Adventures in Book Discovery, Continued: With Juliet Swann

This year was not the first that I was privileged to be offered book festival events. And past years have not only allowed me to encounter books I would never otherwise have read, but have also introduced me to new friends whose work, opinions and generosity I value immensely.


I’ve been chairing events at the Edinburgh Book Festival for almost 10 years, and whilst every book has been worth reading, and every event has been fascinating, there are a few that have stuck in my memory, and in my library. And another, select number who have actually become real friends, for which I am forever grateful.


So, to start with the library, rather than the friendships…


Adam Thorpe is a truly gifted writer, of poetry and prose. The first time I read his work was for an event publicising ‘The Rules of Perspective’. Set in World War II Germany, it describes the experiences of a group of museum employees during a bombing raid. Thorpe is easily one of the most intelligent people I have ever met but he doesn’t either abuse his position or condescend tomus mere mortals. The following year he agreed to meet my book group to discuss the novel and was genuinely moved by their appreciation of his work and insight into what he was trying to do with the book. Every novel Thorpe writes attempts something new, and invariably accomplishes it with aplomb.


Claire Kilroy is disgustingly young and beautiful for such an obviously intellectual author. The first of her novels I was introduced to was ‘Tenderwire’ about a violinist in New York. Obviously intricately researched but also a joy to read, ‘Tenderwire’ left me nervous to meet its author. Needlessly, as she was open, gregarious, kind and as Thorpe, completely uncondescending despite her clear talent and intelligence. Her previous novels were fast joining ‘Tenderwire’ in my library, and I am eager to read her latest offering.


Who else? Whom else? Juan Gabriel Vasquez’s The Informers is a majestic piece of writing and a novel which informs. Neel Mukherjee’s A Life Apart, which captured the colonial experience. And Edward St Aubyn, whose Mother’s Milk I was brought in to discuss but by the time the lights went down I had read the three previous novels as well… an uncommon accomplishment.

As I survey my bookshelves I realise just how many of my books, and more importantly, the most important books I have read, are beholden to my years as a bookseller. How do I get my new book recommendations? Where do my new favourite novels / non-fiction tomes spring from?