This month’s professional bookworm is Paul Angel of Westbourne Bookshop in Bournemouth. Paul has been involved in bookselling since 1997, but it wasn’t until 2015 that he gave up his ‘proper job’ to take over this well-established bookshop (it’s been around for over 20 years). Since then, he’s been putting lots of effort into improving the feel of the space, replacing shabby carpets and false ceilings to reveal the gorgeous Edwardian shop underneath (all the while becoming known for his excellent taste in jazz). Amazingly, three generations of Paul’s family work in the shop with him – including his parents, sister, wife, wife’s daughter, cousin, niece, sons, and Poppy the rescue pup (bookselling must be in their blood – the family also own the lovely Gullivers Bookshop in Wimborne Minster). Three non-family staff members also exist, helping to add to the atmosphere – in fact, the shop was nominated for ‘Best Retail Experience’ in the 2017 Bournemouth Tourism Awards (and got through to the top 5!) Head to Paul’s shop if you’re after new books – they cover every genre – or if you’re in the market for jigsaws, educational toys, or cards. In the meantime, be sure to follow Paul’s antics on Facebook and sign-up for his newsletter (click ‘Diary’).
His three big books
‘We’ by Yevgeny Zamyatin: My favourite copy is a paperback I rescued from the rain on a wet afternoon at Hay’s Castle Bookshop, in 1990. It’s tatty and smells delicious – printed in New York in 1959, and advertised as ‘a powerful challenge to all Socialist Utopias’. In fact, it’s a powerful challenge to all forms of despotism, and feels increasingly relevant today. Banned in Russia, the book was first published in translation in 1921. Orwell admired the novel’s “intuitive grasp of the irrational side of totalitarianism”, and it’s a clear inspiration for his own ‘1984’. The Well-Doer is watching you, D-503.
‘Three Men in a Boat’ by Jerome K Jerome: The first time I read this I laughed out loud so often that I couldn’t read it in public. Then I had a copy on tape, read by Martin Jarvis, and I tittered all the way from Bournemouth to Cambridge by bus, several times over. Then, years later, I read it to my sons and had to stop frequently as I’d start to laugh in anticipation of the funniest bits. For a book more than 110 years old, the humour is timeless – even as I type this I’m starting to titter…
‘The Chimes’ by Anna Smaill: This is quite a recent book but shot into my all-time favourites list as soon as I’d read it. Set in a future London, a catastrophe has removed the ability to form new memories, and all written words are meaningless. Music and harmony has become the method of remembering. I’m not a musician, and the use of musical terms is as alien to me as the Nadsat slang in ‘A Clockwork Orange’, but that made it all the more intriguing and engaging. It’s dystopian fiction, it’s a love story, it’s poetry. I love it.
His two contemporary titles
‘Reader on the 6.27’ by Jean-Paul Didierlaurent: A customer pointed me in the direction of this one, and I’m so glad she did. I’m afraid I’m a little suspicious of books about books, books about writers, books set in bookshops… but a book about a book-obsessive trapped in a job at a book pulping factory? Yes, please! This is the most romantic book I’ve ever read, just a delightful, tragi-comic, charming ride, with a pleasing smattering of (literally) toilet humour. I enjoyed this so much that I actually kissed the last page when I got to the end.
‘The End We Start From’ by Megan Hunter: Oh my goodness, how much do I love this book? It’s rare to read a story told in a way that feels totally new, but the pared-back poetry of the prose told more in the words unused than some books do in pages of over-descriptive filler. This is a short read which will linger in your mind, as you fill the gaps in conversation, picture the part-drawn images, imagine the vital scenes untold, all of which serves to put you at the heart of the narrator’s world, our all-too-possible future.
The one on his ‘to read’ list
‘Borne’ by Jeff Vandermeer: I read Vandermeer’s ‘Southern Reach Trilogy’ almost by accident, and I’m hooked on his peculiar, spaced-out storytelling. His new book, ‘Borne’, is next in my ‘to be read’ pile. The only reason I haven’t already read it is that I want to savour the anticipation just a little longer. I’m avoiding all reviews, but the blurb tells me there’s a ruined city and a gigantic flying bear with a shapeless form called Borne entangled in its fur, a form who may or may not be a person… a book with pretty broad appeal, I think!