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Creative Sensemaker: Introducing the Tortoise Book Store

Creative Sensemaker: Introducing the Tortoise Book Store

Welcome to Creative Sensemaker, our weekly guide to all that’s best in culture and the arts – movies, streaming, books, music, galleries and much else

…and welcome to the Tortoise Book Store!

This has been a great year for books and – as it turns out – for reading. In particular, sales of digital books produced by UK publishers are on course to scale record heights in 2020, and several imprints have been pleasantly surprised by their performance during the pandemic. Having expected coronavirus to cut sales by 75 per cent, Bloomsbury (for instance) reported a 9 per cent increase in June.

Yet the fruits of lockdown – such as they are – have not been evenly distributed, and some book shops and publishers have suffered grievously. Amazon’s grip on the global book market has tightened (its founder, Jeff Bezos, added $13 billion to his net worth in a single day in July), while independent book stores in the UK have faltered, caught in the pincer movement of the global digital retail giant and the crippling business impact of stop-go lockdowns.

At Tortoise, we believe in localism, pluralism and fair competition. We also believe profoundly in the value of independent bookstores, which are important community institutions and meeting-places, as well as the best places to browse at leisure, check out titles new and old, and while away the time in the most pleasurable way.

Which is why we are proud to announce our new partnership with Bookshop.org, and the opening of the Tortoise Book Store: click here to see for yourself. 

Bookshop is the brainchild of Andy Hunter, and blends the social objective of helping independent bookstores with the customer convenience of digital ordering. It gives away 75 percent of its profit margin to shops, writers and other parts of the literary ecosystem.

It is important to emphasise that Bookshop.org is a B-Corp – a corporation dedicated to the public good – not a charity. This is not a one-off philanthropic venture, but something different and more ambitious: a new network engineered to give book shops sustainable help. Since going live on 1 November, it has already raised more than £417,000 for local bookshops. 

It is a new ethical business model that seeks resilience in a challenging marketplace rather than a flurry of performative virtue-signalling. Every time you make a purchase in our store, independent book shops will get a 10 per cent commission. 

As a Bookshop.org affiliate, Tortoise also receives a matching benefit with each sale – every penny of which will be invested in our slow journalism and the deep-dive investigations that will be more important than ever in 2021. And if you want to buy one of Creative Sensemaker’s weekly book recommendations, just click on the link in the text.

Look at the advent calendar: yes, that’s right. Christmas is right around the corner and it’s high time you got on with your present-shopping. The Tortoise book store is here to help. What are you waiting for?

Here are this week’s cultural tips:


Fast-forward: Confessions of a Post-Punk Percussionist: Volume II – Stephen Morris (Constable)

Joy Division’s drummer, Stephen Morris, was always the savviest of the band’s members, and the most articulate about the suicide of its lead singer, Ian Curtis, in 1980. The second volume of his memoirs explores the band’s metamorphosis after Curtis’s death into New Order, one of the great musical forces of the Eighties and beyond. I now have a shelf of Joy Division-related books: this is a worthy addition.

Whites: On Race and Other Falsehoods – Otegha Uwagba (HarperCollins)

A short and bracing essay that captures the spirit of 2020 in compelling prose, taking as its focal point the murder in May of George Floyd, the subsequent global protests and scrutiny of “whiteness”. Uwagba, the founder of the creativity and culture multimedia platform, Women Who, is one of the essential social commentators of our times.

The Best of Me – David Sedaris (Little, Brown)
Some books are almost parodically perfect as a Christmas gift, and this is one of them. More than 400 pages of Sedaris gems, spanning three decades of writing, and an astonishing range of experience, heartache, and (naturally) humour. In the early Nineties, the author was a cult favourite of the cappuccino classes. These days, they teach his writings in schools, and rightly so. This single volume plots the whole glorious story.

Paradise: Dante’s Divine Trilogy, Englished in Prosaic Verse: Alasdair Gray (Canongate)
The third part of Dante’s Divine Comedy is also the least-read, which is a shame because it is also the most powerful, intense and transcendent of the three, connecting the poet’s love of Beatrice to his fully realised ideas of what constitutes divinity. It is hard to test the frequent claim that the trilogy is the greatest work in Western literature without an excellent translation and John Ciardi’s milestone English version (1954-70) is still hard to beat (Clive James’s 2013 translation has its fans, too). The Glaswegian writer Alasdair Gray died in 2019, but not before completing the cycle. Scholarly, lyrical, and proudly dappled with Scottish usage, this is a mighty accomplishment.

Leave the World Behind – Rumaan Alam (Bloomsbury)

One of the novels of the year, Alam’s tale was written before the pandemic but uncannily foreshadows its dystopian spirit. Combining the fear of home invasion with the presumptions born of white privilege and the growing awareness of a terrible crisis unfolding elsewhere, Alam’s third novel is a true page-turner (already snapped up by Netflix to be made into a movie starring Denzel Washington and Julia Roberts).


Sounds of Southampton Volume 1
Thanks to Tortoise member Jo Ash for recommending this brilliant compilation which has already topped the hip hop charts. A collaboration between SoCo music project and SO Movement, and fronted by rap duo Tyrone & Warbz, this is further evidence – if it were needed – that the best hip hop is not always to be found in London.

Llyr Williams – A Schubert Journey
There are few more accomplished pianists playing today than Williams. Though he is especially celebrated for his interpretations of Beethoven, this nine-and-a-half hour recording puts him squarely in the premier league of contemporary Schubert performers.

Slade – Crackers: the Christmas Party Album
Just as Charles Dickens invented much of what we now considered to be Christmas tradition, so Slade took what Bing Crosby, Elvis and Sinatra had started, plugged it into a Marshall amp, added some ridiculous hats, and created the modern Christmas single. All the greats are here – from ‘Merry Xmas Everybody’ to Slade’s own distinctive version of ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’ – and not a moment too soon.


Mank (Netflix/select cinemas, 4 December)
The saga of the relationship between Herman J. Mankiewicz and Orson Welles and how Citizen Kane was written is almost as legendary as the movie itself. A stellar cast, led by Gary Oldman as “Mank”, Tom Burke as Welles, Charles Dance as William Randolph Hearst, and Amanda Seyfried as Marion Davies, directed by David Fincher… how can this not be the film of the week?

Possessor (Curzon Home)
The apple certainly doesn’t fall far from the tree in the Cronenberg family, as David’s son, Brandon, shows in his second feature film that he is potentially as talented a master of the intellectual body-horror genre as his father. Andrea Riseborough excels as assassin Tasya Vos, who hunts down her prey by infiltrating the consciousness of another person. Not for the faint-hearted – though the film’s true punch is to be found less in its violence than in what it has to say about the fragility of personal identity.

Raised by Wolves (Sky Atlantic, December 5)
With Ridley Scott as its executive producer, it is perhaps no surprise that this new sci-fi series explores the relationship between androids and humans, the destruction of Earth as a habitable planet and the hostility of – well, everywhere else. Created by Aaron Guzikowski, the ten-part drama, replete with state-of-the-art CGI, is just what you need if you’re still recovering from  the final episode of The Undoing.


Longborough Festival
Country house opera is one of the great joys of the English summer and the imminent arrival of a Covid vaccine means that the main venues are starting to plan – in a spirit of cautious optimism – for at least a partial resumption of business in 2021. Longborough, already an established Wagner destination, promises a concert performance of Die Walkure in June – part of a Ring cycle that should be performed in full in 2024. Book as soon as you can.

Tracey Emin/Edvard Munch (Royal Academy)
The end of national lockdown in England, and London’s categorisation as a Tier 2 region, means that this terrific exhibition can be seen again (booking essential). Before you go, do read this extraordinary interview with Emin by the Times’s Decca Aitkenhead about the artist’s experience of cancer.

Please do send your own recommendations to us at editor@tortoisemedia.com.

That’s all for now. Enjoy the lifting of lockdown – but stay safe.

Best wishes,

Matt d’Ancona
Editor and Partner

Photographs Getty Images, Sky Atlantic, Netflix, Matthew Williams-Ellis, Tracey Emin, all rights reserved, DACS 2020