Book Smuggling for Beginners: The Mile High Book Club

on Wednesday, April 28, 2010
If there's more to London than the bookstores around Piccadilly it'd be news to me. I spend five glorious days denuding the shelves of Hatchards, Foyles, Blackwell's and Waterstones. When I can't get into the city I head across to the local Daunt Bookstore on Hampstead Heath. For once I am constrained by luggage allowances because I forgot to organise excess in advance. So, you may ask, how many books constitute 20 kilograms? Allowing for the pesky clothes, medication and other assorted junk that takes up precious space in my suitcase, the answer is not many. Luckily, Debbie has some room left in her's and I figure I can stuff my carry-on with hardcovers and the folk at Singapore Airlines will be none the wiser. I end up with somewhere in the vicinity of 50 books of which 25 or so go into my suitcase, 10 go into Debbie's and the remaining fifteen go into my backpack.

Weigh-in at Heathrow is another nerve-damaging event. The lady at the counter is very business-like and seems immune to my weary traveller act. It doesn't help that we are very late in arriving. There seems to be a theme this trip. Anyway, my suitcase comes in at 23 kilos. I'm ready for a dressing down. But in some strange moment of sheer wonder, the dark clouds of my airport luck finally part and she just smiles, slaps on the destination sticker and sends my little library on its merry way. I have survived the first test, even if my shoulder is slowly dislocating under the weight of my contraband stash.

I am sweating like a drug mule as we pass through security. What if they see through (no pun intended) my book smuggling activities? Should I have wrapped them in condoms and swallowed them? And it certainly doesn't help that I look like a terrorist. By this stage, Debbie is just laughing at me.

Of course, we sail through without incident. I dart straight to W.H. Smith and am glad to see, seven airports into The Mile High Book Club challenge, a bestseller list. With numbers. I'd almost forgotten what one looked like.

I had always held out high hopes for the airport at London. It was, I figured, the only place I was almost guaranteed to find a piece of decent literature in the Top 10. But oh how the Book Gods mock me. For there at number seven, laughing at me and poking out its paper tongue, was a book I had seriously hoped to avoid reading... Blueyedboy by Joanne Harris.

An explanation (and, for what its worth, a review)

You may remember the sickening confection that was Joanne Harris's Chocolat. You may, like me, still be haunted (not in the good way) by images of Johnny Depp (whom I usually love) doing strange things with melted chocolate on a nude woman's belly. Suffice to say I detested it. I am diabetic, and it seems my intolerance to all things sweet extends even to the literary world. When I picked up Blueeyedboy - wow, cool, she fused those words together, how very 'now' - little was I to know that I had in my hands a desert of another kind. Cheese. And not the yummy French stuff. God knows why someone would try write another 'evil child' book. It was done to perfection by Doris Lessing in The Fifth Child and William March in The Bad Seed. Those are the benchmarks against which your book will be judged if you so much as think of writing on the topic. That, however, is only part of why this hackneyed festival of lameness dies so embarrassingly between the dust jackets. By telling the story through entries on a web journal, Harris committed cardinal sin number one of modern writing. Old people should not try to be 'young' unless they have properly immersed themselves in and understood youth culture. And even then, be very VERY careful! Harris's attempt to be young and cool was just trite. The whole webalogue was so far from believable that I was left wondering why some editor somewhere along the line didn't tell her that this should have been left to die in the top drawer. Or, even better, the kindling pile. Even Blueeyedboy's one redeeming feature - the relationship between Blueeyedboy and his abusive mother - seemed second rate following the brilliance of Poppy Adams's The Behaviour of Moths. On every level this book fails. Thanks a lot Heathrow. Now I'm also lactose intolerant!


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