Advent book calendars

Because we were asked to supply a lot of children’s books to a school in Kurdistan, I haven’t been promoting our Advent books this year, worried that we wouldn’t have enough children’s books to make them.  We are low, but if anyone would like a bundle of 24 books, individually wrapped, one to open each day in Advent, we will do our best!  Time is short now, it’s only a week until the end of November, and this is for local people only.  We can do them for adults too, of course!

Prices are £15 for children, £25 for adults – if you have teenagers, it’s up to you whether you would like YA books (we don’t get that many…) or general fiction (which would be classed as a £25 calendar).  We can have them ready for next Saturday, or for the lights switch-on on Sunday 1 December (we’ll be open from 1pm).

This year I might even do one for myself!  So much better value than a normal Advent calendar, with the added bonus of enough reading material to get you through the dark days of winter still to come.  And great for Jolabokaflod, which I think we really should adopt in the UK!

So if you would like one, get in touch asap – orders later than Wednesday will be trickier!

advent books

Radio Abbey

Did you know that I am a DJ as well as a bookseller and Kenilworth’s most famous art historian?  (The latter title bestowed by Neil and Gayle, my great friends and fellow DJs, hosts of the wonderful Brunch with the Bradleys.)  I do two shows on local internet station Radio Abbey, one about books and folk music, one a celebration of nostalgic tunes from my youth – meant to get everyone dancing!  Here is this week’s episode of both.  BookFolk is on a Monday from 1-2pm, Old School Disco! is on Tuesdays from 6-7pm.  You can also Listen Again later.

Daytime art history at the Tree House Bookshop

monday art lecturesWe have had art lectures at the bookshop pretty much as long as the bookshop has been open (which, as an aside, is an amazing six and a half years!).  Mostly these have been evening lectures, but we are often asked about the possibility of daytime talks.  So this autumn there are art history talks on Monday mornings at 11.

The lecturer is me!  I am an art historian as well as a bookseller, with a PhD from Bristol University and 20 years of lecturing experience.  I still do a bit of professional teaching, but online (for Oxford University), which means I can do it from home in my pyjamas…perfect!  But now that we have the new projection equipment, lectures are even easier at the bookshop.  And even though it means I have to get dressed, it is all good fun.

Sometimes people say they feel daunted, and don’t come because they think it will be too highbrow or because they haven’t looked at paintings before.  But my lectures are informal, friendly, inclusive – suitable for all levels of knowledge, which sounds a tall order, but it isn’t really.

My specialisation is in the art of Northern Europe in the Renaissance (15th and 16th centuries), but I do a few other things as well, including tracing what I call the Northern Tradition through the Dutch 17th century, German Romanticism in the early 19th century, and into the 20th century, and of course I look at Italian Renaissance and late medieval art too.  This all sounds very grand, but the key is simply taking a painting and looking at it, and that’s what a lecture is for: you can read about art in books and on the internet, you can go to galleries, but a lecture gives you the opportunity to explore and discuss and ask questions and spend time looking closely with a guide and some fellow-explorers.  Paintings – and the labels that go with them – become much less daunting when you do this.

I have mentioned paintings, but my PhD subject was sculpture, which in Germany is an incredible thing in the Renaissance, and prints, which grew out of the development of printed books in the 15th century.  It’s all marvellous!

So if you’re free on a Monday morning, do come along at 11 o’clock – or if you prefer an evening talk, I still do those on Tuesday evenings once or twice a month.  Lectures are £8 on the door, including coffee/tea, and last about an hour plus time for questions.

This coming Monday, 28 October, I’ll be talking about the greatest European painter of the 15th century: Rogier van der Weyden.  A bold claim, but a genuine one!  Why have you heard of Botticelli, who is not as good nor as important/influential, but not of Rogier van der Weyden?  I can tell you that too if you come along.

Victoria (aka Dr Vic, or Doc Tors as some Bristol friends used to call me!)

Film club launch, Friday 25 October – free screening!

There is a lot going on at the bookshop this autumn…to be kept up to date, it’s a good idea to join our mailing list!  I am not the world’s most efficient promoter (ahem…) but the more avenues you follow to find out what’s going on, the less likely you are to miss something!  So if you’re on Facebook or Twitter, do follow the Tree House Bookshop there too, and I will be working extra hard to keep all the different media up to date.

This Friday we are launching our new film club with a free screening of The Philadelphia Story.  We’d love a few more to sign up to the club to pay for the licence!  Our new equipment is working very well, it’s a joy to use – thank you to Mustard Presentations of Coventry for an excellent job! – and the films and lectures we have had so far have elicited very positive responses from the audiences.  So do join us on Friday if you can!  Film starts at 7.30pm.

More soon about other things that will be happening!

Tree House Bookshop Film Club

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.