Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Discreet (Misty Mountain) Music

I am in planning for my next tattoo. The hope is to incorporate many of the things that inspire me and have affected my life, from H2G2 to Judge Dredd, Usagi Yojimbo to music, all the endless, endless music. It is going to take some time, and it's probably going to look a little bit complicated.

One image I would like to include is the operation diagram from Brian Eno's Discreet Music. The music on this means a lot to me, both the composition and the means it was created. There's a randomness to the title track, actual, almost limitless melodies. When someone says "there's only so much you can do with music" with the air that it was somehow better years ago I only think no! There will always be boundaries to push and stretch.

The end of the year was marked by a trip to Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk. Wednesdays are market days it seems, regardless to the proximity to public celebrations of making through another night, and the market spreads over a square and surrounding streets. There's a record stall, positioned in such a way that the wind cuts up the hill it stands on. I do not know how often Misty Mountain Music appears at Bury's market, it's not the evil layer in Krull, but it was good to see. A lot of people like me checked out the stock and bought stuff.

Perhaps I flicked through the records longer than most. I was mightily cold and can only imagine how cold the stall holder felt at the end of the day. I managed to find two records, Eno's Discreet Music and Kraftwerk's Trans-Europe Express. I was really impressed with the prices and the range of stock, I could have come away with more than just two records.

Brian Eno, Discreet Music, Kraftwerk, Trans-Europe Express,
Misty Mountain Music, market stall,
Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk

Resurrected from an earlier, lost post.

Sunday, 30 November 2014

I've got my fringe unfurled: Birthday month reading

The intention was to collect together as much Richard Brautigan as possible then read it all after my birthday on 22 November. When I started hoarding the books I had five, there were another seven or so that I had identified as targets before my birthday, though the tendency might be to push it as far as I could. Richard Brautigan had appeared on record in the 1960s.

When I started this I thought the books that I would have most difficulty in purchasing were The Tokyo-Montana Express and Willard and His Bowling Trophies. This was confirmed by a not overly scientific search online and only from one source. Anyway, that was the plan, a list was drawn up in my diary, ticks for the books I already had, small dots for the ones I had to purchase. As I said, the tendency is to push things as far as I could and if this meant buying a collection with a book I already owned then so be it.

That was the plan. I purchased some books, got An Unfortunate Woman from the Headingley Library (Leeds Library should have a full Brautigan stock, no exceptions), everything was running smoothly.

As smoothly as a red Chevy convertible heading full-tilt from LA to Las Vegas.

I figured that as I was building up to Brautigan towards the end of the month I would stop reading The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. I had reached the tricky bit just after the rise of the 'primitive' Christian church and found it harder going than last time. I flicked a few pages of Hitch Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy, learning about Rupert, before settling on a real plan. This time it would work, this time no one would get nailed to anything.

In November I would read books in my collection that could be loosely clubbed together as 'counter culture'. As genres are ill-definable I best set out my stall. Books with a high degree of substance abuse, marginalisation or that stray from the trend of acceptable social interaction: any book that would read the poster for the Trainspotting film and say, "no".

First up is Hunter S Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. I've read this before (though my recollections of the first time were mangled up with memories of seeing the film adaptation), though what has surprised me in this read is the speed of delivery, observations fire quickly, get distracted by one aspect and miss another one totally. This is the come-down from the end of the 1960s, as Hunter suggests, no one wanted mind-expansion in the early 1970s, they wanted to disconnect from reality.

There isn't a great deal of music in Fear and Loathing, though there's one notable seen including Jefferson Airplane's Surrealistic Pillow. I don't own this lp yet, though it seems the US version is the one I'd prefer to get as it includes White Rabbit.

The second book of this odyssey through drinks and drugs is Renegade: The Lives and Tales of Mark E. Smith. I've always been a bit of a Fall fan when I've heard them on the radio; the two CDs I own are compilations. Whenever I think of the Fall I am reminded of the John Peel quote; whenever I think of Mark E. Smith I kind of imagine some kind of drunk genius poet who just happened to have a backbeat.

Unsurprisingly there's a lot of music mentioned in Renegade, so rather than picking out an lp I'll mention that Totally Wired by The Fall is a song that I think about when I want to run a mile pace under 8 minutes. This usually mashes well with Night Vision by Super Furry Animals, though mostly when I run it is one section repeated.

The last book for being an outsider was Steppenwolfe by Herman Hesse. This is a wonderful book on feeling outside of the normal society and having little care for the things that bring other people joy (about as much care as they have, actually). Hesse has done a fantastic job of fitting so many ideas into the book that it simply screams 'reread me', and it would be difficult to try to capture too many of them. Instead I will include one that chimed a lot with me, that wars are started by countries that do not wish to look inwards and resolve their own problems.

I finished my month starting Acceptance, which is not the tale of a man entering his 39th year with a few white hairs in a beard and a desire to run a 7:00 minute mile 10km.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

In the back is the gateway to Narnia

Visiting Horncastle in Lincolnshire on the chance there might be 'one or two bookshops'. I spent most of my teenage years in Lincolnshire (tend to think of it as my hometown and where I grew up) and yet there are a number of places I know very little about: Louth, Market Raisen, Retford...

And Horncastle. It's kind of in the middle of the fens, on the way to the coast and Skegvegas (or "so eggs gas" as predictive and ever-so-helpful text would have it), so you kind of need a car or the patience to use public transport. Once there you need patience to use the public car parks, East Lindsey District Council being helpful in not highlighting there locations, but there's so many rewards for making the effort.

First up was Jabberwock Books on St Lawrence Street, packaged with books. Unfortunately nothing caught my eye aside from a handful of Maigret books I already own. The market was in town while we had lunch, then it was visits to Age UK, Sue Ryder (where I almost bought a record until it fell apart on me) and the Red Cross.

Then we headed out along West Street. On the drive in looking for a car park we'd spotted a likely looking shop, West Street Books. How right we had been, the woman shopkeeper welcomed us with a description of the shop "and through the wardrobe to Narnia you'll find another room of books. Shout if you need anything."

"Or need help back from Narnia," my wife replied.

There is a treasure trove of books in the West Street Books shop, over many subjects. I saw two different versions of the book I am currently reading (The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire) and spotted some nice literature and poetry titles. In the end I plumped for Hermann Hesse's Steppenwolf, a book I hadn't really paid much attention to until now. 1960s counterculture literature appeals to me though I had been searching for Richard Brautigan.

With plenty of antique and collectibles shops, as well as three other booksellers we weren't able to visit, I think it won't be long before we're here again.

Hermann Hesse, Steppenwolf
West Street Books, 9-11 West Street, Horncastle, Lincolnshire

Postscript. There is a large collection of Charlie Brown and Snoopy books in the West Street Books, and everyone will agree with me Charlie Brown is the Charlie Browniest of counterculture antiheroes

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Wailing in Whitby

Like a dud note played in a simple melody, there is something not quite right about returning to work on a grey and wet Monday morning having spent Sunday lunch time eating fish and chips in the sun overlooking Whitby bay. I almost took my jumper off yesterday; today I am wearing a running jacket and a hat that is trying to  keep the rain off my face.

It was a whistle stop tour of Scarborough and Whitby. The weather forecasts last week predicted rain and 'the end of the Autumnal warm weather'. They had been wrong, the rain when it came was early and not quite as heavy. We didn't arrive in Scarborough until afternoon because of a meeting in Leeds, so the visit was a bit rushed. First stop was Taylor's Cafe and Books for lunch and a copy of Jim Dodge's Stone Junction. Down in the Market Vaults there's Revolution Records and nearby Mrs Lofthouse's Book Emporium.

Revolution Records was rather nice, there's a good selection of music (I only looked at the vinyl though there's CDs and a couple of second hand books) and the prices were reasonable. I foolishly passed up purchasing 'Now That's What I Call Quite Good' by the Housemartins as well as '200 Motels' by Frank Zappa (though it might have been listed as The Mothers).

Heading back through the town centre towards the car we also popped into Revival Records, again, a short visit so that we could also visit the Mojo Music Café. I thoroughly recommend this place, the coffees were lovely, staff friendly, and the business seems to do a lot to promote the local music scene.

Saturday night was spent in the best youth hostel in the world*, Boggle Hole. Aside from spilling a pint and a glass of red wine I am sure the staff were glad to have us there. With the tide receding we went for a walk, south first towards Ravenscar then northwards towards Robin Hood's Bay; this place is one of the most beautiful and relaxing I've ever been to. 

Sunday was a trip to Whitby and the aforementioned fish and chips. As it is October and there's not nearly as many people around we bought them from one of the 'award winning' fish and chip shops and cafés along the quayside. I can't remember which, though Magpie seems to spring to mind (though that might just be the sight of one on the wreck of the roof on the Majestyk opposite my office window). 

During previous visits to Whitby one of the record shops there always seemed to be closed. Luckily Folk Devils was open and I picked up a copy of Siouxsie and the Banshees's singles collection, Once Upon A Time. The shop is lovely and worth the wait.

Jim Dodge, Stone Junction,
Taylor's Cafe and Books, 14 Bar Street
The Book Emporium, 2 Queen Street
Revolution Records, Market Hall
Revival Records, 6 Northway,
All Scarborough

Siouxsie and the Banshees, Once Upon A Time,
Folk Devils, 16 Sandgate, Whitby

*This come from a survey of two people in the age bracket 29 - 39.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Don't talk, put your head on my shoulder

This month I started a course at work. The induction required me to bring along an item that was "me".

I had about four months to consider this, and it wasn't until early August I actually decided on something. Some things were good items but not completely me: my trusty guitar (typically me, it's too awkward); running shoes (too recently me).

Eventually I picked my best of the Beach Boys lp (see image). I will have to talk about it, what follows are some of the things I might mention:
  • I have been listening to the Beach Boys since I was about six. I had two cassette tapes of Best Of volumes 1 and 2.
  • At primary school I was told that I shouldn't listen to 'old stuff' like the Beach Boys but popular current pop music. This warning didn't stop me.
  • Music has been a part of my life from a very early age. At most times of the day I will be thinking of a song lyric (my favourite lyric is included on one of tattoos) or melody. Most likely having said this either On The Radio or Fidelity by Regina Spektor have popped into my head.
  • When I proposed to my wife I used a series of song lyrics as my speech. For our wedding party my two brothers and I performed Beach Boys, Buddy Holly and Super Furry Animals covers under the name Super Furry Beach Buddies. They are three most favourite acts.
  • I collect vinyl. My original collect was destroyed in a flood in 2012, and the first replacement record was yellow vinyl issue of Yellow Submarine by the Beatles. Probably my favourite Beatles song is It's Only A Northern Song, written as a throw away song by George Harrison. The hardest records to replace seem to be lo-fi Glasgow band Urusei Yatsura.
  • I write a blog about finding book and record shops. I started it earlier in 2014 after spending a year experimenting with ideas.
  • I use music a lot when I run. I don't tend to listen to music but keep songs in my head. Pace wise, Autobahn by Kraftwek is a 9 minute mile, Gold Mother by James is 8 minutes 30 second mile, Peggy Sue by Buddy Holly is 8 minute mile, and No good For Me by Prodigy is a 7 minute 30 second mile pace. I haven't worked out either 7 minute mile pace or quicker.
  • When I think I can get away with it I will sing out aloud.
Postscript. Two weeks later and I still don't quite remember what I said.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

My reading habits...

In November I will be 38. My parents-in-law bought me a gift of a Reading Spa from Mr B's Emporium of Reading Delights. Prior to attending I had to submit an email on my reading habits.

This is what I wrote:

I like well written, well thought out books. I tend to think of all fiction as speculative, I'm not a fan of genre as a means of picking books to read. I don't mind it being lengthy if the author wants to take me somewhere the long way around (Les Miserables, Night's Dawn trilogy, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell), though being concise is also appreciated (Georges Simenon, Richard Brautigan, Francois Sagan, the Foundation trilogy). I like unlikable characters if they are well thought out (Johannes Cabal, Walker Percy/Confederacy of Dunces). I also like writers who can make illogical narrative leaps which actually make perfect sense when they are explained (Richard Brautigan, Hunter S Thompson). I suppose one could say I prefer older crime (Maigret, Poirot as characters, John Dickson-Carr as a writer), though time of writing is no guarantee I'd enjoy reading it (Len Deighton and Harry Palmer are a turn-off, le Carre's Smiley on the other hand is rather approachable). I like speculation, escapism (some times in the guise of a Warhammer book or Alistair McClean, Peter Temple off the radio), though realism (Trainspotting) or autobiographical work is interesting (Moab Is My Washpot, Down and Out In London and Paris, Girl With A One Track Mind). I like horror, especially HP Lovecraft, and have recently started to enjoy more gothic novels and stories (Castle Otranto). Douglas Adams's Hitch Hikers Guide has to be one of my most read books (I probably quote/paraphrase from it daily). I read graphic novels (Judge Dredd, Usagi Yojimbo, Scott Pilgrim) though I am not looking for a recommendation. I like a bit of poetry though mostly this comes down to buying the Forward Prize every year. I read Wisden yearly. I am not a fan of overly promoted books, I am not likely to want to read something if a newspaper columnist says I 'have' to read it. I like intercontextuality, 'mash-ups', and pop culture references (as perfected in the Simpsons).

The premise of a reading spa is quite simple. One talks for about thirty minutes, an hour, about the books they have liked and the disliked, and one of the staff at Mr B's then goes off and picks some recommendations. The gift comes with a voucher for books, so you will leave the shop with new books to read.

And my, did I. I had six from Mr B's, I found another in Hay-on-Wye a couple of days later. I won't list the titled that were recommended, just say that going along to Mr B's Emporium is certainly an experience I would recommend.

Mr B's Emporium of Reading Delights,
14/14 St John's Street, Bath

Postscript. Okay, I will talk about one book I was recommended. Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer is a very good read, the first book of the Southern Reach trilogy. It is sketchy with the facts, the narrator is an unreliable witness, and there is a creeping dread with just about every single page turned. It is fantastic and imaginative, and I devoured it as if I was the vanguard of an alien invasion force. Or am I.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Clearing music playlist

I took part in my employer's Clearing process today, acting as the front line for telephone calls from 7:46am in the morning. I had some interesting calls; some not particularly pleasant ones; and some that were just nice.

Throughout the day I made a note of all the songs and song lyrics I thought of, and here they are though not in order (except for the very first lyric):

  • You stole the sun form my heart
  • I want to be a superhero's sidekick
  • High-five, more dead than alive
  • Everyday
  • I'm so tied, I'm feeling so upset
  • It really doesn't matter what clothes I wear
  • True happiness lies beyond your fries and happy burger
  • Stop me if you think you've heard this one before
  • Whatever you want to do, do now or pay later
  • To speak to you is a beautiful thing, beautiful thing
  • I've been making plan for the future, I feel so unnecessary
  • But only for a short time
  • What's her name? Virginia plane
  • Don't you people ever go to bed
  • Hunting tigers out in Indiah
  • I've got the skills to pay the bills
  • So you go there and you stay there and go home alone
  • He knew not what band he mixed
  • Call any vegetable, call it by name
  • She asked him, why can we not be together, why is it we must part?
  • Kicker, kicker conspiracy
  • I feel like I am the hunchback of Notre Dame
  • This is the end, my friend the end
  • As he walks from the grave no one was saved
  • I am he who is X, Y, Zee, I carry no card my life is cheap
  • I've got a bike you can ride it if you like
  • Listen to me, listen, listen
  • Wake the town, every one is sleeping, shout, shout it loud
  • Bang, bang, knock on the door, another big bang and I'm down on the floor
  • I will call my mother and tell her, mother, I am never coming home because I appear to have left a small part of my brain in a field in Hampshire
  • My brother knows Karl Marx, he met him eating mushrooms in the peoples park
  • Dedicated, dedicated, dedicated
  • Fag, cut-throat, you dirty switch, you're on again, all night
  • We have the technology to create a new kind of bogey
  • I open my curtains at 7am just so you think I'm out with the rest of the men

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Yes, but what is the murderer's demographic?

Recently I've been trying to write a brief outline of my reading habits. There's a shop in Bath that offers a book recommendation service based on this and a chat in store, it will be interesting to see what they recommend for me.

While I tried to be as concise and clear as possible one thing I was very, very definite about: I like reading books in sequence. I find it very hard picking up book number two in the series, or that the book in my hand that seems really good is actually is the sequel to something the author wrote five years previously. 

It is rare for me to read something out of sequence, even when the book is a freebie (I have a review copy of Peter F Hamilton's Judas Unchained, I bought and read Pandora's Star before looking in it). The only exception seems to be when the book in question is out of print or impossible to find, like Georges Simenon's Maigret series. There's some 75 novels for Maigret alone*, even when they appear in shops it won't necessary be in sequence (I know, why can't secondhand bookshops plan to stock only the books one is looking for, right?), or the title is the revised title. Gladly, Penguin is republishing the books in (a kind of) sequence, so today I bought third in the series from Waterstones in Leeds.

I didn't check this time, there's a corner of the shop that I've never been a fan of. 'Cosy crime' as a genre-definition is truly horrible. The only true cosy crime is the orange and purple number sometimes found in certain tea shops and charity shops. 'Cosy' crime is supposed to bring together Marple and Poirot and Hamish Macbeth and Maigret, yet when one actually reads them the crimes aren't 'cosy', the motives and the reasons are plain human nature, and human nature is messy. 

My relationship with crime fiction has slowly changed, moving from the sensationalism to the exploration and speculation on human nature. My relationship with Doctor Who has changed to, from the scary, behind-the-sofa Urbankans, to a more enjoyable, not-so-scary-but-still-a-little-bit speculation on human nature (again, I wonder where all this speculation is coming from?).

Ten Little Aliens, Stephen Cole, The Late Monsieur Gallet, Georges Simenon,
Waterstone's Leeds

* There's some 400 Simenon books. Maigret is possible his most famous work (it has been translated across the world, there's even a rather nice sounding Japanese series from the 1970s, Michael Gambon played Jules Maigret in ITV's 1990s version). More information here.

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Not that Slightly Foxed, but a slightly foxed

I took my time, I circled around, read the contemporaries, made myself aware of some of the stories via radio and TV, eventually I got a MR James book.

The trip out of Scotland was fun. The rain was heavy and I managed to mishear a direction that resulted in a drive through in Edinburgh and Leith, but arriving in Berwick meant a trip to our regular chip shop (Canon, Castlegate). There's lots of books to be found in Berwick, with a couple of secondhand bookshops and charity shops. Berrydin Books is always worth a look, and I came away with an Ursula le Guin's The Lathe of Heaven. I'd never read much beyond the four Earthsea novels (there are four, I know most people know it as a trilogy but there's a fourth and it's the best in the series) [I haven't just stuck my tongue out in defiance, honest], so this will be a welcome addition to the growing 'to read' pile by my bed.

A trip through various charity shops and a market stall named Slightly Foxed but not the Slightly Foxed of London. Mysteriously I can't remember where, it might have been the heart-stopping British Heart Foundation, the blood-red Red Cross shop, or the plain and not very chilling Shelter, but I found a collection of MR James stories. I knew about James for a while, he's been mentioned by a couple of authors I like, and I've seen some Christmas TV adaptations, so this volume will be another good addition to the pile by the bed.

The rain held off. The old bridge looked fantastic against the new one. The ghostly closed shop frontages where slightly scary (in a broken-down, world economy way).

The Lathe of Heaven, Ursula le Guin, Collected Stories, MR James
Berrydin Books, Castlegate, Berwick
Canon Fish and Chips, Castlegate, Berwick

Friday, 1 August 2014

Almost a disaster

After much walking-past-the-front-of-the-shop-to-see-if-the-owners-were-in I spotted one of them. I knew what I wanted to ask, I'd seen the book four days earlier and really wanted to add it to my collection, and yet when I was last in the shop my wife and I were the only people around. No one to pay money to, no one to say what a lovely bookshop we were in.

The book was The High Girders, John Prebble's account of the Tey River Disaster of 1879. I had heard of the disaster though didn't know much. The book's wide claim of the decline of British engineering will be interesting to see if Prebble can demonstrate his argument. Though I think the desire to buy the book is down to two things.

I was in Dundee earlier in the week.

And, I was thwarted in my efforts to purchase the book earlier this week.

The High Girders: The Tey River Disaster 1879, John Prebble
Callander secondhand bookshop

Thursday, 31 July 2014


I have only been to Stirling once, to visit the castle during the Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh in 1986. I don't recall it much, a vague impression of a long and cobbled road leading up towards the castle lined with antique shops with porcelain in their windows.

Almost thirty years later and only part of my recollection is incorrect. Stirling is a good wandering town, once you find your sense of direction. There's an art gallery underneath the castle mount that has a good history of the area (and there is a lot of history bound up in that part of Scotland).

Sadly though it was a bit of a whistle stop visit. Lunch, a couple of bookshops and record stores, then on to the next destination.

While we were in Stirling I also bought The Man With The Golden Arm (Stirling Books) and What I Talk About When I Talk About Running (Oxfam).

Leggy Mambo, Cud, Wake of the Flood/From The Mars Hotel, Grateful Dead, Big Bang!, We've Got a Fuzzbox and We're Going to Use It, Southside, Texas
Europa Records, Stirling

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

The most friendliest of librarians [not in the Fahrenheit 451 sense]

There is a place in Scotland where I was able to do something I never, ever thought I would do. I touched while reading a first edition version of Edmund Spenser's Faerie Queen. It was a kind of of a good feeling. It is also an odd feeling, the book is worth a lot of money (certainly more than I am accustomed to when handling books), and yet the Faerie Queen was practically thrust into my hands to read.

Where was I? This was an unusual sensation for me, very unusual. Aside from the Queen I was told I could read through parts of an English language bible that predates the King James Bible. I passed up on this for the Discovery of Witchcraft. The first few wild sentences of that book, published in the 17th century, more than made up for it.

Anyway, where was I? The Library at Innerpeffray, which was set up during the Enlightenment to lend books to the public. At the time, the most welcoming of staff informed us, literacy was at close to 75 percent of the Scottish population, with England at less than 50 percent (I am a little sketchy on this, so don't quote me in a dissertation or other academic journal). The Library is situated near a bend in a river, not far from the St Andrew's Golf Course, and was lending first editions to the public from 1680 to the mid-1960s.

I suggest you visit and see for yourself.

Also, on the travels today I bought the Brightonomicon (PDSA in Callander) and Renegade by Mark E Smith (British Heart Foundation Scotland). Renegade is the second book I own relating to the Fall, though this is about Mark E Smith himself (speaking for himself) rather than a collection of stories based on the stories in Fall songs. I was put on to Renegade by a former colleague who put me on to the best ever remix of a James song (Sabres of Paradise's Jam J, forty minutes of absolute dub heaven), so this book will be good.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

The type of recordshop I'd be a customer of...

A trip to a new city, a visit to the wild unknown beyond normal travelling distance from the fair city of Leeds. What could make it better than the sheer lovely sense of exploration? Why yes, unexpectedly finding a record shop that turns out to be rather good, rather, rather good.

We're in Scotland, for a holiday that took in the Commonwealth Games, the Hill House in Helensburgh, and Dundee. This is my first visit, and aside from an odd experience of contraflow in roadworks, it was enjoyable. There's lots to see though to be honest one of the best bits was turning in towards the car park to spot a sign for a record shop, Grouchos Records. It will be a good visit.

The shop is big, with lots of vinyl to flick through. I did a lot of flicking though thought I couldn't find what I was looking for, Tangerine Dream. So I asked, only to be shown a clearly marked section for the band. Oh well, customers can be idiots.

I liked Grouchos, there is a nice sense of care for music and the scene in the shop. There's lots of rarities and lots of decently priced normal records.

Also in Dundee: amongst the charity shops and other amusements of Dundee (you really must go to the Discovery Centre, go now, go early, go often), I purchased Doctor Who: The Silent Stars Go By from a Red Cross shop.

Dare, The Human League, Disco, Pet Shop Boys, Rubycon, Stratosfear, Tangerine Dream, Sunshine On Leith, The Proclaimers, Greatest Hits, Steely Dan, Professional Widow, Tori Amos, 20 Golden Greats, Diama Ross, Greatest Hits, The Rolling Stones
Groucho Record Store, Dundee

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Ok, Go!

Awards are funny things. In publishing there are some relatively small awards that should be shouted from the roof tops compared to some of the mainstream ones that seem to warp time to include the latest release in their longlist.

Today I popped into Ok Comics. I shop there fairly regularly, they keep me stocked up in 2000ad, and I get collections and trade paperbacks from there. Jared and Oliver are really friendly and helpful; ask for a recommendation and they will suggest something you'll be glad to have read.

Anyway, I popped in today and saw Jared being interviewed outside the shop door. He was discussing how awesomely amazingly groovy (my words) it was to be nominated to the shortlist of twelve comic book retailers in the Will Eisner Spirit of Comics Retailer Award. Ok Comics is the only European retailer in the list for the award which is like the Oscars for comic book stores (Ok Comics words).

The prize is announced on Friday night, I can't imagine what the atmosphere will be like if Ok Comics won. Probably the same as New 52 launch night with Free Comic Book Day times by ten, and then some more.

Aside from the recommendations and the events, Ok operate a free graphic novel library and one of the best loyalty schemes ever. Visit, say hello, enjoy a truly independent shopping experience in Leeds: I am willing to say that more than 80% of non-sequential art readers will find something they will enjoy reading.

The other big publishing award news this week was the release of a longlist. It seemed to include a book that seemingly has only been released this week too, so either it is very good or very heavily promoted. I won't name names.

All I will do is highlight how wonderful the Green Carnation Prize is. If you ever get the chance to listen to Simon Savidge talk about books take it: it was one of thee best book events I've ever been to.

Postscript. If by popping into Ok Comics my colourful shirt should appear in the background to any video content then the only thing I will say is this: I am fighting a war against the white shirt-wearing office workers of Leeds. In the words of Los Campesinos! it is a war I will surely lose.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Shipping containers and their drivers

With some bookshops and record stores one has a pretty good idea where their focus lies. They might have a theme; only sell antiquated first editions; have the largest collection of romance in Cumbria. They may also have a pretty clear business plan in that over 95% of their sales are online so therefore their retail space is primarily to support this with occasional visits from the public.

Secondhand books and records sell well on the internet, and the possibilities of finding that elusive record or book increase once one goes online. Out of print Brautigan? Why yes, those collected editions of the novels are online waiting for your card details. James’s One Man Clapping record which will not be reissued according to the band? It is there, on CD or vinyl, and tape if you want to go that far*. The internet connects people, sometimes the people charge a little too much or expect a low price automatically, and if one wanted to they could amass a library of word and sound from the comfort of their arm chair.

Over the Grand Depart weekend in Yorkshire we found ourselves the other side of the Pennines with only a trip down and around Manchester to get home. Sharston Books is in Manchester and we’ve been meaning to go for years. They sell online and have books upon books upon books in a warehouse and shipping containers, so it seemed there would be a lot of choice. Sharston Books is based on an industrial estate just off the M60, near Manchester Airport (I think, the only reason I have for this is passing the rather dated looking Airport Hotel near the junction for said motorway), and easy to find. It is a warehouse and there are shipping containers, though everything is relatively well organised. To me it gave off the impression of being a store for their online operation that one was able to look around – this is no big thing though.

I came away with the second volume of Robert Graves’ Greek Myths (a much better looking edition than my first volume), the first in the Vampirates series, and Douglas Adams’s The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul. My wife also found Mary Poppins Comes Back (see above) amongst other titles, and we were impressed with the price. Might not be rushing back though if I’m driving by again and have a little spare time will pop by.

Douglas Adams, The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, Robert Graves, Greek Myths Volume II, Vampirates
Sharston Books, Wearlee Works, Longley Lane, Manchester

*Tape is a terrible format, my original copy of One Man Clapping was on tape and it warped in a car stereo never to sound the same again.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

We are all children of the Revolution

Another Sunday afternoon trip to a library, this time Horsforth. I’ve never really been around Horsforth, the part nearest to where I live seems disconnected to the main part near the park, so this trip is something we’ve put off.

The library is nice, a big airy space for books and information. I didn’t check, I think the building had a dedication to the Brownlee boys and their trainer. At first there didn’t seem many books though the room seems to widen towards the back, with chidren’s books almost furthest from the entrance. This is the second time I’ve actually noticed this, why are children’s books in the back and ‘romance’ nearest to the entrance? Doesn’t matter really, there’s a reading space and lots of books (again, I didn’t check though I assume there is an Artmis Fowl book or two, there had better be, children need to learn the truth about fairies and criminal masterminds, read early and read often).

I came away with Scott Westerfeld’s Behemoth and Peter F Hamilton’s Great North Road. Behemoth because when I was reading the first book in the series, Leviathan, Westerfeld pulled a fantastic trick on me, in the last few chapters I went from not caring what happened to the two characters to I must know the very end or I will not sleep. Westerfeld’s books are steampunk and mostly young adult, though if genre really matters to you there is also revolutionary politics and gender equality. The point I am making is that it is a good read regardless of being steampunk, young adult, or anything else.

I picked up Great North Road because I got excited about seeing it in the library.

Peter F Hamilton, Great North Road, Scott Westerfeld, Behemouth,
Horsforth Library

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Happy Hour Again

Like Wah Wah Records in Wakefield, Earworm Records is new. And they sell old records. It was initially hard to find (though that’s probably more to do with me not paying attention to signs), though once you do find it it is a treasure trove. I was a little short of time so only did a cursory flick through (which still took fifteen minutes, my wife tells me). There were so many records that were calling out that familiar refrain, “take me home”.

What I eventually came away with was the Housemartins’s The People Who Grinned Themselves To Death. I was rather chuffed with my purchase, and was quiet proud to show off to my wife, while doing so I noticed that the bench outside the shop offered wifi. Earworm Records was a good shop, there was a collection of hi-fi equipment to buy, a friendly staff and enthusiastic customers. Interestingly of all (to me) the payment method was a Paypal chip and pin reader, something a little different from Visa and Mastercard and their ‘service charges’ (independent coffee shops take note).

The Housemartins, The People Who Grinned Themselves To Death.
Earworm Records, 1 Powell’s Yard, off Goodramgate, York

This is radio freedom

As mentioned in my earlier post about York, I found some out-of-date information. Not all out-of-date information is useless, from one comment on a student guide to record shops in York (not the BBC one, I might add), I was put on the trail of the ‘Man on the Market’. The market is the area between Parliament Square and the Shambles, and is full of market type things (hats, t-shirts printed with (un)humourous slogans, sweets). It also has a record stall.

I had explained to my wife that it might be worth looking around the market on the off chance the record stall was there. There’s an art deco café where you can people watch from, and suitability refreshed with coffee, we followed the music. The stall was great, lots of different things in a vague order that rewards flicking through rather than looking for just one artist. On one side there’s cheaper lps, on the other more expensive ‘collectors’ lps.

Personally, the first record I picked up was collectors to me. KLF’s What Time Is Love? Live From Transcentral is something I’ve been looking for for ages. All of my KLF 12inches and lps were destroyed in a flood, so this was the first purchase to replace something lost. I paid £8 for three records, and would probably have paid more than £2.66 each for KLF, Elton John best of and Emmerson Lake and Palmer’s Tarkus. The Man on the Market explained that they rotate the stock regularly so it was more than worth it coming back.

Emmerson, Lake and Palmer, Tarkus, Elton John, Best of, KLF, What Time Is Love? Live From Transcentral
‘The Man On The Market’, Market Place, York

I have never been more ready to do this write now

One of the reasons I wanted to start writing about book and record shops was the difficulty I have found in finding up-to-date information on them. While researching this trip to York I found one BBC student guide to the record shops from 2004 (including a good write-up for Borders) and a list of booksellers in York the majority of which appeared to be private homes where one had to request a catalogue before arranging a visit. The list of booksellers turned out to be doubly useless when the first entry on it turned out to have closed.

Rather than going through the twenty odd shop names I pulled out, here is where we wandered and shopped. The first bookshop we visited was Fossgate Books, which had lots of books though nothing to tempt us. After that we found some books in an antique centre around the corner (I didn’t check the name, they had about 400 records at £2 each if you fancy finding it). Then it was our first crossing of the city centre, via the Shamble Market to Goodramgate.

On Goodramgate there are a number of decent charity shops with both books and records. There was also a man who checked every hardback copy he could find to see if it was a first edition. Uncharitably we thought he was trying to find something to sell on at profit. From Goodramgate, across the river to Micklegate, where there were a lot of race goers. There is also a very nice Oxfam with a little cubbyhole of records in the back. And then off towards the minster, for Minster Books.

We came away from York with about ten books. Unfortunately I didn’t make a note of which came from where, though all the prices seemed fairly reasonable. Particularly in Fossgate Books, staff were happy to offer advice and see if there was something we were looking for. What I did come away with was a reason to continue exploring the city for its literary treasure.

Fossgate Books, Fossgate
Books for Amnesty, PDSA, British Heart Foundation, Oxfam, Goodramgate
Oxfam, Micklegate

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Blood-sucking buccaneers in Whitby

What kind of child grows up in Whitby? That’s right, Sherlock Holmes and Lucy Westenra. Maybe the question should be ‘what kind of literary child grows up in Whitby?’…

Anyway, our tour of North Yorkshire has brought us to the outer limits, the extremis to Leeds’s centralness, Whitby. I like Whitby a lot, it has a relaxed air of a town that does its own thing regardless. An example of this would be the seagull nest I found. In the middle of the station car park, the day after a motorcycle rally had met there. After all of those noisy motorbikes it squawked at me.

Whitby is at the end of the heritage railway line from Pickering and has a lot of attractions. One might be of the opinion that the Dracula aspect is played up an awful lot, though to be fair what is a lot more annoying about the place is the endless stag and hen parties. Yes, you’re wearing an L-plate, did you know that this is the town that a young Sherlock Holmes was sent to for holidays?, no, I didn't know that shot was £1.

There are a number of secondhand bookshops in Whitby (Endeavour Books being the one we shopped in, my wife picking up some detectives), a fair few charity shops, and at least one record shop. I don’t know what it was called, I found it in the Shambles Market, tucked way behind sweets and charm bracelets. I didn’t know what to expect, there was some very nice looking records (as in, if money was no object they would be coming home with me) though the pricing seemed a little hit and miss. For example, there was an Elton John lp that I’ve been umming and ahhing over for a while which was easily double the most expensive I had seen it previously.

In the end I found a Bread record. Again, I am not sure what to expect, my mother-in-law said that she rather liked it way back when, so for £2 I thought I’d give it a go (even if I would be fixing the sleeve myself).

Of the charity shops they proved yet again the random nature of the books you might find. In Mind, up near Sherlock’s Café (home of the best scones I’ve ever had), I found Vampirates. It’s a children’s book and book two in a series, so I put it to the back of my mind for another day. I mean, who can pass up the first book in a series called Vampirates? What I couldn't pass up any longer was the first book of Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin. I remember the TV programme on C4 (well, the publicity for it) and have always wanted to read some of it so this was the perfect opportunity. The book itself is okay, for my liking it probably works better serialised, though there is something about the characters that have stuck around in my mind (except for Mary Ann Singleton, she better make a better impression in book two). The other charity shop I noted was the Oxfam overlooking the quay. It’s snook away behind pubs and fast food outlets, so it is worth remembering that it is there and worth a look.

Armistead Maupin, Tales of the City, Bread, The Sound of Bread,

Note: Aside from the scones, which are lovely, we had fish and chips in Hadley's, which is equally lovely even when there is a group of stags from London who are quite proud to announce that they are from London loudly every minute or so. Oddly, the people of Whitby have encountered Londoners before, and commenting about how cheap beer prices are up north only really highlights how overpriced they are in London.

Adventures in Boggle Hole

There are many reasons to enjoy youth hostels. They are convenient, relatively cheap, offer lovely accommodation and the staff are lovely. I have not stayed in hostels outside of the UK, or independents yet, so far it has only been Youth Hostel Association and I've not been upset.

Boggle Hole has to be one of the best. This is our second stay, a hastily booked break after our original planned stay ended with our car breaking down inside the Leeds metropolitan borough (we had not got far), and it just feels right and comfortable. We even had the same room as before.

My favourite bit has to be the Cthulhu sign in the toilet informing children that he will be unhappy if they do not wash their hands. I always thought Cthulhu was a little indifferent to the hygiene of children though I am not a parent so this might be some part of the mythos I have previously missed.

Saturday, 10 May 2014

When The Rain Comes

Stop two on our weekend tour of North Yorkshire is Pickering. Pickering is home to many lovely attractions including a castle and many cafés though when we arrived it was in the middle of a bucketload of rain. The rain fell hard enough for it to be running up hill (due to an optical illusion and a speed bump). Soaking ourselves to fetch cash, drying ourselves in a café near the entrance to the heritage railway, we were here for a reason: Yorkshire Quality Paperbacks.

How we came about this recommendation I do not know. Most likely during a news report about the town we saw the shop and thought we would like to test its quality. It might even have been on Countryfile. So, having found the shop it was with a little trepidation that we climbed the steps to the door.

The trepidation evaporated once we were inside. The shop is packed and there are so many rewards to be found if you have the time. For some reason I got stuck on the thought that I needed to find Neil Asher’s Parador Moon so it took me a while to actually notice what was available. There was Robert Graves, lots of Penguin Oranges and Greens, lots of contemporary and women’s fiction; a quantity of quality for when one fancies just browsing.

It took me a while to shake Neil Asher. I eventually came away with a Perry Mason novel, The Case of the Glamorous Ghost. I like detective fiction, I like Perry Mason, I like reading, though I mostly bought it for the cover.

Eric Stanley Gardner, The Case of the Galmorous Ghost
Yorkshire Quality Paperbacks, Park Street, Pickering

On the road to Tadcaster

Ages ago there was a Jasper Carrot joke where the comedian (and future TV quiz show producer) explained that touring to Hull was the worst because once one is in Hull there is only Goole left to visit. Even as a child I knew there was something wrong with this statement, though not yet having developed any means of separating good comedy from lazy generalisations based on geographical prejudice.

For a very long time I felt that Tadcaster was York’s 'Goole', you have to pass one to get to the other (assuming that you are travelling from the A1). For so many years I’ve passed the John Smith brewery from the outside wondering what Tadcaster was actually like, though not remembering enough to visit next time. That is until now…

There’s a secondhand bookshop in Tadcaster on Bridge Street. Also on Bridge Street is a a lovely café overlooking the brewery (which doesn’t look quite so modern from the inside), so after a cup of tea and a toasted tea cake we make our way to Tadcaster Book Shop.

The shop window proudly announced that the proprietor was interested in crime and detective fiction, as well as Westerns. There is order to the shop, two-floors worth of bookshelves in defined though not restrictive sections. What caught my eye from the start was the large section of science fiction and fantasy books and from there it was only two steps to find horror and the aforementioned Westerns.

I like Western fiction. I know next to nothing about it, and tend to buy only Louis L’Amour, though Tadcaster Bookshop had a lot of the authors and books I had seen elsewhere. What I like about the books are the potential of discovering new stories and authors, Louis L’Amour was one of my grandfathers favourite authors so I tend to stick with him though I know very soon I should branch out into some of the others.

There can be a pressure when trying new books, particularly if the book has received good publicity or someone strongly recommends it. It can be hard to shake it but the reward of knowing that one does not have to enjoy every single book they read (or finish it for that matter) makes reading more enjoyable.

The prices were very reasonable, and the three books I bought could have been supplemented with so many more, but we left Tadcaster thinking that it would not be long before we travel back to have another look.

Lindsey Davis, Shadows In Bronze, Louis L’Amour, Flint, Brian Lumley, Vampire Word 1: Blood Brothers
Tadcaster Book Shop, Tadcaster

Saturday, 3 May 2014

Brattleby telephone box library

In a tiny corner of Lincolnshire, round the back of a RAF base and in a side road in a small village north of Lincoln there is a telephone box library.

Brattleby's telephone box library is a little unloved when we visited. I didn't go in though could see two motorcycle books and little else inside. Nonetheless, my wife left two books there to be bookcrossed. Book crossing is a way of sharing books with absolute complete strangers. I don't know who will pick up the two we left but the Book Crossing website will let us know if anyone logs them.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Where a startling discovery is made and the blogger offers advice

I work for Leeds Metropolitan University (soon to become Leeds Beckett University in September 2014), and as a member of staff I have access to the libraries and materials therein. In two and a half years I've not had a proper look around the library in the Headingley Campus. Even though I was there today I still didn't manage it.

On the way back home I did pop into Headingley Library. This time there's school children seemingly everywhere, though not in young adult (where I found the first part of the Hunger Games) or science fiction (where I picked up Johannes Cabal and the Fear Institute). I only popped in on the suspicion that Johannes Cabal was in.

The Johannes Cabal series is a great series of books. The central character, the necromancer of some little infamy, is rather likeable in a terrible way (if he were to meet me I am sure he'd probably want to do away with me, quickly, for my own good, obviously) and the books are wonderful constructs. Certainly, stop what you are doing at the end of this sentence and read the first book, Johannes Cabal the Necromaner; to paraphrase Ford Prefect, your brain will thank you for it.

The thing is the Johannes Cabal need to be read in sequence. Book two relies on knowledge of book one, book three a combination of both; the forthcoming fourth book will continue this pattern. The fourth book is intriguingly titled The Brothers Cabal, Johannes's brother not making an appearance since the first book.

When I first picked up The Fear Institute I was drawn to the content's page references to the Cthulhu Mythos (sometimes a book just needs tentacles and I'd give it a go). Once home I realised it was book three, so on an off chance I asked the author Jonathan L Howard via Twitter if it was best to start with book one. Yes, for the reasons above.

This is another reason why libraries are good. You can try so many things out, explore landscapes that might be previously unknowable, and if it's not to taste, three weeks later the book is returned.

Saturday, 26 April 2014

High street, bloody high street (or, He came from Strictly Commercial)

There is something a little odd about a traffic system where a left turn is indicated by a small book-shaped sign on the right side of the road. And then, it is curious a café blames poor service on a lunchtime rush. Cafés, in a town centre, on a popular day out, busy? No, you don't say.

Those two things aside, Wakefield is pretty awesome. You've never been? Mm, why, if you don't mind me asking? You see, I rather like visiting the Hepworth, you like sculpture and photography. Yes, I thought so. So, visit the Hepworth, visit Wakefield.

What I like about Wakefield is Rhubarb Bomb and the Long Division music festival. The town is good for a wander, with some nice architectural and historical highlights, and there's plenty of books. And now there is a new record shop, Wah Wah Records.

For a few weeks and months there's been postings online, Wah Wah is coming (think Gabbo in the Simpsons, just less about puppets and definitely about records). With a visit from my in-laws planned I took the opportunity to suggest visiting Wakefield, for the Hepworth, of course, and did you know a record shop has opened there recently?

Before we visit Wah Wah we have lunch in the unnameable afore mentioned café and visit the Cathedral*. The central chamber is gorgeous, I am sure I've read about concerts held in there, possibly a great place for haunting music (that said, Young Knives singing "I was punching your father while you screamed at your mum" might also work).

You have probably guessed that I can be a little shaky with directions at times, so I find Brook Street from the local tourist information office. It is not far, though the effect could be a million miles distance. A proper record shop, lp covers beckoning us in off the street, Hookworms on the shop's hi-fi (I checked twice, the second time on Twitter%) which Alan (I assume, I didn't ask) was happy to swap to Black Sabbath when I wanted to check the sound.

Some record sellers are happy to apply a premium for 'known' artists, such as Black Sabbath or Frank Zappa, though I am glad Wah Wah don't. Music is about discovery, who discovers something if a secondhand copy with a damaged cover costs £20? Stock is added all the time, both new and old, so I am looking forward to my next visit.

Abba, The Visitors, Black Sabbath, Greatest Hits, Police, Ghost in the Machine, T'Pau, Bridge of Spies, Frank Zappa, Just Another Band From L.A. and Jazz From Hell (all lps), Wolfmother, Woman (7inch single, picture disc)
Wah Wah Records, Brook Street, Wakefield, West Yorkshire

*Opposite the Cathedral is a cream coloured Waterstone's, why it should be allowed out of the corporate colours I do not know but it is a welcome sight.

%Why not follow me on Twitter, I take shop recommendations and happily talk musical and literary pleasures.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Close to the edge (of the known world though not actually the *known* world at the time)

Easter was spend near the edge of the world (allegedly) and the centre of Britain. Yes, Hadrian's Wall and Haltwhistle. Easter was spent in the Youth Hostel Association's Once Brewed hostel.

Let's clear something up, as it bugs me constantly. Hadrian's Wall was not the edge of the Roman world; they travelled beyond it; they traded with people from the other side of it; and they fought with people outside it. No one in Rome sat down and asked the next fellow, "do you know what is beyond Hadrian's Wall?," to get the following reply: "Cliff, void and endless namelessness nothingness."

And what evidence do I have for this? Well, the gatehouses for one. Civilisations don't normally build gates onto the unknown void unless they want the unknown to come in, pay taxes and trade.

Youth Hostels are great way to travel. We have been visiting them for about a year, and while there can be some niggles the experience has been good. Once Brewed appears like a building built in the 1960s, with a canteen, self caterers' kitchen and a good lounge. While we were there there were at least two other walking parties and a number of bicycling groups. Unsurprisingly the hostel is on two major walking routes (Hadrian's Wall Path and near the Pennine Way) as well as national cycle routes. Everyone was friendly and mostly welcoming.

During our stay we walked along the Wall. We also looked into the unknown void that is Northumberland north of the Wall, and the unknown void looked back and said: "Next time maybe you'd like to walk here, too".

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

DC comics and chocolate milkshake, one of these things is available at OK Comics

Would it surprise you that one of my first experiences of coming to Leeds was finding OK Comics? My wife was being interviewed so I had wandered and found Briggate, then Thornton's Arcade, them OK Comics. I didn't go in as I needed to head back to Millennium Square, but it was there, a little corner of independent comic book shopness in Leeds.

Since 1996 I have had a serious interest in comic books, and this was encouraged by Gosh! in London and Page 45 in Nottingham. Good shops are essential for comic book readers, and while those two are lovely, OK Comics is really good, the staff friendly and knowledgeable, fellow customers nice, and the whole atmosphere is welcoming. Comic book shops are not a mystery or forbidden; they are another way of buying different narratives.

This blog is about book and record buying so I will save you of my random thoughts about Lovecraftian references in 2000ad*, what I bought today was 47 Ronin. It is not a movie tie-in (I asked almost as soon as I saw it too), it is in fact drawn by Stan Sakai. Stan is awesome, Usagi Yojimbo is one of my favourite characters, and his art is full of emotion and displays of character. I waited about a month just to buy this one book and each page is worth it. The story is of Japan's "enduring national legend", an epic tale of loyalty and revenge.

Back to talking about narrative delivery, have you ever read The Unfortunates by BS Johnson.

47 Ronin by Mike Richardson and Stan Sakai (book)
OK Comics, Thornton's Arcade, Leeds

* And not to mention the almost weekly wonder of this week will be the week we say goodbye to Joe.

Postscript. Saturday 3 May 2014 is Comic Store Day, and aside from lovely stuff happening in OK Comics, next door is the equally lovely Hepworth Deli is worth a coffee and cake filled visit.

Monday, 14 April 2014

We didn't start the fire

Up until I read Stephen King's It for the first time most of the books I read barely reached 300 pages long. The 1000-plus pages of It posed problems; the paperback didn't fit in my college bag, I couldn't read it lying in bed, and if I did I dropped it and lost my place.

Now, the next time I read It will be on my Kindle For Android app. For a very long time I slightly disagreed with the idea of electronic books and felt they weren't a suitable medium for books (despite Douglas Adams's propaganda). They just weren't 'right', even though 'right' in terms of books is the most personal and varied aspect. I have changed my mind, e-readers are fantastic, they offer up possibilities never before dreamt of (except in Douglas Adams's propaganda).

Now I am never without a book, my mobile phone has a copy of The Castle of Otranto on it for those moments when I am without a book book. I have downloaded free books and content from a great many sources (most recently pulling down several reports on attendance and attainment in HE students). Back in 2010 I bought a copy of Dune to read on an iPod Touch (not particularly enjoyable).

With a trusty red Hudl I can use Kindle properly. Today I bought three books for it, though I had been planning to do so for a month. First on the shopping list was Laura Bates's Everyday Sexism, a fantastic book on the opening months of the project. I would certainly suggest read it, especially if you want a more equal society. One commentator in the Guardian reviewed it by saying it 'didn't offer a solution' though I don't think the book or project is aiming for a solution; it is collecting information and data on what needs to be changed, not dictating the change needed.

Next up is a Alastair Reynolds Doctor Who book, The Harvest of Time. This features The Master (in my head, correctly, the Delgado version), and UNIT. I had though about some of Reynolds's other books (Absolution Gap being the next one I need to read), but something about him and the Doctor, and the moonlight highlighting meaningful glances (may be over the top with that description, I liked the look of it the first time I saw it).

The final purchase today was The Shorter Wisden 2014. I like cricket, I like reading about it, and I like reading Wisdens. This is perfect for me, something to dip into whenever I have a spare moment, a reminder of the dark humour of Wisdens and the wonderful stupid game of cricket (this edition, a collection of the best writing in the 151st edition, includes a section on Sachin Tendulka's retirement that notes his ability to undertsand that sport is  meaningless and important to many people).

While I enjoy the books the process of buying them isn't just 'right' though. May be that is just me, one-click purchases don't feel like I've bought books just pressed on button over and over again.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

The Touring Guide To Headingley Library

It was a pleasure to visit libraries. It was a special pleasure to step through the door and find books, local information, book groups, information technology, children's reading area. Headingley Library is a good place to visit.

This was supposed to be a quick visit, drop off two books that were finished and near their return dates. Still, a little look around wouldn't harm. Thirty minutes later, one near collision with a fellow library user (his fault, I was looking in horror as he walked backwards from science fiction) and a librarian asking my wife if she writes books herself later, and I have two new books borrowed. One a sci-fi novel based in the Warhammer 40K universe, Deathwatch by Steve Parker (kind of like who watches the detectives, the detectives being aliens, sorry, xenos). The other a travel guide.

Libraries are important. Libraries are not just about books* and Headingley Library demonstrates this in abundance. There is a children's area where books are read out aloud, and the aforementioned information technology. Headingley also has a travel section, and among the far-flung parts of the world I found The Country Living's Travel Guide to the North East. This book is not perfect, it doesn't seem to do cafés and was published in 2010, but like most travel guides it is useful. Over Easter we will be wandering around Hadrian's Wall, and there's a few points of interest.

That said, I do not think I am a typical reader of Country Living. Try as I might I can't find an entry for Durham's People's Bookshop in the guide. A secondhand bookshop promising to fill the gaps left behind in the headlong rush for bestsellers. I found them on the internet and can't wait to visit.

*Anyone who argues libraries are only 'about books' has, in my view, not stepped in a library for quite some time. Either that or they have an ideological reason for not acknowledging the community and civic roles libraries play, or the personal need for them. If someone tells you libraries are useless and expensive wastes of money ask them about the last time they made personal use of a naval warship or air force bomber.

Postscript. It is a pleasure to reread Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. If I were to travel America reciting a book I would attempt to memorise Richard Brautigan's Sombrero Fallout.

Second Postscript. Rereading through my draft of this post made me remember something that happened near the Kirkstall mobile library in Spring 2013. While checking out our books some university-age men walked passed the entrance they shouted "libraries are gay". These were not children, grown adults whose education has at some point relied on a library. So, next time someone tells you that, say they are wrong both about libraries and for using sexuality as a derogatory term.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Never mind the drokk, here's Record Store Day 2014

Next Saturday will be Record Store Day 2014, the annual day of celebration of independent record shops across the country. A good day will be had by all, and if one would like I would certainly suggest going along to your local to see what's happening. I don't know for sure though I understand Leeds's Jumbo Records will be open from 8.30am on the day and Crash Records has tote bags. All shops involved will have special limited editions releases.

I will miss Record Store Day. I do think it is a good idea to engage people and show them the worth of local shops, particularly record shops. I think on Saturday 19 April 2014 there will be new coverts to the joys of independent shops, though rather on the day this relationship will be cemented on the next visit.

I have two cherished RSD purchases, neither purchased on the day. Last year, November 2013, I purchased a copy of Pink Floyd's See Emily Play as a pre-birthday present. Before that I bought a CD copy of Drokk. These will be mine forever, played with the memory of joy of discovery in Jumbo Records; I never expected to find them, they were just there with a familiar, 'hello James'.

Who wouldn't want to cherish their RSD purchases? Oh, well, there will be some who arrive early, mingle with the crowds while calculating the best return of investment on each purchase, eBay accounts already primed. Obviously, for these people RSD is about turning a purchase of roughly £10 into a listing of £50, £80, or £120. Ultimately money will be going into local record shops, and some people will not be able to attend, though part of me secretly wishes that RSD purchases on eBay were 'at face value' like concert tickets.

As for me, I'll let you know what my 2014 purchase is when I buy it.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

I Had To Start It Somewhere So I Started There

Charity books shops survive on donations of books, so armed with plastic bags of my wife's recently read books we head to Headingley, Leeds. Two bags equalling roughly twenty-odd books shared between St Martins Hospice and the British Heart Foundation.

Good deed done, a suggestion is made, 'I might have a look next door', next door being a RSPCA branch. I like this one, it has clothes, books, CDs and DVDs, and random stuff, as well as some vinyl. So, while my wife scans through the books (and finally picking Eric Newby's Something Wholesale), I have a look at the records. Some of them are not very well cared for, the same copy of Hunky Dory by David Bowie is still here since the last time I visited, and then there is Madonna.

She stood out, an instantly and very noticeable woman in a roomful of musical talent, showing off her early singles. Hey, James, do you want to have a good time? I have never owned The Immaculate Collection before but know the songs off the radio, they are mostly familiar, and £3 for a double LP seems a good purchase. The sleeves are good, the cover looks nice aside from the little price tag (which hours later is easily removed) and I am happy with my buy.

In the shop I also noticed Uriah Heap, Jesus Jones, Blondie and Queen's News of the World. I will be back, and probably in a few weeks' time.

Post Script. The Immaculate Collection is not the first vinyl I got this April, before the trip to Headingley I picked up my copy of The Understudies Let Desire Guide Your Hand from the Post Office sorting office. I pre-ordered it in March as one of the limited available from Fire Station Records. I've been a fan since seeing them at the Indietracks festival.

Madonna, The Immaculate Collection (double LP)
RSPCA, Arndale Centre, Headingley, Leeds

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter and Spring, or How I Arrived At April 2014

2013 was an awesome year to buy books and records. Everywhere I looked I found something I wanted to buy. I kept some notes in preparation for this project though never got around to properly starting. Until now, that is.

However, it might be worthwhile to get some background as to why. Since as long as I can remember I have loved listening to vinyl, and started my original collection around the early 1990s (I didn't keep details then, I do now). I can remember listening to Holst's Mars, Bringer of War at primary school (a good school experience) and then getting home and having my parents play their version on their trusty B&O deck. I remember the allure of my Dad's red Beatles double LP, years later supplemented with the later blue.

I can remember when I got books. I have always read to some degree, always enjoyed stories, though books didn't seem to be something for me. Then, sat waiting for a flight in Heathrow with my late Uncle Nigel, it clicked. Nigel told me about the science fiction and fantasy books he had read, and thus interested I asked what he would recommend at that moment: Mort by Terry Pratchett. Luckily the nearest WH Smith had a copy, and the rest is history.

Book and record collecting started in the early 1990s. My collections have grown and shrunk over the years, either by choice (shedding books to move home) or by force (losing majority of my LPs and 12 inch singles to water damage in 2012). They have been added to by partners, family and friends, sometimes I have bought something because I was looking for something else, sometimes I have found exactly what I wanted.

From the Spring of 2013 to Spring 2014 I visited bookshops and record stores in Edinburgh, Morecombe, Robin Hoods Bay (note, not near Nottinghamshire), Cambridge, Great Yarmouth, Leeds, Kendal, Grange-Over-Sands (in a railway station), Kirkcudbright, Whiteheaven and Carlisle, as well as others. I have bought records off eBay and books from Abebooks, scanned through lists posted by colleagues on our work's email system to see if there was anything worth considering. I have also passed up some pretty impressive records and books that I've always wanted to read.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

To begin at the beginning...

It was a dark Saturday night in April 2013 in the Scottish Borders. My wife and I were staying with her parents in a holiday cottage and we had found a large collection of leaflets and guests' suggestions for what to do. Activity leaflets, tourist guides and maps, all useful stuff. And a leaflet for the Borders Book Trail.

This is great, a guide to the independent and secondhand book sellers set up by the sellers themselves, detailing their location, what they sell and their opening times. In the course of a week we visited all of the bookshops listed that remained open, and managed to buy something from all but one (and we really tried to find something to buy there).

The shops were good too: an independent bookshop and café in St Boswell's that had a deli counter; a cavernous seondhand bookshop in Innerleithen, the same town that has the working print museum of Robert Smail's; and adventure books in Peebles alongside a museum dedicated to John Buchan. The guide helped us get around and see other bits of the Borders that we might not have travelled too.

And it got me thinking, wouldn't it be nice to have something similar for Yorkshire, a Great Yorkshire Book Trail. There are lots of places I buy books from in Yorkshire that I tell other people about, my colleagues at work and friends all have their own recommendations, all I need to do is collect them together and then I can produce my own leaflet. My very own literary classic. I wonder if there are any prizes I can submit it to.

As the seasons progressed through 2013 I thought about this and mulled it through. It is clearly a very good idea to share locations of recommended bookshops, every one knows where to get books from, and there's plenty of booksellers in Yorkshire. And yet, why just Yorkshire? Why just books? And why just a leaflet?

Why just Yorkshire? Most of the time I have bought a book I have been either in my home county or travelling. Part of the joy of travelling is finding new places, new bookshops, new books. And not all bookshops are in Yorkshire, not all readers are here; why not write about finding bookshops wherever I travel from my home country. This also allows me to take recommendations from readers about places to check out further a field.

Why just books? For me, finding a good, well stocked secondhand book shops goes almost hand-in-hand with finding records. That week in the Scottish Borders was completed with a few days in Edinburgh, we swapped the booksellers for music and booksellers. No more Middle of Nowhere Bookshop, welcome to Leith's Elvis Shakespeare. Here I managed to buy, amongst other things, a Robert Greaves book and a Housemartins vinyl that urged me to 'take Jesus, take Marx, take hope'. This was a fantastic shop, full of gems. (While we were there the lovely Elvis Shakespeare staff managed to 'do a High Fidelity' by playing the Clash's first lp and persuaded my wife to get it). So, this will be books and records and where I found them.

Why just a leaflet? While the Borders Book Trail was useful, someone had carefully put a pen 'x' through the details of two shops: closed, no more. Collecting together the recommendations and finds online allows for information to be kept relatively up-to-date, and any changes can be made without the need of a ballpoint pen.

As it is now April 2014 I decided to put this project in motion. I will write about the places I've visited to find books and records from this point onwards. It will also be about other places that take my interest, like the youth hostels I have stayed it, cafés visited, and so on. I intend to start out with only taking recommendations for bookshops and record stores, though let's face it, plans rarely remain the same once life is involved.