New year in the bookshop

Swan and Edgar winter clearance sale (catalogue reference: COPY 1/995)

Swan and Edgar winter clearance sale (catalogue reference: COPY 1/995)

New Year, new you. It’s the time of resolutions (which you won’t keep), spring cleaning and detox. This will be the year you climb a mountain, learn a language or meet the love of your life (an improvement on what I heard about your last year – but as they say ‘that was in another country, and besides the wench is dead‘). It is also the time of the sales. Even more so this year, I hear. If we believe the press, people are spending more often but cannier, looking for bargains, sniffing out sales, googling our little hearts out in search of the perfect purchase.

Trust me – it isn’t another pair of black trousers. I know they will go with everything and black is flattering – but so is candlelight and unless you had a particularly foodtastic Christmas this year and are trying to hide those hippo hips I don’t see you pulling out the fuses and trimming the wicks of an evening. And indeed if you did over indulge why not splash out on a slanket. They are warm and cosy, keep your hands free for turning the page and you could hide in one until spring when the results of the cabbage soup diet will have taken effect and you can emerge like a butterfly from the chrysalis.

In the bookshop we are in sale of course. Retailers are like sheep, we follow the herd. I least I hope it is sheep, the way independent bookshops are going it could well be lemmings and I don’t have a head for heights. So yes we launched our online sale on Boxing Day and even now we are huddled in the basement packing up parcels to send to the canny shopper. We spend months ahead of the sale scouring suppliers, groveling to reps and pouncing on offers to ensure we have enough sale stock, an array of tantalizing titles at jaw-dropping prices. All so we can persuade you to spend your play money on books. See how much we care.

Dina Souhami's book on Edith Cavell

Dina Souhami’s book on Edith Cavell

So now is the time to restock your bookshelf at bargain prices. There are months of cold dark weather ahead. I know it’s been mild so far but this is England. It will rain, you will get a cold and you are not getting out of those woolly tights before May at best (August if you haven’t sufficiently propitiated the weather gods). Given you will be stuck at home hiding from the elements you should make the best of it: put the kettle on, huddle down by the fire and open a good book.

How about a biography of Edith Cavell? Diana Souhami’s (a snip at £3.99) is a fabulous read illuminating the life of the vicar’s daughter shot as a spy in the First World War and how her image was callously manipulated by the powers that be. Souhami’s biography is particularly good as, rather than descending into pure hagiography, she shows how truly selfless heroines were probably tremendously irritating to work with.

Something lighter? Consider the Victorian guide to healthy living. The 19th century was not the time of heath spa mini-breaks and a personal trainer with rippling pecs, but Dr Thomas Allison’s advice on exercise and a wholefood diet still strikes a chord today.

I have all three volumes of Pat Barker’s Regeneration in Penguin paperbacks for £9.99 (there is nothing like a well-matched set) If you haven’t read Barker yet you must. This is an insightful examination of the effects of the First World War on the minds of a generation. The tragedy of healing young men only to send them back to the front and fully illustrates the power of ‘faction’ to draw the reader in through a story which seamlessly merges the real and the imagined. Read or reread this now before the movie of Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth opens on 16 January (in fact, read Vera too – there’s plenty of time it gets dark early and as you’ve given up alcohol for January there’s no point in going to the pub and telly at this time of year is dire).


If you are one of those terribly organized people you could even do your Christmas shopping now and squirrel a few books away to give as gifts next year. I know – not me either, the only times I’ve tried this I’ve fallen out with the person for whom that so carefully chosen present was selected well before the wine was mulled and the cards written. That said, if you chose a book you can always read it yourself – indeed if you adopt the reading style of the professional shop assistant you can read it first anyway (hold the book vertically, open no further than an inch to avoid damaging the spine and, above all, clean fingers).

My final recommendation is Wartime nursery rhymes. I love this book – as is evidenced by the fact that I bought in truckloads and seeing as I failed to convince the online Christmas buyer of the necessity of putting one in every stocking I am now obliged to sell them off cheap. It is a perfect capsule collection of popular rhymes rewritten to help children understand the realities of the war (the First World War that is). Children were obviously tougher then and there wasn’t thought to be a need to shield the little darlings from the more gruesome aspects. This has resulted in some seriously dark humour – if you like The Wipers Times you will love this. Let me leave you with a taster:

Three blind mice

Dancing along

Singing a song

They all got hit by a German gun

While crossing a field just outside of Verdun

They don’t care for they can still run

These three blind mice.



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