ok, for most of my 20 or so years selling books I have spent the vast majority of them wishing to read more non-fiction. Indeed if I have ever had such a thing as a new years resolution it would have been to read more non-fiction. That's easy you say- just pick up a book and read it, except, I just could never get my head around it, whatever I picked up, however interesting never seemed as interesting as the next hot novel or classic I that I really wanted to read. Then about 4 years ago I came to the Pan Bookshop and Robert Topping, in his wisdom, gave me the History section as my fiefdom (this may seem strange- why would a manager give a section to someone to run who not only had read no books from that section but freely confessed to being actually unable to do so- this was not unprecedented when I joined the Topster in Manchester he put me in the language section even though I'm dyslexic- can barely manage my own tongue and was almost thrown out of university for not having an equivalent of a foreign language O level- an exam I finally passed but found infinitely more difficult than my English literature and Philosophy degree- I don't know how Robert has taught his children to swim but it would probably be better not to ask.)
Anyway, this seemed just the spur I needed and of I set off in my autodidactic way to read through the OUP history of Britain, all of it, starting at volume one (of about, I think, 19 all of which i have in hardback and a very impressive sight they make too.) four years later I am up to number 4 and making no clear headway- I'm afraid the good editors at Oxford did not really have readers like me in mind when assembling their great work- especially the one about the movement of pots.
I'm pretty middlebrow - I read Ballard rather than Burroughs and listen to Waits rather than Beefheart- what I needed was a filter. What I picked up was Rubicon; an absolutely brilliant history of Rome - one of the reviews claimed it as a 'history book for our times' i.e. readable and it does a fantastic job of telling the story of the fall of the Roman republic and was exactly what I needed. I didn't look back, Rifles, the history of the Normans in Sicily, histories of London all these went tumbling past my bedside table and I had been right all along- I do feel this is where I belong and now I find it difficult to choose to read a novel and quite soon I think I'll be ready to mount a major assault on the OUP history of Britain again- even the one about the movement of pots.
Anyway- I'm pleased to announce that Tom Holland will also be at our store on Friday 20th July to help celebrate History books in general and particularly how many fine ones have been written this year (and by local authors to boot.)
If you like stories of Rome or even just good storytelling be sure to be here for Caroline Lawrence. That she is one of our best children's writers is beyond doubt but take my word for it that age is no factor in enjoying her excellent series of adventures. Caroline Lawrence will be here at 5.00pm the same day reading from and asking questions about her Roman Mysteries series.