This month’s professional bookworm is Emma Smith, bookseller at Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights, Bath. Opened in 2006, Mr B’s was founded by two ex Prague-based lawyers, Nic and Juliette. As a bookish person, you’ve probably heard the name – the shop has twice been named the UK’s best independent bookshop, and as recently as 2015, one of the ten best bookshops in the world. These titles are well-deserved: obsessed with “extreme” customer service and hand-selling, and boasting a diligently, passionately curated collection of books beautifully laid-out in rooms filled with intriguing shelves and spots to sit and read, the Emporium is the self-proclaimed “spiritual home for book lovers”. Not only that, but the shop is innovative too – the team hold ‘reading spas‘, where a lucky customer is sat down with tea and cake, before beginning a relaxed conversation about their favourite books with a bookseller. The Mr B’s team then choose a stack of books of things they think the customer will love based on what they’ve chatted about, and the reader has a voucher to spend, there and then, on whatever they would like. As for Emma herself – she loves any book that’s “out of the ordinary”, which is probably why she runs ‘Mr B’s Emporium Strikes Back‘ – their sci-fi book club! Her favourites are anything dark, speculative, gothic, twisty, or Western (yep, she loves to see those wagon wheels rollin’). Be sure to follow Emma’s antics (and the rest of the team) on Facebook and Instagram – they hold loads of events, too!
Her three big books
‘The City and The City’ by China Mieville: I grew up reading and loving anything magical and fantastical, but I’d never really ventured into science fiction. Then a number of years ago, when I worked as a Waterstones bookseller at the Cheltenham Literature Festival, I met China Mieville and I felt intrigued to try his novel ‘The City and the City’. I must have read it at least three times since, and I now run a sci-fi book club at Mr B’s, so you can see the influence this book has had on my reading life! The premise is utterly mind-blowing, as I’ve since learnt any Mieville concept usually is. It’s the story of two cities that physically overlap, so you are able to see both cities at once but it is forbidden to do so, and if you are found even looking at someone else in the other city you are taken by the ‘Breach’. Then a murder happens which involves two investigation teams, one from each city, having to work together and work out which city is really involved. Written as a homage to Raymond Chandler, it is extraordinarily clever, as only Mieville can be, and although it may cause your head to ache with questions to begin with – trust me it’s entirely worth it!
‘The Orenda’ by Joseph Boyden: Set during the 1640s in the New World, a long-held rift between two warring tribes has been re-ignited after the kidnapping of a young Iroquois girl. The chapters alternate between the captured girl Snow Falls, her captor Bird, and a French missionary called Christophe, who is devoted to converting the Huron to Catholicism. I’ve never read anything so profoundly beautiful and yet viscerally brutal at the same time. As soon as I read the final page I wanted to go straight back to the beginning and devour every word again. I now own every book Boyden has written and it’s one where I can feel the hair on my arms stand up every time I recommend it to someone.
‘A Tale for the Time Being’ by Ruth Ozeki: This is a book that has pride of place on one of my many bookshelves at home (particularly the beautiful hardback edition with the exposed spine binding). I can remember the feeling of not having read anything like it before. When Ruth discovers a Hello Kitty lunchbox washed up on the shores of the beach containing a diary written by Nao, a young Japanese girl, she suspects it may have been delivered on the waves of the 2011 tsunami and she can think of nothing else. What I love about this book is the way you feel everything Ruth feels – you become obsessed with the words of Nao and the intimate insight into every aspect of her life, and you just don’t ever want to let her go. There’s always that question in the back of your mind – is she still out there somewhere? I also admire any author that manages to write herself into her own novel as a character!
Her two contemporary titles
‘Dog Run Moon’ by Callan Wink: It’s no secret amongst my colleagues and customers at Mr B’s that I have a great love of the American West – in fact I’ve just returned from an epic three month road trip! But I’ve always had a troubled relationship with short story collections; I can count on one hand the number I’ve actually finished from beginning to end. There’s always something that doesn’t quite pull me back to them like a full novel. Then I was handed a copy of Callan Wink’s ‘Dog Run Moon’ and suddenly this whole new form opened up to me and I fell in love with each and every story. Set in Montana and Wyoming, on the borders of Yellowstone National Park, they each capture this sense of the old west meeting the new. From a Custer’s Last Stand reenactor having an annual affair with the woman who plays the Crow woman who supposedly killed Custer, to a young boy who’s summer job is to dispose of the many kittens on his family’s farm, earning a dollar per tail. The writing is powerful, yet quiet, and Wink truly brings the landscape of the West to life with such vivid and memorable characters.
‘The Honours’ by Tim Clare: Sometimes you get the sense from a book cover alone that it was written just for you. I instinctively knew I would love this book before I even opened the first page. Set in 1930s Norfolk, we follow thirteen year old Delphine who is staying at a grand countryside estate with her parents. Her father is a famous artist, but suddenly he has been taken ill – and you know this is why the family are staying there but you have absolutely no idea what this place really is. Delphine has an incredibly inquisitive mind which leads her to find a network of hidden passages inside the house, where she is able to spy on the other elite guests staying there. She soon realises there is something much darker, and perhaps even otherworldly going on here… Delphine quickly became my new favourite heroine, and in fact I often liken her to Lyra from Philip Pullman’s ‘His Dark Materials’.
The one on her ‘to read’ list
‘The Gloaming’ by Kirsty Logan: We’re only a few days into the year, and in true bookseller style I already have a teetering pile of books I’m excited for. But if I had to pick it would be Kirsty Logan’s ‘The Gloaming’ (released in April 2018), set on a remote otherworldly island that slowly turns its inhabitants to stone. I fell in love with Kirsty’s previous novel ‘The Gracekeepers’ back in 2015, and I’ve been eagerly anticipating this new novel ever since. If, like me, you’re drawn to anything magical inspired by folklore and fairytales then there’s no doubt you’ll want to add this to your to-read list too!