Shoes and ships and sealing wax

treehouse6I meant to post a link to the personal website I have been using while the shop is closed, and I forgot.  In case anyone is interested, you can find it here! You can even see videos of me in my pyjamas with lockdown hair (I cut it all off short one day near the start of lockdown). I can’t remember what I talk about, but it all seemed important at the time. I am in the process of making the most important one yet!

You’ll find details of Kenilworth Reads there, my attempt to get people in the town to read the same book, but I have failed to get my act together – there is still time!

I am waiting to see what the Human Haystack (aka our esteemed Prime Minister) says at the next lockdown review, in terms of reopening the bookshop.  If I do open in June, it will be on Saturdays only, as I work out how to do it as safely as possible, and the proceeds from those days will go to my fundraiser to help musicians, who have lost everything and seemingly for some time to come.

Anyway, just checking in – thank you to those who have missed us!  I hope everyone is OK and managing lockdown and hope to see some of you before too much longer.  I was really struggling with the physical side of the shop before we closed, but I now have a mobility scooter, so life is and will be a bit easier!  You may see/have seen me zooming around town on it.

Stay safe, stay well, keep reading.

Furlough

The bookshop, as you know, closed a couple of weeks ago, and I thought I would be able to carry on with some online things (including our Cicero Boxes), but we are now ceasing trading all together during the current crisis.  The Tree House is a limited company, and I am employed as its director; for the last 12 months I have been able to join up to PAYE and pay myself a small monthly wage.  My accountant has suggested that I should be furloughed, and so henceforth I am indeed on furlough, which means the company has ceased trading completely.  So no more Cicero boxes, and no more web posts for now.  We are also eligible, as a small retail business, for a government grant, and so I hope that in due course we will open again, along with all our high street neighbours in Kenilworth.  But I am not allowed to post on social media or here, as that implies the company is still operating.  I will be setting up a personal website, where I can post bits of art history and blog about books and music, and I will post a link here when I have done that.

I leave you with the song that Bob Dylan recently gifted to us – a song he wrote and recorded a number of years ago but has never released until now. It is partly about the assassination of JFK, but really it’s a hymn to 20th century American culture and the need for music in dark times and, written well before Trump came to power, it strikes me as a powerfully anti-Trump statement too.  It’s 17 minutes long and utterly glorious.  Listen to it several times, listen to the lyrics, and it will soon have you under its spell.  There’s no one like Bob.

Let’s try again…

nick reading 1Well that went well, didn’t it!  I did think restrictions on movement were coming, but went ahead anyway.  In light of the government edict, we won’t be able to do our book deliveries and mail order parcels.  However, I think we can still do our Cicero Boxes, and this is the perfect time of year to order one.  This is our monthly subscription scheme: two second-hand novels, a few flower seeds from Higgledy Garden, a bookmark and some sort of treat in the post each month.  £10pcm inc P&P.  Bargain!  And April is prime time for sowing flower seeds.

Why can I do this but not the other?  Well, I can go and retrieve a stock of books from the bookshop and at just two books per person, it will be easier to manage.  I can print off postage labels here and go to a post box as my daily exercise or food shop without having to go into a post office, as the boxes I use fit through a letterbox.

Normally I charge extra for a one-off box, but I won’t be doing that during this strange period.  So if you would like a box, let me know – contact form below.  Easiest just to do that in the first instance, and then we can discuss further details in email (you can still give me ideas about the sort of books you like/don’t like).  Also makes a lovely gift for a friend or relative you might not be seeing for a while.  The seeds can be grown in pots and windowboxes if you don’t have a garden.

A word about Higgledy Garden.  This is a wonderful little company – really just Benjamin Ranyard and his Viszla hound Flash, who live on a narrowboat.  They have a bit of help now from one or two others, as the business has grown.  Ben sells British flower seeds, and gives guidance on growing them, to create lovely cut flowers in your garden – though you don’t have to cut them of course!  Do have a look at the website, it’s lovely.

And why do I call them Cicero Boxes?  Well, Cicero, the great Roman orator, said that if you have a garden and a library, you have all that you need.  I think he forgot the single malt, but maybe that was assumed.  According to a Classicist friend, he actually said ‘a garden IN a library’, which sounds amazing, but no one quite knows what it means.  Maybe he had a very big library.  Anyway!  That’s why.

Get in touch below for any further info – or look at the Cicero Boxes tab, and ignore the bit about the different price for a single box.

Stay safe people!  For me, three weeks of enforced staying at home is a gift, but I am very lucky, as someone who lives alone, has a garden and is a natural introvert.  I know others are not so lucky in many ways.  But reading books and growing flowers are lovely things to do during a crisis.

 

Children’s books buy one, get one free for half-term

treehouse6I know it’s Thursday already, but there are still two days of our offer on children’s books!  Our books are cheap anyway – children’s fiction is mostly 60p-90p – but even better when you can get twice as much.  Bring the kids in to browse and stock up on a bit of reading; or they can sit in the treehouse and read for a bit while you browse for your own books – a good half-term activity in itself, and excellent value for the children’s pocket money.  We have lots of books in at the moment, and a few more boxes of children’s books to unpack today, so do come and have a look.  It’s windy – the market is cancelled – but we’ll be wind-free, and you may even be lucky enough to catch Nick Cave playing on the CD player.

nick hs2

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!