This month’s professional bookworm is Claire Grint of Cogito Books in Hexam, Northumberland. Described as a “haven of peace in a busy world”, Cogito Books can be found a stone’s throw away from the local historic abbey and market square – through an archway and down a little cobbled street. Slip inside and you’ll be treated to a diverse range of new books, beautiful displays, comfy sofas, and soothing classical music. Widely renowned for its exquisite selection and service, Cogito runs on the idea that books aren’t a commodity, but things that truly touch people’s lives. As booksellers Claire, Hilary and Kate say, “no book is recommended without understanding, no book is sold without care.” They host loads of events, run three monthly books groups, experiment with video reviews on Facebook, and even offer a page-turner’s dream pampering with the ‘Cogito Reading Treat’: tea, biscuits, and six books personally recommended by one of the booksellers. For the Half-Dozen, Claire has chosen titles that “reinforce why reading is such an important and pleasurable thing” . To continue a chain of bookwormish love, she’s also exclusively picked books that were personally recommended to her – by colleagues, friends and customers.
Her three big books
‘A Fine Balance’ by Rohinton Mistry: It is tempting to say that if you liked ‘Kite Runner’, you should enjoy this – in that it gives a compelling insight into a totally different culture, with characters in whose fate you must be interested. Intensely moving, funny, and tremendously entertaining, it is the sort of novel you keep giving to friends so that they will read it too – a work of genius.
‘The Priory’ by Dorothy Whipple: The novel ostensibly tells the story of the Marwoods – an ancient country family fallen on hard times and prey to delicious eccentricity – initially in a similar vein to Nancy Mitford’s ‘The Pursuit of Love’. However, Dorothy Whipple is able to take a much more dispassionate view of the behaviour of this and other social classes. She cleverly interweaves the lives of the family with an interesting array of characters from the ‘outside’ world, revealing the backdrop of social change as the characters motives for their actions are examined. Servants, lovers, self-made men and women all appear as brilliantly complex characters as their relationships with the Marwoods are described in the author’s beautifully clear, lucid prose. Dorothy Whipple is particularly good at describing life’s small disappointments, humiliations and frustrations which we all experience and must all overcome using whatever means are allowed to us. Above all, the gently subversive tone and dryly humorous style make this novel a complete joy to read.
‘Grief Is The Thing With Feathers’ by Max Porter: This is one of the most unusual and moving books I’ve ever read. It is difficult to classify whether it is a novel, a collection of observations, or an essay, but Max Porter’s writing is poetical and so engaging that, despite the obscurity of reality, you are gripped. It is a story about a family coming to terms with its grief and the complex writing structure represents their turmoil and mix of raw emotions – a unique piece of writing.
Her two contemporary titles
‘The Tidal Zone’ by Sarah Moss: The most recent novel by the brilliant Sarah Moss is centred on a family who have apparently avoided tragedy, yet have to learn to live in its apparently constant shadow. The incisive and wide ranging points the novel makes about modern life are punctuated by the research one of the characters undertakes into the rebuilding of Coventry Cathedral after the Second World War. This clever time shift informs the way we are persuaded to view contemporary life, and allows the author scope to discuss the various ways that we as human beings respond to, and recover from, trauma. This is a thought provoking, yet warm and humorous novel which would make a great introduction to the author’s work.
‘The Shepherd’s Life’ by James Rebanks: The simple tale of a shepherd’s life in the Lake District is in fact the story of three generations of a farming family. Yet James Rebanks’ life has been far from what you would expect from the outset of the book. He writes passionately about his values and respect for the land, farming methods, his community, and family. This is a powerful reflection about the choices we make in the life we live, our roles as ‘nobodies’, and an informative insight into the farming world which is becoming ever more alien to modern life. An impressive, inspiring and uplifting read – this was my read of the year!
The one on her ‘to read’ list
‘Marking Time’ by Elizabeth Jane Howard: This could be a very long list… but this is the one I’m going to try and squeeze in before I have to read my next book group book. I read the first title in the ‘Cazalet Chronicles’ a couple of months ago, and became engrossed in Elizabeth Jane Howard’s fiction. She is utterly readable and sets the social scene of upper middle class England in 1938 so brilliantly. Since then, too many other books have been on the top of the pile – but there is now chance to continue the lives of the Cazalet family as the outbreak of WWII takes hold.