‘What should I read next?’, you’re probably wondering since you’ve ended up here. Rest assured, you’re in good hands! We – that is Jane, Meg, Kristin, Johanne, Lily, Nicole, Michele and Julie – are here to help. We’re passionate about books and nothing excites us more than recommending books we love. Most of us have worked in the publishing industry and are used to judging the quality of books, but we’re completely independent and our views are entirely our own. This is our labour of love. Hope you enjoy it as much as we do!
Here’s a bit more about us.
So many books, so little time… I adore browsing in bookshops, but there is also something daunting about them; tables upon tables and shelf upon shelf of books. Where do you start? Books are not like films or TV programmes. They consume much more of your time and should be chosen with care.
With this blog I hope to be a voice that readers find helpful in selecting their next read. Taste is subjective, and I can’t guarantee mine will always coincide with yours, but I will try to wade through the jungle of new releases, be ahead of the game and give my opinion of what is worth reading and, in some cases, what’s not.
My somewhat schizophrenic background, from banking to publishing, via a Ph.D. in English literature will hopefully be an asset in finding a wide variety of books. So will the fact that I am lucky enough to live in a part of London brimming with cultural life and stimulation. Over the years I have had stints working for literary agents and publishers and I still do some freelance work reviewing manuscripts. Having said that, I am not affiliated to or paid by anyone for my blogging, so my opinions are entirely my own.
I gravitate towards fiction books that take me new places and teach me new things, novels that bring me to a time in history with which I might not be familiar or to places that are exotic or unknown. Having lived in Norway, France, Switzerland and America, before moving to the UK 20 years ago, I have come to appreciate translated literature. I will aim to dig out some overlooked or forgotten authors or translated authors who haven’t received the attention they deserve. My Norwegian roots will inspire me to bring some Nordic authors out of the shadows.
Classics will feature, as I regularly return to them as a welcome change to contemporary fiction. I will also write about the books that we are all encouraged to read, either as prizewinning novels, which, is not always a guarantee of quality, or books that hit the headlines for other reasons. I might occasionally write about a biography or other non-fiction books that grab my attention, but the main focus will be fiction.
I would love to hear from you, whether you agree or disagree with my views. There is nothing better than feisty discussions about books and I hope to have plenty of them here!
Meg Graham Maw
I spent 17 years working in publishing and loved every minute of it. Since leaving to study for an M.A in Renaissance Studies and raise my family, I’ve had the luxury of enough time to read books other than those I was publishing!
I’ve been a voracious reader ever since I was a little girl discovering authors such as Enid Blyton, Roahl Dahl and C.S. Lewis. Since then, novels have been constant companions and a great source of joy throughout my life. Literature is the art form I turn to above everything else, and historical novels, thrillers, literary fiction, crime, translated fiction and classics are my genres of choice.
Reviewing for this blog gives me the perfect excuse to re-read my favourite classics and will hopefully inspire you to do the same. I’ve also enjoyed picking the brains of friends working in the publishing industry, as they provide Bookstoker with proof copies of the novels they believe will be huge hits in the coming months. I’m looking forward to sharing my views on these highly anticipated novels, be they by first-time authors or more well-established names.
We’d love to hear from you with any suggestions of novels that you’ve enjoyed and that we might have missed.
There is nothing that beats the immersive experience of being carried away by a good book, but nothing worse than wasting time reading something you don’t love. That’s why Bookstoker appeals massively to me, and – I’m guessing – also to you.
Like a lot of girls in the pre-digital age I spent my childhood reading everything I could find – from Anne of Green Gables to Middlemarch, from Greek myths to inappropriate books on sex I found in our lodger’s bedroom. I later indulged my habit further with an English degree. Suspecting this might not lead to a proper job I switched half way through to Law, realised that the books weren’t very gripping, and changed back before anyone noticed. My career so far has been spent in the book world. For many years I worked for one of the big 4 publishers, followed by a spell ghostwriting books at night when my children were small and went to bed at a sensible time. I now co-run a boutique literary agency specialising in non-fiction, and help out in a rather brilliant second hand bookshop in my spare time. Fiction is my guilty pleasure, and the stack of books by my bedside (and locked inside my kindle) include literary fiction, poetry, historical novels and some current ‘heat-seeking’ thrillers.
I am often disappointed by the books that become ‘bestsellers’ and I’m not too keen on avant-garde books that attempt to push the boundaries of what fiction is. I’d love to find you some exquisitely written books that may have been overlooked but are nonetheless wonderful and worth sharing.
The profoundly wise Dr Seuss tells us that the more that we read, the more things we will know, and the more that we learn, the more places we’ll go. Including of course, the places known as ‘Empathy’ and ‘Awareness’. I also have high hopes for ‘Wisdom’ someday. My bookwormish credentials are supported by the several years I spent working in a Notting Hill bookshop. There’s a fabulous essay by George Orwell, called Bookshop Memories, which pretty much sums up my own recollections of this time.
In a town like London, there are always plenty of not quite certifiable lunatics walking the streets, and they tend to gravitate towards bookshops because a bookshop is one of the few places where you can hang about for a long time without spending any money.
Peculiar customers aside, I loved bookselling, and only left to raise a family, although I still put in some happy hours at my local Oxfam Bookshop. As a parent of bookish kids, and a lifelong lover of children’s literature, I hope to be Bookstoker’s Children’s Champion, shining a light on books both old and new. Note my quoting of Dr Seuss and George Orwell almost within the same paragraph, and marvel at how free ranging our Young Readers section aspires to be.
Please feel free to comment or suggest. Strong opinions welcome!
Johanne Elster Hanson
After a year at the University of Oslo, I went on to do a BA in English literature with Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia, where I’m also currently doing an MA in Biography and Creative Non-Fiction. I have therefore had the rare opportunity to study English literature in Norway, and Norwegian literature in England. This has given me an appreciation for the overlaps and intersections of the two literary cultures. In the last decade, there has been a lot of interesting examples of genre-bending personal narratives in my native Norway, and now many of these works are being translated into English. It looks like Scandinavian literature (beyond Nordic Noir) is finally getting the international recognition it deserves. As a writer for Bookstoker, I wish to highlight recent translations of Norwegian books, whether contemporary writing or beloved classics, always hoping this might encourage readers to delve further into a literary culture I know and love.
My love of writing and reading began when I was 11 years old and started writing my first novel. Since then, my interest has never flagged, so I studied literature in university. In 2019 I received my MA in Modern Languages from Oxford, and in 2018 I graduated with a BA in Comparative Literature from Brown in the US. I wrote my Master’s dissertation on the natural world in German Romanticism (which I surmise is the more sophisticated version of my childhood love of fantasy!), and my BA thesis on the artist figure in Romantic philosophy and Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse. My tastes these days thus revolve primarily around lyrical and meditative literary fiction, especially work written by women (even if this is mostly accidental). In my work for Bookstoker I am therefore likely to review books that deal with our interaction with the natural world, the role of high ideals in a post-truth culture, unreliable narrators, and books that emphasize relationships. That’s very broad, so I might as well throw in the occasional fantasy book as well. Thanks for reading!
Books trigger memories; associations and offer a glimpse into the interior lives of others.
I like to travel literally and metaphorically, ideally to places outside my comfort zone, so I am exposed to new possibilities; ways of seeing and being and selecting a new book offers the promise of exploration. I hope that some of the books I review here whether old favourites, works in translation or new finds will encourage you to go back in time or reach for something that you might have overlooked.
Often books ‘speak to me’ in bookshops, urging a purchase, or as I run my fingers along the cloth covered spines in a library, call to be plucked from the shelves. How are these choices made – I think through an accrued understanding of publishers and imprints, the old-fashioned accepted ‘canon’ of highbrow literature gives a steer, frequently in the opposite direction towards the undiscovered. My taste is catholic – new fiction, any book on falconry, contemporary poetry, geopolitics and architectural history, spy stories, Greek tragedy, Albanian folklore, women writers, biographies, books about dissidents, migration, the ‘classics’ and material culture.
Conversations with friends and strangers about their reading habits help, or it could be the design of the jacket, the weight of the book in the hand, the touch of paper as the page is turned. Clearly, joining two book clubs both with intelligent and irreverent women, as well as attending The London Literary Salon makes a difference. The views of writers, critics, newspapers and Bookstoker are great resources, attending literature festivals, while an MA in English and working in Architecture and Design all inform my reading.
…and so readers, let us journey together, trying to untangle the good from the bad…
Or as Proust reminds us in The Budding Grove
‘’So it is that a well-read man will at once begin to yawn, with boredom when one speaks to him of a new ‘good book,’ because he imagines a sort of composite of all the good books that he has read, whereas a good book is something special something unforeseeable, and is made up not of the sum of all previous masterpieces but of something which the most thorough assimilation of every one of them would not enable him to discover, since it exists not in their sum but beyond it.”
Doubtless, if you are reading this blog, you love (are addicted to/ worship/ revere…) books.
I hope to be discerning but not discriminating in my homage: while there is no denying an author that has a gift with language will classify automatically as ‘high literature’; complex and articulate structure, or well twisted and prepared plots too can make a book worth reading. I am, for example, equally gripped by a 944 page book published in 1867 about the disappearance of a cheque within a clerical society (The Last Chronicles of Barset, if you must know) as I am about a 300 page thriller, advertised as ‘buy one get one half price’, at the airport.
But it is also the reader that fascinates me. Our responses to books are marked by where we’ve been and whom we’ve met; by what we’ve seen, felt, heard or tasted; by our sorrows, our secrets and our joys. (It’s no wonder then that we get so emotional about both the cherished and the despised books.) In fact, I often feel you get a more truthful insight into someone by browsing their bookshelf and determining which tome excited or inspired them, than from anything they’ve told you. Similarly, I hope that following my reviews will give you a more objective impression of its writer than anything I tell you.
In a perfect world, I would re-read my most beloved and the most disappointing books at every stage of life and then write a review. In the meantime, the official version is that I’m a mongrel of ethnical, geographical, religious and philosophical beliefs. I’m a glutton for experiences but despise accepting what I’m told to do or see without exploring for myself. I pride myself on crossing barriers and boundaries both high and low. I endeavour not to judge a book by its prizes and am only scathing about pretentions and herd mentality, even if it comes from the most decorated academic (it happens!).
Hoping you will find a path to the same favourites, but if not, we’re looking forward to hearing from you.