Ann Patchett was all I expected – intelligent, direct and open, warm and lucid. Bel Canto remains, for me, one of the great novels of all time, and although her new one, State of Wonder, slightly tests one’s ‘willing suspension of disbelief’ at the end, I still loved it. I particularly related to Ann’s comments about being accused of optimism – bad thing apparently. She is very comfortable in her own skin and is just fine about being a cheerful person.
I’m used to organising literary events. On this occasion I became a groupie – sat in the front row and lined up in the long queue afterwards! She signed my book to a ‘fellow bookseller’ because she is about to open, with a friend, an independent bookstore in her hometown of Nashville, Tennessee.
An equally stimulating hour was spent in the company of Anna Funder, author of Stasiland, which won the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction in Britain, talking about her first novel All That I Am. Set in Berlin, London and New York in 1933 – 35, it is based on real left-wing writers and political activists who saw what was happening with Hitler & had to get out fast. It’s about genuine bravery, betrayal, & failure to ‘see’ what it is you are actually seeing. She originally began writing Stasiland as a novel but quickly realised that what the Stasi did in real life was so appalling that readers would find it unbelievable in a novel. In All That I Am she modifies the betrayal perpetrated by one character – in real life that person was much worse! It’s a brilliant novel – read it and hand-sell it!
Rugby World Cup
Unavoidable, but we have found ways of coping with it! In our shop window we have a large framed NZ Women’s rugby jersey. It belongs to MP Louisa Wall, a former captain of the Black Ferns, and is accompanied by three small photos of Louisa in action on the field. On the rugby jersey we have attached the following notice: ‘Black Ferns – NZ Women’s Rugby Team already World Champions!”
We’ve surrounded the jersey with a gorgeous display of NZ books, in the hope that some international visitors may eventually get off Queen’s Wharf and out of the beleaguered trains and find their way down Ponsonby Road.
Breasts in the window
We are about to give Louisa a couple of companions. This week we are adding to our window a large photograph of Gwendoline Smith and her mother, both naked to the waist, both beaming – Gwendoline with a pair of nipple-less ‘reconstituted’ breasts, her mother with one real breast and one real scar. Suddenly, as I write this, two of the book titles from above strike me as very apt – All That I Am and State of Wonder!
We are promoting Gwendoline’s new book Breast Support (Exisle Publishing) about surviving breast cancer. We will also be the bookseller at what promises to be the most lively book launch ever! Gwendoline is expecting hundreds people at Sale Street Bar at 6pm on Wednesday 5 October. With a live band, it’s going to be quite a party. Everyone welcome!
Finally, in the middle of all the rugby hype, we will be taking tea and cakes. Food for the body and food for the brain will be served up in style at The Raye Freedman Arts Centre at Epsom Girls’ on Sunday afternoon 9 October. The menu is stunning – here’s a taste: Anne Salmond on Bligh; Fiona Kidman & Sue Orr with short stories; Judith Tabron on Soul Bar; Lynn Jenner with poetry; Charlotte Randall & Emma Neale with new novels; Atka Reid & Hana Schofield on Sarajevo; Alexa Johnston on puddings.
There will be more melting moments that afternoon that at any rugby game.
by Carole Beu, The Women’s Bookshop