TagFirestation Book Swap

Firestation Book Swap on Tour @ London Review Bookshop, 3rd February 2011

There were five-and-a-half months between my first and second Firestation Book Swaps; but only two weeks between my second and third. Well, I reasoned, they don’t come to London very often, so I’ll go whenever I can. Back I went, then, to the London Review Bookshop (which, let me tell you, is a dangerous place to go browsing when you don’t really want to buy anything – so many interesting books!), where hosts Marie Phillips and Robbie Hudson (Scott Pack not being available for this one) welcomed William Fiennes (whom I remember from Picador Day at Foyles last year) and Nikesh Shukla (whose Coconut Unlimited was one of my favourite reads of 2010).

Marie began by distributing pens and paper to the audience for them to write their questions (mine was ‘Is February a better month than January?’ – alas, it wasn’t used), and explained how the swapping process worked – using One Day by David Nicholls as one of the hypothetical books, because, she said, someone always brings a copy of that to the Book Swap.

At this point, Marie paused and asked who had brought One Day with them this time.

But no one had.

And the logical impossibility of this caused the universe to spontaneously self-destruct.

Not really; I’m joking – but it is true that no one had brought a copy of One Day. I have to say, there were some epic swaps tonight: Will Fiennes had something like six offers of swaps for his copy of The Complete Cosmicomics by Italo Calvino (in the end, he chose a book of Frank O’Connor short stories); and I got three offers for my copy of Jasper Fforde’s The Eyre AffairThe Great Gatsby (which I already have); Ordinary Thunderstorms by William Boyd (which I don’t); and the one I went for, The Cat in the Coffin by Mariko Koike. I’d never heard of the book, or its author; but, for me, part of the point of going to Book Swap is the chance to be introduced to unfamiliar books and writers.

The conversation was the usual eclectic mix, with questions ranging from ‘What would your hip-hop name be?’ to ‘Which is your favourite foot?’ And it was great to meet Nikesh in person, along with his felliow Quartet author Gavin James Bower, who introduced me to another writer, Niven Govinden, whose work I shall now also be investigating. A great evening, as always.

Firestation Book Swap, 20th January 2011

Having thoroughly enjoyed the Firestation Book Swap on Tour at the London Review Bookshop last August, I thought it was about time I checked out the Book Swap on its home turf; so off I went to Windsor last night. The Firestation Arts Centre is a lovely little theatre space in what used to be, yes, Windsor’s fire station (it still has the bright red doors), police station and magistrates’ court. The stage was decked out with chairs for the hosts, sofa for the guests – and, of course, a table full of cake.

Tonight, Scott Pack was joined by a guest co-host, Robbie Hudson, and the two guest authors were Elizabeth Buchan and Emma Townshend. I hadn’t read books by either of the latter, but certainly became interested in doing so after hearing them talk about their work. Of the two, I was instinctively more interested in Townshend’s book, Darwin’s Dogs (which examines the significance that Darwin’s pet dogs had in shaping his work), and it is now definitely on my to-read pile; but Buchan’s Separate Beds (about a couple whose relationship is already under strain who then have to deal with their family moving back in because the financial situation demands it) also sounds worth a read.

The conversation was as varied and entertaining as I remember last time; this is the sort of event where an author may be asked, ‘What’s the difference between Darwin’s genius and Shakespeare’s genius?’ just as she’s about to tuck into a macaroon, or the host may give impromptu tips on how to get five minutes’ silence at a children’s party. You just never know.

Speaking of which: the swapping. I took along my copy of Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey, and ended up swapping it for Harry Hill’s Whopping Great Joke Book, which is about as random a swap as I can imagine. Sitting next to me was my fellow-blogger Jackie from Farm Lane Books, who tried unsuccessfully to exchange her copy of David Nicholls’ One Day (the most-swapped book in the history of the event, said Scott), and very kindly gave it to me afterwards – thanks, Jackie!

And so, I returned home with new books to read, and further books to go on the ‘must read that some time’ list. Oh, and the cake was delicious, too.

Firestation Book Swap on Tour @ London Review Bookshop, 5th August 2010

Yesterday, I caught the train down to London, to go to an event that I’ve wanted to attend for ages: the Firestation Book Swap. Hosted by publisher Scott Pack and author Marie Phillips, with a couple of guest authors, this is held every month at the Firestation Arts Centre in Windsor; but they’ve also had a few tour dates, and last night the Book Swap came to the London Review Bookshop.

The format of the event is a literary evening with a twist: no readings, but plenty of questions – some posed by the hosts, others written by the audience and drawn at random from a basket; the only catch is, the questions can’t have anything to do with books. There’s also cake, and plenty of it; you can actually get in for free if you bring a homemade cake. And, of course, there’s the swapping – everyone brings a book to swap, with opportunities to pitch yours (or have it pitched by the hosts) throughout the evening). So, with my copy of Tim Davys’ Amberville in hand, I went along.

My evening got off to an unplanned start when I managed to trip up in the road outside and cut my knee; my thanks to the shop’s first-aider who supplied the rather dramatic-looking bandage which I spent the rest of the night holding against the wound (to think I nearly took this book to swap, which would have been mildly amusing).

Anyway, the guest authors for this session were Patrick Neate (whom I’ve been meaning to read since I saw him at Cheltenham last year, and still haven’t) and James Miller (of whom I hadn’t heard before, but whose near-future thrillers sound interesting). Both were highly entertaining (as were the hosts), and the discussion ranged widely, from the question of whether reading was a dying art (Neate was fairly optimistic about this, Miller less so; certainly I found it dispiriting to hear about undergraduate literature students who haven’t read anything) and whether it’s more accepted in publishing for authors identified as literary to draw on elements of genre than it is for genre writers to break away from the ‘genre’ tag (unfortunately, I suspect this is the case, though it shouldn’t be), to the subject of the guests’ favourite cake.

Ah yes, the cake. This gets passed around the audience, and includes the traditional Firestation Book Swap cupcakes (decorated with the letters of ‘Firestation Book Swap’), of which I got the last one. It was delicious, as was all the other cake I tried.

And the swapping? I ended up swapping with Scott afterwards, and now have a copy of Geisha by Liza Dalby; a very different book from the one I took with me, and probably not one I’d have chosen to read otherwise – but, to me, that’s the whole point of going to an event like this. All in all, I had a great time, and would heartily recommend the Book Swap to anyone. If you can get to one, do.

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