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Newsletter #28

Hello lovely people! It's okay, the firework displays are over now. You can come out from behind the sofa. At least until they start up again a fortnight before New Year's Eve. Stoke Newington is looking pleasingly seasonal, all auburn leaves. chunky knit jumpers, and mulled spices shoved into any and every drink regardless of suitability.

Our shelves are similarly changing in appearance (can't speak as to the flavour), while we begin gearing up for Christmas and publishers start bringing out the heavy hitters. This edition features a few such behemoths, including a Olga Tokarczuk novel so large it can be referred to only as a tome, plus some firm favourites returning to our children's section. Have a gander, why don't you?

New this week

One of the great pleasures of discovering a new beloved writer is going back and gorging yourself on all of their existing work. Doubly so when they're in translation, as Fitzcarraldo continue to work through Nobel-winner Olga Tokarczuk's substantial back catalogue, meaning we get another beguiling, unclassifiable work as regularly as a new Rebus. The Books of Jacob should keep you going for a while, too: its 912 pages cover some 200 years of history, following the story of a self-proclaimed Jewish messiah from 1752 Ukraine to Holocaust-era Poland. As dizzying and demanding as it is rewarding.

Neal Stephenson prefers to look for the future, as he has since he debuted with the ever-timely cyberpunk classic Snow Crash. Termination Shock is his latest, a climate crisis-tinged technothriller, pacy and dense with detail, for fans of Ministry for the Future. In The Selfless Act of Breathing JJ Bola returns to ideas of belonging introduced in his essay Mask Off, as a British-Congolese teacher reckons with a sudden loss and subsequent identity crisis.

Named for and set on a small cluster of Mediterranean islands that resemble a canine from above, Phillippe Claudel's Dog Island is a story of how no community can isolate itself forever. On one of the islands is an active volcano, beginning to smoke. On another, the bodies of three refugees wash up on the beach. The locals cover the deaths up, fearing an impact to the tourist trade. A detective turns up and the sinister reality of how the men died begins to be uncovered. A gripping, sensitive and elegantly-written read.

If the subtitle of Rose Tremain's Lily: A Tale of Revenge hasn't already hooked you, the set up will: our orphaned heroine is chewed up and spat out by Victorian London, seeking salvation in a young policeman who may be the one to uncover her dark secret... The Decameron Project is an example of a book which can be accurately judged by its fantastic cover, collecting as it does short stories published by The New York Times during the pandemic, with work from the likes of Leila Slimani, Margaret Atwood and Rachel Kushner.
What were the sixties actually like? Was free love and liberation on offer to absolutely everyone? Peter Doggett's Growing Up: Sex in the Sixties suggests things were, of course, a little more complicated than that. Drawing on a dozen profiles of individuals from the period, Doggett argues that the decade often found itself in conflict between the growing permissiveness and freedom offered by greater availability of drugs and birth control, and the corporate, political and personal forces that sought to exploit these breakthroughs.

Two of the barnstorming releases from last Christmas at last make it to paperback this month. John Gray's Feline Philosophy was a not-so-surprising hit, a funny and thoughtful pondering on our relationship with the most haughty of pets. If anyone was going to reliably write on News And House To Use It, it's Alan Rusbridger. It's a practical guide to telling the difference between fact and fake news, with significant insight from the former editor-in-chief of The Guardian.
Tied with the Tremain for most evocative title of the month, do you really need to know more about Susanne Wedlich's Slime: A Natural History? Fine, we'll indulge you. This Radio 4 book of the week is a scientific journey through the 3 billion year history of slime, with diversions into its appearances in 50s B-movies, Patricia Highsmith's fondness for snails, the mating habits of gastropods. Will we one day return to the same primordial ooze we rose from? Widelich argues that doing so may be no bad thing. Even if it is sticky.

Noah Strycker's 
Birding Without Borders is more than just the memoir of a twitcher. His attempt to be the first person to spot half the world's 10,000 species of birds in a year covers seven continents and 41 countries, making for a whistlestop travelogue that doubles as a survey of the state of our planet. Iconoclastic artist Ai Weiwei has even grander ambitions: his memoir 1000 Years of Joys and Sorrow covers not only his life and career, but also that of his father, contextualising their creative lives in exile from Mao's cultural revolution.
The fairies of Ross Montgomery's The Chime Seekers have more in common with old folklore than Tinkerbell. When his baby sister is kidnapped and replaced with a changeling, Yanni has to venture through the world of the fae using all his wit, courage, and the help of cousin Daisy to persevere against these tricksy, dangerous creatures. A charming, funny and oftentimes creepy adventure with shades of Labyrinth (no bad thing!)

We recommend Neal Shusterman's Scythe series to anyone who asks — and plenty more who don't — and feel confident we'll be doing the same with Roxy. His second collaboration with brother Jarrod tackles the opioid crisis through the story of malevolent party gods hastening to the lethal revelling of humanity for their own amusement. Significantly more wholesome is The Runaways of Haddington Hall by Vivian French, a riotous romp through Dickensian London, full of unexpected twists and colourful characters.
Carnegie Medal-winner Kevin Crossley-Holland and former Children's Laureate Chris Riddell team up for a suitably regal subject matter in Arthur the Always King, a lavishly illustrated picture book retelling of the formative legend. From the Sword in the Stone through the rise and fall of The Round Table (even the Green Knight gets a look-in!), it's splendidly presented and makes for a thrilling, coherent version of the foundational English myths for young and old alike.

That's all well and good, but who can relate to the heavy crown of Arthurian destiny, really? Much more familiar are the struggles of the family in Alice B. McGinty and David Roberts's extremely funny Bathe the Cat. No spoilers, but several stages in this step-by-step guide are simply "find your cat". Little Bear by Richard Jones is a cosy bedtime book for the colder months, the sweet story of a young boy who befriends a polar bear who appears in his back garden, and their attempts to find the bear's way home.
We're excited to announce we've a whole raft of new puzzles that have just come into the shop, including this rather handsome 1,000 piece jigsaw based on a William Morris tapestry. One to piece together on as a clear and minimalist a surface as possible, we think.

What we're reading

  • Sarah raced through Janice Hallett's The Twyford Code (out in January), another original and creative crime novel from the author of The Appeal
  • Tom is thoroughly enjoying Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters, a keenly observed and very entertaining novel-of-manners for the 21st century about an unlikely trio of queer parents
  • Ellie just finished Stanley Tucci’s Taste and is now even more obsessed with Italian food; a heartfelt medley (a hot pot?) of love, cooking and family
Alright, that's your lot. We've got piles of carefully-swept-up leaves to go careening through, much to the chagrin of the park employees of N16. Below you'll find all the details of our opening hours and ordering system(s), please stop by to say hi and purchase lots of lovely books, and we'll see you in a couple of weeks if not before!
We are open for browsing 10-6 Monday to Saturday, and 11-5 on Sunday. You can also email or call (020 7249 2808) to place an order, then pick up your items from the shop. If you're unable to get to the shop for any reason, you can order books to be delivered to you through our friends at (and we receive a decent commission!)
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