Discovering New Books: By Juliet Swann

As an ex-bookseller I am still in withdrawal from the fix of receiving advanced reader copies of dozens of books every week, and having access to a full list of new titles at my fingertips. Plus it was my job to read reviews, to know what was hot, and what was not. Relying solely on amazon or other booksellers to recommend titles to me, or trawling through book reviews when I’d rather be reading a book, is immensely unsatisfying after my years of privilege.

It is always a joy therefore to be asked to participate in the Edinburgh International Book Festival. In exchange for chatting to authors in front of a crowd for an hour I am introduced to books and authors that are frequently well off my radar, and I get to meet the authors and ask them probing questions!

This past summer was no exception. I only chaired two events, but the four books I read were all excellent, unique and utterly new to me. Gerbrand Bakker’s ‘The Detour’ describes a period in time for a Dutch woman who we meet on her arrival at a small farmhouse in Wales. Why she is there and how she interacts with the environment and the natives are described in understated but intense and moving prose. Dutch Bakker was paired with Canadian Linden MacIntyre, whose ‘Why Men Lie’ centres on Effie MacAskill, a middle aged woman beginning a new relationship with a childhood acquaintance. Effie’s past relationships, with her father, brother and three ex-husbands have left her pondering the difference between solitude and isolation and she first believes the new relationship will be less traumatic than the past.

The second event I chaired involved a Chicago born Glaswegian resident and a language obsessed graphic artist from London. Elizabeth Reeder’s debut novel ‘Ramshackle’ introduces us to 15 year old Roe, who awakens on a cold Saturday morning in Chicago to find her father has disappeared. As the days go by Roe is faced with uncomfortable truths about the past, a muddle of her own memories, and the necessity of coming to terms with events. ‘The Card’ by Graham Rawle follows the adventures and misadventures of the perpetually young, card collector Riley Richardson. His father left home when Riley was young, but not before gifting his son a set of Mission Impossible bubblegum cards hot off the press from the printers where he worked. When one of the cards is withdrawn, the legend of the card number 19 is born, and with it Riley’s obsession.

I have since bought previous novels by Bakker and MacIntyre which I look forward to reading, and I am keenly awaiting Reeder’s second publication, due this autumn. These four novels are all works of expertise, diligence, imagination and commitment. Such books slip by us every day… I am just glad these ones fell into my lap.