Archive for ‘News’

September 12, 2021

Ethel Rosenberg by Anne Sebba

by Team Riverside
Ethel Rosenberg cover

Hardback, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, £20.00, out now

Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed in the United States for treason in 1953.  A married couple, and the parents of two young children, their case became a cause célèbre as a miscarriage of justice, a cultural reference point, and a symbol of US domestic attitudes during the Cold War.  Amid all of this, the human story of Ethel Rosenberg has been lost, and this is what Anne Sebba’s engrossing biography corrects.

With access to new information from Ethel’s sons and others who knew her, as well as scrupulous archive research, Sebba meticulously reconstructs the life of this ordinary and extraordinary woman.  We find out about her upbringing in a New York Jewish family facing hard times.  We are left with the impression of an intelligent, talented and hardworking woman from a difficult family background, who was determined to make her way in life – in education, in singing, as a trade unionist, and as a wife and mother.

The book offers a vivid account of how some Americans came to communism in the 1930s, and how ordinary people started spying for the Soviet Union.  Sebba unpicks what Ethel Rosenberg did and didn’t know about the leaking of atomic secrets to the Soviet Union, and gives a detailed analysis of her trial.  She conveys the swirl of McCarthyism and anti-communist fever, and the impact of ingrained anti-Semitism.

Sebba spares us nothing, so it can be a tough read at times, but it is so worthwhile.  It is no wonder that the biography has been praised by Claire Tomalin, Simon Sebag Montefiore and Philippe Sands, among others.  Among the moments of light in the frequently grim story that Ethel’s two young children live through, are the moments of solidarity and care shown to them from unexpected quarters (including at one point W. E. B. Du Bois).  Outstanding.

Review by Bethan

September 7, 2021

Signed copies of new Sally Rooney…

by Team Riverside
Sally Rooney book signed picture

… are going fast!

Come down to nab yours today.

September 7, 2021

Small Bodies of Water by Nina Mingya Powles

by Team Riverside
Small Bodies of Water book cover

Hardback, Canongate, £14.99, out now

I have just had my first swim in a year and a half.  It was a completely joyous experience, and I was reminded how important swimming is for me.  Many memories of places and people are bound up with it.

Nina Mingya Powles’s essays, collected in Small Bodies of Water, were the perfect thing for me to read just after this memorable swim.  She combines memoir with nature writing, weaving strands about family, identity and home through the work.  Swimming features, as do sensory delights of food and travel.  Her essay on cold water swimming, Ache, was one of my favourites.  She is a generous writer, sharing experiences with us, even painful things like personal and shocking experiences of racism. 

Born in Aotearoa New Zealand, spending time in China and now living in London, the author’s experiences and interests coalesce in her writing: “Mum collects mandarin peels and cut lemon skins and places them in the dish after cooking, so that as the oven cools, it gives off a bittersweet, hot-sugar scent.  The rinds begin to dry out and curl in the warmth while the dog sleeps at our feet.  Not far away, we can hear waves roaring in a southerly gale.  Our skin smells of salt and oranges.” (p. 124)

A poet who won the Nan Shepherd prize for nature writing, Nina Mingya Powles writes as beautifully as you’d expect, and wears her thoughtfulness and reading lightly.  References to some of Riverside’s favourite books kept popping up.  Braiding Sweetgrass, Crying in H Mart, Mixed Race Superman, Wayward Lives and The Living Mountain all feature, and gave me the pleasurable feeling of having a very intelligent friend talking about things I had just read.  Her discussion of old family objects and writings as a sort of enduring but complicated archive usefully echoes Maria Stepanova’s In Memory of Memory. 

I know I will read this again, and I have already lined up two people to lend it to.  It feels like a gift someone has given you, and that you want to share with others.

Review by Bethan

September 6, 2021

Bestsellers 30 August to 5 September

by Team Riverside

Pat Barker – The Women of Troy

The Women of Troy book cover

Bernardine Evaristo – Girl, Woman, Other

Brit Bennett – The Vanishing Half

Stephen Fry – Troy

Charlie Mackesy – The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse

Riku Onda – The Aosawa Murders

Bella Mackie – How to Kill Your Family

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – Notes on Grief

Kazuo Ishiguro – Klara and the Sun

James Mayhew – Katie in London

Mary South – You Will Never Be Forgotten

Caitlyn Moran – More Than a Woman

Sayaka Morata – Earthlings

Merlin Sheldrake – Entangled Life

Matt Haig – The Midnight Library

Elena Ferrante – The Lying Life of Adults

Janice Hallett – The Appeal

Olivia Petter – Millennial Love

Elif Shafak – The Island of Missing Trees

Richard Osman – The Thursday Murder Club

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September 2, 2021

Bestsellers 24 to 30 August

by Team Riverside

Pat Barker – The Women of Troy

Women of Troy cover

Elif Shafak – The Island of Missing Trees

John Kampfner – Why the Germans Do It Better

Riku Onda – The Aosawa Murders

Pat Barker – The Silence of the Girls

Bernardine Evaristo – Girl, Woman, Other

Simon Lelic – The Search Party

Fran Lebowitz – The Fran Lebowitz Reader

Brit Bennett – The Vanishing Half

Rutger Bregman – Humankind

Delia Owens – Where the Crawdads Sing

Clare Chambers – Small Pleasures

Michelle Zauner – Crying in H Mart

Ottessa Moshfegh – Death in her Hands

Caroline Criado Perez – Invisible Women

Pen Vogler – Scoff

Bessel Van Der Kolk – The Body Keeps the Score

Judith Kerr – The Tiger Who Came to Tea

Philippa Perry – The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read

Dolly Alderton – Ghosts

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August 31, 2021

Gemma Reeves visit

by Team Riverside
Gemma Reeves

We were delighted to meet Gemma Reeves today when she came in to sign copies of her novel Victoria Park, which is now out in paperback.

Victoria Park has been a bestseller in Riverside for some weeks now. It was lovely to meet Gemma and we wish her all the best with the book!

August 30, 2021

Penguin Green Ideas series just in

by Team Riverside
Penguin Green Ideas dispaly

The very beautiful and well curated new Penguin Green Ideas series has just arrived. We are delighted with the inclusion of Robin Wall Kimmerer’s work, as she is a Riverside favourite ( see https://riversidebookshop.co.uk/2020/07/14/braiding-sweetgrass-indigenous-wisdom-scientific-knowledge-and-the-teachings-of-plants-by-robin-wall-kimmerer/).

Immediately added to our booksellers’ personal reading lists are Michael Pollan’s Food Rules (Phoebe) and Wangari Maathai’s The World We Once Lived In (Bethan).

August 28, 2021

Bank holiday Monday

by Team Riverside

Dear friends, we will be open 11am to 5pm on Monday 30 August.

August 24, 2021

Bestsellers 17 to 23 August

by Team Riverside
Victoria Park

Gemma Reeves – Victoria Park

Elif Shafak – The Island of Missing Trees

Matt Haig – The Midnight Library

Elif Shafak – How to Stay Sane in an Age of Division

Fredrik Backman – Anxious People

John Kampfner – Why the Germans Do It Better

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – Notes on Grief

Stephen Fry – Troy

Robert Harris – V2

Riku Onda – The Aosawa Murders

Bradley Garrett – Bunker

Jack Guinness – The Queer Bible

Raynor Winn – The Wild Silence

Bella Mackie – How to Kill Your Family

Haruki Murakami – Kafka on the Shore

Natasha Brown – Assembly

Dolly Alderton – Ghosts

Kazuo Ishiguro – Klara and the Sun

Dav Pilkey – Dog Man: Grime and Punishment

Jessica Love – Julian is a Mermaid

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August 23, 2021

Signed copies in store

by Team Riverside
Weirdo

We have some lovely signed copies in store:

Elif Shafak – The Island of Missing Trees

Leïla Slimani – The Country of Others

Mary Paulson-Ellis – Emily Noble’s Disgrace

Maggie Shipstead – Great Circle

Mary Lawson – A Town Called Solace

Rachel Roddy – The A to Z of Pasta

Michelle Zauner – Crying in H Mart

Eimear McBride – Something Out of Place

Meriel Schindler – The Lost Café Schindler

Jackie Polzin – Brood

Olivia Laing – Everybody

Tomi Adeyemi – Children of Virtue and Vengeance

Zadie Smith, Nick Laird and Magenta Fox – Weirdo

Ellie Pilcher – What Planet Can I Blame This On?

Omar El Akkad – What Strange Paradise

Ruth Jones – Us Three

August 18, 2021

Emily Noble’s Disgrace by Mary Paulson-Ellis

by Team Riverside
Emily Noble's Disgrace

Hardback, Mantle, £16.99, out 19 August

Edinburgh’s seaside Portobello district in 2019, and Essie Pound is part of a specialist cleaning team clearing a flat after an elderly woman’s body is found two years after her death. Part of Essie’s job is to look out for objects in the flat that might explain more about who the person was and why she died.  But Essie gets pulled into a deeper mystery, one that takes her back into Portobello’s pasts as well as her own.  Investigating more formally is young police officer Emily Noble.  Their work is bound to coincide. 

Essie says: “Just like Isabella Dawson, my whole life is hidden.  From me.  And from everyone else too.  But not because I’ve buried it in someone else’s rubbish.  More because I don’t have anything or anyone to remind me of what it might have been.”

Mary Paulson-Ellis is a new crime and mystery author for me, but I will definitely be seeking out her other standalone novels (which feature some characters from this book).  I’m a fan of Elly Griffiths and Ann Cleeves, for their readable characters and good plots, and Paulson-Ellis definitely delivers on these.

Emily Noble’s Disgrace made me remember the excellent biography The Trauma Cleaner, in which author Sarah Krasnostein covers not only Sandra Pankhurst’s life in trauma cleaning but also her transition (https://wellcomebookprize.org/book/trauma-cleaner).

There are strong women characters, and reflections on women’s lives.  Some of the themes in the book make for hard reading – for example, suggested child death, and fat phobia.  But the story is compelling, the writing is strong, and I read this cover to cover in a day.

Review by Bethan

August 17, 2021

Bestsellers 10 to 16 August

by Team Riverside
The Island of Missing Trees

Elif Shafak – The Island of Missing Trees

Gemma Reeves – Victoria Park

Raynor Winn – The Wild Silence

Clare Chambers – Small Pleasures

Emily St John Mandel – The Glass Hotel

Elena Ferrante – The Lying Life of Adults

Philippa Perry – The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read

Bernardine Evaristo – Girl, Woman, Other

Tom Burgis – Kleptopia

Brit Bennett – The Vanishing Half

James MacLaine – First Sticker Book London

Elif Shafak – How to Stay Sane in an Age of Division

Riku Onda – The Aosawa Murders

Bella Mackie – How to Kill Your Family

Clara Vuillamy – Marshmallow Pie The Cat Superstar

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – Notes on Grief

Helen Macdonald – Vesper Flights

Matthew Walker – Why We Sleep

Charles Dickens – Pictures from Italy

Donna Tartt – The Secret History

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August 10, 2021

Bestsellers 3 to 9 August

by Team Riverside
Hamnet

Maggie O’Farrell – Hamnet

Elif Shafak – How to Stay Sane in an Age of Division

Emily St John Mandel – The Glass Hotel

Brit Bennett – The Vanishing Half

Eoin McLaughlin and Polly Dunbar – The Longer the Wait the Bigger the Hug

Delia Owens – Where the Crawdads Sing

Clare Chambers – Small Pleasures

Matt Haig – The Midnight Library

William S Burroughs – The Finger

Agatha Christie – The ABC Murders

Oliver Jeffers – Book of Numbers

Tom Burgis – Kleptopia

Haruki Murakami – Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World

Elif Shafak – The Island of Missing Trees

Otegha Uwagba – We Need to Talk About Money

Dolly Alderton – Ghosts

Frank Herbert – Dune

Kazuo Ishiguro – Klara and the Sun

Rachel Ingalls – Mrs Caliban

Lavinia Greenlaw – Some Answers Without Questions

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August 8, 2021

Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner

by Team Riverside

Picador, Hardback, £16.99, out now

Michelle Zauner is perhaps best known for her music, produced under the moniker Japanese Breakfast, but this memoir proves that her talent stretches across multiple mediums. Zauner was in her 25th year and a struggling artist when her mother was diagnosed with stomach cancer. She upended her life and returned to her hometown of Eugene, Oregon to take care of her as her illness became terminal. The memoir is told as a kind of non-linear narrative, moving through Zauner’s reminiscences about her relationship with her mother which was extremely close yet often challenging, a familial relationship knotted with cultural differences (Zauner’s father is white and she was raised in America) and deep love.

Food becomes a touchstone throughout the book, Korean food particularly became a way for Zauner to connect with her mother, Chongmi, and other members of her mother’s family even after their deaths: ‘When I go to H Mart, I’m not just on the hunt for cuttlefish and three bunches of scallions for a buck: I’m searching for memories. I’m collecting the evidence that the Korean half of my identity didn’t die when they did.’

The result is a touching and sensual book. I felt Zauner’s profound love for her mother radiating off the page at every turn, but particularly in her depictions of her mother’s small acts of care. When Zauner tells her mother she wants some cowboy boots, Chongmi not only buys her some but carefully wears them in first. I thoroughly recommend Crying in H Mart for fans of creative non-fiction and contemporary food writing.

Review by Phoebe

August 3, 2021

Bestsellers 27 July to 2 August

by Team Riverside
Cover of Notes on Grief

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – Notes on Grief

Caroline Criado Perez – Invisible Women

Caitlin Moran – More than a Woman

Brit Bennett – The Vanishing Half

Dolly Alderman – Ghosts

Richard Osman – The Thursday Murder Club

Bernardine Evaristo – Girl, Woman, Other

Philippa Perry – The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read

Matthew Walker – Why We Sleep

Clare Chambers – Small Pleasures

James Maclaine – First Sticker Book London

Charlie Mackesy – The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse

James Hawes – The Shortest History of England

Sophy Henn – All the Fun of the Fair (book 2)

Bella Mackie – How to Kill Your Family

Chris Chatterton and Rhiannon Fielding – Ten Minutes to Bed Little Unicorn

Natasha Lunn – Conversations on Love

Ali Smith – Summer

Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris – The Lost Words

Daniel Lieberman – Exercised

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August 2, 2021

Arlo the Lion Who Couldn’t Sleep by Catherine Rayner

by Team Riverside
cover of Arlo, a picture book

Paperback, Macmillan, £7.99, out now

Lions need a lot of sleep, as everyone knows… but for Arlo it’s too hot, too cold, too prickly, too noisy.  Like everyone who struggles with their sleep, Arlo wonders if he will ever sleep again.

Catherine Rayner’s beautiful picture book sets the tone for a peaceful bedtime for small children.  Arlo’s friend Owl swoops down to offer advice on how to relax and get ready for a restful night.  Rayner’s exquisite pictures with their soothing but still vibrant colour palette give life to a simple and effective bedtime story.  The lions and owl are not cartoon or comic book, but are natural.

As a veteran struggler with sleep, I found this book comforting and helpful (and I am clearly about 40 years over the target audience age).  It’s helpful without being prescriptive or preachy. I would also be delighted to have any or all of these stunning pictures on my wall.

The only potential problem I foresee is tired parents and carers dozing off before any children who are being read to!  It’s a treat for the end of the day.

Review by Bethan

July 27, 2021

Bestsellers from 20 to 26 July

by Team Riverside
Human Kind

Rutger Bregman – Humankind

Frank Herbert – Dune

Dolly Alderton – Ghosts

Bessel Van der Kolk – The Body Keeps the Score

Bella Mackie – How to Kill Your Family

Maggie O’Farrell – Hamnet

John Kampfner – Why the Germans Do it Better

Matt Haig – The Midnight Library

Riku Onda – The Aosawa Murders

Amor Towles – A Gentleman in Moscow

Caleb Azumah Nelson – Open Water

Natasha Lunn – Conversations on Love

Natasha Brown – Assembly

Brit Bennett – The Vanishing Half

J R R Tolkein – The Return of the King

Jonathan Coe – Mr Wilder and Me

Kazuo Ishiguro – Klara and the Sun

Julia Donaldson – Tiddler

Reni Eddo-Lodge – Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race

Hollie Hughes – The Girl and the Dinosaur

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July 26, 2021

Summer Reading Promotion

by Team Riverside

Our Summer Reading Promotion is now on in store, get 4 books for the price of 3 (with the cheapest book free). We have titles available across Children’s, Fiction and Non-Fiction, see our full list of titles for purchase in the 4 for 3 promotion below:

Fiction
Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi

Girl Woman Other by Bernadine Evaristo

Troy by Stephen Fry

Invisible Girl by Lisa Jewell

The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

Islands of Mercy by Rose Tremain

I Am An Island by Tamsin Calidas

V For Victory by Lisa Evans

The Great Fortune by Olivia Manning

Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld

10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World by Elif Shafak

Us Three by Ruth Jones

Actress by Anne Enright

V2 by Robert Harris

All Adults Here by Emma Straub

Summer by Ali Smith

Non-Fiction
The Body Keeps The Score by Bessel van der Kolk

Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker

The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read by Phillippa Perry

Agent Sonia by Ben Macintyre

Difficult Women by Helen Lewis

Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez

Untamed by Glennon Doyle

Diary of a Young Naturalist by Dara McAnulty

The Moth and the Mountain by Ed Caesar

Sicily ’43 by James Holland

Childrens
The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charles Mackesy

The Unadoptables by Hana Tooke

Worst Holiday Ever by Charlie Higson

Rowley Jefferson’s Awesome Friendly Adventure by Jeff Kinney

The Puffin Keeper by Michael Morpurgo

Kay’s Anatomy by Adam Kay

July 20, 2021

We Want Our Books by Jake Alexander

by Team Riverside
We Want Our Books

Hardback, Pan Macmillan, £12.99, out now

Rosa has so many interesting questions that her dad suggests they visit the library to get the answers.  But the library is closed and boarded up, because it’s going to be knocked down and replaced by a restaurant.  There will be no library to provide answers.

In this striking picture book, Rosa and her family do their best to protest against the closure by reminding people of how useful and important libraries are.  But no one seems to listen, as people are either too busy or think that the protest is beneath their notice.

But it turns out that more people care about the library than only Rosa’s family, and that all together they can make a difference.

We Want Our Books is a love letter to libraries and a believable story about the highs and lows of grassroots protest. 

I still get a rush of joy whenever I walk into a public library, when I remember that I can find a book that might change my life and that I can borrow it for free.  And if you need a reminder of how lovely libraries can be, treat yourself to a look here: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/travel/article/epic-libraries-around-the-world.  Libraries need our support – support yours!

Review by Bethan

July 20, 2021

Bestsellers from 14 to 19 July

by Team Riverside
The Vanishing Half

Brit Bennett – The Vanishing Half

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – Notes on Grief

Richard Osman – The Thursday Murder Club

Mary Ann Sieghart – The Authority Gap

Rutger Bregman – Humankind

Lisa Taddeo – Animal

Douglas Stuart – Shuggie Bain

Jennifer Makumbi – The First Woman

Olga Ravn – The Employees

Elizabeth Jenner – What to Look For in Summer

DVSA – Official DVSA Theory Test

Avni Doshi – Burnt Sugar

Aldous Huxley – Brave New World

Chris Riddell – Ottoline Goes to School

David Peace – Tokyo Redux

Kazuo Ishiguro – Klara and the Sun

Margaret Kennedy – The Feast

Maggie O’Farrell – Hamnet

Natalie Haynes – Pandora’s Jar

Marion Billet – There are 101 Things to Find in London

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July 14, 2021

Bestsellers from 7 to 13 July

by Team Riverside
Notes on Grief

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – Notes on Grief

Rutger Bregman – Humankind: a Hopeful History

Various – Murder Takes a Holiday

Sarah Moss – Summerwater

Matt Haig –  The Comfort Book

Elena Ferrante – The Lying Life of Adults

Janice Hallett – The Appeal

Natasha Brown – Assembly

Peppa’s London Day Out Sticker Book

Roald Dahl – Matilda’s How to be Brave

Brit Bennett – The Vanishing Half

Andrew O’Hagan – Mayflies

Sally Rooney – Conversations with Friends

Maggie O’Farrell – Hamnet

Mieko Kawakami – Breasts and Eggs

Matt Haig – The Midnight Library

Yun Ko-Eun – The Disaster Tourist             

Riku Onda – The Aosawa Murders

John Christopher – The Death of Grass

Adam Kay – Kay’s Anatomy

Review by Bethan

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July 12, 2021

London Green Spaces by Harry Adès

by Team Riverside
London Green Spaces

Paperback, Hoxton Mini Press, £9.95, out now

After a year of intermittent lockdowns, when I was lucky enough to have a lively local park near me and to be able to visit it, I am very ready to try out some new London green spots. London Green Spaces is one of a gorgeous new series of small London guidebooks, and this book makes it fun to start a day-out wishlist.  Even looking at the photos cheered me up.

I thought I knew most of the cool parks and green bits in London, but there were several in here I’d never heard of.  London Green Spaces offers an enticing reminder of the big places too, the ones that you know about but haven’t visited for a while, like Richmond Park or Epping Forest.  Useful cover maps and suggested walks would help make a day of it.

The Red Cross Garden in London Bridge features, and I can vouch for its sanctuary-like feel as a respite from the Borough Market crowds at the weekend (https://www.bost.org.uk/).  The book is good on these small places as well as the grand sweeping ones.  I’d add the Crossbones Graveyard, just round the corner from the Red Cross Garden, though you always need to check the opening hours (https://crossbones.org.uk/).

Other craveable titles in the series include Vegan London, London Pubs, and Independent London.  You’re in London (maybe)… it’s summer (sort of)… if you’re able to get out and about these books will help you lively up your plans. 

Review by Bethan

July 4, 2021

How to Listen by Katie Colombus

by Team Riverside
How to Listen

Paperback, Kyle Books, £12.99, out now

This is the most instantly useful book I have read this year.  The subtitle shows exactly what it is for: “Tools for opening up conversations when it matters most”.

Produced with the Samaritans and drawing on the experiences of their volunteers and service users, whose useful and detailed insights appear throughout the book, this is a straightforward guide to active listening.  It is very easy to read and no special skills are needed.

The Samaritans use the helpful acronym SHUSH for active listening: Show you care, Have patience, Use open questions, Say it back, and Have courage (https://www.samaritans.org/how-we-can-help/if-youre-worried-about-someone-else/how-support-someone-youre-worried-about/what-do-if-you-think-someone-struggling/).

“Have Courage” is very relevant.  Often we would like to ask how someone is, but we are worried that we might make things worse or not be able to deal with that person’s distress.  Samaritans service user James says: “It’s really not about being a specialist or having particular knowledge.  It’s about being a compassionate human being.  I wish people had the confidence to realise they are able to offer real help just by listening”.

How to Listen warns against giving advice or relaying your own experiences, suggesting instead that listeners prioritise giving people the space to express and explore their own problems and to come to their own solutions.  This has been a revelation for me.  It provides useful advice on spotting people who may be in distress and helps you listen to them properly without distractions.  One thing to do the next time you’re talking to someone: put your phone away and really pay attention.

Review by Bethan

June 28, 2021

The Office of Historical Corrections by Danielle Evans

by Team Riverside

Hardback, Picador, £14.99, out now

The Office of Historical Corrections

“…I loved the past of archives, but there was no era of the past I had any inclination to visit with my actual human body, being rather fond of it having at least minimal rights and protections”.  Cassie, the narrator of the title novella in The Office of Historical Corrections, is an officer at the new US Institute for Public History.  She goes out and about correcting historical inaccuracy in the Washington area, a new civil service style job.  But what happens when there is a total subversion or avoidance of truth, and some bodies are clearly in the firing line?

This is the best collection of short stories I’ve read in ages.  Every one is sharp and entertaining.  Claire is called out by a college colleague for wearing a Confederate flag bikini, but doubles down, and doubles down again – why?  Cecelia’s mother is determined to get recognition for her father’s wrongful imprisonment in Alcatraz, but a visit to the former prison with estranged family happens instead.  The end of Richard of York Gave Battle in Vain is one of my favourite endings to a short story. 

Roxane Gay calls Danielle Evans “the finest short story writer working today”, and I think she’s on to something.  Race, gender and grief feature over and over.  I think this collection will be read for years and years.                    

Review by Bethan

June 28, 2021

Half day closure for stocktake

by Team Riverside

We will be closed on the morning of Wednesday 30 June for our annual stocktake.  Sorry for any inconvenience!

June 23, 2021

The Gospel of the Eels by Patrik Svensson

by Team Riverside
The Gospel of the Eels

Paperback, Picador, £9.99, out now

I was speaking a couple of years ago with someone who was helping with a citizen science project which was monitoring eels in London rivers. They would empty a trap set for the eels, measure them, and release them.  They were told by the research lead that they did not need to take a photo of the eels each time.  “There are lots of things we don’t know about eels, but what they look like isn’t one of them”.

The Gospel of the Eels goes after these mysterious animals, explaining that there are large parts of the eels’ lives that remain unknown to science, including exactly where and how they breed.  What is clearer is that European eels are in danger of becoming extinct, and that urgently solving some of their puzzles might help protect them even though something might be lost with their mystery.  Svensson quotes Rachel Carson: “And as they passed through the surf and out to the sea, so they also passed from human sight and almost from human knowledge”.

Svensson is interesting on eels’ impact on modern life. Sigmund Freud spent time early in his career studying eels, and Svensson makes a good case for this influencing his later theories (‘Sigmund Freud and the eels of Trieste’ is possibly one of my favourite chapter titles ever).  He spots eels in literature, including work by Graham Swift and E.T.A. Hoffman.

Among the natural history and current science, Svensson recalls eel fishing with his father as a child.  Some of the fishing detail is frankly revolting to a non-fishing person, but the experiences become a place to explore his relationship with his father. Svensson notes that life for working class families like his in Sweden changed hugely during the last half of the twentieth century: “… it had become possible for a road paver and day care worker mum, my parents, to live a life that was different in every way from the lives previous generations of the working class had known”.  He finds that attending to eels leads him to pay better mind: this reminded me of some of the arguments made by Julia Bell in Radical Attention (https://peninsulapress.co.uk/product/radical-attention).

The premise of The Gospel of the Eels sounds strange, but it is not strained or annoying.  It’s well-translated popular science with memoir, and a pleasure to read.  Why gospel though?  When science lacks answers, faith can fill the gap.  Perhaps if we can fix things for the eels, we can start to fix things for ourselves. 

Review by Bethan

June 22, 2021

The Great Mistake by Jonathan Lee

by Team Riverside
The Great Mistake

Hardback, Granta, £14.99, out now

Andrew Green was ‘the father of Greater New York’, a founder of Central Park and the Public Library, the Museum of Modern Art and the American Museum of Natural History among other things.  But he didn’t come from money, and he was shot and killed aged 83.  So how did he get to this point?  Who killed him and why?  And what was his great mistake?

The Great Mistake is a humane and very readable novel of one remarkable life.  You might wonder how you’d relate to Andrew Green, but his wish to live life and his decisions on what to do without in order to achieve his goals are very resonant.  “… after…the pyrotechnic accompaniments others put on to celebrate his achievements, he still went to bed with some version of the same concerns he had always had.  Who he was.  Who he should be.  Things he could have said or done”.

His intense and long relationship with a politician, Samuel, influences much, as does the death of his mother (a hard-working woman who always longed for time outside in green space, and didn’t get it).  He is repelled by his work as a young man on a post-slavery plantation in Trinidad, both while doing it and after, and this also affects his ambitions.  The role of reading and books in helping to form a life recurs throughout, as do questions over who has access to books and who does not.

Historic New York sprang up around me as I read. “He watched labourers returning home with dinner kettles.  Ragpickers bothering apple ladies.  Horses set to collapse under the products of commerce they had carried, back and forth, all day long.  New York didn’t set out to charm you.  It was like God that way”.

As well as learning about Andrew, we follow police Inspector McClusky who is investigating his murder, and we are introduced to yet another side of life in New York.  The Great Mistake is a satisfying read in many ways, as a life story, as a crime story, as an exploration of what’s important, and as a song for New York.  So enjoyable.

Review by Bethan

June 21, 2021

Assembly by Natasha Brown

by Team Riverside

Hamish Hamilton, Hardback, £12.99, out now

Assembly by Natasha Brown is more than deserving of the glowing reviews it has already received. It’s a slight volume, the plot unfolds over a series of fleeting but intense vignettes and each is crafted to perfection, not a single word is wasted. At times it feels reminiscent of prose poetry or maybe a sparse drama. The narrator is quiet and controlled but burns with quiet anger, acutely aware of the injustices that plague her. She is a black British woman who has found significant success in the corporate world but seemingly at significant psychological and physical cost to herself. She is often a vessel for other characters racist hang-ups, one colleague vents to her about his hatred of diversity initiatives, another calls her office phone to tell her her hair is ‘wild’ and her skin is ‘exotic’. She has a jovial posh boyfriend, who like her attended Oxford and the action unfolds as she anticipates attending his parents lavish anniversary party.

Recently a reviewer compared Assembly to Mrs. Dalloway, but I thought of Brandon Taylor whose novel Real Life has similarly exquisite prose and a protagonist who is out of place in their surroundings and also of The Great Gatsby, although while Natasha Brown’s protagonist is, like Nick Carraway, among the rich and powerful, she is not impressed. When I got to the last page I was sorry to finish Assembly I thoroughly recommend it.

Review by Phoebe

June 9, 2021

Current bestsellers

by Team Riverside

Our bestsellers from 31 May to 8 June:

The Vanishing Half

Brit Bennett – The Vanishing Half

Riku Onda – The Aosawa Murders

Richard Osman – The Thursday Murder Club

Matt Haig – The Midnight Library

Natasha Brown – Assembly

Sophie Mackintosh – Blue Ticket

Ali Smith – Summer

Bernardine Evaristo – Girl, Woman, Other

Rachel Joyce – Miss Benson’s Beetle

Sally Rooney – Conversations with Friends

Kazuo Ishiguro – Klara and the Sun

Cho Nam-Joo – Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982

Naoise Dolan – Exciting Times

Clare Chambers – Small Pleasures

Benjamin Labatut – When We Cease to Understand the World

David Diop – At Night All Blood is Black

Caroline Criado Perez – Invisible Women

Nick Bradley – The Cat and the City

Alice Haworth-Booth – Brick Lane Bookshop Short Story Prize 2020

Judith Kerr – Mog the Forgetful Cat

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June 7, 2021

What Happened to You? by James Catchpole and Karen George

by Team Riverside
What Happened to You?

Paperback, Faber and Faber, £6.99, out now

Joe is having a great time at the playground on his own, battling sharks and crocodiles.  But a new kid comes along and says what new kids always say – “You’ve only got one leg!” and “What happened to you?”.

Joe is super fed up of always getting these questions, and as more kids turn up, more questions (and questionable theories) abound.  But soon the kids discover that there is more interesting stuff they can be doing with Joe… and it involves battling sharks and crocodiles.

This fun and sensitive book provides a great way in to talking about disability with kids, and also has very helpful notes for adults on how to do this when “your child wants to know everything about every disabled person they see, all at once, at TOP VOLUME…”.  Some really good advice follows – “…it’s still worth your child knowing that disabled people are just like anyone else, getting on with their busy day, not looking to be a teachable moment”.  It reminded me of the very excellent blogs by Gem Turner on exactly this topic (https://gemturner.com/explaining-disability-to-children/).

What Happened to You? is a fun and enjoyable read, with lively and cheerful illustrations.  Cracking!

Review by Bethan