The Tree House needs you!

mier_prod-1 (2)I have now ordered a rubber stamp for stamping receipts and things – so there’s no turning back, the shop has to open!  I love stamping things.

I have been thinking about what else the project will need.  There are things for the shop itself, beyond things like shelving, computer, etc. There are also the evening (and sometimes daytime) events I’d like to have, for which we need performers, etc.  (I must use etc less…I am not Yul Brynner.)  I have made a list.

1. Stock – donations of any kind of books, in good enough condition to sell, will always be gratefully received.  Any house clearances, etc, will be of great interest, so keep me posted if you hear of anyone trying to find a home for collections of books!

2. Armchairs – I want it to be a comfortable place!  I will visit the Lions store in Kenilworth, but again, offers of unwanted but usable armchairs will be welcome.

3. Volunteers – there will be various ways that people can help, from manning the shop so that I can go to the post office, etc, to reading stories to children in the afternoons, and all sorts of other things.  I have already had offers of help with sorting and cataloguing books, which is wonderful.  If you would like to be involved, do get in touch (details on the About page).

4. People to come and lead events.  People to give talks; people to give readings; storytellers; musicians; people to give craft presentations; people to lead writing workshops; people to lead debates; anything else you think would make an interesting event that people would pay a small amount to come and see!  These are intended to involve the community. to give people a performance space and to help raise some income for the shop.

5. People to spread the word.  Tell your friends, colleagues and neighbours.  Put up a small poster/flyer on your kitchen noticeboard, or leave a few at work. (I will be getting some printed.)

All of this is ultimately working towards enhancing a sense of community, and raising some money for local charities and causes.  The more money we bring in, the more we can give!  So whether you feel able to buy a share or two (see Investing in the community tab) or giving of your time or offering some kind of event, you will hopefully feel that you are involved in something worthwhile.

Kenilworth is full of independent shops and has a great sense of community – this is something to cherish and maintain and develop, and I would like to think this little venture will be part of doing just that.

A chance to invest in an exciting new community venture!

mier_prod-1 (2)As I get closer to making this small but exciting venture happen, I am now at the point of raising finances for it.  One way I plan to do this is to launch the bookshop as a co-operative scheme, where people would invest by buying shares.  I am sorting out the practical and legal side of this, but would like to know what interest there would be for this.  If you are interested at all, there is more information on the Buy Shares tab, including details of how to get in touch with me.

I have found a site that I think would be perfect, though have only seen it from the outside – a proper viewing is being arranged.  But it’s another thing that’s brought the venture one step closer – even if not this site, then somewhere else, and I want to have some finance in place, at least on paper!

So I would be very grateful if anyone interested would take the time to send me a quick email – would help to know what sort of investment you would consider making (ie how many shares).  No commitment, of course, but just so that I can see what level of interest there is.

Thank you!

The joy and rewards of re-reading novels

middlemarchRe-reading novels is an idea that seems to divide people.  Some people think that life’s too short; for the rest of us, re-reading is one of the most joyous things about being a novel-reader at all.  I often hear people say that life is too short to re-read things, or simply that they don’t see the point; but we often watch films several times, listen to songs and pieces of music lots and lots of times, look at paintings time and again.  Why are books different?  Some novels are certainly written simply to be read and passed on – entertainment, or just a good read, nothing more substantial.  I’m not criticising that, I read a lot of such novels and enjoy them immensely.  Sometimes we re-read books because we want to enjoy the experience all over again, or because they make us feel better in a dark world.  And really good, literary novels don’t give up their treasures all at once.  Some are dense and so full of things that you simply can’t take them all in at one reading.  Some use language in such a way that the full beauty and impact can only be appreciated from reading the book several times.  Some embed themselves in our lives, consciously and unconsciously.  A guest on the Radio 4 programme A Good Read talked of how she started reading T.S.Eliot’s Four Quartets in her teens, and has been re-reading and re-reading them ever since.  She still doesn’t understand everything in them, but she has absorbed the language, the ideas, the images and every so often she sees something or something happens, and a line comes into her mind.  She then feels closer to understanding the poem(s), and the intertwining of life and poetry is enriching.

I have just read a short article on re-reading that irritated me slightly at first – I didn’t read Great Expectations just for the plot the first time I read it, I have never been bored by Ethan Frome, and in fact it was my second reading of Wuthering Heights that made me want to throw it out of the window, I loved it the first time.  The article that mentions these is by Joan Wickersham in the Boston Globe

My two re-readings of Wuthering Heights were twenty years apart.  At the age of 18-20 (can’t quite remember) I absolutely loved it; at the age of about 40 I thought it was ridiculous.  This says more about me than about the book, and this is the point at which the article became much more interesting.  My favourite of all novels is George Eliot’s Middlemarch (I am very proud of the fact that Warwickshire is the birthplace of England’s – and I mean England not Britain! – two greatest writers, Shakespeare and Eliot).  This is what Joan Wickersham in the Boston Globe article says about the experience of reading and re-reading it:

The first time you read “Middlemarch,” most likely in college, you think it’s a book about other people. You would never steer your life in the wrong direction, like George Eliot’s sympathetic but misguided characters: Dorothea, who marries a man she thinks is a genius only to learn he’s a selfish, suspicious, shriveled-up pedant; Lydgate, the idealistic young doctor who falls for a narcissistic airhead; Fred, who keeps throwing money around even though the girl he desperately loves will marry him only if he stops throwing money around. They all start out with dreams and ambitions; life disappoints them and they disappoint themselves. Poor fools, you think.

When you read the book again — say in your 30s — you have a somewhat sickening fear that it’s a book about you. You haven’t made the same mistakes as George Eliot’s characters, but you’ve made different mistakes. You’ve had your own disappointments. Career plans that didn’t work out. Romantic missteps. Secrets you’ve kept, with disastrous results; secrets blurted out, equally disastrous. You’re still here, but you’re humbler, less lustrous. In short, you’ve lived.

And the more you go on living, the more prepared you will be to re-read “Middlemarch” yet again. This time you will realize that it isn’t a book about other people and it isn’t a book about you. It’s about all of us. In fact, it’s the broadest, most dimensional, most dispassionate, and most loving human panorama ever written. I reread it about a year ago, with a 77-year-old friend who was also re-reading. Almost every morning we would call each other to gossip about the inhabitants of Middlemarch, what they were up to and why. George Eliot’s town had become our town.

I love that – it’s close to my own experience, but is I think the point of reading any great novel.  Many of the novels that have survived from previous centuries have done so because they have this same quality.  They are not just about themselves, they are not just about us (though they are about both those things), they are about life.

So I try to encourage people to re-read.  Our relationship with a book changes as we change.  We don’t see ourselves changing, but re-reading Wuthering Heights after a 20-year gap showed me that I had changed, and showed me how.  I’m not sure if I’ll ever read Wuthering Heights again, but I really should – maybe when I’m 60, see what I make of it then.  I will definitely read Middlemarch again, several times – it really is the best novel.

As Joan Wickersham says at the end of that article:

Re-reading never gets old. The books change because we change. The great books get greater as we understand them better: reading them over and over, and knowing that we will never be finished.

My little shop will certainly encourage re-reading, and may provide on its shelves books you had forgotten you had read, as well as books you didn’t know you wanted to read.  I can’t wait!

[PS – Middlemarch was, of course, also adapted marvellously for television by Andrew Davies, longtime Kenilworth resident – definitely worth getting hold of on DVD!]

Exciting developments

mier_prod-1 (2)Well, I have had another meeting this morning with council members and one or two other local stalwarts, and came away not only feeling lots of love for the project, but even more great suggestions, contacts, ideas, practical help, etc, for my proposed bookshop.  I feel even more hopeful that I can set up some sort of humble beginning quite soon.  It’s all wonderful!

I also had a brilliant chat with another local small businessman, Nick the Baker at Crustum (see link under blogroll/websites on the right for a video of him talking about his small but fabulous bakery – am eating some of his cheese sodabread for lunch, and it’s divine!).  One of the great things that has happened even in these planning stages is that I have made contact with lots of local people, and am already feeling more part of the community.  There is a strong community spirit in Kenilworth, which is one of the reasons it feels like a great place to set up the kind of bookshop I want to create.

I have found a vacant shop that has great potential – I am trying to set up a visit, had to leave a voicemail message but will follow it up.  I now need to start thinking seriously about raising some funds; I plan to offer shares (see the Investing in the community tab), so watch this space – you too could invest in a lovely new independent community business!

Su Blackwell’s exquisite book sculptures

su-blackwell-book-sculpture.jpegIsn’t this beautiful?  Just wanted to share it.  It even has a tree house!  Su Blackwell’s book sculptures are just exquisite – have a look at more examples here:

I can’t stop looking at them, especially the ones with lots of trees.  (Did I mention anywhere that I love trees…?)

Start small, think big

mier_prod-1 (2)With any new venture, there are bound to be days when you wonder if you are really going to be able to achieve what you have set out to do.  Is passion, vision, determination, endless support, enough to see me over the obstacles which I know are ahead?  I hope so.  I have another meeting on Friday with council members and others, and am excited about that – a little overwhelmed, if truth be told, at how much practical support I am getting from the council.  Wonderful.

I have amazing support from friends too – one who is the most incredible, faithful sounding board and encourager, another who is brilliant at drawing and is being commissioned to design a more focused and original logo than the pretty but rather unexciting tree I am currently using (see the little image at the start of some of my posts).  We all need people who believe in us and in our ability to see things through, and I don’t take any of these people for granted.

So – after Friday I hope to know a little more about when and where I can start something low-key – coffee afternoons, or some kind of booksale in a room in the centre of town on a regular basis – but more than a booksale, a chance to explain the project and start to build a profile and gather a few followers, as a stepping stone to something bigger and more permanent.

I say low-key, but this is a crucial step – start small, think big.

Background image

You can see the full photograph used as the background image here if you click on the About page.  It’s a photo someone posted on Pinterest, and I love it.

Speaking of photographs, I am very covetous of these bookshelves…did I mention anywhere that I love trees?!  I can imagine a grove of these along one wall of a room…sigh.



mier_prod-1 (2)I’m a bit of an idealist, and a bit of a romantic.  Well, a lot of both, if truth be told.  A bit of a dreamer.  I loved Ally McBeal.  But I have a project here that requires me to use my head as much as my heart, and I am aware that however passionate I feel about this venture, there are some tough challenges ahead.

Well, I suppose there is only one real challenge ahead – the financial one.  I need to have enough money to rent premises, equip them with shelves and furniture and all the accoutrements a small business needs; to pay rates and electricity bills and all of that.  I need to generate enough income, once it’s up and running, to sustain the business and hopefully to make a bit of income to help support, in some small way, local charities and community events.

So I am balancing the ideals and the passion with a sobering reminder of what needs to be done on a financial and legal level.  This is not my forte, but I am learning a lot, as I read and talk to people.  I have a wizzo nephew who can do things like cashflow forecasts.  I am writing a business plan and taking advice and just about managing to get my head around what needs to be done.

The biggest challenge of all, though, is getting it all from paper – or computer screen – to reality.  Things always look good on paper.  To me, anyway…  I have to convince others that this is a project worth investing in.  I hope to set it up as a co-operative, a scheme that has been successful elsewhere, and which will make it truly a community venture.  If you are reading this and live in Kenilworth or nearby, please think about whether you might want to invest a small amount in a community project.  If you don’t live anywhere near Kenilworth, you might also want to think about this!  I am not ashamed to ask.  The rewards will be social rather than financial, but isn’t that something we all need right now?

So I am working out how to face the challenges, and how to become a businesswoman.  One thing I do know – without the idealism and the romantic ideas and the passion for what I want to do, I wouldn’t get anywhere at all.  I may be a dreamer, but it’s the dream that will get me there.

A word about trees

treeI love trees.  (The one pictured is in our glorious Abbey Fields.)  And not only because they provide the raw material for books, although I am supremely grateful to them for that!  I especially love decidous trees, because they change with the seasons, which is a wonderful thing to watch.  My favourite thing in the whole of nature is a mature oak tree.  They are great for hugging – they have wonderful bark that is rough yet soft, and although you can’t get your arms around the trunk, that is wonderful too, as the tree gives back a comforting sense of being bigger than you in every way, stronger, protective.  You may now be starting to write me off as a hippie kook, but while there is a litte hippieness in my heart and soul, I am simply someone who loves a tactile relationship with the things I love!

What does this have to do with secondhand bookshops?  Well, I have called my planned bookshop The Tree House in part because it reflects how important I think trees are in our world – the world would not survive without them and the oxygen they produce.  They are a crucial part of the ecosystem, providing habitats for all sorts of creatures, giving their leaves back to the soil, often producing food for humans as well as animals.  And thinking about my bookshop as a community project, that is very much the atmosphere I want to create – a sense of something firmly rooted in the community, providing a sheltering space that then branches out into the unknown.  That’s what a community hub can do, but more to the point it’s what books can do – that’s why I want to combine the two.  We live in an age where intellectual activities are not celebrated – and by intellectual I don’t mean that these activities are dry or purely cerebral or just for people who are very clever, but I mean activities that demand that we engage our brains, and encourage and enable us to strive to reach our potential by focusing on what is below the surface and engaging with other people and the world around us in a more thoughtful way.

Books are not just a means of passing the time, they are lifechanging experiences – the good ones, anyway!  They tell us more about what it is to be human, they feed our inner lives and our imaginations (another aspect of humanity that often seems a little underrated!), and make us more creative in our engagement with the world.

The tree is therefore a wonderful image for me of the heart of a reading community – deeply rooted, creating a sheltering and nurturing space, pushing us out into a richer existence as individuals and as a community.  Reading can do this!  And coming together around books and literary adventures is like planting a forest.

The government wants to sell off our forests.  Our libraries are under threat.  I see these two things as related – the very things that give life to our planet and our community are seen as superfluous when what is needed, supposedly, is to generate more wealth and get rid of spaces that do not do this.  We need trees; we need a sense of community.  We can all sit in our homes ordering books over the internet, or downloading them to our Kindles and Kobos and iPads, or we can protect our libraries and bookshops and share this fabulous experience of enjoying books and learning from each other.  You can’t browse properly on Amazon – who knows what you might find next to the book you are looking for in a bookshop?  You can’t savour an e-book, re-reading sections with ease and making notes in the margins.  (I know because I own a Kindle, and I’ve tried!  I am not against e-readers at all, they are jolly useful in some circumstances, but they do not provide the same experience and potential as reading a book.)

Well, in my opening post I asked if I was crazy, and decided I almost certainly was.  You may now think the certainty is even greater!  But I am passionate about books and reading and providing a space that focuses on books but also draws in, and reaches out to, the community in imaginative ways.  I want to make this happen in Kenilworth – I would love to think the good people of Kenilworth would love to see it happen too!