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  • Writer's pictureBarefoot Bookseller


Betteridge’s law of headlines claims that any headline ending with a question mark can be answered with a no. It’s a loud, exasperated ‘no’ that I often hear reverberating through my head like echoes in a cave when I read headlines asking "Should you give your dog cannabis?" or "Is it safe for cats to be vegan?” So when the Guardian published an article in August of this year entitled “Best job in the world?” you can imagine my initial response.

Now, however, I find myself up at 5am in a hotel in the centre of Male, the capital of the Maldives, too excited to sleep. Soon, I'll be heading back to the airport for another onward flight. Outside, a tropical storm is raging and the small, flooded balcony outside my seventh floor room shakes with every crash of thunder.

Yesterday, as I stood in the ‘employment’ queue at Velana International airport, the immigration officer opened my passport and read ‘Hugo Wilson, 24 years old, UK’.

“London?” He asks. I nod dispassionately, unwilling to explain that I’m from a small village about sixty miles west of London that is nowhere near any football team he wants to discuss. The passport further omits the fact that I’m a tutor, a writer and a book-loving wayfarer.

Introductions over blogs are a difficult business. I could provide a list of innocuous facts and figures that might tell you what I am. Or, I could let my choices reflect my personality and so tell you who I am. I'm going to go with option two.

I chose to fill a 20kg suitcase with 12kg of books to haul between three flights, a ferry and a speedboat on the way to an already fully stocked bookshop. I also chose very particular books, some of which I'll review here.

The Odyssey by Homer, translated by Emily Wilson

Charting the island-hopping misadventures of ‘the most unlucky mortal ever born’, Emily Wilson’s new translation of The Odyssey renders it as fresh and as readable as it’s ever been. Written in iambic pentameter verse that runs as elegantly as swift-footed Achilles, Wilson’s translation is clear and unpretentious yet still retains the Bronze Age epic’s magical quality.

Karoo by Steve Tesich

Wading through the depths of a hilarious (and occasionally heartbreaking) mid-life crisis, alcoholic screenwriter Saul Karoo can’t even feel the effects of the booze he relies upon. He’s a poor excuse for a father and a hopeless husband yet Saul’s talent for ‘fixing’ film scripts is always in demand. Written by an Oscar winning screenwriter (Breaking Away, 1979), Karoo is a book of one-liners, razor sharp humour and keen originality.

High Wind in Jamaica by Richard Hughes

When a hurricane destroys the Bas-Thornton family’s home in 1920s Jamaica, a group of children must leave their home on a merchant ship to England. Soon after leaving Jamaica, however, the ship is captured by pirates. Often seen as the precursor to Lord of the Flies (written thirty-five years later), High Wind in Jamaica is a hectic (and darkly Freudian) oceanic adventure.

Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

To remind me of the English countryside, I’ve packed Stella Gibbons’ satire of late-Victorian rural melodramas. Parodying the familiar themes of orphaned children relocating to start over with distant relatives, Cold Comfort Farm is as comic as it is astute. As you can clearly see from the high-res image to the right, it has been described as 'the funniest book ever written'.

Crusoe’s Island by Andrew Lambert

Written by a naval historian, Crusoe’s Island charts the history of Robinson Crusoe Island (yes, it is a real place) over four-hundred miles west of Chile. The only non-fiction work I’ve packed, it’s full of seafaring tales of pirates and buccaneers, ruminations on the joys of scurvy and insights into the realities of isolation (including being driven to ‘make love’ to goats).

I should make it clear from the outset that I am only the first bookseller to be selected by Ultimate Library: there will be more. I'm simply Chapter One in what will hopefully become an epic saga. Being the first Barefoot Bookseller is a challenge, and a privilege, and I’ll update you all soon after I've made my first impressions of the island.

I’ll also try and sell a few books.


Male, Maldives

Thursday 29th November 2018


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