Six degrees of separation: Alice inspires a literary treasure-hunt.

It was a particularly soggy Saturday afternoon, and the heat from the wood-burner was beginning to make me drowsy. “November is such a very predictably weather-full month,” I muttered to Rusty, who had taken possession of the hearth-rug, in a somewhat Elinor Glyn style. “I can’t think of anything better to do than leap into a literary rabbit hole, can you?”

At the word ‘rabbit’, Rusty had opened one eye. He watched me for a moment, then sighed and closed it again.

When outside he’s as keen as Mr McGregor on chasing the little carrot-nibblers. Merely naming that rodent sets him in search of a scent.

Rusty’s nose is phenomenal. Certainly as discerning as Jean-Baptist Grenouille’s. Though I don’t remember Patrick Suskind mentioning its dewy nature, I wonder if that was the secret of Jean-Baptist’s dubiously employed skills.

Unlike Rusty, Jean-Baptiste was not an attractive character, even without mention of a wet nose. I can still remember how I was held by his story, though, both fascinated and horrified. Rather like Ripley, now I come to think of it.

I’ve followed his journey more than once, trying to figure out not just what he is, but who, as he sheds friends and adopts new identities. In some ways, Ripley is the reverse of Jason Bourne, who is trying to remember his real identity.

Glancing across at my DVDs, I realised that the same actor played both rolls, and there was an interesting angle that ought to be pursued.

I’ve never been too good with doing what I ought to. I was already thinking about Fanny Logan, who tried pursuing love, but was frequently to be found in the airing cupboard, with her cousins, because the enormous mansion they lived in was incredibly drafty.

I’d worried over this since first reading Nancy Mitford’s novels, as a teenager. Drafty houses I understood, because we didn’t have central heating or double-glazing at that time, either. But Fanny would have needed to curl herself around the water cylinder on a narrow shelf full of folded laundry, to fit our airing cupboard.

Since then, when visiting stately homes or castles, I’ve taken special note of the airing facilities, trying to estimate how many Mitfords could comfortably gather within them. The girls have refused to materialise.

Rusty watched, without interest, as I went to check my airing cupboard. Three well-bred faces glared out from behind the heaps of sheets and pillowcases. There was a horrible silence, then in a “U” accent, one of them asked, “Are you an Hon?”

“We’re moving away from using titles,” I said.

“How too awful,” replied the one I thought might be Linda. She exchanged glances with the other two, then smiled sweetly and added, “I say, would you be a perfect darling and shut the door?”

“Look here,” said another voice, as I was beginning to comply. “You won’t believe what I’ve found at the back. Isn’t it too frightful?” She was waving a dusty pyjama top that I hadn’t seen for years.

There was a burst of sneering laughter.

“Barely a rag,” cried Lynda.

“Counter-Hon, without a doubt.”

“I just knew it.”

I threw the door open. “That’s an old favourite, if you don’t mind,” I said, making a grab for the brushed-cotton.

“Don’t snatch,” admonished Lynda.

Then came a loud, “Halloo,” and a bunched-up hand-towel was launched at my head.

A duster followed.

Someone yelled, “Death to the horrible Counter-Hon.” In moments, the contents of my shelves were raining down on me. If it hadn’t been for Rusty, arriving with his lead, who knows what might have happened then…

I struggled out from under the heap and noted that the world beyond the window looked a little less grey and cold than it had earlier.

“Good idea,” I said to Rusty, “I think we both need some fresh air. As for you three…” The Mitfords hung their heads, and began to look like any other teenage delinquents. “I expect that laundry to be just the way you found it, by the time we get back.”

Thanks to Kate, at booksaremyfavouriteandbest, and I hope she doesn’t mind my taking liberties with her excellent six-degrees-of-separation meme. Alice was a temptation I couldn’t resist.

First impressions

One of the benefits of researching for my creative-reading groups is finding new authors, and mostly that only means new to me. Recently, for instance, while googling for background information on Lorna Doone, the tome I’m sharing with five groups this autumn, I wandered off route.

I was looking for a concise summary of the reigns of Charles II and James II. Maybe I accidentally miss-typed the date, because I found myself reading about their distant relatives, who took over the British throne two steps on down the line. I’d wanted Stuarts, but found Hanoverians (that’s the kings, Georges I to IV, and William IV).

The problem with having so many Georges at once is that they tend to become blurred and to be known vaguely as the four Georges, or any old man in a wig. How to tell the Georges apart is something of a problem.

This, I thought, is the kind of history teacher I would have appreciated at school. Despite it being of no use what-so-ever for my Lorna Doone research, I read to the end of the extract.

George the first was the one who couldn’t speak English, and didn’t try. …He was brought over by the commercial interests and reigned until 1727 without the least notion of what anyone was talking about.

During this time there was no Queen of England. George the first kept his wife in prison because he believed that she was no better than he was.

What I like, when I’m trawling around for quotes to throw to my students, is something succinct, and challenging. This writer, I thought, would surely have something interesting to say about Charles II or James II. So I checked the title. The Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody, by Will Cuppy. It was first published in 1950, but – oh joy! – there was a copy in one of our local libraries. I put a request in.

‘It sounds wonderful,’ said the librarian. ‘I might borrow it after you.’

This week I picked up my copy. A handy little paperback, with attractive illustrations on the cover. It looked promising.

Imagine my disappointment on finding not a chronological history book, but a random dipping-in approach to history.

Let me qualify that. The essays were delightful. Witty, concise pen portraits that gave me a glimpse of characters and times drawn in absurdist style. But neither Charles II nor James II featured.

…Menes, King of Upper Egypt… in 3400 BC… is said to have been devoured by a hippopotamus, a rather unlikely story, since this animal is graminivorous and has never been known to eat anybody else. Modern scholars, therefore, were inclined to regard Menes as a myth until recently, when it was pointed out that a slight error in feeding habits of the hippopotamus does not necessarily prove that Menes never existed.

Cuppy’s subject choices are varied and intriguing. I enjoyed them all, and feel that I might now manage to sound quite knowledgeable, in an irreverent sense, about Attila the Hun, Charlemagne, Lady Godiva, Lucrezia Borgia and Philip the Sap, amongst others.

To say the least, I now know that graminivorous means an animal that eats grass and/or grass seeds. Which seems so much more precise than using herbivore.

As for Lorna, and the last of the Stuart kings, I’m consulting elsewhere.

Seven ‘Bookish’ deadly sins

Having boasted of my ‘bookish’ virtues last week – I do love an oxymoron – this week I thought I ought to even up the scales.

I’ve tracked back through a few blogs to see if I should be crediting this tag to someone, but it seems that the originator has either been lost in the mist, or they decided to remain anonymous. Given how much we reveal in answering these seven questions, to ourselves, as much as anyone else, maybe they wisely preferred to disappear.

So, deep breath, and before I change my mind.

GREED
What is the most expensive book you own? Which is the least expensive?

I’ve just treated myself to The Writer’s Map, which cost nearly thirty pounds, and think myself very extravagant.

The least expensive? There have been so many bargain books, and the ones I didn’t value haven’t stayed with me… Recently, I bought The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe, for fifty pence, in a charity shop. Whether you measure that in pages or weight, that’s a lot of book for the money.

GLUTTONY
What book or books have you shamelessly devoured many times?

Where do I begin? Probably with my earliest memories, ‘See Jane, Spot, see Jane run.’ Those were The Happy Venture Readers books. I was still returning to them after becoming hooked on the Famous Five, Secret Seven and The Adventures of the Little Wooden Horse. Was it for the sake of the illustrations, I wonder?

I’ve just looked them up on a bookseller site, and if only I hadn’t read mine into bits, I might have used it for my GREED answer.

Lets fast-forward to adult reading, and some of the ones that I turn to most often. The short stories of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, oh, and Love in the Time of Cholera and One Hundred Years of Solitude. Then, there’s Cold Comfort Farm, by Stella Gibbons, The Wonder Boys, by Michael Chabon, any Jane Austen novel… all the writings of Angela Carter – yes everything, because all of her writing feels fearless and exciting.

LUST
What attributes do you find most attractive in your characters?

Curiosity.

ENVY
What books would you most like to receive as a gift?

Something that is one or more of the following: witty, challenging, thought-provoking, beautiful, exotic, poetic, prosaic, magical, exciting, shocking, hard-hitting, atmospheric, minimalist, heartfelt, hilarious, relevant, life-affirming, emotive, complicated, surprising, relaxing, warming…

Have I missed something? That’s the book I really want.

PRIDE
What book or books do you bring up when you want to sound like an intellectual reader?

How honest must I be? I want to claim that I don’t try to sound like an intellectual reader, but I used to boast about how many books I’d read. Luckily, no one ever challenged that, or they’d soon have discovered that most of my list was light or pulp fiction.

SLOTH
What book or series have you neglected out of sheer laziness?

I started The Odyssey around a year ago, and do want to finish it, but somehow I keep picking up other books instead. Maybe it’s because I already know the outcomes.

WRATH
What author do you have a love/hate relationship with?

I’m trying to think of a writer I find offensive, and yet read. I can’t. I stopped wasting valuable reading time on fiction that didn’t work for me years ago, once I’d realised reading wasn’t a test of endurance or a competitive sport, and that I’d completely missed the true meaning of ‘being well-read’.

But, an author I have mixed feelings about is DH Lawrence. I love most of his short stories and poems. Through them, he covers many on the list of wishes I made under the ENVY heading above. His short writing is often layered, complex and surprising.

His novels, on the other hand, leave me mostly cold. I’ve tried, and tried again, to see them as something other than interesting examples of techniques. I always fail.

You may have noticed I’ve not been tagged. I’ve done that thing my dad advises me is best avoided, I volunteered.

If you’d like to see where the idea came from, you might start with Re-enchantment of the World, or Calmgrove, and work back.

Seven ‘bookish’ heavenly virtues.

This week I’ve been reading more lists, though you might call them expanded. Re-enchantment of the World came up with the idea of connecting our reading experiences to ‘ideas of moral excellence’, and created seven questions that allow us to explore the positive aspects of reading. So thank you, Ola and Piotrek, it’s been fascinating seeing your answers, and tracking down some of the others.

So fascinating, I can’t resist claiming my space.

Chastity
Which author, book or series do you wish you’d never read?

This is tricky. There have been plenty of books I haven’t enjoyed, and several I’ve not finished. But they all showed me something. I like thinking about how or why a book didn’t work for me.

There have been books that offended me, and one I was so disgusted by that I threw it in the fire. I can’t remember who wrote it, or the title. All I remember is that it romanticised rape.

Temperance
Which book or series did you find so good that you didn’t want to read it all at once, and you read it in doses just to make the pleasure last longer?

North and South, by Elizabeth Gaskell. I read it over seven weeks, in equal sections, with my autumn reading groups, last year. I’d decided not to pre-prepare in the summer, because I wanted to discover the story alongside the group. It took a lot of will-power to resist finishing it ahead of the schedule. I re-read it again, right after the course finished.

Charity
Which book, series or author do you tirelessly push to others, telling them about it or even giving away spare copies bought for that reason?

The short stories of Elizabeth Taylor (1912 – 1975). Kingsley Amis called her ‘one of the best English novelists born in this century’. I like her novels, but the short stories are stunning.

They’re subtle, and subversive. Approach them with the idea that she had hidden depths, and you’ll find layer upon layer of meaning. I could go on, and on, but I won’t – here.

Diligence
Which series or author do you follow no matter what happens and how long you have to wait?

I love trilogies, but add another title to that, and I tend to drift. So, not a series.

Author’s, on the other hand, I’ll wait for. I’ve been collection Jeffery Farnol novels for decades. They’re tatty old hardbacks dating from the 1920s, 30s and 40s. I haven’t wanted to read them for years, but I continue looking out for them, because one day he will be just what I need.

Patience
Is there an author, book or series you’ve read that improved with time the most, starting out unpromising but ultimately proving rewarding?

I was a teenager when I read my first Henry James, it was Portrait of a Lady, and I was determined not to be beaten. After that, I avoided him.

Then, I wanted a book to put with Kate Atkinson’s Behind the Scenes at the Museum, for a reading group, and What Maisie Knew, was the best match. It was a revelation. I’ve read more of his shorter fiction since then, and his essays are fascinating. When I have enough time in hand, I’m going back to try Portrait, again.

Kindness
Which fictitious character would you consider your role model in the hassle of everyday life?

That varies, day-by-day, depending on what I’m reading. I can’t think of a single model. I do frequently wish I was as feisty as Lisbeth Salander, but I’d prefer not to have had the kind of experiences that seem to have caused her to develop those attributes.

Humility
Which book, series or author do you find most under-rated?

If only I hadn’t already mentioned Elizabeth Taylor… I don’t like to repeat myself, so looking back a little further in time, how about Arnold Bennett?

He was prolific and popular, in his day. But saying you write for profit, and letting people know that you have a rigid routine bothers some critics, especially if your books sell well.

The Grand Babylon Hotel was written in a month. I’ve read it, and while it didn’t strike me as being ‘great literature’, it was a lovely time-slip into Edwardian England.

The Old Wives Tale, which took him about seven months, has more power, and ambition. It hooked all four reading groups I shared it with, two years ago.

Virginia Woolf played a part in crippling Bennett’s reputation, in a 1924 lecture called Mr Bennett and Mr Brown. I suppose she had to. Though if she’d read his work closely she might have recognised some of his techniques.

On my bookshelf, Mr Bennett and Mrs Woolf sit side-by-side.

One of the things I’m planning to do this Summer

746 Books has set up a Summer Reading Challenge for 2019, that has sufficient flexibility to entice me. Starting from today, the 3rd June, readers can join the 20 Books of Summer challenge, and set themselves a number of books by September 3rd.

Okay, so resolutions wise, I’ve not got a good record. But, despite that title, 746 Books has generously promised to be flexible. Not only do we have the option to choose our own number, we can make changes to our list.

Ambition aside, I’ve decided to be realistic, so I’m halving the original and aiming to name 10 books for my summer read. That should clear a little space.

Which books to choose, though? The beauty of this challenge is in the planning. There may be time for a little random side-reading along the way, but the ten books need to be listed at the start. How else will I set a measure for my progress?

I’ve put some effort into working this out. I’ve looked at the lists other, better-prepared people have already posted, and I’ve made notes. Some are planning to go with a theme. Interesting, but I don’t think that will work for me. I like random.

Another tip I picked up on is to include some children’s or Young Adult books, to provide variety of tone and length. That does appeal. There are several books I missed reading at the appropriate age.

As I gathered some of them, I found other books that have been waiting. Soon I had a dangerously leaning tower of reading. I resisted the twenty, though, and reverse my gathering process. That took time, too. It was tough, but here are my final choices.

Here’s my list (so far):

  • Coraline by Neil Gaiman
  • Pastors and Masters by Ivy Compton-Burnett
  • Pelagia and the White Bulldog by Boris Akunin
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
  • The Thing Around your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche
  • The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide
  • Once Upon a Time in the North by Phillip Pullman
  • Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
  • Charlotte’s Web by EB White
  • The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents by Terry Pratchett

All I’ve got to do now is decide which order to read them in…

In search of entertainment.

I ended last week feeling like that Bear of Very Little Brain, Pooh. I’d been Thinking of Things so much lately to do with books, and then finished not only a couple of classes, but the final paperwork too, that on Wednesday evening I felt I was owed a celebration.

As I considered the state of my shelves, looking for a Thing that would be bookish, but not workish, I hummed a little tuneless something.

There are books, 
     (Dum, dum, dum)
Too full of hooks,
     (ta la da da).
What I need,
     (Da do do do).
Oh yes indeed,
     Da dum dum dum)
Is something not too long...

Luckily for my sanity, at that point I reached a selection of Daphne du Maurier novels I’ve been collecting. None are very long, but for decades she was a top writer of quality-romances. They seemed like a safe bet.

I’d read three of her most famous titles as a school-girl, so opted for one I’d missed, a historical adventure, Frenchman’s Creek. It was just what I needed. Not great enough to keep me reading into the small hours, but I picked it up at breakfast and lunch-time, and finished it as I ate tea.

Then I dropped it in my discards bag and looked for something of a matching size and age on the next shelf. Evelyn Waugh’s Edmund Campion has been there for so long I’ve forgotten where it came from, though I do have a hazy recollection that someone recommended it.

If only I had done more than notice that the cover illustration suggested it was set in a similar period to Frenchman’s Creek,I might have realised it is a biography, not a novel before I opened it. It’s also set in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, not Charles II.

After a momentary hesitation, I read on. Perhaps because the first section, The Scholar, begins by describing Elizabeth’s last days.

She had round her neck a piece of gold the size of an angel, engraved with characters; it had been left to her lately by a wise woman who had died in Wales at the age of a hundred and twenty. Sir John Stanhope had assured her that as long as she wore this talisman she could not die.

I probably should have stopped on page five, when I found this paragraph:

In these circumstances the Tudor dynasty came to an end, which in three generations had changed the aspect and temper of England. They left a new aristocracy, a new religion, a new system of government; the generation was already in its childhood that was to send King Charles to the scaffold; the new, rich families who were to introduce the House of Hanover were already in the second stage of their metamorphosis from the freebooters of Edward VI;s reign to the conspirators of 1688 and the sceptical, cultured oligarchs of the eighteenth century. The vast exuberance of the Renaissance had been canalized. England was secure, independent, insular; the course of her history lay plain ahead; competitive nationalism, competitive industrialism, competitive imperialism, the looms and coal mines and counting houses, the joint-stock companies and the cantonments; the power and the weakness of great possessions.

Aaaagh. With a few adjustments it could have been written in the 1560s.

I hadn’t even met Edmund Campion yet. It seems I’d fallen through a wormhole to that time before I gave up on my vow to never let a novel defeat me. Like Pooh, I’d found that a Book I’d anticipated being very Bookish was quite different once opened. Meanwhile, I was caught up with turning pages. The sentences got longer, the paragraphs continued to bounce backwards, forwards then back through time again. Still I continued to read.

Campion makes his first appearance on page seventeen. Even allowing for a largish font, that’s a long wait for a heroic entrance. Then, immediately after mentioning him, Waugh side-tracks to tell us about ‘another young Oxford man’, and doesn’t return to Campion until page twenty-two.

I read on. I’m still reading, though I’m not sure why.

There’s more to be irritated by than the examples I’ve already provided. The narrator demonstrates just the kind of bias I enjoy in fiction. Here it keeps drawing me away from engaging with Campion, though I want to know more of him.

Though perhaps after all I do know what holds me. This is a story about discord and martyrdom, and I’d like to understand.

As Pooh says, “When you are a Bear of Very Little Brain, and you Think of Things, you find sometimes that a Thing which seemed very Thingish inside you is quite different when it gets out into the open and has other people looking at it.

What links ‘A Christmas Carol’ to ‘The Philosopher’s Stone’?

This month’s challenge, from Kate, at  #6degrees, is to create a chain of books that starts from A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens. The call for participants always goes out the first Saturday of the month, but I can find no deadline, so I’m going to arrive fashionably late – do people still say and do that at parties, I wonder? 

If not, they should.  You might say that’s what Scrooge does, after the ghosts of Christmases past, present and future have provided their version of shock therapy, and transformed him from an obsessive miser into an avid party-goer. His crisis may have happened a little after mid-life, but does result in a turn-around on his personality.

Whereas the businessman, John Thornton, in Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South, is approximately thirty when he meets nineteen year-old Margaret Hale. That’s when his world begins to tilt.  He’s never seen any young woman the equal of this southern lady, and has no idea how to respond. If he’s to have any hopes of winning her, he has to transform.  Margaret too has a few things to learn.  She’s never met the likes of John, transplanted as she’s been from the softer, genteel climates of London and Hampshire.  

Another transplant is the feisty and knowing Flora Poste, who must move from super-sophisticated London to Cold Comfort Farm in the rural backwaters of Howling, Sussex. Stella Gibbons’ novel is a wonderful comedy that parodies a variety of writers.  When Flora is orphaned, and discovers she’s penniless, she invites herself to stay with some relatives she’s never met.  There, because she’s a very-well-read young woman with modern ideas and no fear, she is able to predict and counter the primitive conservatism and various oppressions that have held her unfortunate family in desperate misery for decades. Yippee, don’t I keep saying all we need are stories? 

millenium trilogyThe orphan Lisbeth Salander, in The Millennium Trilogy by Stieg Larson, is also modern and fearless, and proves to be a powerful ally for friends in trouble.  She has created a code of rights and wrongs that she adheres to, even though this often brings her into conflict with conventional authority. 

Another orphan in conflict with authority from an early age is Jane Eyre.  Charlotte Bronte’s feisty heroine provided a role model for generations of girls. 

The bullying she experiences at the hands of her Aunt Reed are mirrored, one hundred and fifty years later, by the orphaned Harry Potter who is taken in by his aunt and uncle Dursley. J.K. Rowling’s central character will also be enrolled at a boarding school.  There he will find mentors and friends, and learn the extent of his inner strengths by facing up to some challenging situations.

Well, that’s my chain. I wonder which links you would choose for A Christmas Carol

If you want to check out how other people created theirs, have a look on booksaremyfavouriteandbest. You’ll also find information about next month’s challenge.  

Behind the scenes in the bookshop.

bookshop Ruth & AnnieI’m unpacking books with Annie.  Can this really be work?  Feels like Christmas to me.  I breath in that special massed-book atmosphere and can’t wipe the grin off my face.

Make no mistake, this is my summer holiday.  We’ve already had a swim in the Moray Firth, and a ramble with our dogs along the marshy shoreline.  Those were good, very good, especially that dip in the invigorating North Sea.

The highlight though, is my book day.  I’m a little old for work-experience, but offering to help gets me close. One of my not-so-secret fantasy-occupations has always been bookseller.  If there’s one thing more tantalising than browsing shelves, it’s got to be glimpses of well-stocked store-cupboards behind the counter.  Who knows what treasures wait there. Can this be bettered?

Oh yes, when a box, or bag, comes in for unpacking.  Stories spill out.  ‘No one,’ says Ruth, ‘offers to sell books to the bookshop without telling us why.’  I think of the boxes I’ve delivered to charity shops over this last year, and how I’ve carefully explained about my neighbour moving house, or my aunt, clearing space.

Ruth is deftly sorting a box.  She turns each book over and flicks through the pages, looking for damage, not quality of story or writing. She knows what’s popular, I don’t, and there are shelves and shelves of books on the other side of the counter.  I’m drawn to the spines on the vintage shelves.  As I’m dealing in alternative-me scenarios, I should say that in that world, these are what my walls would be lined with instead of wallpaper.

book shelves

I’m tempted, but resist them as too much responsibility.  It’s not that I don’t look after my books, exactly.  But I don’t take care of them the way Ruth and Annie do the Logie Steading Bookshop, which has no trace of spider-webs in the corners, or dust.  When I return home and notice how unkempt my shelves are, I spend an hour improving them.  It won’t last, though for a few days it’s good for my soul to see them all gleaming.

bookshopMeanwhile, will you just look at all those books?  I wasn’t looking for Narnia, but there’s something about an open door that demands I step through.  It’s no wonder that by the time I drifted back to the desk I’d gathered a heap of books.  How long did it take? I’ve no idea, time lost all meaning.  Which is just how it should be, isn’t it?

This is all so unlikely for my alternative-bookseller-self, who I can’t help feeling a little worried about. I suspect she’s liable to spend a lot of time reading her stock when she should be concentrating on customers.

 

 

 

When, and how, do I say goodbye to a book?

My Penguin copy of VS Pritchett Collected Short stories is disintegrating.  It’s well read, and is a 1982 reprint, so some might say it’s had it’s day. Every time I open it pages flutter around my feet, and they’re not designed for independence, so the loose leaves are getting brittle.

disintigrating book.2 jpgI’m not good at throwing books out.  Passing them along is one thing: destroying them quite another.  I’ve listed my reasons in this case, but prioritising has been tricky.

First, Pritchett has not yet been recognised with a ‘retrospective’, even though The Royal Society of Literature have been awarding a £1000 short story prize in his name since ‘the beginning of the new millennium’ (I’m afraid you’ve just missed this year’s deadline, maybe next year?).  Without reprints, even fragments of his writing have especial value.

Point one-A:

“There are worse crimes than burning books.  One of them is not reading them.” – Ray Bradbury.

Second, several stories in this copy are not repeated in the three other Pritchett collections I own, or in any of my twentieth century story anthologies. So, I’d need to trawl the second-hand market for the missing ones, which are in at least three other Pritchett collections.  My short-story shelves are already overflowing, therefore I’d need another shelf…

Point Two-A

” The oldest books are still only just out to those who have not read them.” ~Samuel Butler, 1835 – 1902

Hmm, I’d discover more of his stories, and gain a shelf: that means more book space.

Point Two-B

Pritchett collections are scarce, and I’m afraid to report that – don’t look, Ruth, unless you’ve removed your bookseller hat, this will distress you –  one of the copies bought for the course I’m just completing was sold WITH PAGES MISSING.  I suppose a few gaps are less tricky in collected short stories than in a novel, then maybe pulping, or (gulp) burning can be justified.  But what do we do with still-complete fragmenting books?

Point Two-C:

“It is there, where they burn books, that eventually they burn people.”  ― Heinrich Heine 1797 – 1856

Point Two-D:

“It hardly matters why a library is destroyed: every banning, curtailment, shredding, plunder or loot gives rise (at least as a ghostly presence) to a louder, clearer, more durable library of the banned, looted, plundered, shredded or curtailed.”  ― Alberto Manguel, The Library at Night. 2008

Thought three carries a warning for sensitive, book-purists: my Pritchett contains multi-coloured highlighted sections, plus both pencilled and penned notes in the margins. This is not random vandalism, each mark signals appreciation.  I suppose, in time, I could replicate those responses in other copies, but would they still mean the same things?

Point Three-A

“[I]t is pleasanter to eat one’s own peas out of one’s own garden, than to buy them by the peck at Covent Garden; and a book reads the better, which is our own, and has been so long known to us, that we know the topography of its blots and dog’s-ears, and can trace the dirt in it to having read it at tea with buttered muffins, or over a pipe…  – Charles Lamb, letter to S. T. Coleridge, October 1802

disintigrating bookConclusion:  Do loose pages matter, so long as I keep them together?  I’ve a pot of elastic bands, I could combine them with my distressed books and solve two recycling problems. Perhaps that new shelf I mentioned will be a refuge for delicate books.

“I have friends whose society is delightful to me; they are persons of all countries and of all ages; distinguished in war, in council, and in letters; easy to live with, always at my command.” – Francesco Petrarch, 1304 – 1374

“Far more seemly were it for thee to have thy study full of books, than thy purse full of money.” ~John Lyly, 1553 – 1606

“What wild desires, what restless torments seize
The hapless [wo]man, who feels the book-disease…” ~John Ferriar, “The Bibliomania, An Epistle, To Richard Heber, Esq.”, 1809

disintigrating books

A day in the life of a bookworm.

I’ve been travelling a bit further to work the last few weeks, doing a few classes in the next county.  There’s a bit of a drive involved, but it’s not too far, and it’s a route I don’t otherwise see very often.

Malmesbury TownThe only downside to having a more distant destination is that I pass by so many intriguing places.  Sometimes I catch glimpses of them, and make wild promises to myself that I’ll allow time to stop off, on my next journey.  There’s always a strong reason why that doesn’t happen.

This week though, I had posters to deliver, so I needed to call in at Cirencester.  The way I worked it out, was that if I had to make the effort to find a parking space, and walk to the museum, I might as well drop in on the charity bookshops at the same time.

This, I pointed out to my busy, scheduling-obsessed alter-ego, would mean I could look for the collection of Pritchett stories I need for a future class. It would take an hour, no more.  I would count it as my lunch-time, and get straight to my desk when I got back. Who knows, I might find two copies.

The things I think of.  You’d expect by now, that I might recognise my own tricks.

I managed to resist the museum, though it’s gone up a couple more notches on my list since that glimpse from the foyer.  So I stepped briskly back onto Park Street with a feeling of efficiency.  Office workers were drifting, tapping at their phones, but I was on a mission. I threaded through them, conscious of myself as a woman with a purpose.

Actually, my knowledge of Cirencester is sketchy, to say the least.  Had anyone noticed my smug speed they would have grinned to see me brought up short, in the middle of the pedestrianized road, as the shops ran out, and I had to retrace my route.

oxfam bookshopFinally though, I made it to the Oxfam bookshop. The door pinged behind me and that calm biblio-ambiance enveloped me.  I stepped up to the nearest bookshelf.  Time dropped onto a slower cog. Names slipped past me, titles leap-frogged over each other, vying for attention.

None of them were Pritchett.  I resisted.  Kept browsing, drifting around the walls seeing titles I knew I’d never get round to reading.  That’s how I arrived at the bargain table, the last stop before the door.

There, I found a name that I’d been discussing that morning, Rosamond Lehmann.  Not a virago reprint, but a 1944 hardback from The Reprint Society. It was ninety-nine pence.  Lack of a dust jacket didn’t bother me, I grabbed it before anyone else recognised its value.

Yet again, I had followed the rule that always applies to my second-hand book browsing, and went home with a different book to the one I set out to buy.  At least, this time it was only one.

DSCF8126I knew for sure that this one was meant to be, when I found that it perfectly fitted the last bit of space on my shelf (after my Christmas reading binge).  I suppose I’ll just have to keep looking for that Pritchett.

Perhaps I’ll try one of those little towns that punctuate my route home from the last class in Wiltshire, later this week.

It’s a hard, hard life, isn’t it?