Review Round-up – Thompson, Bythell & Cowen / Hayes

Beeswing by Richard Thompson

In the mid-80s I discovered British folk music, thanks to friends Jon and Jan. An essential part of my education was Fairport Convention and Richard Thompson, although it’s fair to say that Thompson’s solo work really took off for me a little later with his wonderful 1991 song 1952 Vincent Black Lightning (watch here) which flipped a switch on for me (as a former biker chick!). Going to many Fairport and Thompson gigs followed and several visits to Fairport’s Cropredy festival, plus acquiring and devouring the entire back catalogues of said artists.

But I digress, Thompson’s memoir of his Fairport and early solo years from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s is a great read. Full of anecdotes, it’s a good-natured look back at his formative years, all his influences, the mechanics of making records (without getting over-detailed which is a bonus), the band dynamics and more. If you know his music, you’ll love the book.

Read my full Shiny review HERE.

Source: Review copy – thank you. Richard Thompson, Beeswing (Faber). 320pp., hardback. BUY at Blackwell’s via our affiliate link (free UK P&P)

Seven Kinds of People You Find in Bookshops by Shaun Bythell

Bythell’s second volume of diaries, Confessions of a Bookseller, is my most viewed post ever with thousands of page views and still getting visitors each week. The diaries are very enjoyable indeed, and last autumn, he came out with a little book all about his customers – buyers, sellers and browsers – putting them into a Linnaeus-inspired taxonomy with Latin names. The first genus is that of the ‘expert’ – so within that we get the species: the ‘specialist’, the ‘bore’, the homo utilis = ‘helpful person’, the antiquarian book collector’ and the ‘home mechanic’. The latter, he says,

are an absolute delight. They’re looking for a Haynes manual for a Land Rover, and are never disappointed when you don’t have one, and overjoyed when you do happen to have a copy. They don’t read anything other than books about cars, but who cares? They read what they want to read, like everyone, and have literally nothing in the way of literary pretensions. I love and respect them. They are joyous in their passions and deserve nothing but the highest praise.

We carry on through six other genera, each with their subspecies. There is plenty to chuckle about within the 137 pages, and more about the lore of bookselling and bookbuying as you’d expect. I loved the categories in the genus Homo qui desidet – ‘Loiterer’, which includes the ‘bored spouse’, the ‘erotica browser’, and the ‘self-published author’ who come in for some stick for their sales tactics. The postscript describes ‘perfect customers’ – which include ‘normal people, fiction collectors and sci-fi fans – I’d like to think I’m a combination of all three of these!

Source: Own copy – and #7 of my 20 Books of Summer 21. BUY at Blackwell’s via my affiliate link.

The Heeding by Rob Cowen, illustrated by Nick Hayes

I wish there were more collaborations between poets and illustrators, because this book becomes more than the sum of its parts. When Cowen shared his poems with Hayes, the latter suggested adding his illustrations to create ‘a continuous visual narrative’ of their year of the pandemic.

The result is a book in which meditations on nature, and fond memories of events past juxtapose with current affairs butting in. For instance, a pair of nature poems and “Honeymoon”, in which Cowen finds a souvenir from his honeymoon, are followed by three Covid-inspired ones: “Lovers” in which Cowen overhears two snogging teens breaking lockdown, “Solidarity on a Saturday Night” allows him to feel human again when everyone switches on a light, but is followed by “Last Breaths” as a man lies dying in a nursing home. It was particularly moving, and the last page is below:

If poems and illustrations about nature and the events of the pandemic form most of this collection, other events of the year like #BlackLivesMatter make an important appearance too. Hayes’s double-page spread artwork of a deer standing proud beneath a #BLM-graffitied motorway bridge follows Cowen’s poem “Matter” in which he compares the way that beneath the soil,

Uncountable tendrils and tap roots mat, / Resisting trowel, spraining wrist. / Pushing back and confirming that / Things can grow, contest, yet coexist.
But despite this matted matter, I’ll still scatter / Seeds in the hope of change and in faith / That new roots may entangle with old, and that all / Borders might, one day, blur with growth.

One part of the book I particularly enjoyed though was the introductory essay by Cowen, which explains all about ‘heeding’ through looking at his late grandfather’s collection of found objects, and remembering him teaching the author to observe and heed nature. This contrasts with his then need to write about the times we find ourselves in take heed. Cowen’s previous book, Common Ground, is prose, about discovering his local landscape when he moves to Yorkshire – on the basis of the introduction here, I’d love to read that too.

There will be many books written about living through a year of lockdown and the pandemic, this collaboration is a fine one.

Source: Review copy – thank you. The Heeding – Elliot & Thompson hardback, 113 pages. BUY at Blackwell’s (affiliate link)

5 thoughts on “Review Round-up – Thompson, Bythell & Cowen / Hayes

  1. Liz Dexter says:

    A good selection there. I’ve been avoiding the Bythell because it seems so slight, but I’ll pick it up if I see it. I still get hits on my review of his other books, but my big one is Chetan Bhagat!

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      The Bythell is a bit slight, but there is plenty of tongue in cheek wisdom in it. Fun to read.

  2. JacquiWine says:

    Gosh, just how beautiful is The Heeding?! I hadn’t come across it before I read your post, so thank you for the introduction. It sounds perfect as a gift. Good to hear about Beeswing, too – I may well pick it up when it’s available in paperback. 🙂

Leave a Reply