First published on 29th June, 2014 in The Star
Review by DAPHNE LEE
THE COLLECTED WORKS OF AJ FIKRY
Author: Gabrielle Zevin
Publisher: Little, Brown, 256 pages
Let me just start by saying that I really like this book. I enjoyed reading it and gobbled it up in one go. It’s a deliciously light and easy read, especially if you love books and bookshops, and if you fantasise about owning a bookshop, or falling in love with the owner of a bookshop. I admit I’m guilty on all counts.
However, A.J. Fikry, the protagonist of this book and the owner of Island Books (“Alice Island’s exclusive provider of fine literary content….”) is most certainly not the man of my dreams, and Island Books, at least when first encountered in Gabrielle Zevin’s novel, is not the sort of bookstore I would choose to spend much time in.Read More »
SO MUCH TO TELL
Author: Valerie Grove
Publisher: Viking Books, 302 pages
WHEN I was a child growing up in the 1970s and 1980s in Segamat and Batu Pahat in Johor, I often received books as gifts. Many of them were Puffins, but I wasn’t really conscious of the publisher’s name then. What I did notice after a while was the name Kaye Webb. It appeared on the synopsis page, above the book’s title – Editor: Kaye Webb.
I didn’t then know what an editor was or did, but I supposed she must be quite important to have her name appear even before the author’s. So I decided that Kaye Webb was the name that guaranteed a good read – not Puffin Books, but Kaye Webb.Read More »
By John Mullan
Publisher: Faber and Faber, 374 pages
AS a journalist (lately a freelance one) I have never published work anonymously but have done so using various pseudonyms. My reasons have included the desire to disassociate myself from what I consider hack jobs, and to avoid trouble in instances when the subject matter might be deemed controversial. Pseudonimity may be as effective as anonymity when used to hide the identity of the author.
Many classic works of literature were first published without their author’s names or under false names. It was so common to publish anonymously or puedonymously in the 18th and 19th century that a Dictionary of the Anonymous and Pseudonymous Literature of Great Britain was published in 1882 – begun in the 1850s, it ran to four volumes when finally completed. In 1934, additional volumes were published and in 1962, the final edition numbered nine volumes in all. Even so, the book does not list works whose authors’ identities have not been revealed – and a quick search online will reveal that there are many famous quotes that remain anonymous.
In Anonymity, John Mullan explores why many authors of English literature chose to publish anonymously. He looks at the different circumstances and motives behind authors’ decisions to hide who they were; the effect an author’s anonymity had on his or her readers; and the reaction of the public and press when the author’s identity was finally revealed.Read More »
THE YELLOW-LIGHTED BOOKSHOP:
A MEMOIR, A HISTORY
By Lewis Buzbee
Publisher: Graywold Press, 216 pages
MOST avid readers love nosing around other readers’ book collections. And it’s always great fun having a private snigger at a fellow bookworm’s (so he says) reading preferences … while looking suitably impressed of course! Readers love books like The Complete Polysyllabic Spree by Nick Hornby, Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman and So Many Books, So Little Time by Sarah Nelson. Not only do they appreciate the recommendations (any excuse to buy books is welcome), it’s terribly encouraging to discover that celebrity authors like Hornby are pretentious gits with dubious tastes. Plus, there’s nothing like reading impassioned descriptions of books to make you feel like you’ve read them without actually having done so. So many books, so little time? Just let someone else read them for you and then read about it!
A shorter version of this review was first published on 28th January, 2007 in The Star
THE COMPLETE POLYSYLLABIC SPREE: THE DIARY OF AN OCCASIONALLY EXASPERATED BUT EVER HOPEFUL READER
By Nick Hornby
Publisher: Penguin Viking, 278 pages
I LOVE spying on people as they browse in bookstores. I pay attention to what the person in front of me at the cashier is buying. I always want to know what my friends and family are reading and what they have blown their allowance/pay packets on at their favourite bookshops.
That’s why I love Nick Hornby’s collection of articles about books. I was thrilled to see, on first flipping through this book, that each chapter begins with two lists: ‘Books Bought’ and ‘Books Read’. If you are a book addict, you’ll know that the two lists don’t always overlap. If you own over a thousand books and you haven’t stopped buying more, it’s unlikely that you will read every book you buy the moment the shrink-wrap comes off.