One of the funny things about working as a bookseller is the reaction that you get from people outside the industry when they discover your vocation. Their eyes go all misty and unfocused, and invariably they sigh and tell you how much they would love to work in a bookstore, how much they would love to sit around and read books all day. The only other time in my life that I habitually received that look was when I was pregnant. Again, people would stop me, going all dewy-eyed, as if somehow, I had morphed into mother earth and was incubating a baby for of the universe.
Of course, the reality of working as bookseller is that you only get read in snatches of stolen time, while most of your waking hours are spent running fast to stand still, as you are bombarded with the good, the bad and the ugly of new titles. Like movies, most books stand or fall on their performance in the market over their first few weeks. And again, like movies, the spin is all important. What that means is that many, many really wonderful, useful, insightful, funny, evocative books are doomed to languish simply because they just can’t command the attention they deserve whereas others, that have somehow captured the zeitgeist of the time, go on to sell for ever, regardless of their actual merit.
To continue with the pregnancy theme, a case in point would be the books of Sheila Kitzinger. She was the birth goddess when I was pregnant. A great many years later, we still consistently sell her books and she is known as the reference point for matters maternal. I never finished her birthing manual. I got to the point where we were supposed to imagine ourselves as an opening flower bud (yes really) and went no further. Giving birth likened to the opening of a flower bud? I don’t think so. My metaphor would be something to do with watermelons or medicine balls. The point is however, that everyone read/still reads Sheila and a new version of it all is about to be released. At the same time, I am quite sure there are a lot of excellent, worthy books that don’t get a look in.
All of this brings me to the book I do want to talk about, and that is Contented Dementia by Oliver James. This book was published last year and in that time, we have sold precisely four copies (two of which went to me, so we certainly didn’t make any money out of them). This is a huge wasted opportunity and many people are missing out.
I have read a number of novels with dementia as a theme, as well as some resource books and help manuals, plus a number of other books on how to look after a loved one with this awful disease, but I have never come across a book on the subject that is so compassionate, helpful and, dare I say it, hopeful.
The idea of developing dementia or Alzheimer’s scares the pants of most people and the prevalence of the diseases is rising rapidly. What Contented Dementia is all about is how to disable the worst impact of the disease so as to keep the patient/client, and the carer, happy. This really is an important book and is an indispensable handbook for anyone coping with the effects of the disease, or who wants to keep a sufferer as protected from stress and ill feeling as much as possible.
Oliver James explains a quite revolutionary new way of treating dementia which brings enormous benefits for both patients and carers. His writing is accessible and his ideas are based on the work of an English woman called Penny Garner, who came up with these techniques after the frustration of having to come to terms with her mother’s disease. I have observed these techniques with someone very close to me, and the difference is palpable and profound.
So there you have it. No spin, no catches, no marketing machine behind the title, but, hand on my heart, I can tell you that this is really a very important, very useful book.