Category Archives: Essays

Bookshops – Jorge Carrión

Why do bookshops matter? How do they filter our ideas and literature? In this inventive and highly entertaining extended essay, Jorge Carrion takes his reader on a journey around the world, via its bookshops. His travels take him to Shakespeare & Co in Paris, Wells in Winchester, Green Apple Books in San Francisco, Librairie des Colonnes in Tangier, the Strand Book Store in New York and provoke encounters with thinkers, poets, dreamers, revolutionaries and readers.

Bookshops is the travelogue of a lucid and curious observer, filled with anecdotes and stories from the universe of writing, publishing and selling books. A bookshop in Carrion’s eyes never just a place for material transaction; it is a meeting place for people and their ideas, a setting for world changing encounters, a space that can transform lives.

Written in the midst of a worldwide recession, Bookshops examines the role of these spaces in today’s evershifting climate of globalisation, vanishing high streets, e-readers and Amazon. But far from taking a pessimistic view of the future of the physical bookshop, Carrion makes a compelling case for hope, underlining the importance of these places and the magic that can happen there. A vital manifesto for the future of the traditional bookshop, and a delight for all who love them.

This was picked up on a whim when it first came out. Suckered into it, I’ll admit, by rave reviews from the media. which were hurriedly found on the trusty phone whilst protectively holding the last copy close.  This sounds like it should be a good book to fuel the passion of a reader for (more) books and the shops they find themselves in. Sadly I found myself underwhelmed after a couple of chapters.

It is an interesting read in parts, celebrating bookshops is a great idea of course but the disconnect for this reader came partly from the lack of small bookshops, they are forgotten with all the razzmatazz of their bigger cousins.  Showcasing well known or popular bookshops is good but the lesser known and equally (arguably more interesting) smaller shops would create, not only a nice contrast but are also something that more people can relate to, especially as they have their own charm and mysticism.

As this is a translation, it’s understandable that some of the phrases seem a bit out of place, however quite a lot of it feels like notes taken and left in the final draft.  There are many occasions when authors, shops and subjects are touched upon in the same paragraph with bewildering speed and change of subject.  It’s fairly sprawling in its name dropping both of obscure and common authors, publishers and so on but it feels like a very mixed bag overall.

Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on 19/03/2018 in Essays, Travel


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The Trial of Henry Kissinger – Christopher Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens goes straight for the Jugular in The Trial of Henry Kissinger. Under his fearsome gaze, the former Secretary of State and National Security Advisor is accused of being a war criminal whose reckless actions and heinous disregard for international law have led to torture, kidnapping and murder.

This book is a polemical masterpiece by a man who, for over forty years, was the Anglosphere’s pre-eminent man of letters.  In The Trial of Henry Kissinger, Hitchens’ verve, style and firebrand wit are on show at the height of their potency. 

The Trial of Henry Kissinger is certainly an eye-opening read and a devastating attack on both his character and many of his actions – which had a significant impact on thousands of lives around the world – showing him (with supporting documents) to be a morally bankrupt man.  As the quote on the back cover of the book from the Literary Review says:

‘This book is so stupidly defamatory that if Kissinger values his reputation, he really must sue’

The silence on this matter, from the Nobel Peace Prize winner himself really does speak volumes.

Chronicling the different events Kissinger was a part of – a litany of manufactured, supported and prolonged wars,  and sabotaged peace talks, all a tale of so many lives ruined and lost needlessly, – it is frightening to see how he moved through successive U.S. governments with his power intact.   Hitchens is clearly no lover of the man but as ever, his arguments are reasoned, razor-sharp and not afraid to court controversy.  There is a term ‘Hitchslap’ that does the rounds that is often used for his most incisive commentary and this is certainly a good example of the term.

One of the most telling pieces of information is that Kissinger’s papers (the ones he classified as personal, when it is suspected many are incriminating) are under lock and key at the Library of Congress and can only be opened after Kissinger dies thanks to the agreement beforehand.  Of course being in the public interest a subpoena would most likely open it up (and a huge can of worms) but there in lies the issue. Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on 19/02/2018 in Essays, History, Journalism


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The Secret Library: A Book-Lovers’ Journey Through Curiosities of History – Oliver Tearle

The Secret Library is a fascinating tour through the curious history of Western civilisation told through its most emblematic invention – the book.

As well as leafing through the well-known titles that have helped shape the world in which we live, Oliver Tearle also dusts off some of the more neglected items to be found hidden among the bookshelves of the past.

You’ll learn about the forgotten Victorian novelist who outsold Dickens, the woman who became the first published poet in America and the eccentric traveller who introduced the table-fork to England. Through exploring a variety of books – novels, plays, travel books, science books, cookbooks, joke books and sports almanacs – The Secret Library highlights some of the most fascinating aspects of our history. It also reveals the surprising connections between various works and historical figures. What links Homer’s Iliad to Aesop’s Fables? Or Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack to the creator of Sherlock Holmes?

The Secret Library brings these little-known stories to light, exploring the intersections between books of all kinds and the history of the Western world over 3,000 years.

Books about books are great, they reaffirm our love for the medium and encourage us to go out and buy more, not to mention the exciting finds of obscure literature that can be shared and kept alive by intrepid reading adventurers.

What drew me to the book originally was the cover. Who can resist looking at a cover that has a bit cut out of it?  Stripping off the cloak, rows and rows of books are seen, as through the key hole.  It’s a nice touch and puts the reader in mind of being close to discovering lots of new books, always a good feeling.

This history of sorts is broken down into eras of Western civilisation and the chronological order is as follows: The Classical Age, The Middle Ages, The Renaissance, The Age of Enlightenment, The Age of Romanticism, The Victorians, The Americans, On the Continent, The Modern World.  There is a lot to be enjoyed in each age but it would have been fun to have read about the other continents, but then that was not the remit of the book so hopefully a future book of the sort could grace the shelves. Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on 14/07/2017 in Essays, History


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Full of Secrets: Critical Approaches to Twin Peaks – David Lavery

Full of Secrets contains virtually everything you need to know about Twin Peaks. This fascinating collection of essays considers David Lynch’s politics, the enigmatic musical score, and the show’s cult status, treatment of violence, obsession with doubling, and silencing of women. Also included are a director and writer list, a cast list, a Twin Peaks calendar, a complete scene breakdown for the entire series, and a comprehensive bibliography.

What a comeback event the first few episodes of the third season  of Twin Peaks was. No doubt one of the seminal shows of television history, this book analyses the first two seasons and prequel film Fire Walk With me but rest assured as ever, there are no spoilers contained anywhere within this review.

The twelve detailed analyses contained in this collection are part of the fascinating world of deconstruction that never ceases to revolve around this enigmatic show.  It is a shame, then, that it is such a challenge to tease out the interesting bits from a lot of overblown posturing.

Any attempt to intellectualise Twin Peaks (as written by these authors all with a Ph.d) will predictably straddle the fine line between pretentious and sometimes insightful.  There is a lot called on here to illustrate points from art and literature all the way through to Semiotics.  It underlines the point that when something is a mystery, more obscure references must be pulled in to explain points and thus widen and convolute the original enigma.

The selection of subjects is of varying interest, the internet chatrooms – in their infancy in the early 90’s – is interesting, as the state of US TV and how programmes are marketed to different demographics. Any mention of Umberto Eco is always likely to make my day as well. Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on 23/05/2017 in Essays, TV


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Booked Out

After redeeming a Waterstones stamp card and claiming back all my amassed points, this book haul was cheap for its size, the entirety of which set me back a paltry £17.98, of which most was spent in second-hand bookshops.


First off was a trip to the charity shops where I found a my first Virago – a publisher beloved by so many on here – and then a second, bookended by yet more recommendations and at the price it would have been silly not to.


Visiting the wonderfully named Mrs Lofthouse’s Second Hand Book Emporium, I expected great things, but the above collection is sadly all I found, the fiction section in particular was deeply lacking in-depth to my mind.  I wanted to pick up more but there was little else of note and thus came away with quality instead of quantity. Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on 14/10/2016 in Essays, Fiction, Lists/Ephemera, Travel


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Howards End is on the Landing – Susan Hill

LandingLightsEarly one autumn afternoon in pursuit of an elusive book on her shelves, Susan Hill encountered dozens of others that she had never read, or forgotten she owned, or wanted to read for a second time. The discovery inspired her to embark on a year-long voyage through her books, forsaking new purchases in order to get to know her own collection again.

A book which is left on a shelf for a decade is a dead thing, but it is also a chrysalis, packed with the potential to burst into new life. Wandering through her house that day, Hill’s eyes were opened to how much of that life was stored in her home, neglected for years. Howard’s End is on the Landing charts the journey of one of the nation’s most accomplished authors as she revisits the conversations, libraries and bookshelves of the past that have informed a lifetime of reading and writing.

After the disappointment of Anne Fadiman’s Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader, I needed something which would encourage me more in my bookish ways (as well as reinforce my reasons to unashamedly buy more) and this one does just that.  It views the personal landscape of a famous author’s reading life, in which she doesn’t buy any books for a year – something I tried once and it made me feel miserable – and focuses on the ones she has.

As well as her detailed bibliophilic thoughts, there is also talk of fonts, titles and years of accumulating books and the associated memories of where they were brought and the circumstance of the time, it’s an autobiographical insight into Hill and her influences.  There are chapters about authors, genres and attitudes all with plenty of anecdotes which allows the reader to get to know her somewhat.

A litany of authors and aspects of the fine art of reading are discussed and it’s good to be reminded that spending time with one’s own carefully built collection can be as rewarding as reading from it.  It seems easy sometimes to take for granted what we have and see everyday and we probably forget just how rich our lives for having them so close at hand.

There are diversity of genres (albeit, mostly fiction) and authors discussed, it’s all agreeable and amiable in its way, especially in the chapter ‘It Ain’t Broke’ which argues against the charmless e-reader.  Howards End is Not on the Landing gives an excuse to hoard more books but also it’s a lament to the ones sadly abandoned or worse not read; as well as an encouragement to explore the obscurantism of books, to delve into the lesser known and pass on the gems to other lucky and voracious readers.

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Posted by on 21/08/2016 in Autobiography, Book Memories, Essays


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Arguably – Christopher Hitchens

AnotherHitchSlapChristopher Hitchens (1949-2011) was a matchless writer, debater and humanist. Throughout his life he shone the light of reason and truth into the eyes of charlatans and hucksters, exposing falsehood and decrying hypocrisy wherever he found it. With his passing, the world has lost a great soul, the written word one of its finest advocates and those who stand for freedom everywhere have lost one of their clearest voices.

Arguably collects Hitchens’ writing on politics, literature and religion when he was at the zenith of his career; it is the indispensable companion to the finest English essayist since Orwell.

The joys of learning about scintillating new books, of stories both fact and fiction is tempered by the sheer amount and scope of the eclectic selection already on offer.  The never-ending list of books I need to read has grown by around fifty books since reading this tome but on the other hand I will never be short of a quality read..

It turns out, if this book is anything to go by, that I am distinctly under read, despite my best efforts to the contrary.  I shall not let that soul-destroying revelation ruin my enjoyment of what is a magnificent set of essays, that should be required reading for all those who love to learn and think for themselves.

The finite amount of time that the reader has to tackle such a broad base of literature is at best daunting and at worst obscenely short.  As one who rushes from one to the other in a futile battle to read and process them all; whilst simultaneously collecting even more avenues of enquiry, it occurs that all I can do is horde these treasures (read and unread) to one day pass on to another enquiring mind who will appreciate them.

In these days of ignorant and woefully ill-informed internet commentors and the prevalence of lazy journalism, it is refreshing to not only be able to read a literate and educated voice but also one that knows no fear in not only arguing but backing up said points with actual facts and a clarity that is most welcome.  Being critical is a right afforded to citizens in  many (not enough) countries and it should be used in debate to better ourselves, Hitchens was one man who never shied from giving his opinion and we should be thankful for his body of work. Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on 14/08/2016 in Essays, History, Journalism, Philosophy, Politics


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