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Ask a Bookseller: Darran from Bookhaus

Bookshops are the very best places to go for book recommendations – and booksellers are the friendliest, most knowledgeable of readers!

Darran from Bookhaus in Bristol has joined us to answer your questions and share his favourite picks.

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Darran at Bookhaus

What makes Bookhaus a great place to visit?

"Bookhaus is a great place to visit as we are a well-curated, bright, modern bookshop that offers a slightly offbeat selection of books across many genres. We are open seven days a week, until 8pm in the evening on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and we are right in the heart of the city, so whether you live in Bristol or are here to visit we are right on the Harbourside, near many of the main tourist attractions. We also put on lots of events, so you might find that we’re running one with an author you love." Darran

I am a 12-year-old boy who likes reading graphic novels but I am stuck and don't know what to read next do you have any suggestions? – Oscar, age 12

When I am asked for a recommendation, I usually ask for some examples of the kind of things people like to read to get a gauge of the sort of thing they enjoy, so I can steer in that direction. Since I don’t have any info to go on here, I'm going to suggest something that I think is universal and should be interesting whatever your tastes. Jim Woodring is a comic creator who makes surreal, wordless comics that seem to have emerged from a dream world. They star a Disneyesque, black and white character called Frank and see him go on a series of adventures. The Frank Book is a great introduction to his work. It is a perfect demonstration of what a comic book can be, at its most distinctive.

The Frank Book

Which authors would be the modern equivalent of Dostoyevsky? I would like to read contemporary fiction that hits the way the classics do! – Ross

The modern equivalent of Dostoyevsky? Hmm… what makes Dostoyevsky distinctive? Partly his Existential rawness and depth, and partly his exploration of religious, political, moral and philosophical issues. He explored aspects of life that hadn't really been written about before. The Lost Weekend by Charles Jackson is an intense and brilliant novel that was adapted into a more famous film, and it reminds me of Notes from the Underground and The Gambler. Michel Houellebecq is a brilliant, philosophical, reactionary writer who writes things that others haven't or wouldn't. Among other contemporary writers I would say that Ottessa Moshfegh in Lapvona and Don DeLillo in books like The Names and Mao II remind me a bit of Dostoyevsky.

The Lost Weekend by Charles Jackson

What is a good book for constant daydreamers? – Ellie, age 17

A book I think is great for constant daydreamers is The Man Who Was Thursday by GK Chesterton. It is an extraordinary, dreamlike novel about a secret society of Anarchists in early 20th Century London that is infiltrated by an undercover police officer. The narrative evolves in entirely unpredictable ways. Chesterton is a big influence on Neil Gaiman, and I would very highly recommend the Sandman comic books, which are currently being adapted for television by Netflix. It is about Morpheus, the King of Dreams, much of it takes place in the dream world, and Chesterton is made into a character called Fiddlers Green. I think everyone should read Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carrol, which is a wonderful book. And finally, I would suggest Haruki Murakami, whose work often has a dreamlike quality. Try A Wild Sheep Chase.

The Man who was Thursday by G K Chesterton

What is a great book with queer representation (that isn't the main focus of the book) and great mental health representation? – Gemma

I'll suggest three very diverse books that I thought were good in different ways. Rainbow Milk by Paul Mendez is an excellent novel about a Gay, Black man raised as a Jehovah's Witness in the West Midlands, who is forced to leave home and move to London. It's a very good Bildungsroman. Another I would recommend is Variations by Juliet Jacques, which is a collection of short stories about Trans lives in Britain from the early 19th Century until the present. It ranges across a diverse series of times, places, characters, and situations. Finally, I'll recommend Essential Dykes to Watch Out For by Alison Bechdel. It is a collection of comic strips Bechdel wrote over decades, set in a community of Lesbian women in a small American city. As it is a weekly format you can really get a sense of how the characters mature, grow and develop in a changing cultural and political context. It's like a soap opera, or as Bechdel describes it, an endless, serialised Victorian novel.

Rainbow Milk by Paul Mendez

I've never read any 'classic literature'. What would be a good introductory book to try? – George

I'll throw out a few suggestions. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens is such a classic that you will probably know some of the scenes and characters even if you haven’t read it, because it has seeped into the culture so much. It was serialised in a magazine so there are plot twists and exciting developments throughout, and Dickens' prose and characterisation are unmatched. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë is so intense and passionate that it’s not really like anything else. You can see why the teenage Kate Bush wrote her hit song about it. Candide by Voltaire is great. It's witty, philosophical, satirical and short. Frankenstein, written by Mary Shelly when she was only 18 years old, is a thrilling book, a great work of Romanticism and Gothic fiction, and has had an enormous influence on Horror and Science Fiction. Finally, I'll recommend Sentimental Education by Gustave Flaubert, because I think it is the best portrait of what it is to be human that I know. Flaubert captures the essence of life here.

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens


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