Raven Books

New TitlesNew Titles
Recommended TitlesRecommended
LocationLocationHoursHoursAbout UsAbout Us

Best SellersBest Sellers
Book ClubsBook Clubs

Monday 29 June 2009

The Games People Play

Friendships break up all the time: arguing children in school, siblings and parents, teenage love affairs, adult relationships turning to separations and divorce. No one is spared the inevitable fall out: the ripple effect spreads, the shit hits the fan and everyone is marked in some way.

When Ken and Marjorie decided to go their separate ways, Pauline was stuck in the middle, a friendship with both made awkward by the split, but maintained nonetheless. She’d spend hours talking to Ken, counselling him through his grief, keeping him on an even keel. With Marjorie, there was some slight tension, some jealousy of the time her friend spent with her ex other half.

Ken gave Pauline his copy of The Games People Play by Dr Eric Berne, a wise The Games People Playand witty look at those complex games that people play in order to cope with the hand they’ve been dealt. Marjorie, never a reader herself, would have been surprised to find those little tricks up her sleeve were all in the eminently sensible analysis by Dr Berne, even as she was hardly aware of what she was doing. But time heals all wounds, or so they say. Years later, after all the fuss had died down and everyone had got on with their lives, Pauline still remained a true friend to both Ken and Marjorie. But it rankled, it irritated and gnawed at Marjorie: "I would have liked that book, you know, the one Ken gave you, actually, it was the only book I ever wanted.”

Without a trace of resentment, Pauline offered it to her: “Please take it, I can get myself another copy, easily.” But no, Marjorie didn’t really want it now. She just didn’t want anyone else to have it either, especially not Pauline. After all, why would Ken have given it to her? It wasn’t right, no, it just wasn’t; it didn’t make sense. Perhaps, had she read the book, something might have clicked but then again, perhaps not.

Labels: ,

Friday 26 June 2009

Publish and be damned!

Everyone has a book in them, so they say, and if your oeuvre is not accepted for publication you can always print it yourself. Vanity or Self Publishing is big business and extremely satisfying for anyone who has met with a brick wall in their efforts to get their work out there. Pat’s family has clubbed together to do a small print run of his wonderfully evocative poetry; Georgina has secretly written her life story, designed the cover and ordered 30 copies so her five children and their various offspring can discover how risqué this suburban housewife was in her former incarnation.

And Ben Rue decided it was the only way to right a wrong that had been on his mind ever since 1943.

In the summer of 1996, my friend Tara was walking with forty others on the Camino Walk along the St James Way to Santiago de Compostella, raising funds for the MS Society, when they met with Ben, a rugged gentleman from Canada. He thought they were wonderful and invited them back to the Hotel Parador de León where he treated them all to a drink in celebration of their endeavours. Once there, in the plush surrounds of this top class hotel, he regaled them with stories of his experiences during the war, producing fifteen signed copies of his self published book, handing them around, delighted with his captive audience.

Tara shuddered, as she handed me her copy. “It’s not a very nice story, you know, I felt very uncomfortable reading it”, she said. “Take it, have a look and see what you think yourself.”

Odyssey of a Ju88: Tragedy and Death on a North Atlantic Flight describes weather-reconnaissance missions, unarmed and commanded by a meteorologist. The crews had to observe absolute radio silence to avoid detection by observers in Scotland or the Shetland and Faroe Islands. The JU88 was the pride of the Luftaffe with her occasional temperamental whims, and all who piloted her respected and loved this aircraft; however, during the war, many disappeared without trace.

The story is harrowing as it describes one such mission in which a
three-man crew flew near Greenland on reconnaissance: Ben, the pilot, Heinz, the wireless-operator, and Feldwebel, the meteorologist. It started out as a monotonous regular flight but on their return to Norway, at an altitude of 2,550 meters, the engine began to sputter, “the oil pressure went down, the temperature rose and the engine began to shake and jerk.” In an attempt to lighten the aircraft, they jettisoned equipment but still the aircraft could not keep altitude. Feldwebel then took control and ordered Heinz to evacuate into the freezing waters below where he hadn’t a cat’s chance in hell of surviving.

And then there were two.

Full of anger, Ben said that still more had to be jettisoned so Feldwebel, a soldier to the end, jumped, without his parachute.

As the Iron Cross was pinned on his chest, the pilot of this ill-fated flight was crushed by remorse and guilt that stayed with him for the rest of his life. The meteorologist need not have jumped; by adjusting the propeller Ben had given the false impression that more was needed to lighten the load. His loathing at Feldwebel was such that he lied just so Heinz would not die alone.

With these chilling words, the book concludes: “With humility and penitence, I now have confessed my sins.”

Labels: ,

Monday 22 June 2009


Have you ever bought a book and brought it home only to discover pages missing, or find it’s been printed upside down? Well, when Michel Cuhaci of Ottawa discovered his copy of "A Student's Guide to Maxwell's Equations" was flawed, he was rightly miffed and posted a comment on the internet to vent his irritation.

When the author, Professor Dan Fleisch of Wittenberg University, read the complaint he posted a comment to Cuhaci promising he would send a replacement copy by overnight courier.

I’m sure that Michael Cuhaci was well pleased to receive a perfect copy of the guide which detailed the four most influential equations in science: Gauss’s law for electric fields, Gauss’s law for magnetic fields, Faraday’s law, and the Ampere-Maxwell law. Fleisch’s guide for students devotes an entire chapter to each equation with explanations in plain every day language. There’s even a website hosted by the author with interactive solutions to every problem in the text as well as audio podcasts to walk students through each chapter.

You would have thought that this professor couldn’t possibly go further to encourage learning in his field of expertise, but wait, there’s more:

Having realised that it was in fact Christmas Eve, Dan Fleisch discovered he would not be able to courier the book anywhere. He then rang local bookstores in Ottowa only to discover his book was out of stock.

Now, I’m sure that Professor Dan Fleisch hadn’t let a soul down in his whole life and he wasn’t about to start now; he would hand deliver, he decided, it was the only option. Hmmm, he thought he’d drive to Canada but discovered a massive snowstorm over the whole Northeast. A flight, also, appeared to be out of the question until 6am on Christmas Day when the intrepid professor boarded a plane in Dayton Airport after which he picked up a rental car, drove to the Cuhaci homestead, walked up the drive, knocked at the door and said: Hardcover or soft?

I’d love to have seen the look on Michael Cuhaci’s face when Fleisch apologised for the misprint, handed him the book, turned on his heels and went back from whence he came. "To think, there he was and I didn't even ask him to sign it," Cuhaci said. "I didn't even invite him in for coffee."

And that, my friends, is customer service!

Labels: ,

Friday 19 June 2009

Neither a borrower nor a lender be!

Polonius was dead right when he said:

Neither a borrower nor a lender be,
For loan oft loses both itself and friend,
And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.

And I’m sure he was talking about books when he said that! I have come to the conclusion that there are only a few people in this world you can lend anything to; the rest will borrow whatever takes their fancy, promise faithfully to return it as soon as possible and that is the last you’ll ever see of it.

I’ve taken to writing my name in all my books in the hopes that they will find their way back to their rightful owner eventually but it goes against the grain. A book that is written on, marked, underlined, or otherwise defaced is spoilt for me. It’s almost worse that the top corner of a page being folded over to mark your place. That, in my lexicon of sins, is mortal, not easily forgiven.

One dear friend asked if I’d like to look through some books she was giving to Oxfam only to discover two of my own in the pile. She didn’t seem at all worried at this ghastly discovery, blithely shrugging her shoulders, smiling warmly at me, glad I’d found something worth keeping. Another, who is no longer on my Christmas card list, begged to borrow a biography of my paternal grandfather (politician, trade unionist, musician, failed priest, keeper of bees), a treasured possession even if I had failed to plough through all of the 345 densely packed pages. Month after month I waited for it to come back. A year passed and nearly two when she finally handed it to me saying, “keep it as long as you like”. What??? I looked inside where I had written my name, and there, under the black line through my nom de guerre, was HER name. It took some time for me to calm down, it took some time for me to tell her – politely – that in fact it was MY book, and that I had lent it to her. Grrrrrr!

Polonius has been described variously as, ”a busy-body, officious, garrulous and impertinent” but in the matter of borrowing and lending, he and I are as one.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday 16 June 2009

A Child’s Garden of Verses

It’s always the mothers who buy the presents, well, that’s
how it was in my home. Mum would remember the birthdays and would shop and choose and plan and generally come up trumps. She'd know who would love a dolls house or a garage at Christmas - though she got those mixed up one year and while my brother cried, my sister stubbornly refused to give up the garage! However on my eleventh birthday, it was my father who gave me the gift of a book. It’s sitting on the table beside me as I write, its dark green leatherette cover with silver writing, A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson. It has travelled with me back and forth over the Irish Sea as I left home, went to London, returned, back again to Nottingham, then Sussex and now home again, safe and sound. I took it down from the highest shelf, where books I never lend reside, to think about as I write. He inscribed, Wishing Mary a very happy Birthday 20th June 1963, Daddy. And now, as I turn the page again I find, with an introduction by Elizabeth Goudge. Isn’t life just full of wonderful surprises!

Time To Rise
A birdie with a yellow bill
Hopped upon the window sill.
Cocked his shining eye and said:
“Ain’t you ‘shamed, you sleepy-head?”

Labels: , ,

Monday 15 June 2009

What's In A Name?

I couldn’t believe it! Her surname was Eliot, just like the
characters in the book I had just been reading. They were all camped inside my head, The Eliots of Damerosehay, and right across the room from me was a tall, blond woman who could have leapt right off the pages straight into this house in Belgrave Square where the party was in progress. I adored the fictional Eliots' creator, gentle English author Elizabeth Goudge, who had written enough books to keep me going for years: The Little White Horse, Green Dolphin Country, The Scent of Water and A City of Bells – I’d read them all, occasionally finding life inside her stories a much better place to be than my own distracted home.

Back to the party where I asked around until I had an address (just around the corner, literally) and one dark wintry evening I ventured out, knocked on number 19, declaimed my name as if that explained everything and Ms Eliot opened her door wide, welcoming me into her home. I’m not sure how long it took for us to become firm friends - maybe five, or even ten minutes. I am sure, though, I never even told her why I had come!

Even now, when I think back to when I was an innocent 16 year old, I thank Elizabeth Goudge for introducing me to someone who became a true and trusted lifelong friend. Books are funny things, you know, they can affect you in all sorts of way – all you have to do is open the covers and start reading.


Thursday 11 June 2009

IMPAC & The Price Of Progress

Today, the results of the 2009 Dublin IMPAC Literary Award will be announced but I will not be there. Last year, from my front row seat I watched Rawi Hage walk up to receive his prize, his grin reaching from ear to ear, his infectious good humour delighting everyone who clapped loudly, celebrating his well deserved win. His stunning novel, De Niro’s Game, captured, with gusto, the atmosphere of life in the devastation that is Beirut. When all the fuss had died down and the assembled admirers decanted to the basement for wine and tasty bites, I went back upstairs, looking to have my copy signed, and found the exuberant author dancing on the stage with two young ladies as if he had the whole world at his feet.

In 2007, a more sombre but quietly pleased, Per Petterson arrived from Norway to accept on behalf of that fine novel, Out Stealing Horses. He nearly tripped over my handbag as he came down through the crowd to accept his cheque and the Lord Mayor’s handshake. Colm Tóibín, in 2006, was a delightful winner, pleased as punch to be recognised in his island home. My signed copy of The Master sits proudly on my bookshelf among the hoi polloi and lesser masterpieces.

2005 was the first year I attended this marvellous inclusive event when Edward P. Jones, a shy and unassuming American writer, won the prize with The Known World. This book challenged long held assumptions, fair took my breath away and remains a firm favourite on my shelf of fame.

But this year I shall stay at home. My handbag shall remain on the hall table, my favourite among the shortlist unsigned. You see, time moves on and this year Dublin City Council have decided not to invite all and sundry to this event. Instead, there will be a dinner in the evening (black tie no doubt) to which only the crème de la crème of Irish literary society will be invited. Ah well, that’s the price of progress!

2009 IMPAC shortlist

Labels: , , , ,

Monday 8 June 2009

Who has a birthday on the 8th of June?

Who has a birthday on the 8th of June? I searched the Internet and came up with an expert in every field, every walk of life, every area imaginable. There was a cartographer, a sculptor, a topographer, a First Lady of the United States, a Cardinal, an explorer/pirate (how could he be both at once?), an Irish Mathematician called Alicia Boole Stott (I must find out more about her), and even a Rear Admiral but… but I couldn’t find an author of any shape, size or colour, popular or otherwise, good, bad or indifferent.

I searched online from Wikipedia to Google and beyond, I even watched Jimi Hendrix burn his guitar and then smash it to pieces, but that was on the 18th of June so no use to us at all. And then I discovered that the creator of the World Wide Web, Timothy Berners-Lee, who made all my searching possible was born on – wait for it! – the 8th of June 1955 in London, England. Without this imaginative inventor there would be no world wide web, no email, no online access to books, neither amazon.com and Raven Books would be unable to reach out to the world. Someone else may have come up with the idea but no one would have made it freely available to everyone.

With renewed vigour I continued my search, undaunted, unable to give up in the face of the amazing talent that proud mothers gave birth to on the 8th day of June and eventually, at last (my own mother would have been proud of me, the woman who gave birth to this particular genius on the 20th of June) I found Charles Reade, dramatist, novelist, and journalist whose birthday we can now formally celebrate. Did his mother know, on that fateful day in 1814 her beloved son would produce such fine novels as, “Hard Cash” and “The Cloister and the Hearth”? She can rest assured that with the help of Tim Berners-Lee and this dogged researcher his name will live on in the annals of literary history.

Labels: , ,