Friday, November 28, 2014

To track or not to track?

In today's Sheppard's Confidential, that excellent weekly trade newsletter, bookseller Richard Moffatt of 'Poor Richard's Bookshop' in Felixstowe writes of the loss of books sent to China.

Ibooknet member Mike Sims writes of similar experiences both to China and other countries in his latest blog post in The Abfar Blog. It seems that even the tracking system within the United Kingdom is not immune from the occasional glitch.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Jacobean Travelling Library to go on Display to the Public in Leeds

Entrance to the Brotherton Collection, University of Leeds Library
Among the many rare books and manuscript treasures in the Brotherton Collection at the University of Leeds, its Jacobean Travelling Library has be one of the most curious and intriguing.  Designed to appear, when closed, as a large folio volume, it’s bound in brown turkey leather and contains three shelves housing some 40-odd miniature books bound in limp vellum with coloured fabric ties.  Gold-tooling on the spine of each volume picks out a flower and a wreath while all the covers are embellished with a golden angel carrying a scroll that reads Gloria Deo, meaning Glory to God.

Library, University of Leeds

A sheet of vellum has been affixed onto the inside of the front cover upon which, between arches, architectural details and four grand Corinthian columns, a catalogue of the small books has been painted.  The arms of the Madden family appear beneath the catalogue, suggesting the little library may have been a gift to a member of that family.  The books, which appear to be in remarkably good condition given their age,  are mainly classical texts on philosophical, theological and historical themes but there are also some works of poetry.  Classical authors feature heavily with works by Cicero, Julius Caesar, Seneca, Horace, Virgil and Ovid included.

17th Century Travelling Library, commissioned by William Hakewill MP in 1617

The little library is thought to have been commissioned by William Hakewill MP for a friend around 1617 or 1618.  Hakewill, who at various times sat in Parliament for seats in Cornwall and Buckinghamshire, was a cousin of Sir Thomas Bodley, founder of Oxford’s Bodleian Library and author of one of the first manuals of parliamentary procedure, The Manner How Statutes are Enacted in Parliament by Passing of Bills,  published in 1641.  He was at the pinnacle of his political career at the point at which he commissioned the little library, having been appointed Solicitor General to Queen Anne, wife of James I, in 1617.   During the next few years, Hakewill commissioned three further similar travelling libraries which are now kept in the British Library, the Huntington Library California and the Toledo Museum of Art, Ohio.

Each of the little books is vellum-bound with gold-tooled decoration and coloured fabric ties

Earlier this autumn, the University Library was awarded a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund which will enable this and other rare manuscripts and books from its Special Collection to be put on display for the public.  Worked is expected to commence on the facility, to be housed in the University’s Parkinson Building in spring 2015 with a provisional opening date for the two planned, climate-controlled new galleries of November 2015.  Interviewed by the Daily Mail when news of the grant was announced, Stella Butler, University Librarian and Keeper of the Brotherton Collection, told the paper 'The Jacobean travelling library - one of only four made - dates from 1617 and is one of the most curious items in the Brotherton Collection. The miniature books are contained in a wooden case disguised to look like a large book. It's essentially a 17th century e-book reader such as a Kindle.'

More images of the travelling library are available on BookAddiction's blog.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Booksellers in the Blogosphere

Another round-up of the many and varied things that booksellers muse on.

Mike from ABFAR has been visiting the Dutch House, the home and studio of the artist Edward Seago at Ludham in Norfolk and exploring his WWII connections. Mike's blog post is beautifully illustrated and makes me wish I was near enough to visit.

Jane Badger at Books, Mud and Compost continues her pony book of the day series and her look at Stranger at Follyfoot by Monica Dickens particularly caught my eye. Not a book I've read but anything that brings back memories of Steve and Dora is a Good Thing.

Barbara of March House Books has a lovely post (all Barbara's posts are lovely) on Judy annuals (my paper of choice as a 9 year old!) and Lucie Attwell and other good things. She also has a moving post on visiting the ceramic poppy display, Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red at the Tower of London.

Marijana has an erudite post on Charles De Gaulle and Hans Ornstein and the Deutsche BP connection over at Marijana Dworski Books.

Catherine of CL Hawley Books has an offer of free UK postage until Christmas and has been reviewing the hilarious Straight Man by Richard Russo.

I've only just added Plurabelle Books to our blog roll on the right but I recommend you take a look. Recent posts include a very readable piece on Bicycles and Gramophones (I do like a business that multi-tasks!), from which the image at the top of this post is drawn, and another of a beautiful Rabbinic Bible.

Lastly can I draw your attention to the post All the Fun of the Book Fair on Martin Edwards' Crime Writing Blog 'Do You Write Under Your Own Name?'. He's written a lovely review of the PBFA Book Fair in Harrogate last weekend including a great piece about a teacher taking some year 8 children (age 12-13) around which an really inspirational bit of teaching.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Buying for Christmas?

Today, 20th October 2014, I sent a book to USA by Royal Mail's 'International Economy' (surface mail) and I wondered at the time if it would arrive before Christmas. I checked Royal Mail's recommended last posting dates and found that sadly the last day was 14th October. Be warned, if you are buying Christmas presents from any UK bookseller and you are based outside the UK do ask the seller about delivery times and/or check the Royal Mail's last recommended posting dates.

Royal Mail's page about the last posting dates is not the most obvious name nor was it too easy to find on their website. I had to look up international mail and then enter 'Christmas' in their help centre search but I found it eventually. I have an idea they might move that page before the final Christmas rush so I have also included a link to their downloadable .pdf guide as well.

The last thing any seller wants is for you to be disappointed by parcels not arriving in time. On most of the sites we use, where we have that facility, we will warn you about the time it can take for International Economy (surface mail) to reach you. In many cases you may find that International Standard (airmail) is only a little more expensive and that by using it early you can be assured of delivery in good time.

The last posting dates from UK by International Economy (surface mail) to everywhere except Eastern and Western Europe are now in the past and I wouldn't suggest using that service at all when International Standard (airmail) to that region is only fractionally more.

The last recommended posting dates from UK by International Standard (airmail) are:

 3 December - Asia, Far East (including Japan), New Zealand
 4 December - Australia
 5 December - Africa, Caribbean, Central & Sth America, Middle East
 8 December - Cyprus, Eastern Europe, Greece
 9 December - Canada, Poland
12 December - USA
13 December - Western Europe (excluding Greece, Poland)

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

New Bookselling Website and a delve into Family History

Catherine at CL Hawley Books has launched a new bookselling website this week with a bit of a fanfare. Read more about book competitions, including one for children, and get a 30% off code over at Juxtabook.

Barbara at March House Books also has a new venture: a family history blog following the Flitney family. Anyone enjoying the current series of Who Do You Think You Are? will find it fascinating. She isn't neglecting her original blog either, which is still the place to go for beautiful vintage children's books.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

PBFA's York Book Fair, 19 & 20 September

This coming weekend you have the chance to be in the same building with the largest number of rare/used/antiquarian book sellers in one place in not just the UK but Europe. They are accompanied by lots and lots of books!

The annual York National Book Fair, the largest in Europe, will open on Friday 19 September 2014 at the Knavesmire Suite, York Racecourse in York. If you have not been to this event before, it is a must for book lovers and buyers seeking books, maps and images, indeed all things to do with paper. Not just for collectors, it is very much for readers too, with items for all budgets, though it is a wonderful opportunity to see and browse some really special items.

2014 is the 40th anniversary of the PBFA and this year's fair features the largest ever number of exhibitors. Over 210 leading dealers will gather to offer rare, antiquarian, unusual and hard to obtain items on all conceivable subjects. This year exhibitors are from as far afield as Germany, Hong Kong and Canada as well as all corners of the British Isles. In advance of the fair, you can take a peep at some of the items exhibitors intend to bring by visiting the website where you can also get a complimentary ticket. Admission on the door is otherwise £2.00 per person.

As well as the books for sale, all the trades, such as paper makers, calligraphers and bookbinders will have exhibition stands at the fair. Andy Moore, for instance, makes one off calligraphy pieces, for a combination of exhibitions, events and commissions.

With over 100,000 books for sale, where else can you look at, touch, enjoy, and even purchase so many rarities under one roof? If you are already a collector then it is a great opportunity to meet new dealers in your area, and again if you have a collector's heart on a student's budget it is great way to meet dealers and discuss their specialisms. The sellers bring just a fraction of their stock but you can pick up leaflets and bookmarks with their website details, where you may find at a later date a regular supply of your favorite authors or areas within your budget.

The Racecourse venue is light and airy with ample parking. For those coming by train, or just wanting access to and from the town, there will be a free shuttle-bus. This operates between York Railway Station and the Racecourse, approximately every 20 minutes. For more information:

It is my first year as a full member of the PBFA and I won't be exhibiting this time, but you can browse this list of my Ibooknet bookselling colleagues who will be there. I would particularly recommend you say hello to Stephen Foster at Stand 4 and Heather and Jeff at Peakirk Books at stand 170!

You'd like to see a picture of Ibooknet bookseller Stephen with Taylor Lautner wouldn't you? Here he is! That is proper bookselling wear that is. Stephen's bookshop was used in the Funeral epsiode of Cuckoo recently.

Back to York bookfair: if you attend we'd love to hear what you think of it, or read about what you bought!

Cross-posted on Juxtabook

Monday, September 1, 2014

Royal Mail - shipping by International Economy

Do you ship to Iraq, Iran, Pakistan or India? Ibooknet member G. A. Michael Sims relates some of the absurdities discovered at Royal Mail when trying to ascertain International Economy rates to this block of countries.

Be reassured, the service still exists, it's just that Royal Mail doesn't really want you to know about it! See the full piece at the Abfar Blog.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Publishing an ebook Part 2

Having got Flag Fen: a concise Archæoguide successfully published for Kindle (see Part 1) I wanted to get it published to other platforms as an epub file (and other formats). Not least, I wouldn’t be comfortable with Amazon having a monopoly on it. I spent several evenings using a well-known search engine trying to find out what would be the best route to get the book onto iTunes and other epub sellers. The more I looked at it, the more similar the structure seemed to selling second-hand books.
Selling used books for me started on the Advanced Book Exchange. It was a friendly affair and there was little attempt by ABE to get between the seller and buyer, and ABE let the seller have most of the sale price. There were other websites which accounted for a small percentage of sales, but ABE was the main player. Things have changed somewhat, commission and card-handling fees are now hefty, and my second-hand book sales are now probably c.75% through Amazon, 23% through Abebooks (as it is now called, and owned by Amazon), with the other 2% or so through smaller sites like Biblio, AntiQbook, and my own website; there are and have been a plethora of ‘others’ which I have long since given up on.
From what I could gather by reading around, the majority of ebook sales are through Amazon, with a smaller number of iTunes sales, and a very few through Kobo, Nook, plus a plethora of ‘others’ which return none. I therefore decided to concentrate initially on the three sites Apple, Kobo, and Barnes and Noble, and not worry too much about the others. How to get the book into epub format? I discovered it’s not actually that hard to produce an epub file. Use the right software and load it with a properly formatted Word document and an epub file pops out the other end. I’m not sure why paying one of the many services available to convert your file is so expensive.
From my research it became apparent that I would probably use an aggregator. Apart from anything else, not using an aggregator can make it necessary to have a US bank account, and to be VAT registered. For those who don’t know, an aggregator is like a distributor, a company that, for a percentage or your royalties, will make your book available through a number of sites; they can also turn your document into an epub file for you.
The old boy of aggregators appears to be Smashwords, and they distribute to a long list. A newer company is Draft2Digital, who were then only distributing to iTunes, Kobo and Nook, as well as making the book available to download on their own website in various formats. For a number of reasons I decided to try D2D first.
Registering with them was straightforward, I supplied them with my EIN (see Part 1) and I already had the book as a Word file which I duly uploaded.
Pricing is an odd question. How much is an ebook worth? As a dyed-in-the-wool physical book junkie my gut feeling is ‘not a lot’, it’s too ephemeral. But the author has still put a lot of work into it, and after all, it’s the intellectual property that’s important, regardless of how it’s delivered. But it’s a balancing act – price it too high and sales will be low, price it too low and there’s hardly any royalties. Pricing on some sites is based on a US dollar price, so the UK (GBP) price can annoyingly appear as an odd amount as the exchange rate fluctuates.
Once the formalities are done and the ‘publish’ button clicked on, nothing happens for quite a while. The book is submitted to the relevant platforms and eventually gets accepted, and is therefore ‘published’.
A little while after listing the book with D2D they added Scribd to the list of sites they upload to, and more recently Page Foundry. Neither addition has seen the book flying off the eshelves.
And do the orders come rushing in from anywhere? Not without some publicity, and how to do that? Social media is the most obvious means, and doing some tweeting from Boudicca Books' account brought in the odd order.
Next the book went onto a number of other platforms (including library distribution) through Smashwords, where you can also buy the download in various formats. Getting the book into a suitable format for them is more difficult - they are very prescriptive about what their 'meat grinder' (what they call their conversion software) will and won't accept, and it took about two hours to reformat the document. There is a lengthy 'style guide' which I followed assiduously - even so, the first upload failed; but it was one very minor problem which I corrected and then it was accepted without a problem. It took several weeks for the book to work through the system and become available (it still doesn't seem to be on some sites yet, including W H Smith and Waterstones, which should be supplied by Kobo), and sales are now much the same as on other sites - i.e. very low.
I’ve listed the book in the bibliography on Francis’s ‘Author Central’ page at Amazon, which may produce a few sales - Amazon is the only site where there are regular sales.
The next part of the project, which is still in its early stages, is to work with the team at the Flag Fen visitor attraction to enable their visitors to buy the ebook on-site. Not as straightforward as a real book, but it appears to be theoretically feasible. I've left the ball in their court at the moment, but I can see that there may be a number of obstacles to overcome; if it does get sorted out it I fear it will be by the autumn when they are ready to close for the winter.
So, has it been worth it? It's too early to tell, even though it's been over three months since the Kindle version has been available, much less for the epub - in fact, some of the channels at Smashwords are still awaiting distribution, and some of those that it has distributed to are yet to make the book available. So, perhaps it will be next year before sales speed up. The long timescale so far is why it's taken a while for this second part of the blog post to appear, I've been waiting for things to happen.
One thing I do know: yet another similarity between second-hand bookselling and ebook publishing is that the monetary return on time invested is risibly small.

Booksellers in the Blogosphere

Another quick round-up of recent blog posts by a range of booksellers:

Barbara's from March House Books always beautiful blog has some stunning book covers and she has also been visiting Hay-on-Wye.

Nigel has been reviewing Kevin Eldon’s My Prefect Cousin: a short biography of Paul Hamilton. I've not come across comedian Kevin Eldon before but since reading Nigel's excellent review I've been enjoying what Youtube has to offer.

Marijana and Heather haven't been blogging recently (booksellers are busy folk!) but both have excellent Facebook pages. There is a fascinating range of snippets on Peakirk Books page, and Marijana has some great little posts on bookcovers to tie in with her other job co-running Books4Looks.

Stella Books have a Rupert Book as book of the week no doubt inspired by their visit to the Followers of Rupert 31st Annual meeting in Warwick.

Mike from A Book for All Reasons has been following the adventures of Old Front Line as they fund raise for ex-servicemen.

Karen Millward has been cataloguing some lovely Irish postcards, and Stephen Foster has been tweeting about lizards and Victorian strangeness.

As for me on Juxtabook I've been reviewing Josephine Tey and believe it or not Goodbye, Mr Chips as well as chatting about film adaptations of books.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Primary source edition

A phrase that seems to have crept in to bookselling jargon recently is 'primary source edition'. I first noticed it when it was used to describe a book I bought on Ebay this week. I had assumed that it was just the seller's way of saying that it was the first edition or a very early reprint because I recognised the edition from his online image but when he later apologised for mis-describing the book I decided I must try and establish what the expression means.

In brief, it seems to have been adopted by the publishers of 'print-on-demand' books to indicate that they had scanned the original edition of the title. Thus a 'primary source edition' sounds rather better than it really is (and was fortunately not what I had bought on Ebay!). For full details of the brief research and some of the faults likely to be encountered with 'primary source editions' see the account on ABfaR's blog.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Booksellers in the Blogosphere

A quick round-up of recent blog posts by a range of booksellers:

Jane has been reviewing a selection of books by the Pullein-Thompson sisters amongst others. I Rode a Winner by Christine Pullein-Thompson  is a recent one. Jane describes is as, "probably my favourite Christine Pullein-Thompson". I'm always delighted by Jane's reviews as they evoke many childhood memories. As a child I wrote what was probably a very boring letter to Christine Pullein-Thompson and to my delight she very kindly wrote back telling me about her life in Suffolk and her dogs and horses. I treasured that letter and must have read it hundreds of times. It is sadly now lost in the land where things of one's childhood disappear to...

Marijana has been Finding Flegon, writing on the difficulties of dating a copy of Solzhenitsyn’s ‘A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich’ by the controversial publisher Alec Flegon. These little byways mean booksellers should never work out what they earn by hour as we can spend so long nailing down some aspect of bibliography for just one book, as Mike noted on his recent blog post.

Nigel has been hosting his daughter Alice (who more usually blogs on theatre here) as she reviews Flag Fen: a Concise Archæoguide. You can read Nigel's thoughts on getting this book, by the archaeologist Francis Pryor, out in e-book form here.

Barbara has been taking a break in the most charming way that only a specialist children's bookseller could manage.

And finally, I've written on the often missed delights of the village of Wycoller and its Brontë connection. When you're on your way to the honeypot attractions of the north of England slow down and give Wycoller a few hours of your attention.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Amazon shooting themselves in the foot?

Against a background today's news lead in Sheppards Newsletter and other press reports of the negotiations between the internet selling giant Amazon and the book publishers Hachette, a point has come to my mind of special interest to our end of the bookselling world.

My understanding is that Amazon proposes that they should be authorised to 'print on demand' any new title that they do not have on hand and which is not immediately available from the publisher.

Is the bookselling side of Amazon Marketplace worth so little to them? As a seller of secondhand books I have found no market for second-hand 'print-on-demand' books, it fact it seems that most of them only exist to cater for the instant need of the buyer and have no residual value. At a time when nearly everyone else is seeking to preserve scarce resources Amazon seems to be profligate in their aim of making a sale.

I don't sell on Amazon Marketplace but it strikes me that by fulfilling orders with a print-on-demand alternative when stocks of new books are low Amazon are removing the books that will become the stock-in-trade of their Marketplace sellers of the future.

Sources: Sheppards Newsletter, Bookseller, Guardian, Telegraph

Saturday, June 21, 2014


One of the hazards of cataloguing is to become too interested in your stock. If you take into account the financial value of your time, the value that you add by giving a good description of a book can be totally undermined if are drawn into reading it.

Mike Sims' latest post on his blog concerning 'The Time of my Life - A Frontier Doctor in Alaska' by Harry C. de Vighne is a case in point. At least he has turned a cautionary tale of cataloguing into a review of the book, where none existed amongst the currently available second-hand stock. A gap in the available information has thus been filled but he will never recover the cost and he hasn't the courage to work out his hourly rate even if the book sells immediately!

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Publishing an ebook: a steep learning curve (Part 1)

A couple of years ago Francis Pryor wrote an ebook, FlagFen: a Concise Archæoguide, but recently the publisher decided his company was moving on to new projects and so the book became unavailable. As Francis is my brother-in-law I offered to see whether it would be possible for me to make it available again, in my innocence thinking it might be a reasonably straightforward process. I had the original files available, but unfortunately the original copy was a Pages document, and I am Macless.
After pondering on how to convert this into a Word document I realised that Francis should have one. After a short hunt he emailed me his original, but unproof-read copy; I then had the task of bringing this text into line with the previously published ebook. Proof-reading is a thankless task: I had to go through the document twice, and then a third time using the function in Word’s Review menu which will compare two versions of a document, before I was happy with it.
Next I had to find out what format the text had to be: there are specific ways to show chapter breaks and titles, sizes of images and how to insert them and their captions, even how paragraph breaks are handled are important to how the book will display.
Once I had all this under my belt, and as I already have an Amazon seller account I decided to start there. The first thing I found was that it’s necessary to set up a separate KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) account. The second thing I discovered was that to set up a KDP account it’s mandatory to complete an online tax interview with the American Internal Revenue Service.
With a little wider research it transpired that I needed a number called an EIN; this involves filling in Form SS4, which isn’t at all difficult, but for some bizarre reason, if you’re outside the US, it is only possible to do this over the phone to the IRS in Philadelphia.
I duly filled in a copy of the form and rang the number. After an initial little speech I was told I was in a queue of between 30 minutes and an hour, so I hung up. On reflection, I decided that ringing at 0905 EST wasn’t sensible, so the following day I tried again at just after 6am EST (mid-morning here) and the call was answered almost immediately. The call took 18 minutes, longer than one might expect to read off the answers on quite a short form, but having to spell out every word to the operator slowed things down a bit - and then at the end she had to read the whole form back to me, spelling out everything (yes, even U-N-I-T-E-D K-I-N-G-D-O-M). Once I had agreed that this was all correct I was issued with my EIN, the magic number that allows withholding of tax to the IRS under the relevant international treaties. I am still waiting for the letter which will include details of when and what sort of returns I will have to make, but I will worry about that (possibly quite a lot) when it arrives.
So, back to the KDP website to complete form W-8BEN, having looked up the bank account’s IBAN and BIC codes, and submit the form. I think it was once this was complete I was able to upload the Word document to be converted into a Mobi file.
Once that had uploaded and been accepted by Amazon (there was a short wait for that) the next stage was to decide on pricing and royalty levels. We’d decided to keep it the same price as previously. Amazon offer the choice of two royalty levels – 35% or 70%. Why, I thought, would someone choose to only get 35%? I read the ‘Pricing Page’, or as much as I could before my brain glazed over, and set the royalty rate at 70%. I still didn’t understand what benefit there could be in asking Amazon to give you only half as much money as you might get.
The next step was to set pricing for,, .in, .fr, .de, .es, .it,,, .ca,, and, to be told when that was done that the American, Indian, Japanese, Brazilian and Mexican royalties are only 35% unless the book is enrolled in KDP Select. So on to look at the page explaining what that is, and where the main benefits of KDP Select became apparent. They seem to be threefold – to be able to offer your book for free, to enable people to borrow the book (for free), and to give KDP exclusive right to publish your book.
Deciding not to do enrol in KDP Select was the last step, I think. It took a little while (about twelve hours, or so) for the book to appear online. So that’s that, and now you can buy a mobi copy of Flag Fen: aConcise Archæoguide for your Kindle. If you want to find it in your own country’s Amazon site you can search for B00K6JD1Z6. It’s available on all of them except  for China.
Next was to investigate which platforms to sell the epub version on, and how. But that’s for Part 2.
This post was originally published on Bagotbooks's blog. You can follow the publisher of the ebook on Twitter.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Sochi for the Summer - and now the Winter, too - by Marijana Dworski

Sochi, Moscow 1959. Photos by Shagin

Summer playground for the Nomenklatura – now a winter playground too?

As all the world must know now, the Winter Olympics are being held in Sochi, a city in the province of Krasnodar Krai in Russia.  The Greater Sochi area sprawls along the Black Sea coast, Eastwards across the sea from the Danube, in that tiny part of Russia that lies to the south of the Great Caucasus range. The Caucasus watershed is some 60 km to the north-east and the border with Georgia's breakaway province of Abkhazia is only 30 km away to the south-east.

Perhaps fewer people know about the fashionable ... read more on Marijana's blog

Marijana Dworski Books specialises in language books and books on Eastern Europe, with competitively priced modern dictionaries and grammars on some 350 languages, and a wide selection of books on the Balkans, Eastern Europe, Russia and Central Asia.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Review: Hideous Cambridge: a city mutilated, by David Jones

Hideous Cambridge: a city mutilated, by David Jones. Photographs by Ellis Hall. Published by Thirteen Eighty One. Paperback 210 x 210 mm, 282 pp 410 colour photographs. ISBN 978-0-9926073-0-2 £18.50

Towns are conglomerations of people, initially for trade and defence, subsequently for such additional human activities such as education and manufacture. What goes with the people is buildings - for dwellings, administration, shops, manufacturing, education - and the roads and lanes that get them between the buildings, and the means of transport - bikes, cars, lorries, buses etc.

Cambridge started as a small market town, but from around the thirteenth century it took on a rather different form from most other comparable places in England when it became the site of a university. From then until the middle of the nineteenth century it is best described as having been a nice little university with small town attached. Since then the University has grown, but so has the town, to the extent that the old central core, mostly college related, is now a small  percentage of a city which grows outwards in ever increasing circles.

David Jones, the author of this book, does not like what has happened architecturally, and what is likely to happen in the future. This book is a beautifully illustrated rant about inappropriate buildings, their size, their position, about traffic filled roads, about the loss of Cambridge's heart. Don't be put off by the description of it as a rant. This is a fun book to read. It is provocative, it is enjoyable.

If you know Cambridge at all you will be interested in the Jones's road by road, area by area, survey of the buildings that have gone up or are going up as Cambridge expands outwards and fills in empty spaces. The tone is often a sort of peevish waspishness that at times out-Pevsners Pevsner himself (does the voice of the retired schoolmaster echo here?). Jones is a good hater, which is one of the things that makes the book so enjoyable. The Castle Park complex of County Council offices on the corner of Huntingdon Road and Histon Road are "meretricious buildings of baffling silliness". The Marque, a new edifice being constructed on Hills Road , is "outrageous, vile, pretentious and a positive disgrace; a visual catastrophe of staggering proportions".

One of Jones's particular hates is the recent Botanic House on Hills Road by the entrance to the Botanic Gardens. It appears in at least seven of the illustrations dotted round the book and is mentioned on around twenty different pages (descriptions include lamentable, like a fat cuckoo, catastrophic, monster, self-serving). Let us hope the lawyers who commissioned and inhabit it are thick skinned enough not to take it all to heart too much.

What the author does not like is the tall and the ugly, though to this reader at least some of his judgements are perverse. Show him a nice bit a brickwork and he lies on his back and wags his tail however awful the building. So he likes the awful pastiche which is the nineteenth century Royal Albert Almshouses on the corner of Brooklands avenue and the brick box which used to house the Comet store on Newmarket Road ("very presentable").

However one of the things I really appreciated about the book is the snippets of history I learnt from it. Who knew that the ghastly Henry Giles House (Job Centre) on Chesterton Road opposite Jesus Lock was not actually built by the government but for the defunct Cambridge Instrument Company? (But it isn't on Victoria Road as the caption to the picture on page 168 avers.) Or that the vile (Jones's  description and one has to agree) Sally Ann's building on Mill Road was originally the Empire Cinema with a much more fun front?

Jones wants the development of Cambridge to stop. He fears that it will soon have swallowed so many outlying villages and fields that it will be the size of Birmingham. He suggests the idea of Listed Towns, where an optimum size would be set and not allowed to be exceeded. He's not going to win that one. For all sorts of reasons Cambridge is set to get bigger and bigger. Other places have coped. Think of Granada or Florence. Both are huge cities with a magical inner core surrounded by modern suburbs. They and Cambridge are lucky in that the good bits are more or less central. Cities like London have the good buildings or areas widely separated like sparse currants in a pudding.

He is right that tall buildings can spoil the character of the centre. The answer, if we grant the premise that the city will expand willy nilly, would be perhaps to have a moratorium on any buildings more than five storeys high within a radius of three miles round the historic centre. This would mean the removal, at the earliest opportunity, of such monsters as the University's own Arup Building (Materials Science and Metallurgy) behind the Corn Exchange. Jones mentions that there was much discussion at the size of St John's College chapel when it was built in the nineteenth century, but of course the rot had set in several centuries before when Henry VI plonked his enormous King's College Chapel right across one of the main streets of the town centre. We do seem to have learnt to cope with both these buildings.

Jones is also correct in identifying the motor vehicle as one of the main factors in spoiling the ambience of the historic centre of the city - "one of the biggest causes of ugliness in our environment."  He lists the proliferation of traffic signage, traffic lights, parking availability signs, roundabouts, pedestrian crossings, bollards, speed humps and road paint, to mention but a few of the uglifying additions to the visual environment. He complains of the noise and the noxious fumes. His answer - ban motor traffic, including buses, from the city centre, even as far out as Queens Road, leaving those roads to cyclists and pedestrians. He is right of course. And it will come. The impending imposition of 25mph speed limits on many (though not enough) of Cambridge's roads is a sign of things to come.

This is a fine book about what is happening to the built environment of Cambridge now and is of interest to all who work or live here. And in twenty-five or fifty years time it will be a book to look back at. When we do, I fear we may find that the architecture Jones complains about now will be positively beautiful compared with what's to come. In the meantime perhaps it will inspire our councillors to demand a bit more of developers and architects and planners so that Cambridge gets buildings more worthy of it than many of those erected in our recent past. And of course what he says applies to many towns and cities throughout the United Kingdom.

Philip Lund (Retired Cambridge Bookseller)

For more books on Cambridge you can try A Book for All Reasons, CL Hawley, or Plurabelle Books, and for books on architecture try The Amwell Book Company or CL Hawley.

Monday, February 3, 2014

When fictional romance goes wrong ..

Several news-outlets over the weekend reported an interview with J. K. Rowling by Emma Watson where Rowling discusses having made a mistake in marrying Ron to Hermione at the end of the Harry Potter series:

"I think there are fans out there who know that too and who wonder whether Ron would have really been able to make her happy," Watson responds in excerpts from the interview printed in the Sunday Times. 

Rowling said she could "hear the rage and fury it might cause some fans" of her work and that she hoped she would not be "breaking people's hearts" with her revelations. 

Ron and Hermione, she reportedly goes on, would have needed counselling to sustain a relationship the best-selling author describes "as a form of wish fulfilment" on her part.

This news came after an interesting conversation I'd been having with pony book expert Jane Badger on the fourth Flambards book. For those who've not read the series Flambards is a trilogy of books with a fourth volume added over a decade later. In the fourth book the author K. M. Peyton does an about-face and re-arranges the couples who were all nicely sorted at the end of book three. It seems Peyton was, like J. K. Rowling, unsatisfied with the prospects in the marriages she'd made for her characters and went about saving them from 'counselling'.

This leads us into an interesting question: which of fiction's famous lovers do you think were making a terrible mistake, or were victims of the author's personal preferences and prejudices in picking their partners? Are there any books where you'd like to see one half of the lovers marrying someone else?

Much though I love Georgette Heyer I have never been entirely convinced that Judith would have been happy with the over-bearing Worth in Regency Buck - very different to the plausibility of the marriage in Heyer's  A Civil Contract.

I could also bang Romeo and Juliet's heads together. Staying with Shakespeare, Beatrice and Benedick remind me of the saying that some people marry so they can carry on the conversation for the rest of their lives and I can see them getting on in a bickering kind of way. I am also driven to distraction by Maggie Tulliver not sticking with Philip Wakem in The Mill on the Floss; simply doing so would have spared us the second part of the novel!

Which fictional lovers do you think have made mistakes or are unconvincing?

Browse my stock for works on the novel, or Shakespeare. For novels by Georgette Heyer, try Mike Sims. For works by K. M. Peyton such as the Flambards trilogy try Aucot and Thomas, Peakirk, or Stella and Roses.

For more on a romantic theme you might like our booksellers' Valentine's Day Gift Ideas.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Valentine's Day Gift Ideas

It is that brief time of the year between Christmas decorations coming down in the shops and the Easter eggs appearing. For a couple of short weeks the windows of our high streets will be dominated by red hearts and flowers, chocolates and bears with silly messages attached, and other fluffy clichés.

For a slightly different card or gift this Valentine's Day your independent bookseller might have the answer.

For a more sophisticated take on the Valentine's Day card what about these unusual cards from Marijana Dworski? This one is “Thousand and One Nights” inspired by 1900s Spanish Modernista movement:

Barbara at March House Books has some rather different vintage cards: This cute card is a Valentine for a teacher:

Barbara has some other lovely vintage cards which you can view here, here and here.

If you're looking for a romantic gift then Charlotte in Love : The Courtship and Marriage of Charlotte Brontë is available as a signed hardback from CL Hawley Books:

Also available is Auden in Love : The Intimate Story of a Lifelong Love Affair, a memoir of the relationship between Auden and the American Chester Kallman.

Another sweet idea is an appropriate book of poetry. How about Elizabethan Love Lyrics:

or Love Poems on the Underground, both suitable for the cash-strapped, are also available from CL Hawley.

Another unusual gift is this charming music score from March House BooksWhy Don't You Fall in Love with Me?:

March House Books also have some fun picture book titles including Cupid and True Love both by Babette Cole.

And if you must buy chocolates and roses, they're available in book form too. Orangeberry Books have a nice copy of The Love of Roses : From Myth to Modern Culture, signed by the illustrator, and there are lots of books about chocolate at Books and Bygones.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

This is NOT 'yet another' WW2 naval memoir!

For one of the finest accounts of the experiences of a young naval rating followed by his further experiences as a young officer in the Royal Navy during WW2 you will find it hard to beat 'A Passage to Sword Beach', published by the Naval Institute Press.

Brendan Maher, a native of Manchester joined the Royal Navy in February 1943 and was sent to HMS Raleigh, the shore-based training establishment in Devon, for his basic training. Here he was issued with his ratings uniform, received instruction in drill, seamanship, signalling, gunnery, etc. and on successful completion he was evaluated as a potential officer. In the meantime he held the rank of Ordinary Seaman and after a short spell in barracks at HMS Drake at Devonport he was posted to the light cruiser, HMS Cardiff. Here he quickly learned about the lower deck, of ‘piped’ orders, hoisting the ship’s boat, mess catering, the daily ‘tot’ of rum (enjoyed by his 'mess mates' as he was too young), how to sling his hammock, etc., until July 1943 when he was posted to HMS King Alfred at Hove for training as an officer.


On passing out from his officer course, which again he describes in some detail, he held the rank of Midshipman and after training in gunnery at HMS Pembroke at Chatham and in minesweeping at HMS Lochinvar, on the Forth River near Edinburgh, he served briefly in HM Motor Minesweeper 84, for some months in the Halcyon class minesweeper HMS Jason and then transferred to Coastal Forces and the minesweeping capable ML137 as third officer. ML 137 was attached to the 1st Minesweeping Flotilla and with shallower draft was able to sweep further inshore than most at Sword Beach, in advance of the Normandy invasion of 1944, hence the book's title.

There have been many books of naval memoirs but this one is a real gem. It is subtitled 'minesweeping in the Royal Navy' but it is so much more than that, describing life on board and explaining simply the naval evolutions of both normal ship routine and handling as well as in action. Sadly this book does not appear to have been published in UK but only in the United States so if you have an interest in Naval matters it may have passed you by. Fortunately we have a few copies in stock to fill that gap in your library but we can't supply what should be the demand for this book so look out for a copy!

(Extract from a fuller version published on the ABfaR Blog in August 2013)

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Excitement at March House Books!

I don’t often buy books without first viewing them, but I couldn't resist this collection.
I'm offered books on an almost daily basis. Many are not for me, but when they are I either pay a visit or ask the seller to post them. Once I'm happy with condition I send a cheque.  If they are not up to scratch they are returned, with an appropriate amount to cover the seller's costs. 

On this occasion, the collection comprised over 250 books, and the seller lived several hours away. I could hardly ask him to post them, but on the other hand, I didn't want to ask Terry to make the six-hour round trip, to collect them. So I found a courier who could collect and deliver – and hey presto here they are.

I’ve had several conversations with the seller, so I know what's in the collection, but I have no real idea of condition – so fingers crossed!

Essential supplies to hand, a nice blank page in my stock book, and here we go -

Please visit March House Books to browse our stock. You may also enjoy the following links,

C L Hawley carries literary criticism and literary biography including books on Jane Austen, the Brontes, Mrs Gaskell, Sylvia Plath, William Morris, the thirties poets etc., plus a general academic stock, and books on Yorkshire and Lancashire including dialect poetry. 

Peakirk Books specialises in childrens books, has a good range of crime fiction and carries a general stock. Stephen Foster carries rare books and fine bindings.

StephenFoster carries rare books and fine bindings.

Amwell Book Company carries modern art, architecture and photography and has a shop in Central London. East Riding Books carries books on all aspects of music.

EastRiding Books carries books on all aspects of music.

Crossposted March House Books

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