Summer book boxes for all!

This week I will be putting together some summer holiday boxes for children.  A box containing a few things to keep children occupied during the school break – a child version, in a way, of our Tree House Box of Treasures.  Boxes will contain two books and a mixture of other things: pen or pencil, notebook, a Lost Words trail sheet, bookmark, badges, puzzles, etc.  Some may be marked as containing books that may appeal more to girls, or the type of books that are in the box, but I obviously avoid anything too prescriptive in the way of gender differences – it just gives some idea.  Boxes are £7, and will be available from Saturday 20 July.

I can also do holiday reading boxes for adults, if you want to take a punt on some surprise books!  4 books for £6.  I will make some by genre (crime and thrillers, chick lit, etc) and some that will just be a mixture of general fiction.

I will also make up some of our Boxes of Treasures to sell in the shop.  These are £10, and contain two books and a number of little extras and treats.

So if you want some summer reading, or something for your children or grandchildren, come and see us from next Saturday!  We will also be open on Sunday 21 July for Kenilworth Food Festival.

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Live music is the BEST!

jack rutterOur live music gigs have been fantastic this year – all of them sell-outs, and word seems to be getting around!  We only book professional musicians, usually on national (or international!) tours, as well as a few local bands and performers who we think are good, and the quality of the acts we book seems to be paying off.

kim lowings

We have two coming up very soon, in quick succession, both major names on the folk scene, so I am very excited.  Jack Rutter is coming on Sunday 12 May and Kim Lowings on Friday 17 May, as a duo with her father Andrew Lowings.  Tickets are available from the bookshop or online, and advance booking is strongly recommended.

Have a look at our Live Music tab under Events at the top of the page to see what else is coming up; everyone on it is superb (otherwise we wouldn’t book them!).

Anyway – here are Jack and Kim to whet your appetites!

Hemlock and After

IMG_1754I haven’t posted anything on this site for months and months – I need to start adding a blog post more regularly!  And I also need to talk more about books on the website.  Spurred on by these two failings, I decided to write about the book I finished this morning, Hemlock and After by Angus Wilson.

I read the book because of a brilliant podcast, which you must check out if you haven’t listened before.  I have only been listening for about six months, and still have lots of back episodes to catch up on, but it’s the best thing – the kind of thing we need on national radio, or national television – even better – why are there no book programmes on television?  Today’s programme makers no doubt think a few people sitting around talking about books does not make good television, without some sort of vote each week to eliminate someone; but it would.  Just like this podcast, with bookish people talking about books – no celebrities, no ‘journalists’ asking questions (the quotation marks are there because I’m really not sure about the current crop so described on television today; I am always sensitive at using quotation marks, I hear the voice of my old university tutor Dr Parkin – Professor John Parkin these days and for many years – who actively discouraged their use).  The podcast I’m referring to is called Backlisted, and is hosted by John Mitchinson and Andy Miller.  I think John M. and I must have been colleagues at Waterstone’s (as it then was) in London in the late 80s.  My first job after leaving university (two years after leaving university…but that’s another story!) was at Waterstone’s in Charing Cross Road; John Mitchinson worked at another London branch, but sometimes mentions people I knew back then.  It was a lovely time to work for them.

Anyway…listen to the podcast, it’s amazing.  Lively, intelligent discussion about a particular book each time (it’s fortnightly) plus what the two hosts are reading, with two guests joining them each time.  Always really good and inspiring.

They discussed this book by Angus Wilson, so I ordered it from the library – and got a lovely hardback copy with a wonderful Ronald Searle illustration on the cover.  I had read Anglo-Saxon Attitudes some years ago, having first watched Andrew Davies’ excellent TV adaptation, and had enjoyed that very much, but didn’t know this novel at all.

Published in 1952, it is the story of illustrious writer Bernard Sands, who has acquired a nearby dilapidated country house in order to set up a sort of colony for young writers.  He has local opponents led by the ghastly Mrs Curry, who wanted it for a hotel – though as the novel goes on, we realise the sort of hotel she had in mind.  Bernard has an ailing wife, two rather distant grown-up children, and a desire to use his wealth and renown to help younger writers.  We also discover that despite his conventional family life, he has had a relationship with one male friend, and is currently involved in another, with a much younger man.  Mrs Curry and her friend Hubert Rose, it transpires, run a coven of pimps, pornographers and paedophiles.

So beneath the veneer of mid-century respectability, there are undercurrents of forbidden love and outright crime.  I won’t say more about how this pans out, but pan out it does, and by the end of the novel everyone’s life has changed.

I love Angus Wilson’s writing.  I love mid-20th-century writing generally: it often has a sort of muscularity – I am still not sure what the right word is – that is of its time, a way with words that it is both matter of fact and very expressive.  There is a lot of focus in many of those books on subtleties of character and relationships, more than on plot.  It is essentially the same story as Anglo-Saxon Attitudes (which was his next novel, so that should be the other way round).  Bernard is very like Gerald Middleton, the chief protagonist of the later novel, and having seen the TV series of that, I could only hear Bernard as sounding – and looking – like Richard Johnson, who played Gerald.  I don’t know all that much about Angus Wilson, but have the impression that both characters are versions of himself.  Both have difficult wives – and one of the things that irritates me a bit about Wilson’s two books is that women generally are portrayed as pretty awful; but Ella Sands is not nearly as awful as Gerald’s ex-wife Inge in the later book.  She’s not awful at all, in fact, but for most of the novel is ineffective; to soothe my irritation about Wilson’s women, however, she actually becomes heroic by the end of the book.

Both books end with a kind of resignation; a sense of good things achieved but acceptance that some things will not be resolved.  I had a conversation about it with someone just the other day, saying I enjoyed it but didn’t think it was a *great* novel; but last night I had about 20 pages to go and deliberately didn’t finish it as I didn’t want it to end.  I do think it’s a wonderful book.

I was trying to think about why I love the writing in those mid-century novels, and I think it’s partly the slightly formal literary style, even of the dialogue; I am now reading Jonathan Coe’s Middle England, which has me completely drawn in, but made me realise that it’s not just the writing of those older books that I love, it’s the way people talked.  The phrases they used, the more complex sentences…  I love films from that period too.  Brief Encounter is one of my favourite films of all, and while its cut glass accents have been mocked, I find the way the characters talk utterly beautiful.  I remember reading Adam Thorpe’s marvellous novel Ulverton, which follows life in a village from the seventeenth century to the present day, and one of the most notable things is how spoken language deteriorates.  Of course we  have no idea how people talked in the seventeenth century!  We only have written language to go on.  But that written language is sublime.  I also recall AS Byatt saying she liked to write historical novels because they enable her to use words that have gone out of common usage.

So those are my rambling thoughts on Angus Wilson’s 1952 novel Hemlock and After.  Thank you to my county library for supplying it.  Thank you to Backlisted for choosing to discuss it.  John and Andy are directing many of my reading choices these days!

Advent Calendar of Books

advent booksI know it seems early, and I always used to hate it when shops started bleating on about Christmas when summer was barely over, but as a retailer (of sorts!), I now realise why they have to.  Maybe not all of them…but some Christmas things need preparation.

Every year we offer an Advent Calendar of Books: 24 individually wrapped books, one to open each day up to Christmas Eve.  We tailor them to specific requests, and can do them for any age – last year we did one for a gentleman in his 80s and one for a baby who wasn’t born when his mother ordered the calendar, and most age groups in between!  We charge £12 for children up to 12, £15 for 13-15 and £25 for 16 and over (adults), which reflects the differences in price we usually charge for the books.  These are a bargain though!  You can tell us the gender of your children, their reading ability, anything really, and within reason we will try to meet requests – each one is done to order.   You can do a shared one, and we will wrap books for different ages in different paper so that each child knows which is theirs.  For adults, we intend them to be fiction only, but we might be able to accommodate some non-fiction calendars, it just depends what we have in stock at any one time, as all our books are donated.  We get loads of fiction and children’s books, so are confident about providing good things in those categories!   Just email me for any more info or to place an order.

They are lovely because they have real substance, you have the excitement of opening an actual gift each day, and there’s no temptation to rip the back off and steal all the chocolate!  (Not that we had chocolate ones when I was growing up – the books bring back some of the magic, I think!)  It’s something that builds excitement leading up to Christmas but in a way that helps to satisfy it too!  A present every day – who doesn’t want that?

But grown-ups also treat themselves, and while 24 novels might seem a lot, it will keep you going for a bit!  Or you can share them with friends.

In short, it is something intended to add to the magic of Christmas – which I adore! – and to give those you love lots of books with an element of surprise.

We can post them out, though obviously P&P is extra – let me know if you’d like that, and I can let you know postage costs.  For little children it’s not too bad, as the books are thin and light, but as they parcels get bulkier, the price of postage goes up.

So – if you want an Advent calendar with a difference, one with real substance and magic, some extra fun at Christmas – do send me an email.  You can collect at your convenience, and pay on collection, but the more time we have to get them ready, the better.

For the benefit of…

logoFor a long time, I have been wondering about making the Tree House officially a non-profit social enterprise business.  We are a limited company, mainly because that was the easiest thing to do when I first set up the business.  But after five years, I feel I have invested so much of myself in the whole venture that I am struggling with the idea of giving up overall control – that says a lot about me, I know!  It is still a longer-term possibility, but for now I don’t feel ready to change the status.

The principle remains though: we operate as a non-profit.  Any profit we make is ploughed back into the business and given to charity when we can – though we don’t technically make any profit, as I don’t yet earn a wage from running the place, and profit would begin after staff wages were considered.  We are, however, getting there, and the phenomenal support of the local community continues in humbling ways: a long-time supporter has just set up a very generous monthly standing order, which will help us to put in place some ideas that should generate more income in the longer term.  More on that in due course!

One initiative I am going to start from September is a more formal way of giving to charity, and making our non-profit aspirations more transparent.  We will be supporting two charities each month – one national, one local – by a variety of means.

I will be installing a filter coffee machine, and coffee will be available on a donation basis.  Half of what we get from these donations will go to our chosen charities.  (You can have tea as well, just ask!)

Since we started our Tree House Sessions four years ago, we have charged an entry fee – intially £2, now £3, which includes a £2 book voucher and tea or coffee.  From the next THS, on 1 September, we won’t have a charge; we will ask £1 for tea/coffee, and we will raffle a £10 Tree House book voucher each time.

Our book clubs and Nifty Needles will also be donation-based, and half of the donations going to the charities.

There will be other one-off events at times – coffee mornings, raffles, book promotions, etc.

September’s two charities have really been decided for us.  We are joining in with the Macmillan World’s Biggest Coffee Morning, as we always do, this year on Friday 28 September, so Macmillan will be one of our charities; and Warwickshire and Northamptonshire Air Ambulance have a charity week earlier in September, so they will be our local charity.

So – do come and have a cup of coffee – bring your reusable cup if you want to take it away – and leave a donation.  We’ll be using good coffee, you can drink while you browse, and the aroma should be fab!

I hope we will be able to be both more regular and more generous in our charitable giving, and people will see more clearly that their donated books are creating a place that has all sorts of benefits.

 

Kenilworth Reads: My Name Is Leon

WP_20180119_002I spent about 25 years living in Bristol.  I went to university there, and after spending a couple of years after graduation working in London – at Waterstones on Charing Cross Road, where my bookselling career began! – I went back to Bristol in 1990 to work in bookshops and libraries, staying there until I moved back to Kenilworth, where I grew up, in 2009.  I am not a city girl; I loved Bristol, it’s an amazing city, but in the end I knew I wanted to come back to Warwickshire, back to a small town, and the lure of Abbey Fields and the Castle proved too much.  I miss Bristol, especially its bohemian, creative side, but I love rural Warwickshire and living in a place where everything I need is right outside my door.

The reason I’m telling you about Bristol is because while I was living there, they launched the Great Reading Adventure, as part of their bid to be European Capital of Culture, and it was great.  The idea was to get everyone reading the same book: in that first year, we read Treasure Island.

I would love Kenilworth to do something like this, and a while back I tried to launch a similar scheme here.  One of the things I struggle with is keeping a lot of plates spinning at the same time, and after an enthusiastic initial response, I failed to follow it up properly, and time has gone on.  But summer seems a good time to boost the initiative.

The book I have chosen is My Name Is Leon by Kit de Waal.   I chose it for a number of reasons.  Kit is local – she grew up in Birmingham and now lives in Leamington (and some of you may have heard her speak at Kenilworth Arts Festival last year – she will be back at this year’s Festival too).  It’s a book that can be read by teenagers as well as adults, giving a wide scope.  And it’s a book with a lot to think about and discuss.  It’s also a wonderful story, written with warmth and humanity.  It has an easy, readable style, but it makes you think and it makes you feel.

Leon is an 8 year old boy at the start of the book.  His mother has just given birth to his baby brother; the baby has a different father from Leon.  Their mother is white, the baby’s father is white, Leon’s father is black, both fathers are absent.  Leon loves his baby brother; he loves his mother too.  But she struggles to cope, and the book is the story of what happens to Leon when crisis point is reached.  You will love Leon; his story will both break your heart and warm it.  It’s several months since I finished reading it, and I still think about him often.

So: why not join in our Kenilworth Reads adventure?  You can buy the book from Kenilworth Books, or borrow it from the library.  I will soon have a sheet that you can pick up at the bookshop or that I can email to you with questions and discussion points.  I will create an online forum, and there is a Facebook group already for those on Facebook.  If you’re in a book club, why not read it as a group?  And we will have some face to face meetings at the bookshop.

I have plans for a Christmas read too, a book that will also appeal to a wide age range, and I will also include a book for younger children at Christmas.

I will post more soon, and let you know when the discussion sheet is ready and an online discussion space sorted.  There will be a page on this website dedicated to it as well – you will be able to post comments there, maybe even just let us know you are joining in.

It would be great to get this off the ground and make it an annual event.  I hope lots of Kenilworth people will join us!