Sunday, 5 December 2021


This country is a nation of shopkeepers, as Napoleon may or may not have said, and he didn’t mean it as a compliment. Publishers whose rejections say ‘We think this is a wonderful book but sorry, no, we don’t think we can sell it’, politicians who decide what policies to adopt on the basis of how many people they think will vote for them … This is infantilising, and the attendant media embed this process.

But I happen to have a shop and it’s shopping season and I do want to sell more books. Not cupcakes. While thinking that four books a year might be about right for a one-person operation, CBe has published eight this year. I have failed better. In chronological order of publication: Roy Watkins, Simple Annals (‘an absorbing masterpiece’, Bernard O’Donoghue, The Literary Review; ‘an astonishing achievement’, Brian Morton, TLS); Dan O’Brien, A Story that Happens (‘a book for our times’, Alice Jolly, TLS); Nuzhat Bukhari, Brilliant Corners (‘Real-world violence juxtaposed against the page, the proximity of the singular self to the wider brutality of history’, Andrew McMillan, PBS Bulletin); Leila Berg, Flickerbook (‘Reading it is a joy; brutally honest depictions of childhood liberate the child within’, Norma Clarke, TLS); Charles Boyle, The Other Jack (‘Whatever a novel is, I feel this is what I want a novel now to be’, Jane Feaver); Tony Lurcock, Finish Off with Finland, the fourth book in his trilogy (‘entertaining, fascinating, astonishing’, Finland Forum); Carmel Doohan, Seesaw (‘an unexpected, novel challenge to binary thinking’, Laura Waddell, Scotsman); Caroline Clark, Sovetica (‘I was moved, in several directions: inwards, outwards, backwards in time and into my present’, Patrick McGuinness).

All orders from the website are welcome. Especially welcome are buyers who sign up to the Season Ticket, which works like a Book Token: 10 books of your choice for £70, post-free in the UK, for yourself or for Uncle Arthur. You’d pay the same for designer socks.

Below, the pop-up shop in Portobello Road run by CBe a few years ago:

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