Saturday, 21 February 2015

How many short stories are being played out by your neighbours right now?

Title: Stay up with Me

Author: Tom Barbash

Tags: #Folioprize #shortstories #NYC

Discovered: Shortlist for the Folio Prize

Where read: (In part) Marylebone train station

The Word's Shortlist view:

Tom Barbash's new collection of stories is a brilliant way to get into the short story genre. Through 13 different character driven tales Barbash manages to capture myriad human emotions that leave you both humoured and touched at the same time.

Through the eyes of 13 different protagonists the chances are you'll come face to face with someone you know, if not possibly with yourself. From the mother interfering in her son's love life to the hit-and-run driver facing her victim or the husband papering over the groaning cracks of separation these stories are raw and incredibly visceral.   

The great thing about short stories is that, though you might not connect with each and every one of the characters, there's a good chance that within the collection there is a plot, character or scenario that feels startlingly real. Perhaps this is what short stories are really about? Our lives are lived like a series of short stories rather than one epic and sweeping novel after all.

So what's the collection all about? My monies on the simple idea that Tom Barbash wanted to present a simple slice of life. Less self-consciously zeitgeisty and more domestic reality - as borne out in the cover of the UK edition. How many short stories are being played out by your neighbours right now?

Read this work from a brilliant storyteller and enjoy a provocative insight into the lives around you.

Watch Tom Barbash discuss the novel here: 

Twitter: @wordsshortlist
Instagram: your_next_read

Saturday, 14 February 2015

A brilliant premise but lacking in character and plot....

Title: Station Eleven

Author: Emily St John Mandel

Tags: #virus #canada #station11

Discovered: New York Times

Where read: (In part) The 08:46 from London Bridge to Hastings

The Word's Shortlist view:

"Hell is the absence of the people you long for"

This novel has a cracking premise, an explosive virus known as the Georgia Flu wipes out 99% of the World's population leaving only pockets of humans surviving as nomadic tribes and micro communities.  Compelling stuff to a contemporary public more than fearful of the media saturation surrounding the ebola pandemic.

The only trouble is that this is a theme that has been so well considered by brilliant writers including Margaret Atwood that the inevitable question arises, does Emily St John Mandel have anything new to offer such as well worn literary genre?

The short answer is no however, there are some note-worthy elements in this novel which incidentally has been in the New York Times and amazon bestseller list. The action begins in a brilliant opening scene during a performance of King Lear in a Toronto theatre. Lear himself, famous Hollywood actor Arthur Leander, dies mid-performance on the very day that the killer virus strikes and changes life in Canada and the USA forever.

The story moves 20 years into the future as a band known as the 'Travelling Symphony', with their own links to the dead actor, survive through music, literature and their own performances of A Midsummer Night's Dream. Now, the idea that civilisation prevails through literature should work but unfortunately in this case falls down due to a cumbersome cast of players and a light weight plot. 

The story deserves to be tighter! Fewer characters and more intimate dialogue would have been much more rewarding to readers. Station Eleven demonstrates just how hard a genre this is to crack. Book lovers are a divisive, and hard to please, bunch when it comes to their post apocalyptic near future thrillers. I'll stick to Atwood's MaddAddam trilogy.

Watch the Station Eleven youtube clip here: 

Twitter: @wordsshortlist
Instagram: your_next_read

Sunday, 8 February 2015

How do we measure the benefit of a good local library in the community?

We're now at a point when our libraries need a radical repositioning in the minds of the public. Events organised to celebrate National Libraries Day yesterday demonstrate that there ARE pockets of innovation and creativity at some independently minded libraries across the country but how can the success of one annual awareness day drive real change?

Libraries must leverage their role at the heart of the community to fill a huge gap being created by the decline of the traditional high street and cost saving in public services.

So, to that end here is the Word's Shortlist guide to the future for the neighbourhood library.....

1. Extended opening hours, at least on selected days, would open up library services to workers who struggle to leave their desks on tightly squeezed lunch breaks. Opening on Sundays would provide an alternative destination for families and couples during their leisure time. Demand will differ by location but libraries must be open when people want to use them.

2. Our local libraries should offer a programme of regular book clubs, gallery events, music recitals, film screenings and talks that bring like-minded people together. Events need not be managed by library staff but by collaboration with independant bookshops, special interest groups and a network of enthusiastic volunteers.

3. Pubs and cafes have long understood the benefit of providing groups and social clubs with a warm and friendly meeting place. Many libraries have unique and flexible spaces that could be put to similar benefit if they thought of themselves as 'destinations'.

4. Every town has a growing community of home workers and freelancers. Libraries should offer a place for them to meet, share and collaborate in a comfortable and connected environment. Who knows what future partnerships could be forged amongst the book-shelves. Free wifi is a start but communal hot desks would be even better.

5. Our local libraries should be our knowledge hubs offering advice through courses, briefings, oh and yes books. Working closely with local schools and colleges could lead to reciprocal benefits. Some supermarkets even offer after school classes for kids - this should be owned by the neighbourhood library.

6. Bookstores have long understood the benefits of extending customer dwell time with cafes but libraries have been slower on the uptake. A new generation of librarian baristas wouldn't go amiss. Libraries could become the perfect testing ground for start up coffee brewers and artisan bakers.

7. With good quality newsagents on the decline in the high street Libraries have an opportunity to introduce a well stocked news stand covering specialist and professional print titles not stocked by WH Smith.

8. New start ups, Doddle and the like, are finding a growing market for parcel collection services at train stations. Libraries should work with a commercial partner in this area to help distribute all those Amazon orders (and maybe convert a few to book borrowing at the same time)

9: Many libraries offer much loved read and play sessions for pre-schoolers. This needs to continue but libraries also need to engage young adults. With YA publishing on a high libraries need to work harder at the stage when they currently lose their cool.

10: Finally, libraries need to embrace social media to communicate services and events and to attract new members. Book publishers create huge demand for new titles by developing digital content and working with online bloggers. Libraries are behind the curve.

So how do we measure the benefit of a good local library in the community; number of books borrowed, footfall through the door, demand for top titles, membership numbers? If each town had a happiness rating there can be no doubt that a well stocked and curated library, with friendly, knowledgable and approachable staff, that's open when people want to visit would take any town to the top of the league table.

The Word's Shortlist

Monday, 2 February 2015

Discover your next read with The Word's Shortlist bookshelf...

What to read right now:

* The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan: Reviewed here

* Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng: Reviewed here

* Brooklyn by Colm Toibin: Reviewed here

On the reading list this month....

1. Stay Up With Me by Tom Barbash

2. Curtain Call by Anthony Quinn

3. Station 11 by Emily St John Mandel

Keep a look out for reviews coming soon!