At Shakespeare and Company, Paris

It’s about time I shared some stuff from my Paris trip. One the destinations on the top of my list was the famous Shakespeare and Company bookstore on rue de la Bûcherie in the Latin Quarter. The original store was opened in 1919 by Sylvia Beach, and is well-known for having published James Joyce’s Ulysses. Unfortunately that store was closed down by the Nazis in 1940, supposedly because Sylvia Beach refused to sell her last copy of Finnegan’s Wake to a German officer.

In 1951, George Whitman opened another English-language bookstore on the Left Bank. It was initially named Le Mistral, but after Sylvia Beach’s death in 1964, Whitman changed the name to Shakespeare and Company as a tribute. On the top floor of the store is a small library dedicated to Sylvia Beach, where visitors can come to read or write. George Whitman died in December 2011 at age 98. Today his daughter, Sylvia Beach Whitman, continues to run the store in the same manner as her father, allowing young writers to live and work in the shop.

I visited the store on 15 May. One the left (just outside of this shot) is the antique book section of the store. Behind me is the normal store, selling new and second-hand books.  According to the store’s website, it hasn’t been changed much over the decades, as you can see by comparing the store with the postcards showing old photographs of the place. It certainly has the quaint, cosy feel of an old bookstore. The wooden floors and staircase creak, the books are tightly packed from floor to ceiling, and it’s very cramped. In the library you can sit on the leather bench, a worn armchair, or one of the old cinema seats. There are some antique typewriters in the shop, one of which sits on a writing desk in the library, in front of a window overlooking the street. You can put up little notes in the shop, either on a wall in one little room, or inside the tiny, tiny writing cubicle upstairs.

On the day we visited, an American singer and songwriter called Sweet Soubrette did a short performance on ukulele in the library.

Unfortunately we didn’t have a camera good enough to show how pretty this really looked. Besides the beautiful library, there were pretty pink flowers in the window, and the view was of lush green trees and quintessential Parisian buildings.

There weren’t actually any Parisians at the performance, which I guess isn’t that surprising, since the store sells books in English, and it’s as much a tourist attraction as anything else. There are signs asking people not to disturb readers and browsers by taking photos, but there are still people snapping away all the time. You’ll hear lots of American accents too, by virtue of the fact that they’re somehow louder than any other.

I had to buy some books and postcards of course:

Design as Art by Bruno Munari and Ways of Seeing by John Berger are both collections of essays on art. Buying them was a reaction to our visit to Centre Pompidou, a huge modern art gallery. Out of the galleries and museums we visited, the Pompidou was undoubtedly my favourite, but I won’t deny that I was baffled by a lot of what I saw there. Hence the art books. I also wanted a French novel, and Palafox by Eric Chevillard appealed to my taste for weird and wonderful things.

I also bought this cool Shakespeare and Co. book bag:

The picture on the bag is of the entrance to the upstairs library. The writing above the doorway reads “Be not inhospitable to strangers, lest they be angels in disguise”.

We took one more photo, on May 23, when we passed by the shop after dinner on my birthday:

All in all, I thought Paris was an unbelievably beautiful, utterly enchanting city. Two weeks isn’t nearly enough time to experience even a fraction of all the incredible things it has to offer.

Up for Review: Books I’ve bought

Publishers using NetGalley occasionally fail to mention that their eARCs are in fact part of a series, but not the first book. These days I try and remember to double check before requesting a book, but in the past I’ve been too careless or excited to seek out more information before hitting the “Request!” button. As a result I’ve received a few second-in-series eARCs. This means very late reviews because I don’t have the first book, it takes a while to get it, and by then I have new ARCs to worry about. After failing to get copies from the publishers, I went and bought the books myself. In one case it would have helped if I’d waited a little longer, but hey, I’m impatient. And it’s always nice to have hardcopies 🙂

Anyway, here are some of the books I bought recently, so I can read and review them before moving on to their sequels. Eventually.

The Habitation of the Blessed (A Dirge for Prester John #1) by Catherynne M. Valente
Cat Valente is one of those authors I’ve been wanting to read for a long time, so I decided to read this one first and finished it on Monday. I was not disappointed. The Habitation of the Blessed is a beautiful, utterly enchanting novel. Review to follow next week.

This is the story of a place that never was: the kingdom of Prester John, the utopia described by an anonymous, twelfth-century document which captured the imagination of the medieval world and drove hundreds of lost souls to seek out its secrets, inspiring explorers, missionaries, and kings for centuries. But what if it were all true? What if there was such a place, and a poor, broken priest once stumbled past its borders, discovering, not a Christian paradise, but a country where everything is possible, immortality is easily had, and the Western world is nothing but a dim and distant dream?

Brother Hiob of Luzerne, on missionary work in the Himalayan wilderness on the eve of the eighteenth century, discovers a village guarding a miraculous tree whose branches sprout books instead of fruit. These strange books chronicle the history of the kingdom of Prester John, and Hiob becomes obsessed with the tales they tell. The Habitation of the Blessed recounts the fragmented narratives found within these living volumes, revealing the life of a priest named John, and his rise to power in this country of impossible richness. John’s tale weaves together with the confessions of his wife Hagia, a blemmye–a headless creature who carried her face on her chest–as well as the tender, jeweled nursery stories of Imtithal, nanny to the royal family. (Goodreads)

The Habitation of the Blessed was first published in March 2010 by Night Shade Books. The sequel, The Folded World, was published on 15 November 2011.

Germline (The Subterrene War #1) by T.C. McCarthy
This is a popular one. I actually could have requested it when it came out, but I was unsure of whether or not I’d like it. I found the synopsis of the sequel, Exogene, instantly appealing however, so I’m more confident about reading this.

Germline (n.) the genetic material contained in a cellular lineage which can be passed to the next generation. Also: secret military program to develop genetically engineered super-soldiers (slang).

War is Oscar Wendell’s ticket to greatness. A reporter for The Stars and Stripes, he has the only one way pass to the front lines of a brutal war over natural resources buried underneath the icy, mineral rich mountains of Kazakhstan.

But war is nothing like he expected. Heavily armored soldiers battle genetically engineered troops hundreds of meters below the surface. The genetics-the germline soldiers-are the key to winning this war, but some inventions can’t be un-done. Some technologies can’t be put back in the box.

Kaz will change everything, not least Oscar himself. Hooked on a dangerous cocktail of adrenaline and drugs, Oscar doesn’t find the war, the war finds him. (Goodreads)

Germline was first published on 26 July 2011. Its sequel, Exogene was published on 1 March 2012 by Orbit Books.

Of Blood and Honey (The Fey and the Fallen #1) by Stina Leicht

Liam never knew who his father was. The town of Derry had always assumed that he was the bastard of a protestant — his mother never spoke of him, and Liam assumed he was dead. But when the war between the fallen and the fey began to heat up, Liam and his family are pulled into a conflict that they didn’t know existed.

A centuries old conflict between supernatural forces seems to mirror the political divisions in 1970’s era Ireland, and Liam is thrown headlong into both conflicts! Only the direct intervention of Liam’s real father, and a secret catholic order dedicated to fighting “The Fallen” can save Liam… from the mundane and supernatural forces around him, and from the darkness that lurks within him. (Goodreads)

Of Blood and Honey was first published on 1 February 2011 by Night Shade Books. The sequel, And Blue Skies From Pain, was published on 6 March 2012.

Up for Review: New from NetGalley

Check out these awesome eARCs I received via NetGalley:

Thieving Fear by Ramsey Campbell, from Dorchester Publishing

Something called Charlotte’s name that night.  Her sister and her cousins, comfortable in their sleeping bags, didn’t hear it, but it lured Charlotte to the edge of the cliff, to a secret trapdoor buried beneath dirt and grass.  Beyond the trapdoor lay only darkness-and two unblinking eyes.  Charlotte told herself it was only a dream.  But something escaped when the door was opened, something that tainted all of them.  And now, ten years later, it is drawing them back to that cliff, forcing them to once again peer beyond the trapdoor, to confront what waits for them in the darkness.

Thieving Fear was originally published in 2008, and was re-released by Dorchester on 15 November 2011

The Whisperer by Donato Carrisi, from Mulholland Books

Six severed arms are discovered, arranged in a mysterious circle and buried in a clearing in the woods. Five of them appear to belong to missing girls between the ages of eight and eighteen. The sixth is yet to be identified. Worse still, the girls’ bodies, alive or dead, are nowhere to be found.

Lead investigators Mila Vasquez, a celebrated profiler, and Goran Gavila, an eerily prescient criminologist, dive into the case. They’re confident they’ve got the right suspect in their sights until they discover no link between him and any of the kidnappings except the first. The evidence in the case of the second missing child points in a vastly different direction, creating more questions than it answers.

Vasquez and Gavila begin to wonder if they’ve been brought in to take the fall in a near-hopeless case. Is it all coincidence? Or is a copycat criminal at work? Obsessed with a case that becomes more tangled and intense as they unravel the layers of evil, Gavila and Vasquez find that their lives are increasingly in each other’s hands.

The Whisperer, described as a thought-provoking, intelligent literary thriller, has already become a bestseller across Europe. It’s won 5 international literary prizes and has been translated into several languaged. It was originally published in 2009. Mulholland Books is releasing their edition on 5 January 2012

Enormity by W.G. Marshall from Night Shade Books

Enormity is the strange tale of an American working in Korea, a lonely young man named Manny Lopes, who is not only physically small (in his own words, he’s a “Creole shrimp”), but his work, his failed marriage, his race, all conspire to make him feel puny and insignificant—the proverbial ninety-eight-pound weakling.

Then one day an accident happens, a quantum explosion, and suddenly Manny awakens to discover that he is big—really big. In fact, Manny is enormous, a mile-high colossus! Now there’s no stopping him: he’s a one-man weapon of mass destruction. Yet he means well.

Enormity takes some odd turns, featuring characters like surfing gangbangers, elderly terrorists, and a North Korean assassin who thinks she’s Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz. There’s also sex, violence, and action galore, with the army throwing everything it has against the rampaging colossus that is Manny Lopes. But there’s only one weapon that has any chance at all of stopping him: his wife.

Enormity will be released on 7 February 2011

The Troupe by Robert Jackson Bennett, from Orbit Books

George Carole ran away from home to join the Vaudeville circuit. Sixteen years old, uncommonly gifted at the piano, he falls in with a strange troupe — even for Vaudeville.

Under the watchful eye of the enigmatic figure of Silenus, George comes to realize that the members of the troupe are more than they appear to be. And their travels have a purpose that runs deeper than entertainment.

George must uncover the mysteries of Silenus’s Company before it is too late. He is already entangled in their web of secrets and if he doesn’t learn where they are taking him, he may never find his way out.

The Troupe will be released on 21 February 2012. In the meantime you can read the first chapter and check out the official website for the novel.

I’m hoping to review Thieving Fear  and The Whisperer soon. Reviews for Enormity and The Troupe will be posted closer to their release dates.

Thanks so much to the publishers and NetGalley for these ARCs – you guys rock!

New books, new books!

I’m at home in Cape Town, taking a holiday from Addis Ababa, and one of the many great things about that is the chance to get some review copies in print (I usually get eBooks, thanks to an unreliable postal system). Of course, there are the weight limits of my luggage to think about, but I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. In the meantime – look, new books!

Kelly from Pan Macmillan SA gave me a wonderful welcome home with 6 lovely books that were waiting for me by the time I arrived.

I’d asked Kelly for a review copy of Kraken, as it’s the only Mieville novel I don’t have yet. The rest was a selection of mostly older works that she very kindly made for me, based on my tastes.

Don DeLillo's Point Omega (2010) and Falling Man (2007), Picador editions


Neal Asher's Prador Moon (2006) and Gridlinked (2001), Tor


Powersat (2005) by Ben Bova, Tor


I also got a copy of Neal Stephenson’s latest novel, Reamde thanks to Candice at Penguin SA. Penguin SA is the local distributor for Atlantic Books, who published this edition of Reamde.

Like most of Stephenson’s novels, this is one big-ass book (1044 pages) and since its weight probably equals a few pairs of jeans and some shoes, I will be reading and reviewing it asap so I don’t have to worry about putting it in my luggage.

Reamde should be available in trade paperback at South African stores from tomorrow (1 October), at a recommended retail price of R225.

Mieville’s new edition additions

Pan Macmillan has rejacketed China Mieville’s novels, coinciding with his latest release, Embassytown. As part of an outreach to South African bloggers, Pan sent me two copies of the new editions – Un Lun Dun (2007) and King Rat (1998) which I’ve reviewed. I’m feeling more than chuffed to have Violin get noticed by a major publisher, and I can’t thank them enough for my awesome new books 🙂

Check them out:

I love how striking they look, matched by contrasting textures: they have a matte finish, with glossy images and glossy embossed text. As a collection, the whole set would look impressive on a shelf thanks to the colourful spines:

But how do they compare to the previous covers? I actually already had copies of both of these books – I found a second-hand copy of King Rat at Rick’s in Pretoria, and I received Un Lun Dun as a going-away gift from my friend Barbara. Bibliophile that I am, these aren’t the first lot of double copies I own, because I like having different editions. And it means I could take photos to compare the new and the old:

With King Rat, I prefer the new cover. The old one is great conceptually, but it does nothing for me, and I’m a sucker for the matte finish and striking contrasts of the new cover. I prefer the old Un Lun Dun cover though. That dustbin with legs is so weird and intriguing, and I think the cover is much more stylish and creative than the new one which has a blockbuster-ish feel thanks to Mieville’s name in big glossy white letters. I think it’s wonderful that he’s become such a big name figuratively, but in terms of font size it can be just a little bit tacky.

Nevertheless, I think the new covers are still pretty cool, and the thought of seeing all those boldly coloured spines lined up on my shelf might just seduce me into getting the rest of them. I tried (not particularly hard, I’ll admit) to find good pictures of the other covers, but I just found this article on the rejacketing. No doubt more will be revealed soon.

Now to continue waiting not-so-patiently for my copy of Embassytown