Friday 27 March 2020

Compass Points 343

Top Ten Literary Self-Isolators
John Donne famously said that ‘no man is an island’, but let’s talk about those famous literary loners who DID want to be islands! I’ve opted not to include those who were self-isolating because they were prisoners, so that rules out Rapunzel, Bertha Mason, Andy Dufresne, Ma and Jack, etc. Here are my suggestions, do get in touch with your own literary loners – you can do that on Twitter here.

10. Badger hates Society, and invitations, and dinner, and all that sort of thing’ says Rat in Wind in the Willows, but their elusive and somewhat grumpy friend comes out of seclusion to help them on many subsequent occasions.
9. Living alone in the bell tower of Notre Dame, Quasimodo has been hidden away for his own protection. He is hated for his deformities but like many literary loners, is kind at heart.
8. Robinson Crusoe, Defoe’s castaway spends twenty-eight years on a remote tropical island, but learns ‘to look more upon the bright side of my condition, and less upon the dark side, and to consider what I enjoyed, rather than what I wanted.’
7. Gollum is ‘shrunken by the years that had carried him far beyond his time, beyond friends and kin’ and spends his time in Tolkien’s novels using a combination of self-isolation and social distancing to sneak ever closer to his ‘precious’.
6. Frederick Clegg, the terrifying, solitary Collector of John Fowles’ novel believes ‘if more people were like me, in my opinion, the world would be better.'
5. Dr Seuss’s bitter, grouchy Grinch with a heart ‘two sizes too small’ finally comes to realise that no one should be alone at Christmas, or at any other time of year.
4. The reclusive widower Tom Oakley in Goodnight Mister Tom, is required to take in an evacuee during WWII. Although emotionally distant, he is compassionate, and thanks to the effect of company, ‘he felt as if a heavy wave of sadness had suddenly been lifted from out of him.’
3. Miss Havisham, ‘an immensely rich and grim old lady who lived in a large and dismal house barricaded against robbers, and who led a life of seclusion’ has been driven to solitude by sorrow, but nonetheless manages to exert huge control over other people's lives without ever leaving the house.
2. Hermione in A Winter’s Tale. There is some debate as to whether Shakespeare’s heroine really has been sequestered for sixteen years, or whether she is magically brought back to life at the end of the play; but in all likelihood this ‘sweet'st, dear'st creature’ has been in ‘a removed house’ with Paulina bringing her food and drink.
1. Boo Radley, the heroic loner in Harper Lee’s masterpiece, ‘just stays in the house, that’s all. Wouldn’t you stay in the house if you didn’t want to come out?’ He only appears in the final chapters of the book, but his literal and symbolic invisibility dominates the novel.

The translator of Amber’s new edition of Miyamoto Musashi’s Five Rings (£19.99, hb, 978-1782749431) has written about her translation process in a fascinating blog post, which I highly recommend, that’s here. Anyone with the slightest interest in language is going to find it extremely interesting. This classic Japanese work on mastery in swordsmanship, leadership and conflict remains influential not only in the realm of martial arts but in the business world, too. Musashi's no-nonsense approach to combat includes understanding that technique should simply be understood as defeating your opponent, and appreciating that the same qualities apply in all conflicts. This new edition which has just been published by Amber, is produced using exquisite traditional Chinese bookbinding techniques and the brand-new translation by Maisy Hatchard makes it extremely readable.

Exciting to hear about The Big Book Weekend, a three-day, virtual festival that brings together the best of the British Literary festivals cancelled due to coronavirus, featuring the biggest names in books alongside unknown debut authors and rising talents. You can find out more at

First up in the Self-Isolation Songlist is Eddie Cantor here singing We’re Staying Home Tonight, my baby and me, doing the patriotic thing’, which really could have been written for the current crisis, but was actually recorded in 1943!

There’s an extract from Pluto’s new title Feminism, Interrupted: Disrupting Power in Gal-dem this week and you can read it here. Writer and organiser Lola Olufemi explains why creative thinking is crucial in the path towards a radical feminist future and how feminism has opened up her world.

For those who are doing their very best to make working at home deliver a good outcome for their employers, the idea that publishers are encouraging staff to continue taking holidays during the period of lockdown, doesn’t seem like the fairest idea.  Bonnier Books UK have asked staff to use up half of their 28-day holiday allowance by 30th June, to avoid the absence of too many staff when the lockdown due to coronavirus is over, and Hachette is only allowing staff to take pro-rated holiday (i.e. up to a quarter of their total allocated leave) in the last quarter of the year. Unsurprisingly this request has been met with some resistance by employees; you can read more on that story here.

Now is the perfect time to get stuck into a new crime series! We’d suggest that the DCI Daley series from Polygon is ideal. Bookshops could offer their customers offer a ‘DC Daley Reading Box’ as pictured, which contains all seven books. You can see the seven titles here. Fans will then be all ready for be ready for number eight, Jeremiah's Bell (£8.99, pb, 978 1846975202) which is out on 4 June 2020.

Comma’s new online book club for translated fiction was featured in Bookbrunch here and a good selection of their titles featured on the Manchester’s Finest website as part of a new initiative to support local Manchester bookshops through the crisis with a delivery service, that’s here.

My second Self-Isolation Song is I Will Survive, in a new version here by Victoria Emes, which I found absolutely hilarious.

Book sales are surging during the crisis, hurrah! Total physical book sales in the UK jumped 6% in the week to Saturday 21 March, according to Nielsen, noting a 212% growth in volume sales for ‘home learning’ titles and a 77% boost for school textbooks and study guides. Arts and crafts book sales were also up by 38% week on week and with paperback fiction sales were up by 35% last week as self-isolating readers stocked up on novels and sought solace in imaginary worlds.  Waterstones, finally shut its stores after staff complained that they felt at risk from the coronavirus, but its online sales were up by 400% week on week. You can read more on that story in the Guardian here.

With Home Learning titles enjoying such a surge, this next book from Crown is perfect! Teaching on a Shoestring: An A–Z of everyday objects to enthuse and engage children and extend learning in the early years (£16.99, pb, 978 1785833076) Russell Grigg and Helen Lewis explore the educational value of familiar objects and suggest practical activities to help develop young learners’ cross-curricular skills. Underpinned by solid theory, Teaching on a Shoestring investigates the learning potential of twenty-six inexpensive, readily available resources – from apples to ice cubes to zebra-patterned fabric – and shows how they can be exploited to develop in young learners the four skills widely regarded as essential in the twenty-first century: communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity.

Alexander McCall Smith is another author who has definitely seen an increase in sales recently – his heart warming and optimistic tales are just what the nation needs. He’s written a lovely poem about our troubled times, and has said ‘These are very difficult times for so many. I have written a poem especially for this moment. It comes to you with my warmest wishes, and my hope that you are keeping well.’ You can read it here.

Here's a ‘playlist’ of twelve videos from the BBC archive that may in some way resonate with you at this time. Everything from advice on binge watching, to scrabble tips, to how to spot a conspiracy theory!

We told you last week about Chris McNab’s newest Amber title, but don’t forget about How to Survive Anything Anywhere: A Handbook of Survival Skills for Every Scenario and Environment (£14.99, pb, 978 1782747000) which is the complete single-volume handbook of professional survival skills. Heavily illustrated throughout with more than 500-line artworks and diagrams, How to Survive Anything Anywhere gives the reader practical measures of survival which are easy to memorise and apply and is a vital single source of invaluable survival information for everyone who wants to be well prepared.

Two great reviews for Comma’s Palestine +100 (£9.99, pb, 978 1910974445) this week. Firstly in the Times Literary Supplement who said 'Palestine +100 gives the pleasure of a collection whose entries engage in conversation: about absence, borders and belonging' that’s here and also in Sabotage Review who called it 'a thought-provoking and inspiring book’, that’s here.

Congratulations to all the Compass winners of the Business Book Awards on Monday night. The HR & Management Book of the Year winner was Boards: A Practical Perspective by Patrick Dunne (£29.95, 978 1916256903) which provides a realistic, thought-provoking and useful guide to life as a board member. It’s published by Governance Publishing/Gazelle. The winner of Sales & Marketing Business Book of the Year was Your Business, Your Book by Ginny Carter (£14.99, 9781788601306) published by Practical Inspiration and Highly Commended as the HR & Management Book of the Year was Driving Performance Through Learning by Andy Lancaster (£19.99, 9780749497439) which is from Kogan Page.

Well done Vahni Capildeo who has been longlisted for the BOCAS Prize for Caribbean Literature for Skin Can Hold (£9.99, pb, 9781784107314). The Financial Times said ‘Capildeo has a gift for examining the lives of others’ and this title was a Telegraph Book of the Year for 2109. The poems are about Caribbean masquerade and French theatre and are based on collaborations towards productions of multimedia events, immersive experiences and performances. This is the third Carcanet collection from the Trinidadian poet whose Measures of Expatriation won the 2016 Forward Prize.

For those parents and families running out of conversation already, A Tin of Thunks (£9.99, 978 1781353431) from Crown is a good resource for to use in order to generate a stimulating debate. Since publishing The Little Book of Thunks over a decade ago, Ian Gilbert's beguilingly simple-looking questions have got us all thinking new thoughts about everyday life, love, the things around us and the world beyond. Published at the end of last year, fifty probing provocations suah as Can a robot be kind? Can you touch the wind? Is there more future than past? are presented in a brand-new format as a specially designed set of cards with a range of fun and innovative ideas as to how they can be used.  

My third and final Self-Isolation Song is the fabulous Fats, here with Ain’t Misbehavin’ ‘Don’t go out late, got no place to go, just me and my radio.’ Perfect. But I think those girls are getting just a bit too close to you!

That’s all folks, more next week!

This weekly blog is written for the UK book trade. If you would like to order any of the titles mentioned, then please talk to your Compass Sales Manager, or call the Compass office on 020 8326 5696. Every Friday an e-newsletter containing highlights from the blog is sent out to over 700 booksellers and if you’d like to receive this then please contact

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