What a fantastic fortnight of authors! We have enjoyed a flurry of visits over the last couple of weeks at Booka, showcasing the great variety of new publishing this summer. Back in June, we introduced “Three to Read”, asking our visiting authors to give us three great reads they would recommend; here are our latest, showcasing the brilliant local writers who have been joining us at Booka.
Alix Nathan, The Warlow Experiment
How long could a man survive underground, with every luxury, but no human contact? This is the dark question posed by Nathan in her brilliant new historical novel The Warlow Experiment. Inspired by a real 18th-century historical advert, Nathan’s novel imagines the reality of such an experiment, laying bare the beauty and depravity of the human mind.
- Penelope Fitzgerald, The Gate of Angels (1990). Shortlisted for the Booker Prize, this historical novel is set in a fictional Cambridge University College in 1912. A young physics student and impoverished nurse are strangers, but after an accident, they are assumed to be husband and wife, and wake up in the same bed. Love, deceit and courtroom drama ensue in this beautiful, yet short novel.
- George Eliot, Middlemarch (1871-2). Described as “probably the best novel in the English language” (Martin Amis), and adored by the likes of Virginia Woolf, Florence Nightingale and Emily Dickenson, Middlemarch defies an easy summary. At over 700 pages, it is not a quick read, but in charting the lives of a complex cast of characters in a time of great social and cultural change, it is worth the investment.
- Mary Costello, The China Factory (2015). This collection of twelve short stories from Irish author Costello feature a diverse group of individuals: an elderly teacher, a school leaver, a dying man, a young gardener, a housewife, a young mother, a ten-year-old girl, a school inspector, an insomniac. These powerful stories mix beautifully observed everyday events with lifechanging moments in time.
Susannah Stapleton, The Adventures of Maud West, Lady Detective
Stapleton joined us on a double day of author visits in conversation with fellow author James Hannah to discuss her new biography about the enigmatic lady detective Maud West. Starting with just a description of a photograph, Stapleton set out on a detective mission of her own to unearth the truth about this fascinating woman, and the ‘truth’, it turned out, was far from clear cut.
- Lissa Evans, Old Baggage (2018). What happens if you realised that your life is probably never going to be exciting again? This would be especially true if in your youth, you had been a suffragette, been imprisoned and force-fed, gone on marches and heckled Winston Churchill. This is Matilda Simpkin’s life, until she makes a discovery in her middle-age that could bring her a whole new chapter of adventure.
- Alexander Masters, A Life Discarded (2017). In 2001, 148 grubby notebooks were found discarded in a skip in Cambridge. Astonishingly, they chronicled nearly half a century of their writer’s life. Award-winning biographer Masters takes on the role of detective, analysing these profoundly personal accounts, and striving to discover the true identity of “I”. Prepare to be moved, entertained and astonished.
- Laura Cummings, The Vanishing Man (2017) In another award-winning biography, Cummings charts the adventures of a Reading bookseller John Snare. In 1845 Snare believed he had uncovered a long-lost painting by Velázquez at a quiet country auction. Setting out to prove the provenance of his new purchase, Snare instead finds fame, ruin and exile. In researching his life, Cumming uncovers an unexpected discovery of her own.
Mike Parker, On the Red Hill
Parker started his memorable event reading a poem about Oswestry by the fascinating Elizabethan poet and all-round character Thomas Churchyard. On the Red Hill is a social, geographical and historical memoir of love and landscape in changing seasons and times. At Booka, Parker explained how On the Red Hill was a homage to Bruce Chatwin’s On the Black Hill (1982), which features as one of his “Three to Read”.
- Melissa Harrison, All Among the Barley (2018). Set in an idyllic rural autumn in 1933, Edie’s community is still coming to terms with the changes brought by the Great War. When charismatic writer Constance arrives from London to research fading rural traditions, Edie is captivated and torn. As the harvest comes, Edie must find a way to protect her community and save herself from danger.
- Neil Ansell, The Last Wilderness: A Journey into Silence (2018). Ansell spent his entire life visiting the remotest parts of the country. He enjoyed the silence these locations brought, far away from urban bustle. But silence took on a new meaning for him, when he began to lose his hearing, and all the bird song he loved began to fade. A beautiful account of sound and quiet.
- Bruce Chatwin, On the Black Hill (1982). Parker explained the impact this novel had on him when writing On the Red Hill. He recently wrote an article for the Guardian about important queer rural books, particularly reflecting on the paradox of the countryside being a place both to escape from, and escape to. His article is definitely worth a read.
Booka is really proud to have hosted so many outstanding local authors this summer: Mike Parker from Machynlleth, Susannah Stapleton from South Shropshire and Alix Nathan from Bishop’s Castle. This is one of the joys of being a local, independent bookshop. We hope to see you in Booka over the summer, and please subscribe here for our newsletter, latest posts and upcoming events.