Archive January 2011

Two Roads January Book Club members

The inaugural Two Roads book clubbers

Guest Blogger: Francesca Best, Assistant Editor, Hodder & Stoughton

On Friday lunchtime the inaugural Two Roads Book Club met, and over cheese and piccalilli sandwiches ten of us from Hodder, Two Roads and John Murray discussed Wallace Stegner’s Crossing to Safety. It was a choice inspired by Will Schwalbe’s End of Your Life Book Club, which will be published by Two Roads in March 2012.

Our discussion kicked off with all of us wondering why we had never heard of Stegner (an American author) before. His writing is wonderful, warm, honest, witty at times and always sensitive; Crossing to Safety has the feel of a classic. Ostensibly set over the course of one day, the story is laid out as a series of flashbacks, beginning in depression-era America, and charting practically a lifetime of its characters. It seems timeless,

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yet surprisingly it was written relatively recently, in 1987.

Crossing to Safety book coverNarrated by Larry Morgan, it follows his and

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his wife Sally’s friendship with another married couple, Sid and Charity Lang. Both men are academics, as Stegner was – in fact we wondered how much of an autobiographical element there was to the book. We agreed it was refreshing that the story involved no wife-swapping, instead the drama is provided by the ups and downs of friendship, the quiet triumphs and tragedies of normal lives.

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I love weekends,  especially in winter.  Nothing nicer than snuggling into the sofa with the newspapers, the fire, tea and a good book. Peace, happiness.

Before diving into the nest I was finally going to sort the shelves in the hall today. I have had good intentions for six months now.   They look like they’ve been burgled (by me mainly).    I walk past them every day and worry that Architecture is in a muddle and Travel is a mess of brochures, maps and guide books.  I have also never managed to resolve the Athens – under A or G? dilemma.  There’s a half-finished attempt to mix practical with country reading lists a la Travel Bookshop / Daunt’s.  (I got as far as Africa, because that starts with A.  Hardly half really.)   Oh look – there’s the daughter’s driving theory handbook in the middle of an abandoned attempt to categorise all the London books and a rogue copy of the the Top 10 Things to do in Brussels (really? 10?)  is cosying up to Secret London for inspiration.   This will not do.

I worry that much of the TBR pile has migrated to these shelves,  possibly(but not entirely) because they were sitting on a radiator in my room and cooking.    I badly need to have a cull (I tried taking books to the local library but was told it was too much work to categorise them and would I please take them away again).


Why do I have so many copies of railway mysteries and books about the Underground – I hadn’t realised till I put them together that there was a bit of a theme going.   In which life did I think I’d have time to read Bolano? I clearly have a crush on Edith Wharton since going to her house. I still think Three Men in a Boat is one of the funniest books ever. I’m grateful that in all my travels I have managed to hang onto my aunt’s cast copy of Under Milk Wood from the 1960s. We have two shelves of childhood Harry Potters and not a first edition among any of them.  Bugger. I have so many books about books (Fadiman/Hill/Spufford etc) that I can feel another category coming on.

Wasted an agreeable amount of time looking at some lovely shelves on blogs and endless sites devoted to the joy of bookshelves,  other people’s achievements, some hilarious American videos of a woman rearranging a mere dozen books, pictures of libraries and  daffying about generally.  New dilemma: vertical or horizontal stacking? Nothing tangible has happened in the hall.   The books are still  on the floor.

Tidying books or finishing one? It’s  an obvious choice.  Kettle’s boiled.


Iris on Books

Bookshelf Porn


Architectural Digest – faintly preposterous libraries

New York magazine – apartments with libraries, envy making

Publishers are supposedly renowned for not going the distance with books. Actually, in my experience this just isn’t true. If we love the book, we defy logic or common sense with our outraged loyalty (family and friends are particularly at risk here). Ask any publisher and they’ll have a story about a fabulous book that just never sold or reached its full potential. Everything was lined up but the magic just didn’t happen.

In the UK, Water For Elephants is such a book: a fantastic piece of story telling that deserves a wide and appreciative audience . It’s a love story set during a fascinating period in 20th century history, it’s dark and violent in places, it’s a murder mystery with a cast of grifters, freaks and star crossed lovers and one very large elephant.

In the States, the book has sold over three million copies, spent years on the New York Times bestseller list and I believe it’s practically illegal for a book group not to read it. Internationally, it’s been sold in over 30 territories. Yet, despite extremely respectable sales, in the UK the blue touch paper of high profile chart success remains unlit. It’s not been on the radar of the ‘civilian’ (the non-book world) world. That is, until now, when things are about to change.

The movie, starring Reese Witherspoon, Robert Pattinson and Christoph Waltz, opens in early May and looks terrific. This is not always the case with love book/love film (e g Captain Corelli – oh dearie me but One Day and Never Let Me Go seem safe) but with what I know I feel confident. We have the trailer on the Water For Elephants page of this site – judge for yourself. The movie (and the actors) will bring the book to a whole new audience. Many of this new audience may never see the film, but want to read the book and many will be brought to the book

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through the stars. Note to Twilight fans – this book is very much shorter than what you’re used to.

So, tenacity may yet pay off. I first published Water For Elephants in 2006 and since then I have put five different covers on it over five formats. The movie tie in will be its sixth outing. My colleagues and I have evangelised about this for five years and now, and now…

… the moral of this blog? Never give up!

As discussed, I have no time for resolutions but I love a new year for the fresh start.  Christmas is lovely, but frankly I’d heave the Christmas tree out on Boxing Day, pack the decs away, shouting that’s it chaps and concentrate on the main game: eating my own body weight in Maltesers, watching TV or boxed sets or movies (where I am pretty indiscriminate) and reading other people’s books  (where I am not).

But then comes January and it’s back to work.  It’s a lovely feeling to stare down the empty wastes of one’s Outlook calendar and think anything is possible.  It’s also  a lovely feeling to go into work one day early and clear out all the clutter and put new labels on shelves and sort all my books out…I know, it’s a control thing and I very possibly need help.  Very possibly too it goes back to school and having a new term set of Lakeland pencils, crisp new exercise books and a mistaken belief that this year German grammar would sense make.

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I think we are all agreed that New Year’s resolutions are pointless. Don’t get me wrong, I love a list as much as the next OCD sufferer but resolutions are just another way of setting oneself up for failure.

And to that end, but without the failure, here’s my guilt pile reading list for 2011. I want to read every one of them, I stare at them every night before I drift off, manuscript strewn about me. Many of these have been started but not finished. This year I will get a grip. And a very nice list it is too.

1. Beryl Bainbridge According to Queeney

2. Abraham Verghese Cutting For Stone

3. Paul Gallico Mrs Harris Goes to Paris

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