When I saw that the Bay Psalm Book sold for a record-breaking $14.2 million this morning I was pleased to see that it had been bought by a philanthropist who plans to loan it to libraries across the US and that the Church who had sold it were going to use the money to fund projects in their community. As far as sales of rare books go, that’s a pretty happy ending!
Other than reading, one of my favourite things to do at Christmas is to curl up on the sofa watching re-runs of old Sherlock Holmes films and adaptations. You’d be surprised how many you can find and in the past my father and I have managed to fill at least three days of viewings with Sherlock Holmes re-runs, much to the consternation of my little sister. I’ve even managed to hook my boyfriend on the stories to the point that we now have quarrels about which of us is Holmes and which of us is Watson. I am clearly Holmes, as you’ll be able to see from the following exchange:
Me: Elementary, Watson.
Boyfriend: You’re Watson, I’m Shakespeare.
Anyway, I digress. If you have a Holmes fan in your life, or want to introduce a loved one to the Sherlock Holmes stories, the following are great gift ideas:
I am a huge fan of the Penguin Clothbound Classics series. They look amazing and if, like me, the reader in your life is constantly berating themselves for having failed to read a particular classic, they’re a great gift. Even if you’re buying for someone whose favourite book is The Hound of The Baskervilles and has read it a thousand times, they’re sure to love this beautiful edition which will be cherished by Holmes veterans and Sherlock newcomers.
In the unlikely event that, like myself and my boyfriend, you and your loved ones are arguing over which of you is Watson and which of you is Holmes, you can settle things once and for all by treating them to a The Hound of The Baskerville personalised classic which lets you swap the characters’ names for those of your choosing. A word to the wise, my little sister got me an Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland personalised classic, and the recipient gets to choose the characters on the internet. If settling disputes like me and the boyfriend, intercept the pack and do this for them then give them the finished book.
This working magnifying glass necklace is a great gift for budding detectives or someone who keeps misplacing their reading glasses. Pair it with this cute and quirky knitted deerstalker hat for this season’s take on the consulting detective look.
It might come as a surprise to people who haven’t lurked in the darkest corners of Sherlock Holmes/Conan Doyle internet fandom but the question of what tea Sherlock Holmes drank is a contentious one and causes heated debate among more special interest fans… Adagio tea has responded to this brewing crisis (couldn’t help myself… sorry) by creating this set of teas with an exclusive blend for each of the main characters in the BBC’s adaptation, Sherlock. Don’t worry, favourite characters are also represented.
If you are decorating your study (in Scarlet) or any other room in your house, or know a Sherlock Holmes fan who is, then these art prints may be just the ticket. Being a lady with expensive tastes, I really like this Sherlock Holmes silhouette print which has been carefully constructed from well-chosen quotations for £75.
However, I am also a lady who knows my budget, so this print of Sherlock Holmes keywords is a more affordable compromise at £32.
If your Holmes fan is, like me, a big fan of the BBC adaptation Sherlock which stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock and Martin Freeman as Dr John Watson, then they probably can’t wait for the new series to be released. Help them catch up with this box set of series one and two. It is coming soon, it is, it must be. And I still can’t figure out how he did it.
If your Holmes fan already has the Sherlock box set, firstly congratulate them on their well-maintained DVD collection, then consider leading them in the direction of the Elementary box set which stars Johnny Lee Miller as Sherlock Holmes and Lucy Liu as Dr Joan Watson. I know what you’re thinking, I expected to hate it as sacrilege too. But I actually really enjoyed it and will buy pre-ordering for my father and hoping that it comes in time for Christmas. This shopping game is afoot.
I’ll admit that I’m not the most romantic of people. Those marriage proposals with flash mobs and onlookers just make me cringe, and I prefer a cup of tea and biscuit from my boyfriend than the hearts and flowers grand gestures that I’m meant to be conditioned to want having grown up watching Disney. So maybe I’m not the best person to understand the appeal of the romantic hero. Moody, critical and more often than not just a tad misogynistic, these are the five romantic heroes that I just don’t get…
I’m starting with Mr Rochester, because I read a blog post explaining how much the blogger needed a man like him in her life and it made me decide to write this post. Don’t get me wrong, I liked Jane Eyre well enough, but are you actually serious? I couldn’t go for Rochester as the romantic hero, nor am I sure what on earth would possess any woman in her right mind to. I meant, I’m sure that times were very different back then, but there’s just something about a man who locks his mentally ill wife in an attic and then tries to trick a naive woman into bigamy that’s never really tickled my fancy. Also, the moment when he dressed up as a gypsy fortune-teller in order to manipulate his house guests was just weird. I don’t need that in my life.
“Mr Darcy!” simper and fawn the women of _______shire, leading to generations of women to believe that single men in possession of a good fortune, especially the arrogant and remote ones, must be good husband material without tasting a drop of Austen’s intended satire. Reader, he may claim to be properly humbled, but given his previous performances, how long would it take Darcy to drop jibes about their disparate social status into domestic arguments. I can only imagine what Christmas dinner with the Darcy family would be like…sister-in-law Georgina sat opposite Mr Wickham who attempted to seduce her before succeeding in seducing your sister and then being bought off by your husband. A little too Regency Jeremy Kyle/Jerry Springer for my tastes.
Romeo, Romeo, let’s not forget Romeo… this little chap (and let’s remember he would have been little more than a child) is basically a seducer and who likes to make smutty jokes about his well-flowered pump. He goes to Capulet’s party and meets Juliet when he’s been moping about being knocked back by Rosaline who he’s been trying and failing to bed, then proposes to Juliet when she is shocked at his demands for satisfaction…not to mention kind of causes the death of his best friend and wife’s cousin. Yes, yes, teenaged love is very sweet and all that, but I’m just not sure I’d want to throw my life away after a child who was chasing someone else literally a few hours before.
Oh Heathcliff, he’s Romantic with a capital R… a force of nature, running wild, gnashing his teeth at the world, a rebel at heart… and a cold, manipulative man who abuses his wife, weak adults and any children unfortunate enough to find themselves in his company. While Heathcliff and Catherine’s relationship is an amazing work of literature, examining an obsessive love between two truly damaged individuals, I’m not sure that a love affair that ends in corpse exhumation and haunting is really something we should aspire to.
Following on from Heathcliff (because Stephanie Meyer couldn’t be any more desperate for her readers to pick up on that subtle as a sledgehammer allusion…) creepy Mr Cullen secretly watches his love interest while she’s sleeping, romantic or stalky? I’ll let you decide, but I can’t help wondering whether he couldn’t have done something a little more useful with his time. If a vampire ever decides to waste their time watching me sleep, they should know that my kitchen probably needs cleaning, and I wouldn’t mind if they paint the spare bedroom. If housework isn’t Mr Cullen’s thing, now that he’s mastered the world’s languages and the piano, could he maybe use his scientific knowledge and excess of time to do something useful like cure cancer or develop an antivenom to his vampire venom? Just saying. Nothing attractive about this one.
What about you? Is there a character that you were meant to find attractive but just found repulsive?
While putting together my Christmas list for Santa (yes, I’ll believe if it gets me presents…) I’ve come across some amazing book related jewellery that I’ve just had to share. So if you’re looking for some bling for the bookworm in your life, the trinkets below are a good place to start:
Fans of the written word will get a lot of attention with these amazing fountain pen earrings from Etsy which are made from vintage gold plated steel antique pen nibs and are a bargain at £10
I love this Alice in Wonderland Necklace inspired by The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party which is £14.50 from Notonthehighstreet, a bargain gift for any book lover.
Sherlock Holmes fans will appreciate this quirky magnifying glass necklace, £25, but it’s a great gift for anyone who keeps misplacing their reading glasses as the dainty magnifying glass is a working model.
Fans of Patrick Rothfuss will be excited to receive their own set of Eolian Talent pipes, available from his website for $50. Whether that is any substitute for the long-awaited but yet-to-materialise third book, who can say.
Fans of The Great Gatsby can get this adorable bow tie necklace with one of the best quotes from the novel for just £14.50. I wonder whether F. Scott Fitzgerald ever sobered up in a library?
This Alice in Wonderland brooch/pin £18 is super cute and would be great for keeping your scarf in place. I have trouble styling scarves (or anything) but a cool present for someone who is a little more sartorially minded.
Birdcages are pretty timeless, so this lovely Jane Eyre quote necklace is a must for Bronte fans at just £12.
And for anyone who was looking for something a little more literal, this cute book necklace this simple silver fairytale book design is my absolute favourite. I wear mine with almost everything.
Beneath the city of man is a kingdom of rats. The rats are a sophisticated society, with each rat working for the good of the collective depending on its individual abilities. It might be a warrior, a taster, a historian, a spy or a translator but it will put the needs of the kingdom ahead of its own desires because they understand that tradition and love is where the strength of their kingdom lies, and nothing demonstrates the strength of the Kingdom more effectively than The Twyning:
“They were The Twyning. They tugged against one another, forever in motion, forever going nowhere. For almost all their lives, they had been united by an accident of nature that had occurred while they were still in the nest.
Their tails had become inextricably entangled. As they had grown, the knot of living tissue that was at their centre melded and fused together so that, with adulthood, each of these was less an individual rat than a limb on a greater shared body, a spoke on a wheel of flesh.
We know that to have a twyning within the kingdom is a rare blessing. As it grows, it is fed and kept alive by citizens, and it is respected by all, even by the Court of Governance and by the ultimate source of power among rats, they king.
The Twyning expresses life’s mystery. Unable to move in any one direction except at an awkward, complicated shuffle, it has its own kind of strength, for nothing terrifies a human more than the sight of rats, helpless, bound together, yet powerful.
Above all, it shows the power of the kingdom.
For it is love which keeps The Twyning alive.”
The Twyning by Terence Blacker
The most important tradition in the rat kingdom is the abdication of a dying king, who swims downriver to the world above allowing his successor to be named, but when the time comes for the great King Tzuriel to step down, something terrible happens. It will push rats and humans to the brink of war, and at the heart of it all is a young rat called Efren…
I am on a rat run at the moment. By which I mean that I have been reading a lot of books about rats, which my boyfriend is a bit worried about. He suggests that I may have a few issues, but really, there a few things finer than a fictional rat and The Twyning by Terence Blacker is one of the best rat books I’ve ever read.
Set in Dickensian London, The Twyning portrays a world in which talentless politicians conspire with fearful and biased scientists to achieve their personal ambitions, bending the law of the land and spending public money to support their pet causes while impoverished children live on the street ignored or abused by those in authority. In many ways it’s a novel for our times. Swap the word rat for badger, unemployed or disabled person and Dr Ross-Gibbs’ plans might read like a Tory manifesto, but don’t for a second think that I mean to suggest that this is a soap box rant. It’s more a politically aware, urban Redwall for the noughties- vividly imagined and sharply executed.
I particularly like the well-timed moral ambivalence of this book; there are good humans, ordinary humans and bad humans at times just as there are good rats, ordinary rats and bad rats at times. Both sides have members who act well, both sides have members who act badly so there are shades of grey for readers, young and old, to interpret.
It’s difficult to express how good this book is without giving too much away, but if you like stories with friendship, battle, love, gore, misadventure and redemption then this book is for you.
And if anyone thinks that the idea of a tangled group of rats called a Twyning is silly, check out these Rat Kings to see that these things do, in a sense, exist.
You may already have heard, but if you haven’t Christmas is officially six weeks today and UK shops are rolling out their blockbuster adverts in the hope of stealing John Lewis’ crown. This year, the John Lewis Partnership (brief side note- am I the only person who finds the Partnerships’ sociolect a little cult-like?) have splashed out a reported £7 million on an old school Disney-style epic of an advert, following the improbable friendship of a bear and hare, which has been doing the rounds on the internet under #BearAndHare. If you’ve managed to avoid it so far, it can be viewed here:
What caught my attention though, was this slightly surreal parody from Waterstones Oxford Street, The Hare With the Amber Eyes and A Bear Named Pooh. If Rosie Huntington-Whiteley inspired you to experiment with the unusual this Christmas in her trip down the rabbit hole for Marks and Spencer, then you should definitely watch this for a whole new level of brilliantly weird:
Let’s face it, when it comes to the afterlife of Sherlock Holmes in fiction, some attempts are better than others. I was surprised when doing my Christmas shopping a few years ago to spot that the Arthur Conan Doyle estate had endorsed The House of Silk a Holmes novel by Anthony Horowitz, who is probably best known by any teacher or parent for his Alex Rider books.
Knowing that Sherlock Holmes’ goes down well in my house regardless of the quality (we’ve spent days as a family flicking channel to channel on a Holmes binge and even the dire Young Sherlock Holmes film is included) I decided to get it for my brother. I just got around to reading it this week and I have to say- I was really impressed.
The novel is framed with the suggestion that this is a Sherlock Holmes story that Watson had written and had sealed in a vault for 100 years because the details of the case were so shocking that the ensuing scandal would have brought down society had they been published at the time of writing. And indeed, elements of this story are horrible. I wouldn’t recommend that anyone too young watch a PG film read this, and I don’t normally try to impose age ratings on books. For a mature reader, the twist and turns of the plot are classic Holmes and an engaging read.
As well as the plot, Horowitz gets the tone of Conan Doyle’s writing just right, I could have been reading an original for all I was concerned- there was nothing jarring or anachronistic and I like Watson’s references to previous cases. If you haven’t read all the original stories I suppose that there could be spoilers, but that just gives you an excuse to read all the original books.
A new Sherlock Holmes book by Anthony Horowitz as a follow up to The House of Silk is planned for publication in October 2014.
Let’s face it, books aren’t cheap and they can really hit your pocket if you buy a lot of them. A few years ago I posted some eco-cheap tips about how you could read more, spend less and save the world but given the current financial climate and some extra tips I’ve learned in the three years I’ve been blogging since I decided this didn’t go far enough. So if you consider books to be luxuries rather than essentials, here are my top money-saving tips for you.
Borrow and Swap
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again- making use of your public, school or university library is probably the easiest way to get hold of the books you want for free. Sign up for a library card and you can rent a selection of books (and DVDs, and CDs) for weeks at a time, just make sure that you renew or return by the due date to avoid fines. My local library has a great community of readers around it and hosts storytelling, author talks and reading groups so it can work wonders for your social life as well. Bonus point of libraries- authors receive a royalty for books loaned through libraries, so even if you aren’t able to support your favourite author by buying their books, you are still supporting them by reading them.
2. Set Up a Swap Table
At work we have a swap table where you can leave your books when you’ve finished reading them and pick up a new book in exchange. This doesn’t even need to be limited to books. Our table is fairly book dominated because of the nature of the publishing industry, but I’ve also seen CDs, DVDs, cake and in the summer a glut of allotment fruit and vegetables. It has all the benefits of swapping with a friend of family member but with much greater variety, and you can spring clean your bookshelves and know that your unloved paperbacks are going to a good home.
3. Ask a friend for their book
If you see a friend reading an interesting looking book, don’t be afraid to ask to borrow it. It’s always nice to see what you’re friends think of a book that you’ve loved (or hated) and it will help you bond over a shared interest. I love lending my friends my books as I know they always pass on something exciting in return.
4. Book Mooch
If you aren’t able to set up a swap table in work and your friends aren’t big readers, then there are great websites like BookMooch that allow you to swap with readers all over the world for the cost of postage. Though you do have to be patient while you wait for the book you want to appear, there is an immense sense of satisfaction in hunting down that little gem. It is especially good for classics such as The Great Gatsby or set study texts and you can decide where you’re willing to send the books, though you do get more points if you’re willing to agree to international swaps.
5. Make the most of wishlists for Christmas and Birthdays
If you’re a reader on a budget and you aren’t making use of some kind of wishlist for birthdays and Christmas then you need to start, pronto. My boyfriend always asks for a wishlist for my birthday and Christmas (they’re exactly a fortnight apart and he panics) so I always stick a few books on my list and he’ll pick a selection of them. You still get a surprise because you don’t know what you’re getting, and they have reduced pressure. There are tools for this on Amazon, Play etc. but I find it just as easy to send a polite email or text when someone asks what I would like to receive.
6. Ask for national book tokens or gift vouchers for your favourite bookshops
If you’re not sure what books you want when a big occasion is coming up, you could also ask very nicely for book tokens. I often give these to readers (my father especially) for Christmas with a stocking filler because I know he’ll get a lot of enjoyment out of a book, but I’m never sure that he hasn’t already read the book I’m picking out for him.
Buy or Acquire (for a fraction of list price)
7. Charity Shops
As well as clothes that don’t suit or fit me, I take books that I’ve read to my local charity shop to make room for replacements on my shelves. I have pretty regular clear outs (because my boyfriend complains that the house is overrun with books) and not only do I get the exercise benefits of lugging along some pretty weighty tomes on the way there, but I invariably end up finding something I haven’t read but want to. My local charity shops sell paperbacks for about 30p and hardbacks for 50p-£1 so I sometimes end up coming away with more than I’ve left.
8. Second Hand Bookshops
As with Charity Shops, second hand bookshops are a great place to search for hidden gems surrounded by likeminded people, but be warned, this can become addictive, especially if you start scouring places like Hay-on-Wye for beautiful antique books. This happened to me when I started collecting Wuthering Heights books. It may end up costing you more than you save!
9. Green Metropolis
If you are searching for a particular book but want to avoid Amazon (for whatever reason, now’s not the time for a soapbox) then Green Metropolis is a great site which allows people to sell their old books for a flat fee of £3.75 and at least 5p from each sale goes to The Woodland Trust so it boosts your eco-credentials at the same time. Green Metropolis also lets you list your old books for sale, and while you’re not going to make a huge profit when the cost of postage is deducted, you can earn a few pennies towards a new book or to cash in for real world money.
10. Sign up for the Newsletter
If you sign up for newsletters from your favourite publishers, they will not only send you information about new releases, but very often special offers and whopping discounts. One of my favourites is the Penguin newsletter which pretty much offers a 25% off discount code every month which I can use to treat myself or buy something nice for other readers in my life.
11. Make friends with your local bookshop
My local bookshop runs a loyalty scheme where I get my card stamped for every ten pounds I spend. Once I fill up my card, I get to pick a new book for free. It is addictive and I do have dreams of one day owning a gold loyalty card. It’s not just indie bookshops who do this (though obviously, it’s good to support them if you can) high street chains like Waterstones have a points based reward system which lets you spend points instead of pennies.
12. Electronic versions
If a book is out of copyright (usually 70 years after the death of the author, but it varies depending on international law and publishing history) then you can often find it LEGALLY free through websites like Bibliomania or Google Books. If you want to buy an eBook version of an out of copyright book, then these can often be found for nothing or next to nothing through major online bookshops, though please remember you should only do this with books that are out of copyright.
13. Special Occasions
Keep an eye out for special events in the reading character, like world book day or world book night. School children will be given tokens for a free book on world book day, and publishers give away millions of adult’s books for free as part of World Book Night. You can even sign up to spread the joy and hand out copies of your favourite books.
14. National Book Token Competitions
Remember the National Book Tokens I was talking about earlier? Well they often run competitions in which you can win tokens to buy whatever book you fancy. Sign up to their newsletter and details will be emailed to you whenever they run a competition.
15. Blog Giveaways
If you follow book blogs, you’ll see that many reviewers will offer giveaways of books they’ve reviewed if they have been given an extra copy by the publisher. I sometimes run such giveaways myself and I occasionally buy books to giveaway for the occasional competition. You’ve got a better chance of winning if you know about the competitions, so keep reading those blogs!
16. Publisher Giveaways
As with the discounts, if you follow publishers on twitter or subscribe to their newsletter, you’ll get to hear about the competitions they are running to promote their new releases and will be in with a better chance of winning.
17. Foyle’s Book Game
If you’re really clever, you might be able to win the Foyle’s book game run by the London bookshop from their Twitter account each Friday, but competition is fierce and the real reward is a well-crafted book pun.
Is there anything I’ve missed? What are your tips for saving money on books?
Image adapted from original by @Doug88888 under the terms of the Creative Commons License
Some writers can never equal their first novel. I could never equal my first sentence. And look at me now. Look how I have begun this, my final work, my opus: ‘I had always imagined that my life story, if and when…’ Good God, ‘if and when’! You see the problem. Hopeless. Scratch it.
Firmin: Adventures of A Metropolitan Lowlife by Sam Savage
So begins our eponymous narrator.
Firmin is an erudite lowlife with a taste for literature, popcorn and pornography. He is also a rat, of the literal, grey fur, bewhiskered variety. Born the runt of the litter in the basement of a bookshop, and forced to eat books to survive, he finds that the words have a strange effect upon him. Because for all Firmin looks like a rat to the outside world, he has a sophisticated Fred Astaire style character inside him just dying to get out- the books he’s read have made him intelligent and articulate, a rodent with a poet’s soul.
The concept of a book loving rat living in a bookshop in Boston is, on the surface, a cheery Disney-style image, but Firmin rejects the idea of the Disney mouse (“I piss down the throats of Mickey Mouse and Stuart Little. Affable, shuffling, cute, they stick in my craw like fishbones”) and replaces it with Sam Savage’s rat, a far more poignant character. Because life as a literary rat is incredibly lonely, isolated from your own species and regarded as vermin by most humans, what’s the best that you can hope for?
Firmin is far from fluffy, at times he is repulsive- but I found myself rooting for the little guy all the same. I found myself laughing aghast at his dangerous naivety, and crying at his humanity because for all Sam Savage has shaped his narrator in a rodent’s body, where it counts he is one of the most human characters I’ve read in a long time.