I love Waterstones. Way better than drones (Amazon)…
"We’re excited to announce the Ornithological Waterstones Landing Service, a brand new way to receive your favourite books.
“O.W.L.S. consists of a fleet of specially trained owls that, either working individually or as an adorable team, will be able to deliver your package within thirty minutes of you placing your order.
"Putting O.W.L.S. into commercial use will take a number of years as it takes ages to train owls to do anything and we only just thought of it this morning.”
Donna Tartt, Cambridge Wordfest, Cambridge Union Society, Wednesday, November 13
I assumed Donna Tartt, the enigmatic American writer of The Secret History, would be as flinty as her trademark glossy black bob and as aloof and distant as three novels in 20 years would suggest.
Well, that was completely and utterly wrong.
The 49-year-old writer – in lace-up black boots, a tie neatly knotted over a crisp white shirt – was in town to talk about her much awaited third novel, The Goldfinch, on one of only six stops on her UK book tour, her first in more than a decade.
A brick of a book, The Goldfinch spins through the life of 13-year-old Theo Decker who, abandoned by his father, cored by an aching longing for his mother and survivor of a tragic accident, winds up debilitated and lost in New York, unable to loosen his grip on a small painting of a goldfinch.
Labelled “a sweeping story of loss and obsession, of survival and self-invention, of the deepest mysteries of love, identity and fate”, it’s already being touted as the best book of the year, which is some praise.
But then, how could you expect anything less? Tartt’s 1992 debut, The Secret History, a taut, back-to-front tale of a group of college friends and the wracking tendrils that snake between them after a murder, has sold more than five million copies in more than 20 languages and lingers forever, pitted into the sides of your brain. It was followed by her second, slightly tougher to delve into, The Little Friend, which still shook up the critics.
And now she’s back; the pressure of the intervening years evaporating with the relief of her standing up, apologising for being late (Cambridge traffic), and beginning to read.
She has a voice that lilts and pauses, honeyed by intelligence and a subconscious that nods to her Southern roots. The passage was from towards the end of the book, explaining the allure of the painting, The Goldfinch, but that’s all I can tell you. The Cambridge Union Society felt drugged on her words, so the sentences and phrases have slipped out of my head and just the feeling of being mesmerised remains.
Fortunately the ensuing Q&A helped snap us back to the present.
Still, she can’t help but be anything other than witty, thoughtful, animated and eloquent. From her preoccupation with Peter Pan (“There’s a bit of Peter Pan in all my books,”), Dickens and Edgar Allan Poe, and the influence of chance on her life, her choices and her books, to the attraction of Vegas which dazzles with fakery and the genius invention of itself (“It’s like the future – a bad future!”).
She puzzled on the fact we can never really escape our hometowns (hers in Greenwood, Mississippi where everyone knows everyone else’s business), and explained how The Secret History was partly inspired by her days at Bennington College, a place marred by spookiness, twisted tales and rumoured disappearances, and described a great book (as her writing tutor did), as one that you could read to take your mind off the pain of having a root canal without anaesthetic.
She was candid and self-deprecating on how she organises her writing and keeps track of drafts considering it takes her so long to piece together a final version (the process involves huge great sheaves of coloured paper: “Pink is from eight years ago, grey is from four…”), so it was easy to imagine her diminutive frame surrounded by towers of scribbled notebooks and rainbow covered sheets, threatening to capsize.
On the joy of reading she was utterly brilliant, explaining how it makes perfect sense that some people fear books as though they are dangerous objects not to be trusted. They are: “Books can change you as a person,” she said. “They can get inside you so that you are never the same again.”
And that’s exactly what her books do.
I love the Waterstones Twitter feed so much.
This tweet, accompanied by above photo, is just wonderful…
@Waterstones: As you may have noticed, our website has been down overnight. Here’s a little something in case it happens again.
A Visit from the Goon Squad - Jennifer Egan
It’s hard to break this book down. It’s fragmented, snatched moments in multiple interconnecting lives that collide, clatter and whirl in and out of control. Ebbing like water round a drowning man - when it stills, is that when you should feel calm or begin to panic?
There are so many characters, so many voices and so many styles of writing it needs a mapping device on the inside page, but for all the confusions and overlapping connections, it’s pretty beautiful and pretty harrowing.
You’ll have to read it to understand.
'Truthfully, without over-egging it, as I often do,” [Terry Pratchett] says, “the library and journalism, those things made me who I am. Journalism makes you think fast. You have to speak to people in all walks of life. Especially local journalism. London journalism can p—- in someone’s face and they can’t do anything about it. Try that in local journalism, and someone’s down to complain. Everyone should have one local journalism job in their lives, especially if they’re a nosy parker.”
He talks of local journalists in the same way he does his parents, with a sense of quiet heroism. “I interviewed an elderly journalist who’d worked in a small town for a very, very long time. I asked: is it boring? And he said: over there, that’s where a couple pushed their daughter into the attic because she’d had a black baby. And over there, that’s where a man was caught in flagrante delicto with a barnyard fowl. And he’d said to the magistrates, ‘Well, it was my fowl’. Even those small moments, they make you realise the world is not as you thought.’
—From an interview by Tom Chivers, Terry Pratchett interview: a fantasy writer facing reality, The Telegraph, Tuesday, October 29
This is awesome. Poet Mark Grist on liking girls who read.
The Misinterpretation of Tara Jupp - Eva Rice
It looks like chick-lit, but I promise you it’s not. It’s sweet and airy and witty, but not absolute foolish, lovestruck nonsense.
If you’ve come across Eva Rice’s last novel, The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets, you’ll know what I mean.
Set in the early 60s, Tara lives in the sticks with a gaggle of siblings (one of whom is too, too beautiful), spending her time ‘borrowing’ horses and singing in the choir. And then she gets talent spotted and whisked off to London for a glamorous career holding a tune like her hero, Alma Cogan. Yes, there’s a boy (oh, Inigo Wallace), and yes, there’s quite a bit of chat about clothes, but there’s also a lot of heart.
You’ll tumble along with it brilliantly.