Friday, 27 December 2013

Clue dunnit

Inspired by years of grappling with cryptic crosswords, I've fashioned a few literary questions in this mode, which I offer in the spirit of end-of-year festivity.  Each answer is either (a) the title of a well-known work of fiction or (b) the name of a character within an (a) or (c) an author who would be recognised in most households whose inhabitants would have read or heard of any or all of the foregoing. There are no prizes, excepting that warm glow of satisfaction derived from reaching solutions, which is beyond monetary value, but not declarable against tax.

Bad, bad sign, o frog, for hairy carrier (5, 7)

The dynasty, the hills - the ring's between for romance (9,7)

Short actor my whole dove follows crookedly for thriller (3,3,3,5,2)

Scribe made Iran's lush arrangement (6,7)

Moor poor outside poor mat's a fearful novelist (4, 6)

Sounds like a horse? The circle's back for children's favourite (6,3,4)

Wishing you all a happy and interesting new year, (despite the Chinese blessing) - David

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Yule blog

Our advent calendar this year was selected by my wife, and very thoughtfully so, as it is based on a book of which she knows I am very fond, Tolkien's charming Letters from Father Christmas. The eponymous epistles describe, in the author's own understated comic prose and accomplished illustrations, the trials and triumphs of Mr. Christmas as he prepares for his annual quest while beset by, among other phenomena, accident-prone guests (principally a polar bear with very limited spatial awareness) natural disasters and ill-intentioned goblins. The book blends slapstick, gentle morality, myth, folk-tale and humour expertly, and is compiled from the letters which Tolkien contrived to arrive in his children's bedrooms each Christmas.  It would make, as they almost say, an ideal gift for a child of all ages.

Branching away from books for a moment, although words are certainly involved, I've just unearthed a festive CD that we have relatively neglected, and am as I write being very pleasantly reminded of how excellent it is, and of how many points for being self-consciously esoteric in one's cultural choices it confers.  It's called A Celtic Christmas, and contains many interesting noises from Brittany, Cornwall, Ireland, the Isle of Man, Wales and Scotland.  It illustrates the cheerfully diverse ways in which Ye Ancient Celtic Types droned, danced, sang and celebrated in this sacred season. My wife and I forbid, during the month of December, the reproduction of any music which is not in some way related to Christmas. Imbued with the generosity of spirit which characterises this time of year, however, we graciously confine this prohibition to our house.

This post leaves you with a few more books (see Puns in Royal David's City) which, alas, will not grace bookshop tables and annual best-read round-ups this Christmas:

Sleigh Misérables
Antlers Shrugged
Stocking Lear
The Noel-Shaped Room
Kane and Stable

Wishing you a peaceful Christmas -   David.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Games people don't play

It may not have escaped the attention of those of you possessing antennae tuned to popular culture that there exists a phenomenon called FIFA Manager.  For those not so calibrated, let me inform you that this is a series of electronic games which have modelled and reproduced the experience of managing a football team, and that such is the level of detail and accuracy that has been accreted to the product as the years have passed, that it is now possible to incur several forms of stress-related illness while playing the game, all of which are recognised by the medical establishment as legitimate reasons for being unable to work and receiving full sick pay.

This has naturally caused me to puzzle over why, among the plethora of scenarios and settings against which console games are placed, the world of publishing and books is not present.  Where is Librarian's Creed IV, for example, or Grand Copyright Theft VI (in which a band of plucky literary agents plunge themselves into the murky and dangerous underworld of pirated texts).  My latest cast-iron, guaranteed fortune-earner, is, therefore, Independent Bookshop Manager (I), soon to be available on the Y-Cube, Joy Platform and in many other formats.  Among other features, the game will:

  • Allocate you a budget to divide between overheads, stock and staff - (do you pay out big money for the brilliant but unpredictable Senior Bookseller who will either earn you a fortune with their mercurial sales technique and encyclopedic literary knowledge, or will alienate your customers by staring haughtily at anyone who asks for insufficiently- challenging books?)
  • Present you with tantalisingly fiendish puzzles - (can you solve The Christmas Rota without causing most of your staff to feel disaffected and exploited; is your mind prepared for balancing reductions from the recommended retail price against gross profit margins?)
  • Require you to predict the surprise seasonal best-sellers - (will it be the autobiography of the three-legged juggling cat, or the compendium of obscure facts about medieval armour-polishing?  The wrong choice could see sales plummet and the January sale tables tortured by tottering piles of un-returnable, ruinously-reduced stock)

Also featured will be pseudo-randomly-generated events, which will challenge your mental agility and literary awareness:

  • A local author arrives unannounced offering stock of their books - are they a nuisance peddling a badly-photocopied and stapled guide to their own kitchen, or do they offer an undiscovered jewel of local history?
  • Thanks to an obscure satellite TV channel, Macrame suddenly seizes hold of the popular imagination: do you order in every book you can obtain on the subject, at minimal discount from obscure publishers, or decide it's a temporary phenomenon and remain loyal to baking?

All this and more, including a special Battle Extension Module, in which you go to war against a new branch of a national chain, will enable the feeling that YOU are at the helm of that glorious but precarious vessel that is The Independent Bookshop.

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