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129. A Night At The Bookshop…

129. A Night At The Bookshop…

Waterstones, which boasts the largest bookshop in Europe (as I was informed by staff when I spent the night outside it recently to meet Haruki Murakami), recently turned a potential publicity nightmare into a publicity dream with some slick marketing.

When an American tourist popped to the upper floor of the Trafalgar Square branch of the chain, he came down to discover he was locked in.

Rather than roll around naked covered in all of the books, or make the coolest book-fort ever, he tweeted about it until he was released.

The fool.

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Waterstones quickly teamed up with Air B ‘n’ B to offer ten lucky readers the chance to spend the night in their flagship Piccadilly shop overnight, with inflatable mattresses, celebrity guests and, of course, tea to keep them company.

For some reason, a friend of mine thought this might interest me and posted the details on my Facebook page.

All potential lock-ins had to do was to answer the question:

“…what book you would read if you were to spend the night in a bookshop, and why.”

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This is, obviously, an impossible question to answer. To obvious, and hundreds of others will have answered the same. Too obscure, and you will look like you are showing off. Anything about bookshops is out, of course, and after hours of trying to think of a single book which might stand out and get me picked, I decided to do what the best students have been doing since time immemorial, and answer a different question instead: what bookS I would read!

Here is my answer: what would yours be?

“If I were to spend the night in a bookshop, I would (not wasting time sleeping for a minute, of course), do my best to read a book from each formative stage of my (reading) life so far, and finish (around coffee o’clock in the morning) with a book I have always wanted to read but never gotten around to, these being in order: my childhood (and current all-time) favourite, ‘The Little Prince’ by Antoine de St.Exupéry; my pre-teen years passion, ‘The Worst Witch‘ by Jill Murphy; my teenage companion in pain, ‘The Diary of Adrian Mole aged 13 and 3/4′ by the much missed Sue Townsend; my high school graphic novel-discovery days staple ‘The Sandman‘ by Neil Gaiman; my university-days, tongue-tapping go-to ‘Lolita‘ by Vladimir Nabakov; a selection of short stories, possibly ‘Fictions, by Jorge Luis Borges to represent my (ongoing) world-travelling days; and I would finish, if there were any minutes left in the day (night?), by reading a book of poetry, a promise I often make to myself and rarely fulfil, maybe ‘The Waste Land‘ by T.S.Eliot, (with Whitman’sLeaves of Grass‘ as a potential substitute, should I somehow finish them all.)”

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PS In case you’re wondering, I didn’t win. I probably should have answered the question and taken my chances. Maybe they didn’t believe I could have read all of those books in one night, but they obviously don’t know me: if I don’t sleep on overnight flights in order to watch as many movies as possible, I certainly wouldn’t be sleeping if I got to spend the night in Europe’s largest bookshop!

Since I wasn’t in the country at the time of the sleepover, not winning was probably a good thing. Although if you think I wouldn’t have paid whatever it cost to fly back to London for the night to spend the night in a book shop, you obviously haven’t been paying attention to this blog…

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Posted by on November 6, 2014 in BOOKS

 

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123. Five Seconds With Haruki Murakami…

123. Five Seconds With Haruki Murakami…

Are there any authors you would stay up all night for the chance to meet?

Are there any people you would sit on a stool outside a central London shop for the opportunity to say hello to?

I can’t think of many, but when I saw that elusive Japanese author, (and one of my favourite ever writers), Haruki Murakami was going to be meeting and signing books for the first two hundred people to cross the threshold of Waterstone’s Piccadilly branch, (and on a morning when I was actually in the country no less), I knew what I would be doing to make sure I was one of them.

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A few weeks earlier I had arrived at the same shop an hour before opening time to be one of the first to buy a copy on the morning of the release of his latest offering, ‘Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki And His Years Of Pilgrimage.’ I had considered staying out until midnight the night before when several shops held special late-night openings, but decided to settle for Cava and fresh pastries at 8am instead.

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The book is gorgeous, Waterstone’s offering a limited edition white cover version with some special stickers, and I was happy to pay £20 for it. I was even happier to be still awake at 8:30am last Saturday, August 30th, when my book and I were ushered up to the second floor, presented with special MURAKAMI wrist bands and allowed to pass out on carpet after an all-night vigil.

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I had arrived in London by bus from Oxford the evening before, unsure how many people would be there: could I have just shown up around 7am? Or would the 200 spaces already be filled when I showed up at 7pm the night before? Would I be camping in the street in central London alone, which would be pretty scary? Just how many people even knew Murakami, let alone cared about him enough to camp out to meet him?

It turns out I timed things perfectly: at 7pm, I was number 20 in the line, which grew steadily as the night wore on. At around 6am, the magic number of 200 was reached: we would be the lucky ones to meet the elusive author, whilst the 200 after us were promised a signed edition of the book but no access to the man himself.

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Some came with sleeping bags and duvets; others simply stood and waited for morning. I took a middle ground, parking myself on a jealousy-inducing stool (borrowed from my grandmother’s shower) and not getting a single minute of sleep, entertained by my fellow literature lovers and a 600-page edition of ‘The Complete Dorothy Parker’, (a wonderful collection). I was also lucky enough to have a friend drop by and discuss literature, football and jazz, which passed the early evening nicely.

Passers-by, on foot or in cars, demanded to know what we were doing: was the new iPhone coming out? Or, closer to the mark, a new Harry Potter release? Some got bizarrely indignant at how we had chosen to spend our time, whilst others invariably answered with: “Arooki ‘oo? Never ‘eard of her…” But one or two understood what we were so excited about, and even joined the queue.

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By morning, we were a team: sharing tips on which toilets may be open, debating what time we would be allowed entry to the shop, swapping literature tips, (I was wonderfully sandwiched between a father-and-son from Dorset, and three family members from Iran-via-Manchester). As the security roused the sleepers at 6am, the gorgeous weather briefly turned on us, offering an unrequested morning shower, but soon we were all led into the shelter of the shop.

As 11am drew closer, and activity picked up around the signing table where we were all kept penned up, workers came to tell us how things would work: books open to the signing page, no photos, make sure your wristband is visible, put away your phones there are no photos, say hi to the author, don’t take any photos, get the book stamped by someone who was either his assistant or his wife, (depending on who you listened to), and seriously there will be absolutely no photos.

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For once, I followed instructions.

Luckily, one of my fellow campers didn’t, and may have been the only person to fire off this snap before security (who you can see at the front of the queue there) gave him The Look, and all mobiles were sheathed.

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The elusive Mr.Murakami…

Suddenly, like a roller-coaster you have waited hours to ride, things flew into fast-forward and we were all suddenly swept along by events: a ripple of applause broke out as the diminutive Murakami-sama appeared and took his place; we all rose and shuffled into a make-shift line; and before we knew it, we were in front of him, one by one, shaking his hand and saying a few words.

Most of us had spent a fair amount of the 16-hour vigil trying to think of something fun, interesting or at least different to say that he may not have heard before: like me, everyone I spoke to on the way in had come up with absolutely nothing. But as it turned out my choice of clothing proved to be our talking point: I had dug out an old Japanese t-shirt from Oita, my old hometown when I lived there, and he asked if I had been there. He looked genuinely surprised and delighted when I replied in Japanese that I was Oitian, (more or less…) before continuing in his native tongue that it had been an honour to sit in a street all night in order to meet him.

He seemed genuinely surprised to hear that anyone had sat in the street overnight for him!

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With a few more Japanese words to the beaming Japanese lady stamping our newly-signed books with a HARUKI MURAKAMI stamp (which is only present in books signed in person, and makes our copies extremely rare, apparently), I was spat out the other end of the conveyor belt where I collected my belongings and, saying a few words of farewell to my fellow adventurers, staggered out into the sunlight to queues of people presumably still trying to get into the event.

Too late, guys…far, far too late…

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Come back soon for a review when I finally get around to reading it, (probably not my signed copy: I will have to wait until I buy another one, as this one isn’t going to leave my shelf!).

Also, please feel free to sign up for email reminders to the blog!

 

 
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Posted by on September 10, 2014 in BOOKS

 

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6. A Lifetime of Books…

6. A Lifetime of Books…

On an ideal holiday, I will read at least one book a day, preferably lounging on a beach, stretched in a hammock, or sat in a hot chocolate-fueled cafe. Recently, I have been doing my best to arrange my life so as to be on holiday as much as possible, and have been reading so much that the stacks of books in my bedroom are almost certainly against a dozen or more health and safety regulations. (Why I still insist on buying books will be tackled in another entry…)

Here is the problem: I have a very strong suspicion that I could never work another day in my life, read two books a day, live to a hundred, and still not read all of the books I want to. Or even get close.

Why?

Well, I have a cupboard full of books waiting to be read, a result of my book-buying addiction and inability to go on a 30minute stroll through pretty much any town without returning with half a dozen books, mainly from charity and second-hand shops, (another topic for another blog). There are probably about 300 in there, (seriously…I may take a photo of some of the stacks and cupboards sometime if you don’t believe me), which should mean that in my theoretical world, I could finish them in less than six months.

But it’s not that easy.

Firstly, the majority of the books in my To Read piles are the result of recommendations from friends and books from authors I have read and enjoyed from over the years: many of them are from the 1990’s or earlier, leaving a whole two decades of books and authors to be discovered, bought, piled…

Secondliest, each book I read throws up a spider’s web of other books to be explored: if I enjoy an author enough, I will want to read everything they have ever written, (I think I am close with Neil Gaiman, Salman Rushdie, Haruki Murakami, Richard Dawkins, Nick Hornby, Kurt Vonnegut; slightly less successful with Vladimir Nabakov, Leo Tolstoy, Jose Saramago, Ian McEwan). Or they will name-check sources, inspirations, favourite books and authors of their own which I will want to check out, and which may in turn lead me to new paths on this ever-expanding, ever-branching book diagram.

Thirdmost, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I am a sucker for lists: as soon as I finished university, having had enough of 17th century French plays and poetry, I went out and discovered that, as if to provide me with a framework for my near future, the book shop Waterstone’s had teamed up with BBC television and radio to instigate a vote of the 100 best books of the 20th century, most of which I had either never heard of or never read. That gave me a target, which I proceeded to eat away at for the next two years, discovering such great authors as Bulgakov, D.H Lawrence and E.M.Forster, and the joys of classics from Catch 22 to The Alexandria Quartet, 2001 – A Space Odyssey to Lucky Jim. But there are lists from other shops, from other countries, other years and other criteria to be worked through, not to mention the lists, like the Man Booker Prize and the one-offs like the Pulitzer and the Nobel, which are renewed annually.

And that leads to fourtherly, and the most serious of the problems: people keep writing books. Like Sisyphus pushing that rock, like King Cnut, (have to be careful how I type that), trying to hold back the tide of literature, every year I spend catching up on classics I haven’t read, and the books they lead me to, people insist on writing more books, making the web even bigger and webbier.

All of this is without mentioning magazines to be read, (I used to read nothing but magazines, but have recently limited myself to highlight stories of The Economist and flipping through my virtual subscription to National Geographic), websites and blogs to browse, news articles received or discovered online, oh, and life, of course…

And then there’s the question of why I have become so obsessed with buying and keeping my favourite books, if I am fairly sure that I will rarely have the time to read any of them twice, (who can read a book twice when there are so many amazing, unread books out there?)

And finally, the ultimate conundrum: how do real people, with jobs to go to and do and take home with them, and families and kids to be bathed and fed and read to and driven to football practice, how do these people find time to read a book a week, or a month, let alone a book a day? How will I if, as I strongly suspect, I have to get a job sometime (soon?), and possibly even a family and kids?…

Luckily, reading isn’t about the destination, but the journey, and reading is and hopefully always will be one of my favourite ways of traveling…

 
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Posted by on December 20, 2011 in BOOKS

 

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