This Must Be The Place – 15 June 2024

Welcome to Independent Bookshop Week; the much-anticipated eight-day week is here and our partnership with publisher And Other Stories kicks off.

Welcome to The Heronry; do come and admire our And Other Stories book displays and artwork and pick up a (temporary) And Other Herons tattoo, as well as lots of AOS books.

Welcome to all the places books can take you: from new countries to home, from mines to woodland, from smoke-filled bars to glittering coast.

Perhaps my favourite place to which a book has taken me is a destination never actually reached: Lublin by Manya Wilkinson is an absurd journey with three Jewish boys walking to Lublin to sell paintbrushes. They are not prepared for how wrong things can go – they do not have the right shoes and Elya’s book on outdoor survival is little help – and nor is the reader.  

In recent days I have been in Paris (emotionally, if not physically). Scaffolding by Lauren Elkin took me to a contemporary Belleville apartment and to the same apartment fifty years previously. Anna is at home recovering, or not, from a miscarriage while the inside and outside of the building undergo a ravalement. Her new neighbour, Clémentine, stops by for discussions of great depth and utter triviality – from Lacan to kitchen tiles; I shan’t comment on which category each falls into. Clémentine goes out at night to paint feminist slogans on the streets of Paris. Anna contemplates monogamy and the place of previous lovers in new relationships. In 1972, Florence and Henry grapple with similar questions within the same walls. As parts of the building are stripped back, the air inside grows thick with the memories of its residents, former and current.

Not ready to leave Paris and Lauren Elkin, I turned to The Paris Trilogy by Colombe Schneck, translated by Elkin and by Natasha Lehrer. In her memoir comprising three movements, Colombe Schneck frames the story of a faithful, lifelong friendship with that of a love affair in her teens and one in her fifties.

The early affair leads to the devastating discovery that all she has been taught of liberation is untrue: she thought she was equal to men; she thought her body belonged to her; she thought she could choose what she wanted for it. At seventeen, her beliefs are shattered by becoming pregnant.

The later relationship feels like the one she had always longed for: a deeply romantic, tangible love where before she had only imagined the experience of love. She is lost when it ends. Until she finds a version of the freedom she thought she had all those years before. At the centre is the true love story: two women who grew up together and will not fail one another.

Reading Elkin and Schneck consecutively was a rich, indulgent experience. And so, extravagantly, I thought: to Saint-Tropez next; why ever not? I followed a young woman leaving 1930s Berlin for a French summer in Background for Love by Helen Wolff. She rents a farmhouse with grapevines, artichokes and peas growing outside, finds a cat she names Colette, after the writer who is staying nearby, and finds the people she needs.

Background for Love gave me the feeling of absolutely occupying a time and place. There can be no wishing away a moment, no thought of needing to meet a deadline when you are at a fishermen’s ball on a summer night and determined to dance with everyone there.

Somehow, I am going to wrench myself away from Europe and from summer heat and storms, though not from love, to Montana, with The Heart in Winter by Kevin Barry – I keep promising customers who loved it that I’ll read this “next” and next approaches with urgency.

Meanwhile, Wyl Menmuir’s new book is an invitation into The Heart of the Woods. Joining him to meet tree-planters, ecologists, skilful woodworkers and bodgers will take you into woodlands across the country as well as whisking you away to a sacred forest in Tokyo. If you are wondering what might be found closer to home, The Accidental Garden by Richard Mabey pulls you into Mabey’s garden and the myriad lives and dramas playing out among the plants and animals living there. It’s a call to recognise the need for wilderness and to reassess the role of the gardener.

Out in the open, Kathleen Jamie’s poetry and short essay collection Cairn positions each piece as carefully as the stone landmark of the title; the result is a rare book focussed on nature that captures this moment without romance or despair but with unqualified care.

Younger readers also will enjoy an arboreal adventure with Monster in the Woods by Dave Shelton: everyone says that there is something scary in the woods but Frith isn’t so sure. Her investigation takes her, her family and her dog Cabbage on a wild adventure – it’s funny and also full of illuminating nature writing.

Tonight, who knows where we may go with Ralf Webb and Florence Grieve? You will need to be in the Clifton Arcade at 6pm to find out.
On Monday, we travel across Europe, drink in hand, with Deborah Levy’s Black Vodka.
On Thursday, we remain in Germany with Pitch & Glint by Lutz Seiler.
There is still time to join us on each journey as well as to submit your own writing to our flash fiction competition.  

May your weekend take you to all sorts of places, though largely to independent bookshops,

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