So, what does a bookseller do on her days off?
Well, this one (appropriately enough) has been reading.
But reading with a purpose. I have just finished reading 51 books in 44 days. The purpose? Suggesting the shortlist from the longlist for the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize 2018.(I am only one of many booksellers who volunteered for this, but it’s the first time I’ve read a whole long list and had any form of input into the shortlist)
I have to confess, it was a bit of a challenge, particularly as I have sprogs of my own (v time-consuming!), and possibly the most important book this year was published as half term approached (some book about Dust, let the reader understand).
What was particularly interesting about reading such a number of (children’s) books in a specified period of time was the discipline and the variety. Not since school have I had my reading prescribed. Of course, I judged the books immediately, whether by their covers, what I already knew about them, which category they were in, and so on. However, I had to put that aside as I began to read, judging the books by their individual merit in the three categories.
Each book was a debut. That in itself was fascinating. Almost every novel was so assured, confident in its own voice and purpose, an immense achievement for each author and publishing team behind them.
A few stood out from the moment I opened the (enormous) box. Others looked unassuming but their stories drew me in. A couple of the initial stand outs were truly wonderful.
One of the joys of working as a bookseller is that I am able to enthusiastically thrust these books into customer’s hands, as well as those of my children, friends, family and colleagues. I can have a very small part to play in sharing imaginative and important stories, and perhaps even helping along a book’s success.
For this book prize there are three categories: illustrated books, 5-12 years, 12 plus years.
The 5-12 category has an enormous range within it; it is the category is most interested in ( having children -just about – within that range helps) and the stories were all excellent! A range of real-life scenarios, some very difficult, challenging issues dealt with, lots of jokes and funny scenarios, gigantic leaps of the imagination, a big dollop of magic and fantasy. There was death, separation, illnesses, mental distress, physical pain, broken families, but all contained within ultimately safe boundaries.
Similarly, the illustrated books had stories of anger, greed, loneliness, fear, family, ignorance, conservation, in addition to some excellent factual books.
The 12 plus, YA, category was where the boundaries were not so secure, the issues were let loose a little more, to roam more freely in the wilds of a more dangerous world. The language was certainly, understandably and appropriately, stronger. Situations were not always resolved, the ‘magic’ did not always work, endings were more hopeful than happy.
What united almost all the books was the search for identity, one’s place in the world. Whether on a small or large scale, how do we find our unique place in our surroundings? What role do our parents, backgrounds, circumstances, material advantages or disadvantages, society, intelligence, encouragement or setbacks play in the eventual outcome?
I loved the challenge to read so many books in such a short space of time. I have now have read and enjoyed books books I may have otherwise passed by. At times, I found myself feeling restricted (so many lovely books piling up on my TBR pile!); it felt as though I had my English coursework hanging over me. But the process was not too taxing (only short feedback required) and I am now much better read in this year’s children’s books. Which is useful in my line of work…!
I have an absolute stand out favourite. Of course I can’t reveal which book it is but if you meet me at work, I will probably press it into your hands with great passion, urging you to read it, regardless of your age or gender. More on that later (perhaps).
But now I’m wondering which ‘adult’ novel I can read as a palate cleanser. Any suggestions?