Posted by: thecatsrrar | June 10, 2012

Out of the mouths of babes

It seems fitting to me that the last post from this blog as The Cat’s Rrar should come from one of my oldest book club kids. She’s 17 now and I’ve watched her blossom as a reader and a writer, with a compassion, empathy and self-awareness worthy of a fully-fledged counsellor. I am very proud to know this young lady. Enjoy.

Despite being a digital age child, born to be immersed in a society fixated by the wonders of technology, much of my childhood was actually spent chasing after the Famous Five on some adventure or other or discovering a lonely girl who escaped the neglect of her family through her love of reading and ability to levitate objects. Matilda was in fact the first book I read by myself without the assistance of my parents or dictation from my teachers and it opened my eyes to the possibilities of reading and the thrill of doing it alone.

But where do I think this love of literature has come from? Well I believe much of it has to do with sitting down a long time ago with Mummy or Daddy and having them plant the seed of imagination in my mind through the lives of characters that did astonishing things. Through as little as ten minutes an evening they nurtured and cared for this seed of imagination as it grew roots and shoots. Spending time with parents early in life has many benefits for a child, but introducing them to books is a gift that translates into uncountable facets of their later life. For me I eventually I hungered for more than what my teachers instructed me to read and my parents chose. I sought for independence in my reading thus setting off on a lifelong journey of discovery.

But even the most skilled of literary navigators sometimes needs direction in what to read – how else would readers be able to broaden the diversity of their reading? This was where my fairy-book-mother and fellow merry band of bookworms came in. A bookclub without boundaries is perhaps the greatest weapon for a reader to have in their arsenal. It is a haven to which one can go to seek a recommendation about a book you would have never otherwise read. But more spectacularly it provides you with an opportunity to share your own findings about books you just couldn’t put down. I myself have attended the same bookclub for around 4 ½ years and intend to continue faithfully for as long as there are novels to read and young people to inspire! Through gentle nudges and wonderful reviews, a bookclub can resuscitate and begin a lifetime of discovery in readers of any age, particularly if you find the right fairy-book-mother!

I believe my relationship with books (although sometimes verging on the obsessive) is a precious and blessed one. I understand that not all parents believe they have the time to settle down with their children and read, yet really ten minutes is not long when putting everything into perspective. For the six years my parents sat with me when I was a child I have had eleven years of autonomous, wondrous reading. From this gift I have even found my passions extreme enough to want to write books of my own, to share stories that I hope to encourage children my age to read one day. My imagination with the aid of words has taken me to places no plane, price tag or Hollywood film ever could and I truly believe that has come from my parents introducing me to reading and a vivid imagination.

These days kids often enough say “I don’t need to read the book, I’ll just watch the movie” and seek to invest their time in the fictitious world of video games and gossiping on social network sites and that’s ok – in moderation. But what these all lack is the use of the imagination. In films the director decides how a scene is to be interpreted from screenplay to screen, in video games the programmer decrees what the world will look like and in social media sites we are merely venting off about our lives to other people and using pictures to tell our stories. What I believe makes reading so fun is the element of imagination that seems to be quashed by these newly influential and visual aspects of our everyday lives.

Of course it takes time for a child to develop the skills to actually read and piece together what a text is actually saying and that does take time and an encouraging push. But it is the pictures that bloom from an active imagination that, for me, make reading pleasurable. The ability to conjure images from simple black and white words on a page is what makes reading so remarkable and pleasurable and is the reason I have never stopped.

In this digital age where almost every child is armed with a laptop, phone and gaming console we scream that children should be stimulated to read more and while I agree with this I think emphasis needs placed on enjoying books that enhance the imagination, not simply books that will “get them reading”. Let kids read what they want to read, what interests them!  For once a child has engaged their imagination the world opens up a thousand possibilities, ones that can be discovered in endless novels. My imagination began to thrive from being read to from an early age, developed through the encouragement of fellow book readers and challenged by my own desire to read more and more.

Therefore we need to ignite the spark of reading in children through books that take us far off into our imaginations. We shouldn’t dictate what they need to be reading but allow them to form an opinion and discover what is being offered. Allow the imagination to flourish and run wild and before you know it parents will be complaining about needing to buy bookshelves in order to recover a little floor space.

Bekah, aged 17

You’ll find us over the next few weeks migrating over to Cat Among The Pages:

See you soon!

Posted by: thecatsrrar | June 5, 2012

Oh Brave New World…you suck out my soul.

Yesterday morning I witnessed a man in a business suit get hit by a car.

He was okay, bruised and embarrassed but okay. The reason he was hit by the car was because he crossed the road, head bent, reading and texting on his mobile device.

This incident has got me thinking a lot about our growing obsession/addiction to gadgets and the internet especially and its consequences (I know there are lots of good things to come out of the internet but they are mostly negated by the bad).

For long enough I have suspected that the human race has actually evolved as far as it can and is, in fact, in a state of evolutionary reversal, a de-evolution if you like. For example, one of the first things we are taught is to stop, look, and listen at kerbsides before crossing, all the time continuing to look and listen for traffic. I see so many that don’t now, their heads and shoulders bent forward in a stoop as they find themselves glued to their mobile devices, unseeing of the dangers ahead. We evolved to stand upright in order, amongst other things, to scan horizons for danger. It makes me wonder if it is all part of Mother Nature’s plan to cull the human race, her Survival of the Fittest with a unique twist – survival of the least obsessed or the least stupid.

We overpopulate, spreading and destroying in a viral like manner. Has Mother Nature had enough? You see, we have this reward system in our brain, that is particularly appreciative of immediate gratification and mobile devices give us this. Does Mother Nature know this and is she taking advantage of this weakness of ours to cull us in new and inventive ways? Are we evolving into a species that no longer looks up and scans the horizon, always on the lookout for predators because of our shiny gadgets and our obsession in wondering how many people ‘like’ our posts, ‘follow’ us, or worrying as to why someone hasn’t responded to our text/email RIGHT NOW? If so, new dangers lurk everywhere: cars, lampposts, muggers, holes in the pavement and we are ripe for the taking.

A few weeks back I wrote about how I was struggling to read, pay attention, care even. You can read about that in a link at the end of this blog post. The reason I have not linked here is because recent research suggests links within written prose cause more harm than good and I’d quite like you to read to the end rather than drift off in a haze of distraction (which is the reading behaviour observed in the research).

In summary, I discovered worrying research into online reading that showed changing brain processes and not in a good way (well in a good way if you think being able to multi-task yet have no compassion for others and a really poor attention span is a good thing). So I took a break. My reading habits transformed in less than a week, back to what they once were, able to soak up two or three books a day rather than a couple of paragraphs, which is what my reading had become. My self-awareness woke up once more, my ability to see peoples’ behaviour for what it actually was – humans with transferences they had no awareness of, and have compassion for it rather than hate it or take it personally. It was tough though. Sadly like many, I had become sucked into the digital world, its addictive qualities all too obvious in my withdrawal behaviours.

A half-assed debate on twitter about digital overkill that’s wrecking our brains got me thinking about internet use in general, or at least mine. I say half-assed not as a reflection on the debators, but on the use of Twitter for anything more than a bit of banal chat, links to “interesting stuff” or self advertising. I do ‘get’ Twitter, many don’t and I sort of like it but mostly, as I’ve discovered, I don’t. For work related interactions it is fine, for social stuff, it’s kind of not and for anything serious that requires you to display your credentials, vast knowledge and experience it simply sucks. I’d rather actually talk to someone face-to-face or, you know, pick up a phone and chat – remember how that works?

Where was I? Oh yes, the digital world. Having experienced an example of our de-evolving state yesterday in the stupid behaviour of man plus gadget on road,  and finding myself constantly frustrated by the behaviour of people online (it appears to create this barrier that allows people to think it is okay to behave badly), I’ve decided to leave it. Not completely. I can’t, my work and study just won’t let me have that luxury, but I experienced such a quietening of the mind, clarity of thought and emotion and awareness while offline and I want it back. I was rested and settled and content. It was wonderful. The world was suddenly less noisy, less busy, less painful on the eyes and I realised I had been completely over-stimulated.

I used to see this over-stimulation in children all the time when I worked as a speech and language therapist (we don’t just work with speech sounds you know, we work with all forms of communication, most of which needs decent attention and interaction skills to develop). Back then it was mostly TV-as-babysitter causing the over-stimulation but it’s the same idea: fast moving images, a wall of colour and noise, and none of it really going in. It caused the children to filter out, to zone out, to stop listening and stop interacting but it was also addictive in some way (I’m currently reading a book called The Fix which explores our addictions to such things as i-gadgets and I can see the similarities). It was like it rewarded some part of them which enjoyed switching off, from the world around them and getting sucked into a cacophony of visual and aural noise. I see the same with the internet and mobile devices and I’ve not been immune (I own a PC, laptop, tablet and phone).

My two best friends don’t use Twitter or Facebook (or even email much) and when was the last time I communicated with them? Clue: a long time ago. This is wrong, this is bad and it stops now. I also find myself strangely envious of them. They have both deliberately stayed away from online interaction because they have seen how addictive these things get (and time consuming) and also how frustrating they actually are for decent communication and interaction. These ladies are wise women indeed.

Having looked at what I have online, I was startled to see that I use none of it consistently or in that useful a way and that my awareness of their existence actually agitates me. I have two blogs, neither of which I write in that often, Facebook in which my status updates involve utter nonsense, rants about large monopolies shafting the UK economy, and links to the awesome Takei’s funny pictures. I mean really.

Twitter is just as bad: the odd observation, link, and reply to someone if I manage to find them in amongst the noise that is everyone else’s banality (with a smattering of usefulness lost within). And people who don’t even know you thinking it’s okay to insult you. Then there’s Goodreads which I really like but don’t make enough use of, presumably because I am too busy dealing with the noise and nonsense on other sites, and Flickr which was my ultimate hobby at one time and did get me all over Scotland meeting people and seeing beautiful places until the money ran out. I try to read websites pertaining to the book industry especially but reading online just hurts my eyes and I’ve developed that twitch that everyone else has (although many don’t realise it) of jumping down the page, glancing, skipping and not taking much of anything in before getting bored and inattentive and switching off. (As an aside, I’m also getting really tired of the paper-book versus e-book debate. Look people, they all have their advantages and disadvantages, the real issue here is not with either and which will survive. None of it will survive in a qualitative way that provides decent incomes to authors and illustrators if we don’t all sit up and take proper notice of the tax-dodging monopoly which is the real threat here).

When I look at it like that, I ask myself, what is the point? The answer is, it doesn’t feel like there is much of one really. I’m doing none of the stuff I want to do and doing a pile of crap with the stuff that actually distracts me from doing what I want to do.

There’s a dilemma though: my sister lives abroad and Facebook is a way to see photos and videos of her and my niece. I have friends world-wide whom I love dearly, and some pretty fabulous local ones too and we use Facebook to organise meeting up (which we don’t do enough of, presumably because we’re all too busy playing computer games, watching DVDs, reading fanfiction online, e-books etc…Oh Brave New World)!

But despite that, I have decided, Facebook is going. Too many privacy changes and a recent change to how we organise friendships, which makes it difficult to remove anyone means I’ve had enough. I’ll collect phone numbers, email addresses and even postal addresses from everyone I love (and all who want to stay in touch in the real world) and with all the peace and quality time I give my brain by leaving, I’ll be able to send them all lovely letters and cards and arrange catch-ups and meetings that involve actual restorative human contact. And I can see my sister on Skype or via my mother’s Facebook anytime, maybe even get a second job with all the spare time I’ll have and save up to visit her.

Twitter I just find frustrating: screeds and screeds of things in far too little amounts of wording, just a bit too hit or miss for me soTwitter I am leaving, of that I am very sure. If I have anything work related to input, it will happen through the work account.

Goodreads: I will keep this. It is a terrific resource for cataloguing books and reviewing them and there’s this great feature for linking your review to your blog.

Which brings me to blogs. I have two, neither of which gets the attention deserved. So I thought about getting rid of them both and then I thought, actually I just don’t know about that and I find myself still trying to decide between keeping and culling. But I will cull one for now. I have decided to migrate The Cat’s Rrar to Cat Among The Pages. I’ve never really liked the name of the former and now that I read books for adults as well as children, and reflect on human nature as part of my studies, it seems more appropriate to move it all. Also my book club kids are all growing up, I don’t know how much longer they will continue to want to meet as their lives fill with exams and new friendships and university and life. But at least they take with them a love of the peace and quiet, creativity, imagination and developing compassion that evolves in the brain whilst reading continuous prose without distractions. I hope with this, they go out into the world capable of lifting their heads up from their mobile devices to look first left, then right, then left again, before crossing the road.

I leave the digital socialising world on July 6th 2012. The link to the previous blog piece I refer to is here, and following this blog post soon is a beautiful piece written by on of my book club kids, which helped me realise I’m doing far too much of the wrong things. As you read what she has written, remember that she is 17.

Posted by: thecatsrrar | May 10, 2012

Crossing Over To Adult Fiction via Daniela Sacerdoti

My book club kids are growing up. Still got some youngsters aged 9, 10, 11 but many are 14, 16 and 18 now so last week at club I presented them with some adult fiction.

One of the first books read was Watch Over Me by Daniela Sacerdoti who has just released her first YA novel Dreams. I thought that fans of Dreams would like something else by the same author and having read Watch Over Me myself and loved it, wondered what a 16 year old would make of it. Here is what Bekah says:

Eilidh hardly counts herself as a women because she can’t have kids. Jamie has resigned himself to devote his life to his little girl because everyone else has left him. And Elizabeth (Jamie’s mother) is a ghost, haunting Glen Avich and meddling in the affairs of its inhabitants before she passes on to the Sea of Souls. Hidden away in a little village in the Highlands, Glen Avich is the last place where one would expect hearts to heal and a ghost to break the ankle of an old lady in order to get her way. Yet the mystery and wonder of the Scottish Highlands is exactly the remedy required to cure the woes of those sheltered in a small village where everyone knows everyone else but perhaps just not their secrets.
Watch Over Me is an adult novel which discusses realms of the adult world I don’t yet feel old enough to understand but still Sacerdoti manipulated me into feeling the pain and heartbreak of the characters even if I couldn’t wholly comprehend it. After reading so many teenage, melodramatic novels of the dystopian and doomed love variety – Watch Over Me was refreshing and a joy to read. Sacerdoti didn’t write her different characters narrative using a formula but instead wrote knowing whose point of view needed told and followed through.
Now coming to an age where I feel ready to venture further into the world of adult literature I found this particular book brilliant for simply testing unknown waters. I realised that although I had little experience of what the characters were going through, just not knowing made me curious as to gain something of an awareness that I could instigate in reality. Truly a worthwhile read for older teens who want to bridge the gap between YA and adult fiction.
This is why I love my book club kids. I’m halfway through Dreams and loving it, so will keep you posted. My guess is that Bekah will wish a read of it after me!
Posted by: thecatsrrar | May 7, 2012

“I’d love to own a bookshop”

Altogether now…”A,B,C,D,E,F….”

Never quite know what to say to people who utter these words or ask for advice on setting up a bookshop…but here goes:

a) I’ve not done it, I only work for one, plus one previous to that. The result being? I would never set-up/own a bookshop, I’ve seen the darkside

b) I love my job but I can see that owning/running a business does not let you do the aspects of the job you love, so if you love books, don’t set up a bookshop

c) you get pretty sick of reading books that you have to, with no time for the ones you want to

d) it doesn’t matter how beautiful the kids books are, they still want Rainbow Fairies

e) if you love spreadsheets, the alphabet, have retail experience, and don’t mind being treated like a piece of crap by the general public – go for it

f) make sure you have a strong back and an even thicker skin

g) retail experience – seriously, don’t underestimate it – owning a bookshop is never about sitting around in a nice atmosphere reading all day. It’s about blagging and schmoozing and hoping and despairing, incessant re-alphabetising, spreadsheets, smiling when everyone is rude, juggling money and invoices, hefting heavy loads, being on your ouchy feet all day and falling into bed exhausted to read a chapter of the next pile of crap a publisher really wants you to sell

h) it has LOTS of lovely moments too but the reality check is very important,so “it must be lovely working in/owning a bookshop” : like every other occupation, it has its moments but at the heart of every lovely bookshop is a business that needs hard work and balls of steel and a never-ending supply of chocolate and tea to calm the stress.

You have been warned.

Posted by: thecatsrrar | March 31, 2012

Reading Habits in an Economy Downturn?

I’m just tidying up the shop shelves following our end of year stock take and I’ve noticed something rather irritating: an alarming number of our fiction titles have creased spines. This is irritating because it tells me that people have been coming in, handling books carelessly, reading significant chunks and then not bothering to buy them. I’m wondering if this is a new habit, formed through cash flow concerns, forcing the potential buyer to be a little more discerning before buying. That’s wise, but could you stop damaging the books on the shelves please? You damage = we can’t sell = we lose money. Read without creasing the spines, it’s easy, I do it all the time.It does however require a little thought and consideration…

Actually, while I’m on the subject, it wouldn’t hurt us all to remember a few things about retail in general: we are essentially invited on to private property, to peruse privately owned goods, which if carelessly abused, cannot be sold and thus lose the owner money. By rights, if you damage private property, you should pay for that damage. It’s so disheartening to watch people behaving carelessly with stock and then picking a fight with you if you ask them to pay for their abuse (it’s not even full price, it’s cost price we ask for). It makes me wonder how such people behave in their friends’ houses…

Bookselling, like any other small trade isn’t a “nice little hobby”. It’s a job, requiring the generation of cash through sales in order to survive in business, eat, heat the home and, if there’s anything left over after that, have the odd day out. If readers want books, if publishers want authors, if authors want publication, if printers want jobs, if distribution services want to keep the pennies coming in, books have to be sold. So show a bit of respect for the humble bookseller.

One other thing: anyone in retail is first and foremost a human being. So treat them as such. They have as much right to respect and good manners as the consumer. Obviously they hope to provide an excellent service but they are humans first, retailers second and being treated like a piece of poo on a shoe is not fair or decent.

Consideration and respect for our fellow humans goes a long way. If the plethora of books currently out there on the lack of empathy and compassion in our ‘selfish societies’ is anything to go by, we need to pull up our socks and crack on with being nice.

Mini rant over, thanks for listening!

Coming next: the internet diet, did I succeed?

Posted by: thecatsrrar | February 27, 2012

The 13th Horseman by Barry Hutchison

Originally posted on Goodreads September 4th 2011, it’s now here in celebration of the publication date this week.
Recommended for: Fans of Monty Python, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

Utterly squeeing at having this so early. When Barry told me the premise way back when, I was in fits of laughter. Excited :))))

Okay, I’ve calmed down and also finished the book. Whilst I probably should add the same caveat to this, yeah this is a reading copy from the publisher, yeah I know Barry, no I don’t ooze all over authors and publishers because I have some weird psycho author-love complex and a desire for as many freebie books as possible…if it is a bit rubbish I will say so, because I sell books and run clubs and children don’t appreciate liars, and it wouldn’t do my selling reputation any good to be pushing rubbish on people.

So is this book a bit rubbish? No, absolutely not. It is brilliant. My only complaint: not enough of it! And Pestilence needs a story all of his own. You’ll know what I mean when you read it. Think Terry Pratchett, Monty Python and Neil Gaiman and you’ve got Barry’s style. He combines the fantastical with a healthy doze of reality and comes up with absurd hilarity…or is that hilarious absurdity? I don’t know, either way, this book made me laugh out loud so much that I got strange looks on the bus. Okay, maybe I get strange looks regardless of whether I am laughing out loud or not but that’s a concern for another day. Two other people I know have read this, an eleven year old boy and he loved it and a 21 year old girl, who grinned from ear to ear when talking about it. I know someone else who is currently reading it and is reading the funny bits out loud to anyone who will listen. Far better than the brilliant Invisible Fiends in my opinion, my only genuine complaint is with HarperCollins who keep putting age guides on the back of Barry’s books. His writing suits adults, as well as children of quite a vast age range and ability and it is especially a shame that reluctant older readers are a bit put off by his Invisible Fiends series having a 9+ splashed on the back. I will be having a word with HarperCollins, believe me.

Posted by: thecatsrrar | February 27, 2012

Why I am on an Internet Diet

A few months ago I became aware that I couldn’t settle to anything for more than about 15 minutes. I would twitch and get bored and have to do something else. I couldn’t read or write, on paper or on PC in a settled and constructive way and I felt tense and buzzy and incapable of really thinking or paying attention.

The only thing I could come up with that was different about my life was that my internet usage was sky high. I was online constantly researching articles for my dissertation and essays and general study. I was keeping up with friends because, apart from my two long term best friends who don’t use social networking (wise women indeed), everyone else I know does. We all seem incapable of actually meeting face to face these days.

I also found myself defaulting to the internet when I was bored which was not like me. I am so well resourced – I am lucky enough to very creative and not afraid to try something new. My absolute passion is also reading and yet I found myself unable to settle to any form of written word. What the hell was going on?

It had to be related to my internet use. Knowing what I know about the brain (which is a reasonable amount as I studied neuroscience as part of degree one and as an SLT found myself immersed in it for years, but also find myself back there as part of my counselling studies), I looked into the recent research on brain adaptation and internet use and sure enough, thanks to the brain’s amazing plasticity capabilities, neuroscience research is telling us that with as little as 5 hours internet use in one week, our neural activity adapts and changes.

Now this is not bad thing you would think, and it is not in one respect. The research shows that internet use provides our brains with processes which shift our attention constantly allowing the brain to develop nimble multitasking skills and widespread visual-spatial skill. But this comes at a cost. These new neural pathways in the brain diminish the use of neural pathways responsible for deep processing, the skill that underpins imagination, reflection, long term memory, creativeness, empathy, compassion, relaxation and the ability to spend time and attention on a task, experience it and own it. The research is showing us that Net learning is actually superficial, robbing us of important abilities needed to learn and relate.

I took this research and applied it to me. Ironically I found a book that summarised everything I was reading in science journals but having got through the first few pages and decided this was a fair and balanced view of what was going on from an author who was a self-confessed internet obsessive and gadget lover, I couldn’t read any further because I was twitching again.

That was it. I switched of the internet, put away the gadgets and for four days immersed myself in self awareness. I was like what I imagine a drug addict feels going cold turkey. Practically every thought and experience I had was around updating it on Facebook or observing it on Twitter or wondering if I could find the answer online. I know I have a somewhat obsessive personality which is why I stay away from chocolate when I can and alcohol most of the time and most importantly, computer games (seriously, you’d find me dead in a gaming chair if I let that one in).

After four days, I felt calmer, the inside of my head felt quieter, my eyes so much brighter and I sat with my book and read it, soaking it up, page by page for four hours until it was finished. I haven’t done that in nearly a year. The book was The Shallows by Nicholas Carr, that internet obsessed author who did exactly what I did, although in a more extreme way, in order to write the book because he was suffering the same way I was. What he writes is balanced, fair, acknowledges all that is good and important about the net but also opens our eyes to the damage if we don’t balance our lives more. I was particularly intrigued to learn that the Google developers view our brains as computers and have no respect for humanness or copyright but that’s a whole other posting really and I know the book I want to read about that. This book is essentially about the neuroscience research and it can get a bit heavy if you are not imbibed in the jargon like I am but it is worth the read.

I loved Carr’s historical summary of the development of the written word and reading behaviours and I really appreciated the balanced view he took because I imagine there are millions of internet obsessives out there waiting to shout his findings down. But they would be wrong. The brain doesn’t lie, the changes are all there, evidenced in the research (and neuroscientists research well). If I hadn’t experienced it all for myself, would I be convinced by this book? I think so actually, because Carr’s view is so balanced and he has his own twitchings and internet needs which he confesses to. I was also intrigued and alarmed by the very valid points he makes about publishers’ desires to provide links in e-books. If you want your readers to actually read and remember a whole book and thus recommend it to others, I suggest you leave the html links out. Seriously. You’ll be doing your book sales more harm than good with html links and other distractions, according to the research.

So what do I do next? That’s easy to state, harder to put in to practice. I put down the keyboard and step away from the internet. I am on an internet diet. I will surf once a week for a couple of hours doing all I need to do in that time. This means I spend time through the week making sure I know what I need to do in those two hours and doing it. I will do all my study research at the university library because as it is an unsecured network I stick to the intranet journal sites only and don’t mess about. Once a week, at home I’ll check in with everything else – Tuesdays probably, T’internet Tuesdays. It has a nice ring to it. The rest of the time will be spent nurturing my brain’s awesome and more important capabilities of attention, thought, long term remembering and thus learning and the ability to switch off and relax.

Will I succeed? I think so. I miss my brain. I liked the brain that was calm, and attentive, capable of thinking for hours, capable of compassion and empathy and relaxation and being able to work at something and solve the problem, capable of remembering and enjoying the experience. I also like the peace and quiet in my head. I’ve missed that.

p.s. there are no hypertextlinky things in this article because according to research, they are one of the biggest problems facing our brains ability to pay attention. If you want to know more, put a search into a search engine and if you want to give your brain the workout it appreciates do your search in anything but Google. It’s too easy and will shut your brain down. I’ve also tried to keep my paragraphs short because research shows that we are no longer capable of reading long stuff. But do read Carr’s book. It’s all there in a very accessible and fair format. My brain loved it. Happy brain.

Posted by: thecatsrrar | January 26, 2012

The time management skills of a broken watch.

It really has been a shamefully long time since I was last here hasn’t it? Excuses? I have a million, mostly involving reading, rather ironically. I’m now in year two of my counselling studies and the Masters dissertation looms large on the horizon. That coupled with selling books in a tricksy economy makes for some challenging time management. Oh how I envy those avid book bloggers who receive their freebie books from publishers because they have the time to sit and read for pleasure, then write about it. It is a bit of a downside to working with books – the opportunities for curling up with a pleasant read are few and far between. We do read, absolutely, otherwise we wouldn’t be able to make all our wonderful personal recommendations to you. However, it’s all done last thing at night, on the occasional day off and on the commute to work.

We had a lovely lady in the other day asking if we had any jobs going. We don’t but if we do, we tend, like most booksellers to hope you have retail experience. This lovely lady was keen and enthusiastic and had various English/literature studies from university plus she loved reading. Great! But did she have a strong back, an ability to sell fridges to eskimos, research capabilities, the patience of a saint, a love of spreadsheets and an aptitude with numbers, not to mention a strong alphabet ability and did she mind terribly if her reading for pleasure was usurped by reading for necessity, often last thing at night, exhausted and desperate for sleep? You see, whilst it is lovely working in a bookshop, it’s also retail and at the risk of debunking a favourite myth of non-booksellers…we don’t get to ‘read all day’. Shock horror. You see we’re too busy keeping a business afloat. We also read the ‘rubbish’ so as you, dear customer, don’t have to. With more than 120,000 books published each year, there’s a lot of sifting to be done.

So with all this in mind, I thought it would be fun to do a ‘Day In The Life Of A Bookseller’ post. Coming soon, I can assure you!

So what bookish stuff have I been up to since we last met? Well selling them mostly, and worrying about the state of the nation’s reading and attitude to books. Thankfully, my wonderous book clubs are still going strong, still loving books and still keen to meet four years on from our initial meeting. We all met in January and rather than try and bring you up to speed on last year’s meetings and favourites I thought I’d start in January, with January. I’ll splice snippets of last year here and there as the year progresses. January’s reads coming soon (as soon as I can find my notes under a mountain of stuff marked for my attention. Eep.

Posted by: thecatsrrar | September 10, 2011

Book Abuse

Today I am taking a little side step away from my planned posts to write a little about a certain Julie Foster on eBay who has been causing a bit of a stir. She is selling proof books. Proofs or ARCs are books sent to booksellers and reviewers, free. They often arrive months before the official publication of a book and their purpose is to be read and reviewed. As a bookseller I am always grateful for a proof copy, especially of something that is going to hardback first as it is always far more helpful if I can have confidence in a book before I buy copies from the official print run to sell in the shop. So why is Julie causing a stir? Because book proofs are not for sale. It clearly states this on the cover or the inside page. Essentially, what she is doing is illegal. Good to know that eBay has facilities for reporting illegal sales. This is someone who has received something for free and doesn’t seem to think it is a problem to make money from something she has not invested in, either in terms of parting with money or contributing to the work. Selfish doesn’t even begin to cover what I am thinking right now.



Posted by: thecatsrrar | September 6, 2011

That was August that was…(pt1)

August 2011 blurred by in a flurry of work. I was in the shop six days a week, including evenings, where I ran around helping run events and groups, assisting publishers with the consumption of lovely meals (okay, maybe that doesn’t count much as work, but sometimes schmoozing can be hard work in between mouthfuls of chocolate and orange souffle with ginger ice cream).

You would think this frenzy of activity normal for a book shop in Edinburgh during the Edinburgh Book Festival, but actually August has the potential to reverberate from the echoes of tumbleweed if you run a bookshop during festival time. You see, everyone tends to go to the festival during festival time. Ah the funny quirks of people! And with the book festival running its own shop it is no surprise that the book sales go there rather than to other bookshops. So there are two options: shut up shop for a couple of weeks and take a well earned holiday or Get Involved. We opted to get involved, or rather, we were contacted by some lovely people who asked us to get involved.

It all started with a tweet from Neil Gaiman, musing about doing something with The Edinburgh Bookshop. Then David Sedaris asked if we would run his book sales at the International Edinburgh Conference Centre. Then the lovely Guardian got in touch to ask if we would get involved with a pod cast featuring Down The Rabbit Hole by Juan Pablo Villalobos, then there were events to chair, meetings to be had including dinner with Robert Muchamore and his fabulous team at Hodder, meeting Puffin delightfuls Cathy Cassidy, Maggi Gibson, Ed Vere, Meg Rosoff and Curtis Yobling over nomnomnom. Sadly I didn’t get to the Oxford dinner with Ali Sparkes which upset me a lot, cos I’d love to meet her and tell her how much my nephew loves her S.W.I.T.C.H. books. And let’s not forget the brilliant Gillian Philip and the launch of Bloodstone. I’m sure there are other delights which I have omitted but the one sad fact about all this book business…I never once made it to an event at the Edinburgh Book Festival. Oh the irony.

So, coming up over the next few posts…August. *deep breath*

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