Wednesday, March 28, 2007

I took a half-day yesterday, sadly it wasn't required and I ended up leaving an hour late at 6.00pm. the occasion was that Robert Topping was taking me out to lunch, and anyone who knows him will tell you that it is a wise man who takes a half-day after a lunch with Robert.
Anyway, to no great surprise, I was stood up. I didn't mind as Robert is busy setting up his much anticipated new store in Bath. It's quite fun to be involved in all this, if only very tangentially- losing a member of staff to the new shop, losing my hoped for replacement for said member of staff to said bookshop and going to lunch with the most talked about bookseller of the moment- even at this distance I feel some of the excitement and a small tinge of envy.

except that today I got to cycle in through the parks in the sunshine- stopping at the lake and looking at the sedge (apparently) of herons opposite the Barbara Hepworth at Battersea Park (this is my current favourite view in London, they're nesting and I will never tire of looking at herons standing up on the top of tall trees). I arrive at work where 150 signed copies of 'On Chesil Beach' need to be put in the window after Ian McEwans visit yesterday- 'speed date' two reps who, for quite acceptable reasons, needed to be out of here asap- order the copies of 'Rites of Peace: the Fall of Napoleon and the Congress of Vienna' (probably the history book I am most looking forward to this year) for when we sell it at the launch party- get the 'kit bags' ready for selling Marina Lewycka's new novel 'Two Caravans' tomorrow night- get given a proof of Armistead Maupin's 'Michael Tolliver Lives' which I'm extremely happy about and just as I come in from lunch I even get to tell a famous TV critic that I thought he had been a bit hard on Shaun the Sheep. Phew, and I've still got 3 hours of my shift left.

Excitement, they don't know the meaning of the word.


Monday, March 26, 2007

re last post

several people have asked how was Saber's leaving do and I know others are curious- well Stuart managed to be 2 hours late for work and although I arrived for 9.30 start (just) by lunch time I was reduced to my no. 1 fallback hangover cure i.e 2 solpadine plus hair of the dog- I guess it was an ok night. (Hanway street was certainly involved)

I did the CD but have forgotten the running order so Saber, if you're reading this could you post the track list.
Also, if we're lucky, Saber might show us the real 'last post' which I know runs to about 4,000 words but haven't seen- so if we all wish very hard......

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Last Post

This is my last blog post. I have realy enjoyed working at the Pan Bookshop. This is possibly the only time that I've left a place of work and been quite sad to do so. I'll miss the customers, my colleagues - who, like almost everybody else in the book industry, are really nice - and a whole bunch of other things. How do you quantify what's really special about one bookshop and not another?

This blog was much much longer ( I wrote it last night more than a little tipsy) but the gist is I will really miss the shop. I've had a happy four years here. I'm off to Bath in a few days. If you're ever down, do look me up.



Monday, March 19, 2007

Things I Will Miss part 2

I'm going to miss one of the biggest talks we've ever sold books at this Wednesday - the day after I finish work.
Jeffery Archer & Frank Moloney will be talking about their new book The Gospel According to Judas, a fictional account of the story of Jesus as retold by Judas' son Benjamin. While I suspect that much, if not most of the publicity has focused on Jeffrey Archer's part in this, it's really worth bearing in mind that this is a joint collobaration between him and Frank Moloney - one of the world's leading Biblical scholars. I suppose (the book is embargoed until the publication date of 20th March) this book is that rare combination of biblical scholarship mixed with storytelling.
If anyone is interested in going to this, and seeing the Pan Bookshop selling books at Westminster Cathedral this Wednesday, please contact


Saturday, March 17, 2007


the new very small and imperfectly formed Pan Bookshop film section finally took form today.
It really is just a few DVD's that I like and hope will sell but will nudge customers into realizing that we can order most films for them for collection next day.

Two main reasons for finally getting around to it are firstly the arrival of 'An Inconvenient truth' at a decent price at our suppliers- we've done well with the book and it seems an obvious idea to sell the film too.
The second reason is maybe more important- the arrival of 'Shoah' on DVD. It has come out more than once in discussions with customers that I don't generally approve of most of the holocaust industry but I do think that everybody should read 'If this is a Man' by Primo Levi and if you have the stomach and curiosity for more you should watch Shoah. Nine and a half hours of testimony hewn from eyewitnesses by Claude Lanzman. Everyman is here as these are the stories of the victims, the perpetrators and the bystanders. Everyone of us could have been any one of them- these are not special people, they could have come from anywhere and their stories are a part of who and what we are.
I can't really convey the power of this film but I used to collect folk stories: after seeing Shoah I stopped, there just didn't seem to be anything more to say


Friday, March 16, 2007

what are things coming to..

the other day someone asked me for the poetry of A.A. Milne. I was already helping someone but all I was doing was looking for the definition of a supposed Scottish word recollected from memory: that fact that none of the large Chambers, the shorter Oxford or the enormous google had heard of the word had not diminished my customers enthusiasm one jot (you get a lot of days like this and it does add to the fun) meant that another customer was like a lifeline.
I take new customer to children's, her eyebrows raise- I show her 'and now we are six' they positively arch. she has just seen a film- in it was a poem but an adult poem, old customer now wants to try a different spelling of Scottish word- I have to go back, calling saber over to help with the film/poem enquiry I once again open the Chambers dictionary.

[I'm temporarily taking over the story here - saber]
About 5 minutes later, I work out that it's a poem by e.e. cummings called- "i carry your heart with me(i carry it in" -by googling various permutations. I'm feeling really quite pleased with myself. We have several editions of e.e. cumming's poetry. I show them to the customer. My favourite edition is the Complete Poems, 1904-1962 which is over a thousand pages. The customer likes the look of it as well and thinks that it would be a great Valentine's present. I'm thinking fantastic, we've sold a £35 poetry book to someone who will really appreciate it. I look up the poem in the index, go to page 766.
Guess what.
It's not there.
Some numpty has ripped out that page.
I'm fuming.
Really angry.
It doesn't take that much effort to google anything nowadays and to print it out. It's just plain vandalism.
Anyway, the customer bought a paperback edition of cummings' poetry.
[back to Julian]

so there you go- they could have asked us, we probably would have printed one poem from google for them- but no.
Anyway on the off chance anyone reading this feels similarly inclined and just because it provides a good excuse to print some e.e. cummings here's the poem

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
i fear
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it's you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

(re copyright- I guess google could not complain and I hope Faber realise that this whole blog is just a thinly veiled advert to demonstrate that we are the type of bookshop that stocks £35 hardback poetry books)

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Things I Will Miss part 1

How do people find out about books? How do booksellers find out about what's coming out? I'm not talking about the very useful reps who show us highlights (tailored to us) of new books coming out, or various publisher catalogues or even the periodic Bookseller highlights.
Blogs can be useful. I occassionally dip into Scott Pack's blog and have been spurred on to order The Key to Chintak a self-published children's novel which was in the Waterstone's top 10. Follow the original link to find out how the book got to be published (I can never tell stories properly and mangling one that's already told quite well is pointless). And one of my favourite blogs is Snowbooks' not just because it is well-written and very good-humoured, but also because you do get to see a side of publishing that you wouldn't do therwise. Occasionally James and Emma do a little mastercourse on an aspect of publishing. They're really useful. Anyway, she's just blogged about how proofs get made. After reading it, I called up and asked for one. And after reading the proof, you'll probably hear me endlessly extolling the (much-)neglected art of zombie fiction.
But I suppose my favourite way to find out about a book is when a customer comes up to the till and pays for a book I've never seen before or just given a cursory glance to. Today someone bought Michelle Knudsen's The Library Lion. And I went "that looks nice". And she started telling me about it. And then someone else went and bought another copy. I then went and had a look.
I do use hyperbole a lot. Every book I recommend is nice, fantastic etc. I know that devalues my use the absolutes. But The Library Lion is that good.
I know I'll have similar experiences in Bath, but I do like the tastes of our (I can't say that for too much longer) customers here in Chelsea. I'll miss it.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

let me count the days

Last night Karen and I went to Tate Britain for the launch of Tracy Chevalier's new novel Burning Bright. It was fantastic - a great venue, gorgeous paintings, really nice people ... If it had only been just this, it woud have been a pretty good launch. What really made it stand out was Michael Horovitz's brilliant performance of Blake's Tyger, Tyger. If I can find a link to it, I will add it to this post.

Monday, March 12, 2007

milkman of human kindness

as you know we've had a couple of break-ins over the last few months, during the last one my wallet went as well. (this is possibly the only time I've left it at work in nearly two decades).
My view of humanity last week was one of a jaded, cynical middle aged man who thought the world was out to get him.
At the end of the week I remembered I'd won a bid on e-bay for a copy of 'The Wild' - a Disney animation that, possibly uniquely, my son thinks is the best film in the world. I hastily apologize for not paying and explain that although my joint card (Royal bank of Scotland take a bow 24hr service) has been replaced, after 4 days my own card (Barclay's take a step backward) hadn't arrived but I'd rather not set up a new paypal account with the joint card. I did say that I was sorry for the delay and so was my son as he was looking forward to seeing the film again.

the reply from the seller was that this was no problem, if I sent them my address they would send the film straight away and I could settle up whenever the card arrived. Wow!

So let's big it up for e-bay seller 'lazybones' as this week I see the world as one full of happy people who all want to help eachother and that anything is possible.


Friday, March 09, 2007


Saber and I have been doing this post for about two weeks now- I've yet to pursuade anyone else to join in but I'm sure they will- and from the traffic thingy we get from Yahoo more people are visiting the blog everyday. hurrah. (but still not very many- hence the lower case and no exclaimation mark my rather simple prose style would normally dictate.)
Anyway, I'd thought I'd just quickly recap as some of the most important items we did in terms of communication were on the first blog which has now fallen over the parapet.

Firstly, We are interested if anyone would like to be our owl for Harry Potter night. I have to admit that thus far we've had no takers although I thought it would be so popular in my minds eye I'd pictured a charity auction for the privlidge. Oh well- if anyone hankers after being Hedwig for a day let us know.

Secondly; we were asking about chidrens reading groups in the shop, especially a possible link with a radio station, well, we've had a few schools and a couple of authors get back to us on that so I'll keep you posted and hopefully something will be running very soon.

Also I've wondered aloud what books our politicians could usefully read, my suggestions so far being Suite Francaise for Tony Blair (great book on the civilian cost of war) and The Great Game for anyone in our defence dept.

And finally, the great Saber's leaving CD appeal was launched- suggestions required for his book related (with one or two exceptions)- compilation. So far the running order is:

New career in a New town- David Bowie (speaks for itself)
The Book Song- Fairport Convention (ditto)
Wuthering heights- Kate Bush
White rabbit- Jefferson Aeroplane
Steppenwolf- Hawkwind
Neon Bible - Arcade Fire (actually I haven't heard this yet as my copy of the album hasn't turned up! althogh sabers' did!!)
Charlote Sometimes- The Cure
Maybe This Time - From Cabaret
Catweazle- Boo Radleys (I'd never heard of , let alone heard, this but the concepts good)
Break on Through - The Doors
Suicide Underground - Air (more or less the entire plot of The Virgin Suicides in one song- sort of)
It's the end of the world as we know it (but I feel fine)- REM



In anything at all, perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away. (Antoine de Saint-Exupéry).

ps if you haven't read The Little Prince, you're missing out.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Rocket Science it ain't.
I'm stealing/misquoting Julian here who's often said that bookselling isn't rocket science. I've always taken that to mean that x +y+ z doesn't necessarily give you the expected result in bookselling. If you take ten copies of book, it doesn't automatically follow that you'll sell all ten. And that's without even considering that you might want to have a copy (or lots and lots) in the window so that people can see the book. But I digress.
Last night we took along fifty copies of Mohsin Hamid's The Reluctant Fundamentalist to a launch/reading. We sold forty-seven.
I do get it wrong more often than not. So it feels nice to get it just about right.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Late Shifts

I've just tweaked the blog layout so that our customers can see what signings/signed books we have coming up. It's the kind of tweaking I would never manage to do so quickly during the daytime as I would inevitably have to answer a query, the telephone, tell someone that we don't sell stationery or stamps etc, shelve some books...
I can do it now because I'm on the late shift (which finishes at ten o'clock). While I hate working the late shift, it does mean that I can get a lot of the fiddly work stuff done. And that I can stay at home in the morning and wait for the electrician to come and fix my boiler so that I can finally have a warm shower. Or just have a lie-in. Or even on on a good day, I might even have gone for a wander and ended up in a museum. Or not. But working on a late shift gives you a flexibility that a normal nine to five job doesn't.
(A normal nine to five job would mean that I would never ever have to work weekends...).

Monday, March 05, 2007

politicians and books- do they read?

To my shame I've just finished Suite Francaise (If you've not heard of it, it is the first two parts of an unfinished sequence of novels by Irene Nemirovsky: a Russian Jew who had to move to France and became a successful writer. It is about the occupation of France written during the occupation of France. The manuscript was found in notebook form years after it was written. The fact that the author died in Auschwitz has only added to it's allure)
Due to family history I avoid anything that tends to sell itself via the holocaust (While being perfectly happy that he's written it-I probably won't read the new Norman Mailer, for example) but I came down off this particular high horse as, credit to Chatto, they did not push the tragic author aspect too much, mostly selling the book on its artistic merit.

They were right to do so; it is fantastic, especially the first section dealing with the evacuation of Paris. This is a book about war but about the civilian experience of it. And it should be compulsory reading for anyone in charge of armed forces. It is, in a quiet way, a brutal book . The consequences of invasion are spelt out with absolute clarity, the casual destruction of families, the stupid and unforeseen tragedies that rip the meaning out of countless peoples lives. You see the news and wish this book had been around a few years ago and thrown onto the laps of our lords and masters.

Mind you when you have defence secretaries claiming that they are 'surprised' by the level of resistance in Afghanistan (something I've now heard twice) it beggars belief. Could they not employ some kind of book doctor to recommend certain titles to stop making total arses of themselves- in this case I would prescribe 'The Great Game' by Peter Hopkirk

p.s. I don't care how hard hearted you are- you've got to feel a bit sorry for West Ham and Carlos Tevez


Saturday, March 03, 2007

More books than time to read them.

One of the (many) great things about working in a bookshop is the discount we get on books which encourages us to read more, another that publishers often publish proofs of books and are nice enough to send them to booksellers to read.
You could say that it increases your product knowledge. I just enjoy reading, so it never feels like work. And I hate referring to books as texts or products. Yes, yes, I know they're handy terms but they sound awful.
In the past fortnight these are the proofs that have been floating around my bedside table.
Jim Crace's The Pesthouse - coming in to sign at the shop in a week or so, and I (did anyone not?) liked Quarantine.
Clive James' Cultural Amnesia - 100 or so essays on the great and the good of history and culture. It's a book you dip into. Perfect because it'll take you a quiet moment to read an essay, but you then spend the rest of the day/night percolating your thoughts on Clive James and what he's writer about. I'm not sure that - I'm pretty sure actually - that I don't agree with everything he says. But working out why has made me think a lot about what matters to me. I would defy anyone to not find something of interest in this book. Of the 20 or so essays I've read so far, my favourite is the one on Sophie Scholl. After writing about how important she was/is, James appears to digress and starts talking about what a great actress Nathalie Portman is. He neatly dovetails these two strands to then make conclusions about Hollywood and truth.
A lot of the people James writes about are unknown to me. But that doesn't really matter. He provides enough information for you to then engage in the argument that he wants to make. There are of course people I wish he had written about. Reading the essay on E. R. Curtius, I wanted to read his thoughts on Eric Auerbach (if you do look up the Auerbach link, you'll find out, among other things, that he supervised Fredric Jameson's doctorate which makes sense and I do find interesting). But he didn't write on Auerbach.
Ramachandra Guha's India After Gandhi. I'm sure that there are going to be many books on India this year as it celebrates it 60th year of independence. I'm hoping that reading this will give me a good overview on the history. It had better - over 800 pages long.
Jenni Mills' Crow Stone. The proof cover is festooned with puffs/praise from all and sundry at HarperCollins. Even if I weren't going to be at a HarperCollins trade dinner with the author (Patrick Gale, Kate Bucknell and Nicola Barker will also be there, so it should be a really good evening), I would read the novel (am reading it): it's set in Bath!
Tad Williams' Shadowplay - the sequel to Shadowplay. It's taken me a while to get into this, but after the first 80 or so pages, I want to carry on reading just to find out what happens. But at the back of my head is the knowledge that this is the second of a trilogy, so I'll end up frustrated at the end of the book.
It can be like Christmas working at Pan - you never know what goodies come in the padded envelope.

Friday, March 02, 2007

The Evil that Lurks in the Heart of Men.
Eergh. Really don't want to waste too much time on this. But we were burgled last night. Some numpty broke in to the shop. Took some money - not even all that much. But it has meant that we didn't open up till lunch time today. Grr.
Yesterday was fantastic. World Book Day which means as much/little as you want it to mean when you work in a bookshop I suppose, was yesterday. And as far as the Pan Bookshop goes this is what it meant. Lots of lovely children from the nearby Park Walk School came to redeem their World Book Day tokens and get the books specially written for them.
Some of the books are fantastic: The Sharing the Shell book and the Selfish Crocodile books are particular faves of mine (I'm not quite the target audience for the Tiara Club).
Oh and while I'm at it, special thanks to Cara/Cora Lovett at Bloomsbury who got me more copies of the Selfish Crocodile book at the last moment.
The whole week has been pretty special. Monday night was - as Julian's blogged - my birthday which I didn't really celebrate. Instead I went along with Charlie and David to sell V. S. Naipaul's books at the Chelsea Arts Club. It's only a shame that he didn't have a brand new book.
And today should resume its normal course fairly soon: we have Allan Mallinson coming in to sign Man of War which by the blurb seems to go into Patrick O'Brian territory. Even if I didn't like the Matthew Hervey novels, I would have read the fourth in the series: The Sabre's Edge.
In fact as I speak, he has just popped in. And recommended Alessandro Barbero's account of Waterloo as one of the best he's ever read. 48 chapters - each of about 1000-1200 words - which in their concision give you a better picture of this battle than you're likely to get anywhere else.
Instead of all of the above, I was going to write about The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril which looks (haven't finished it yet) like a great novel and has a puff from Glen David Gold on the cover. It deals with Lester Dent, L. Ron Hubbard and Walter Gibson. I've never read any of Hubbard's books, but I'm a fan of Dent's Doc Savage (avoid the Ron Ely film which is faithful but terrible) and of Gibson's Shadow - do see the film with Alec Baldwin and Penelope Ann Miller and a cameo from Ian McKellen.
I loved the Shadow not just for the lines which introduced every episode: "Who Knows what Evil Lurks in the Hearts of Men? The Shadow knows!" but just the whole atmosphere and actions...
I just looked at this to read what Saber wrote yesterday- and he hasn't! this is no real surprise as he had to look after hoards of children for world book day. I guess he'll tell us all about that later. but as we promised to be good boys and write something most days and we're only up to day 4 I'd better get something down and call it yesterdays post.

I've actually taken 3 days off to build something in my back garden- guess what, eldest child throws up everywhere and can't go to nursery- my day is spend lying on sofa watching kids TV, way too much kids TV. How do you know when you have watched too much kids TV? when you start worrying about the background characters in The Fimbles- are they jealous of Roly Mole having a successful breakout spin off series of his own, are they nice to him hoping to get a coveted guest spot on his show etc etc

Fleeing from the tv I picked up a book to surreptitiously read and realised I'd probably be going to Iceland in the next year or two. The link, well my last few holidays have been to Southwold, Venice, Ystad, Edingburgh (well Glasgow but we went to Edinburgh for the day so why spoil a perfectly good train of thought) , Dartmoor and I'm hoping to go to Sciliy soon. The book I picked up 'Silence of the Grave' by Arnaldur Indridason a crime novel set in Reykjavik that I'd been meaning to read for a while. The pitifully few pages I was allowed to read seem pretty good and I'm looking forward to the second chapter!

The sun is shining and Arran has just gone to nursery- the garden awaits