Monthly Archives: August 2010

Between the covers

The other day I went into an independent bookshop in town to look for a specific book. I’ve lived here for over a decade, but I only discovered this bookshop a month or so ago. I severely regret not looking in it sooner. It’s a wonderful place – every available inch of wall is covered floor-to-ceiling with shelves bearing books of fiction, poetry, history, biography, and any number of other subjects. The further back you go, the older the books become, until you’re in a room filled with antiques: it’s a lovely Aladdin’s-cave atmosphere.

Anyway, during a conversation with the owner, I found out that this place is now one of only about three independent bookshops left in Cambridge. Those aside, there are charity bookshops, and Waterstones, and … that’s it. It’s an unbearably sad thought, because at heart I don’t think books should be just product, no matter how romantic that sounds. Bookshops should be places with a certain romance to them, where you can browse at leisure, drink in the atmosphere, lose yourself between the covers, talk to someone who knows and cares about what they’re selling.

I was also inspired to take a look at my own book-buying habits. True fact: I buy a lot of books. At the moment, I have bought more than I can comfortably read, so I now have a large backlog of reading material, and a self-imposed moratorium on acquiring more. But I’m not as good about buying them from local merchants as I feel I should be. Of the new books I’ve acquired this year, most were presents (which usually means Amazon), three were cheap impulse buys from Fopp (who sell a lot of reduced popular/cult literature and non-fiction), one was from Amazon and one was from a sale at Heffers. Looking at my pile of books I have yet to read, I have two that were presents (from Amazon), three from Fopp, one from Galloway and Porter (now sadly closed down), and one from a market stall.

I love being able to wander through Fopp and pick up a decent non-fiction book for £2, and Amazon’s convenience and cheapness don’t need any further praise from me. But I can’t help but think I should have done more supporting of the local independent bookseller who really need and appreciate it. So here’s my pledge: once I’ve finished my huge books-to-read pile and I’m ready to buy new books, I’ll go to independent suppliers only. If they don’t have what I’m looking for, I’ll ask if they can order it. If I see something interesting while browsing, I’m buying it. Amazon is to be used as an absolute last resort. The fact is, it’s worth forgoing one-click ordering to be able to support something I love.

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USA Trip: The big thank-you post

My three-week trip to the United States over July and August was one of the best times of my life. Here’s a (possibly incomplete) list of thanks to the people who made it so awesome:

Thanks to Tracy (@strayfarce), my lovely girlfriend, for showing me fun little things around New York, and being a brilliant partner on my hard-charging see-and-do-it-all tourist expeditions.

Thanks to the folks at Pier 96 for providing free kayaking – a great way to spend a summer day on the Hudson River. Joe Gage, gay porn director who introduced (and perceptively analysed) Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! at the IFC Center. The bartender at the Stoned Crow who stood us a free round of Brooklyn Lagers. The talented, funny and generally awesome Chris Serico (@ChrisSerico), for a fun night out in Manhattan. The staff at Ruby Foo’s, for putting banana and chocolate spring rolls back on the menu for one night only (only slightly due to badgering from my gf…). The staff of Pam Thai in Hell’s Kitchen, for their lovely food and unpretentious atmosphere. A.V. Club legend mbs/Matt Stechel (@matthewstechel), for making it in from Queens, recommending a great cinema and bar around Union Square, and for experiencing Dogtooth with us.

Thanks to Stefa (@MsStefaPie) for being a great host and all-round neat person. And also to her housemates – Jenn for being lovely and hospitable, and letting us use her as a taxi service, and Darryl for taking my half-nakedness in his stride (don’t ask). Jim of Jim’s Deli (Brighton, MA) for great breakfasts and fun banter. All the AVC/Twitter crew who attended the Boston party – Tony (@el_zilcho), Josh (@JoshLikeGermany), Jon (@JGoo220), Zack (@zhandlen), Joe (@Karatloz), and Phoebe (@phoebeheyman) – for being charming and funny and entertaining, and putting up with my terrible jokes. The bike rental people on Boston Common who rented us a tandem for the day.

Thanks to Becky (@SchoolhouseReck), and her family and in-laws, for making the Brit feel very welcome and treating him to dinner in Philadelphia, at a restaurant where chocolate was involved in as many dishes as possible (America!). Emily, the Australian girl from the hostel and huge Arcade Fire fan who ended up seeing them with me at the Mann Center – couldn’t have asked for a better gig companion. Sean and other randomers we met that night, for good company and guiding us round the city (Not sure if I should thank them or curse them for prompting me to get a cheesesteak from Geno’s). The shisha bar people who effectively reopened their premises late at night so we could have a smoke and a coffee – class act!

Thanks to the guy at Men’s Wearhouse in Manhattan who found me a full Calvin Klein linen suit at a knock-down price. The crew of my JetBlue flight to Chicago, who managed not to exit via escape slide clutching a couple of beers in response to lengthy delays and mounting passenger frustration. President Obama, for at least giving me a fun “why my flight was late” story. James at the hostel, for fun chat, updates on the run-up to Lollapalooza, and company while wandering round Millenium Park in the morning. The bartender at the Billy Goat Tavern, for being extremely quick with the refills. The two guys who brought Georgie the dog to the Clark Street Ale House so he could drink beer from a tumbler placed on the bar. The people at Cafecito for making delicious sandwiches (egg and chorizo for breakfast? Yes please! The Palomilla is also great as well).

Thanks to Gabby (@VAMPARS), Roneesh (@roneesh) and Lauren, for being the best guides to Dallas anyone could ask for. Karen (@kaellynn) and her friend Ace for putting me up in Austin and giving me a great tour of the city. The guy at Austin Art Glass for talking us through the glassblowing process we could see going on in the workshop at the back of the shop. The bats under the South Congress Ave bridge for putting on a good show for us. The Ginger Man in Dallas for a huge selection of beers. Buzzbrews in Dallas for the best coffee I’ve tasted while in the States.

Thanks to the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art in NYC for an interesting panel discussion, and a packed-full exhibition of comics art from creators across the spectrum (including Maurice Sendak concept sketches for Where The Wild Things Are!) Justin (@littlealex_) for good conversation over a few drinks, and for coming to see Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World with us.

That should be all. Anyone I’ve left out, thank you so much, and if you want to be included, please let me know.

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Bryant Park, last day of my trip

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Austin

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Lee Harvey’s bar, Dallas

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Biking the Lake Shore, Chicago

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Billy Goat Tavern, Chicago

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