August is always a quiet month in bookselling. The heady rush of pre-holiday sales when customers stock up on the latest hysterical/historical bodice-rippers and secret squirrel espionage titles to doze over by the pool is over now. Of course I don’t mean everyone, you are better than that, I know you bought Anthony Beevor’s worthy tome on The Second World War and are currently spilling sangria on pages devoted to the Soviet invasion of northern China.
But go on, admit it, you secretly hanker after a peek at Shades of Grey (in the interest of research naturally) don’t you? I speak as one who spent a month in the Himalayas with a friend whose idea of holiday reading was a history of the Hapsburgs (volume two naturally) so often left ostentatiously by the campfire whilst he read my trashy novels. And of course printed book summer sales are declining anyway as Kindles come into their own at holiday time. You need no longer run out of clean underwear five days up the mountain because you had to carry an extra book in case it rained.
Anyway, as I said, a quiet month, August. September sees the new titles, the flood of books released to capture the Christmas market, but little new comes out in August. This year is even more tranquil than usual as the world, transfixed by the Games or terrified by the threatened traffic disruptions, fails to beat a path to our doors in Kew. If you are at a loose end, come out. It is nice out here in the leafy southwest. Have a picnic by the pond, watch the swans, go up to the map room and call up that huge mapa mundi, you will have the elbow room to enjoy it at the moment. Pop into the bookshop even, Mike’s on holiday so the maps need tidying but we have some new cards and the 2013 diaries are in (I never know whether to be impressed or sorry for those who buy next year’s diary in August – I feel I am tempting fate to plan that far ahead).
The Booker list is out of course and the literati (e-literati has a completely different implication don’t you think?) will debate as to what was and wasn’t included. Hilary Mantel is in with Bring Up the Bodies which is wonderful but of course won’t win (it’s a sequel my dear and the first one won, two would just be greedy). But buy it anyway and do it now, in hardback. Vanquish your inner cheapskate. It is just a lovely book to hold with that burnished gold cover with the red falcon. A triumph of the jacket designer’s art – reflects the content, attracts the eye, makes you want to stroke it –you don’t get that with the e-book edition and the paperback cover won’t be as nice, although either of these will give you a fabulous story. It even better than Wolf Hall, I think, tighter and more focussed and Mantel is just brilliant at making history immediate whilst maintaining verisimilitude, none of that fast and loose with the facts you saw in the lamentable Tudors Do Television.
Two historical (ish) novels which didn’t make the list which I thought should have been there were Peter Carey’s The Chemistry of Tears and John Saturnall’s Feast by Lawrence Norfolk. The Carey is delicious: two interwoven stories of love and loss separated by time which explores the line between grief and madness – I defy you not to cry. The Norfolk is not out yet, coming in September but I have an advance, one of the perks of bookselling. It is a sensuous treat set during the Civil War mixing food, love and witchcraft round a hero with the palate of Heston and the passion of Tristan. You can pop into the shop and pre-order it, or just let us know who you think should win the Booker.