many photographs in this book that caught my attention was captioned “A POLISH FIELD”. You can probably guess what I will write next. Yes, for years I thought that it was a picture of a field containing plants that when harvested became shoe polish. It was a long time before it dawned on me that it was a Polish field rather than a field of polish.

Now, many decades later, you might be pleased to know that I do not make mistakes like the above when I am reading.

 

 

 

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?

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’)!