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Loving London, bookish wanderings and catching up with an old friend!

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I’ve written before on the Ramblings about my trips to the Big Smoke; I often pop up for exhibitions, meetings with friends and browsing the bookshops, and this is one of the regular joys in my life. I had a brief get-together with my BFF J. in September when I also had a meet up with Jacqui and Ali; however, we decided on a Winter meeting and had scheduled a day out for 30th November. The awful events of Friday night were just tragic; and Mr. Kaggsy was a bit nervous about me travelling to London on Saturday. But a. I refused to change my life because of horrible, evil people and b. I reckoned there would be lots of security over the weekend. So J. and I determined to enjoy our life and have our day out, and we did.

Barthes and a Greggs vegan sausage roll – the perfect travelling companions!

Travelling this weekend was a bit of a pain, anyway, because of rail replacements (WHY do the train companies do this on the weekends leading up to Christmas???? WHY????) So it was train-bus-train, which did limit the reading time (as I can’t read in buses or cars without getting queasy); however, I had the very wonderful Roland Barthes for company, and OMG what a wonderful book this is!!! πŸ˜€

Coffee and vegan brownie – yum!

After meeting up with J. our first port of call was the wonderful cafe at Foyles, for coffee and a shared vegan brownie – yum! πŸ˜€

Stationery! (including a notebook constructed by clever J.

We had a good chat and a catch up, before setting off to explore the Bookshops of Charing Cross Road (with a slight diversion into Cass Art and Cecil Court). After lunching at Leon in Tottenham Court Road, and spending some time in Tiger and Paperchase (stationery!!!), we ended the day with trips to Judd Books and Skoob, two of my favourite places which are so conveniently closely located! ;D I had an amazingly restrained day, all things considered, and only purchased four books:

Here’s a little more detail about what and where! The first purchase was this poetry collection from Any Amount of Books:

I don’t think I know anything specific about Szirtes, but I recognise his name and this is published by Bloodaxe (which is always the sign of good poetry). And the first poem is about Chet Baker, which gets my vote; so when a quick glance at some of the other verse really grabbed me, it was a definite purchase!

Next up, I was unlikely to get out of Foyles empty handed:

More John Berger – I cannot resist this prolific and rather wonderful author. This is a slim book of what appears to be poetic prose and again a quick glimpse grabbed me. I may have to end up with a dedicated Berger shelf…

Astonishingly, I got out of Judd Books without buying a Single Book! There *were* temptations, but I have several things on various Christmas lists so had to be quite careful about what I purchased today. However, our last minute nip to Skoob before heading off for a train was not so restrained:

The Baudelaire was a very exciting find, as I’ve wanted a copy of this for absolutely AGES! So I was over the moon to find this in the midst of very tempting shelves of black covered Penguin Classics. And I spotted the book about Tsvetaeva at the last minute and grabbed it. I’ve never seen or heard of it, and I have no idea if it’s any good – but it’s Tsvetaeva!! Not pictured is the copy of Brian Bilston’s “You Took the Last Bus Home” which I bought as a little gifty for J. – she loves Roger McGough, so I hope she will also love BB!

However, these were not the only books I came home with, as there was this which J. had sourced for me:

A new Beverley! I have a number of his works as Florin Books, and they’re awfully pretty – very exciting! There was also a big box containing birthday and Christmas gifts J. had brought for me, and I suspect there will be More Books involved. It was very heavy – she lugged it manfully around London all day, so well done her!

So we had a lovely day out in lovely London; I always adore visiting the city, even though they’re *still* tearing apart Soho and some of my favourite bits… 😦  There are still lots of wonderful bookshops if you know where to look (and I wish we hadn’t run out of time and had made it to the LRB shop…) What was interesting, too, was how often we gravitated towards the poetry sections of the various places, and in my case to a lot of non-fiction, essays and philosophy. However, I think J. actually ended up with more books than me, so the shops of London did quite well out of us. It was the perfect day – what could be better than bookshopping in a place you love with an old friend? πŸ˜€

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However…. this was not the end of the bookishness of the day… I arrived home cold but happy to find lovely book post from the wonderful FitzCarraldo Editions:

This looks and sounds fascinating, and had it been available earlier would have been a much more pleasant alternative to “Berlin Alexanderplatz” for German Lit Month!! ;D – though it’s not out until next month, so maybe not…

And finally! This has just appeared. Came across mention of it a couple of days ago (damned if I can remember where – my short term memory is now appalling) and when I checked online with various shops I was due to be visiting there was no stock (or I would have bought it in person). So it had to be an Internet purchase and it sounds most fascinating. It’s a good thing I’m so hooked by the Barthes, or I would be having a real crisis about what to read next! πŸ˜€

If it’s London, there must be books…. @Foyles @secondshelfbks @JuddBooks

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Unfortunately for the shelves in my house, visits to London are inextricably linked with bookshopping, and Saturday was no exception to the general rule… My BFF J. and I managed to miss out on our usual pre-Christmas get-together back in December, and so as it was her birthday yesterday, we decided to have a catch-up, a gossip and a general bimble round London (as she puts it) on Saturday – which turned out to be a relaxing, fun and profitable trip! πŸ˜€

The KBR tote came in handy as always….

Inevitably there were bookshops and after we’d done a bit of general browsing (clothes, fabric and art shops!) we decided to give Second Shelf Books a look, as I’d been very impressed by what I’d seen and heard about them (and Ali thought very highly of them on her visit!) We rolled up fairly early (we’re morning birds), wondering if they’d be open and even though they weren’t officially, the very nice person behind the till let us in! And what a lovely place it is! We had a wonderful browse through all the wonderful rarities and first editions, with me eventually settling on purchasing this:

It’s by Elaine Feinstein, who translates Tsvetaeva wonderfully and whose biography of Anna Akhmatova I have lurking and it’s a mixture of novel set in Russia amongst real writers as well as her poetry. So it was most definitely coming home with me… ;D

After interludes for getting vaguely lost, stopping for lunch at Leons (with much gossip and catching up) as well as a very tempting visit to Paperchase, we headed for Judd Books in Marchmont Street. They’re a stone’s throw from Skoob (which we managed to resist) and I can’t recommend them enough. Judds is a shop always stuffed with unexpected treats and I was lucky to get out with only these:

I’ve wanted to add Marianne Moore to my poetry pile for yonks and this was at a fraction of the price it is online (bricks and mortar shops win out again!). As for the book on Peake, I’m not sure how I missed out on this when it originally came out, but it’s absolutely stuffed with the most amazing artworks, essays and writings, and a steal at the price. Both J. and I left with copies…

Inevitably, we ended up at Foyles – well, how could we not? – and partook of tea in the cafe, while J. finished reading a book she’d brought with her for me. Yes, she’d managed to procure me a beautiful first edition of a Beverley I needed!

As it comes with a dustjacket, I was doubly pleased and now I can get on with reading the rest of this particular house/garden trilogy of Bev’s! Dead chuffed!

We didn’t get out of Foyles unscathed, needless to say. Although I *did* exercise restraint, picking up and putting down any number of books. J. indulged in some poetry in the form of Roger McGough and Willa Cather (two of her favourites), whereas I eventually settled on these:

I’ve been circling the Gamboni for a while and finally decided to go for this new, reasonably priced edition (the old ones were priced at scholarly book rates…). As for the Kate Briggs, it’s all about translation and I love translated books and I love translators so it’s a no-brainer. Very excited about this one…. πŸ˜€

That’s it book-wise. We were in any number of stationery and art shops, and bearing that in mind I certainly think that the small haul I have was very well-behaved of me…

The tea is green with mint (my favourite) which I decided to treat myself to from Fortnum and Mason (yes, really!) We were in there to pick up some favourite marmalade for J.’s hubby, and I decided to treat Mr. Kaggsy to some posh coffee flavoured choc (not pictured). The tea just fell into my hand as I was queuing to pay…

So a fun day out gossiping, playing catch-up and shopping – lovely! It *is* nice to live close enough to London to pop up there (and especially go to Foyles, although those visits always bring a sense of despair at the *mess* of construction that’s going on in the area). Now it’s just a case of deciding what to read next… πŸ˜‰

However, before I finish this post, there was *one* more book which sneaked into the house at the weekend, and that was a volume I ordered online after reading a review of it here. Kate Macdonald picked up her copy, oddly enough, at Second Shelf, and wasn’t so enamoured with Priestley’s grumbling. However, I’ve found his grumpy narratives oddly entertaining, so I though I’d give it a try! πŸ˜€

Gratuitous book pictures – sharing my Beverley Nichols collection! :D

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When Simon posted a picture of some lovely book finds recently it sparked a little Twitter discussion of the crime books of Beverley Nichols. Both Simon and I share a love of Nichols’ books (my guest appearance on his “Tea or Books?” podcast involved us exchanging views on him!) and I was prompted to post a picture of my editions of the crime novels. And then I thought it was a little while since I’d shared any images of books in my collection – hence this post, and lots of gratuitous shots of Beverley Nichols books! πŸ˜€

First up, here they are on the shelf where they normally sit (in front of my Mervyn Peakes):

And here they are all laid out on the spare room bed – it’s only when I actually haul my books off the shelves that I realise quite how many there are… 😦

Starting from the left (but we won’t stay in that order…) these are the gardening books:

Yes, there are two copies of “A Village in the Valley” – as I said when I posted about it here, there was an oddness in the edition my BFF J. presented me with and so I had to get a second one to read the missing bits. And yes, there are two copies of “Merry Hall“; I came across the one in the dustjacket in a charity shop for 99p or something and it came home with me!

What next? Beverley’s fiction, maybe:

Crazy Pavements” was the first book of Beverley’s I read, back in 2012, and I loved his tone. I probably prefer his gardening books to his straight fiction, but anything he writes is usually fine by me! “Self” and “Revue” are still to be read!

Next up let’s have some general non-fiction:

Again, these are at present unread – but I have plenty of Beverley stockpiled for the Zombie Apocalypse, so that has to be good.

And then there’s his autobiographies:

Both of these are titles I’ve read – Simon and I discussed “The Sweet and Twenties” on the podcast, and then I posted my review; “Twenty-five” was a wonderful diversion back in 2013. Beverley on the subject of his own life is always entertaining!

He also wrote children’s books, which I have yet to read – I’m vaguely nervous in case I find them a bit twee, but here are the ones I own:

Plus I have a chunky biog of the man himself:

And there are some oddities:

The Monica Dickens-Beverley Nichols letters should be entertaining; “A Case of Human Bondage” was more problematic and caused me all sorts of mental angst. I’m still not sure where I stand on it!

And last, but definitely not least, here are the crime books – spines first!

And then their pretty covers:

So far, I’ve read “No Man’s Street“, “The Moonflower” and “Death to Slow Music” – and I did love them all. I’m kind of saving the last two as I don’t want to run out…

Phew. So that’s quite a lot of Beverley books. And looking through them I realise that massive thanks need to go to my BFF J. who has actually been the source of so many of these (and a first edition of “Laughter on the Stairs” which is coming my way at some point soon). She’s gifted me these over a number of birthdays or Christmases or just got copies for me, and is responsible for much of my Beverley collection – thank you J!

Well. Now I need to get this little lot back on the shelves; and relax safe in the knowledge that I still have many Beverley books for amusement and entertainment and perhaps a little provocation, when the modern world is just too much…

It’s December – so that means more books…

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There is an inevitability about the arrival of new books in December; as well as Christmas, there is also my birthday which occurs about a week beforehand. As my friends and family know me well, there will always be book gifts and this year is no exception. So I thought I would share them as usual – well, why break a habit?? ;D

First up, this little pile arrived from various sources on my birthday (and I did share an image on Instagram):

A fascinating selection! The top four are from Mr. Kaggsy – three wonderful books from the British Library focusing on my favourite areas of London, and a period crime novel set in the Jazz Age – I’m intrigued, and with the London books there’s another risk of a reading project… “Nihilist Girl” came from a Family Member after instructions were issued, as did “At the Existentialist Cafe” after a link was sent to my Little Brother! French Poetry came from Middle Child and the Beverley is from my BFF J. who is a great Nichols enabler…

There was a late arrival courtesy of Eldest Child in the form of this:

I follow the Bosh! boys on YouTube as they come up with some marvellous (and relatively easy-seeming!) Vegan recipes, and I’m always keen for new foodie ideas – so this will be just the ticket!

Next up, some arrivals from my Virago Secret Santa; this is a tradition we have on the LibraryThing Virago Modern Classics group and it’s such fun to take part! My Santa this year was the lovely Lisa from the USA, and by some weird trick of randomness, I was *her* Santa. Needless to say, I was spoiled….

The two Mrs. Oliphant books complete my set of the Chronicles of Carlingford – I’m very keen to get to read these all at some point. The Nemirovksy is short stories and I’ve not read any of these. And a lovely hardback of “Golden Hill” which sounds fascinating! Thank you Lisa! πŸ˜€

Then there are the Christmas arrivals! Some of these were requests/instructions and some of them my friends and family improvising.

The second volume of Plath letters was from Middle Child; the Katherine Mansfield Notebooks from Youngest Child. I long to sink myself in both…. The beautiful first edition of Beverley’s “Sunlight on the Lawn” (with dustjacket!!) is from my dear friend J. – just gorgeous…. “Sweet Caress” is from my old friend V. and I don’t think I’ve read any Boyd so I’m interested in taking a look… The rest are from Mr. Kaggsy who has been as inspired as ever. The John Franklin Bardin omnibus is a particularly intriguing; I’d never heard of the author but he seems to have been a highly regarded and very individual crime writer so I can’t wait to explore. However, Mr. Kaggsy excelled himself this year with this:

“But, Kaggsy!” I hear you cry, “you already have so many copies of The Master and Margarita!” Yes, I most certainly do, but I’ve always wanted a copy of the Folio Society edition. It seems to have been spiralling upwards in price to dizzying heights, but amazingly Mr. Kaggsy managed to track down a Reasonably Priced copy and snapped it up! Grinning like the Cheshire Cat here….

Finally, some review books have snuck in (as they say); I can’t share most of them, as the publication dates are a little way away, but one I can is this beautiful volume from Notting Hill Editions:

I love their books, and as an inveterate walker, the content looks just perfect for me. I want to get reading this one soon, so look out for a forthcoming review.

So as usual I have been utterly spoiled with new books and my only issue, as usual, is what to pick up next? Never an easy decision… Which would you choose??

Avoiding the rose-tinted glasses…

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The Sweet and Twenties by Beverley Nichols

Well, after all the excitement of recording the ‘Tea or Books?’ podcast, and reading and talking about “The Sweet and Twenties” by Beverley Nichols, I really ought to share some of my thoughts about it here. Simon and I were both very taken with this particular volume of Beverley’s reminiscences, and I was especially interested to see how his views about his life and past had evolved since his first ‘autobiography’, “Twenty-Five”, published in 1926. “Sweet” was published in 1958, during a very different decade and in a very different world to the earlier one and the 1920s in general.

There is, I suppose, a certain image of that decade – the clichΓ©d view of flappers, bobbed hairdos, Oxford bags, Scott Fitzgerald and general having a good time in the post-war period, and damn the future. However, as Simon very astutely pointed out, a period of 10 years is not homogenous and the view we have of the 1920s is not necessarily accurate to that whole period.

So “Sweet” has Beverley looking back 30 years or so to his youth and reflecting on how the world was and how it’s changed. And his viewpoint is fascinating, because reading one of his books you don’t necessarily expect to find yourself unexpectedly under the shadow of the Bomb or the Death Wish, as he eloquently terms it. But I initially detected a certain weariness in the author with the way the world had gone; he took a fairly clear-eyed look at what was a kind of optimism in the twenties and a wish for change, for ensuring that there would never be another war and the anger and determination of young people that the world would be better. However, having seen out two World Wars, Beverley could understandably be expected to reflect a loss of hope and also be angry and disillusioned with the thought of total annihilation.

“Sweet” was actually fascinating on many levels. As I’ve indicated above, it contains an intriguing amalgam of his thoughts on the world now and then; and although I don’t always agree with him (he’s very opinionated!), he’s always entertaining. However, it also takes a wonderfully wide-ranging look at the 1920s in all their complexity; from the General Strike to the Irish Problem to the furore caused by women cutting their hair to the fashions to the colours of the decades (another element which struck Simon strongly) through the hostesses and personalities of the decade… well, you get the picture. And actually, a vivid and memorable picture is what you get through Beverley’s wonderful prose – he’s just so witty that I did find myself giggling away while I was reading the book in advance of recording (much to the chagrin of OH….)

Female hair, throughout the ages, has always excited the fiercest of passions. Even St Paul lost all sense of proportion about it. If one goes back to the epistles with an open mind one is bewildered and indeed somewhat shocked to find so great a spiritual leader working himself up into such a frenzy of indignation about women who do not wear a hat to church… for that is really all it amounted to. This must surely be one of the strangest passages in the Bible, or indeed in any of the great spiritual treasuries of mankind.

Although Nichols takes a strong view on the negatives of the period (he has surprisingly liberal views on race and class) he does have something of a split nature and he’s obviously seduced by the charm and glamour of high society, writing wittily and extensively on the great hostesses of the era, as well as notable figures such as Beaton, Novello and Coward. He’s happy to give his views on who he thinks will survive into posterity and whose successes will fall by the wayside; and although he’s not always right it’s fascinating to read what he thinks. His writing about the Sitwells is lovely (and reminds me I must read more Sitwells – I have plenty lurking…), and when discussing the ‘Mapp and Lucia’ books his description of Rye is just a scream:

Rye is an almost hysterically picturesque town in Sussex. When you walk down its narrow streets you feel that at any moment a horde of Morris dancers may burst through the doors of one of the oldy-worldy cafes. Sometimes, to your alarm, they do.

I have to confess to an almost pathological dislike of Morris dancers, so this rather resonated with me… πŸ˜‰

But the feeling I came away with was of having read the words of someone who was basically a very humane person, despite his foibles and sarcasm and snarkiness (which I confess I find appealing…). For example, he discusses the furore around Radclyffe Hall’s “The Well of Loneliness” with some sympathy, commenting “The ‘Well of Loneliness’ scandal was one of those deplorable examples of mob hysteria which periodically make the British people so ridiculous in the eyes of the rest of the world.” He goes on to consider censorship and hypocrisy in the theatre and how works which were published and performed abroad were still banned in our rather prudish country.

One of the most striking chapters in “Twenty Five” was Beverley’s recollection of the notorious Thompson-Bywaters case (the basis for F. Tennyson Jesse’s magisterial “A Pin to see the Peepshow”, amongst other works of fiction). Nichols is strongly against capital punishment, and he revisits the case here. At the time of the trial and subsequent execution of Edith Thompson, Nichols was working as a reporter and he ended up gaining access to the family to tell their story in his newspaper. Frankly, he seems to have been haunted by the episode all his life and his feelings haven’t change by the time of “The Sweet and Twenties”.

But through it all, Beverley compares and contrasts the present and the past, wondering how the doomed youth of the 1950s (as he sees them) will survive the trials of the current world, and how indeed civilisation will progress. All this is delivered in a relatively light tone (it isn’t all doom and gloom) and although Nichols laments the changes that have taken place in the world, he can’t quench that well of optimism that springs up in him and ends up with hopes for a better future. You and I might be able to judge better than him whether those hopes were borne out.

As you might be able to tell, I really did love this book (but then I tend to like anything Beverley wrote, so I’m not going to be an objective reviewer here). It’s entertaining, opinionated, sometimes thought-provoking, sometimes laugh out loud funny and never, ever dull. Fortunately, Beverley was nothing if not prolific and I by no means own or have read all of his books. So at least I have more treasures by Beverley Nichols still to read, and since I can’t ever sit down and have tea and a gossip with him, that will have to be the next best thing…

(If you want to listen to our podcast on Beverley, pop over to Simon’s site here where you can find it!)

Guesting on ‘Tea or Books?’ with @stuck_inabook !!

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The alert amongst you who are also on Twitter might have picked up the fact that I agreed to co-host an episode of Simon at Stuck in a Book’s podcast ‘Tea or Books?’ (and I’m sure you all listen to it as well). This is a one-off while his usual co-host Rachel is unavailable, and I was a weeny bit nervous (but quite pleased to be asked, really, because it’s always lovely to natter about books!)

We chose subjects where our tastes intersect; so in the first half we talk about detective fiction vs crime fiction, getting into the knotty subject of genre. The second half is Beverley Nichols based – “The Sweet and Twenties” vs “Merry Hall” – and so you’ll have to listen to see what we make of these two Beverley books and which is our favourite! πŸ™‚

One thing I intended to mention in the podcast, but forgot in all the excitement, was the source of my copy of “The Sweet and Twenties”. I have a beautiful signed edition which was so kindly gifted to me by the lovely Liz at Adventures in reading, writing and working from home – such generosity, and I do treasure it so it was about time I had an excuse to actually read it – here it is:

My nice signed copy from Liz with the signature inset…

So do go over and have a listen to Simon and I having a good chatter about books (and yes, I was drinking tea while we recorded….) Hopefully if nothing else we’ll convince you to give Beverley Nichols a try! πŸ™‚

 

#1968 – Some previous reads

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When I began to research books from 1968 for our club, I was actually surprised not only by the amount of books of interest from that year, but also by the number I had already read! I thought I would link to a few old reviews here, and also mention some I read pre-blog.

In the First Circle by Solzhenitsyn

I read this chunkster back in 2012, although admittedly this revised and uncensored version was not the same as that first published in 1968. Nevertheless, this powerful portrait of life under Soviet rule was a landmark book and I found myself unable to understand why Solzhenitsyn’s literary reputation isn’t higher in the West.

The Quest for Christa T. by Christa Wolf

A read from 2014, “The Quest for Christa T.” has a deserved reputation for being a difficult book. The writing is elliptical and elusive, but once you get into the flow and start reading it almost between the lines, it’s remarkably rewarding. Her prose is marvellous and I don’t know why I haven’t picked up any of the other books of hers lurking on my shelves.

The Puzzleheaded Girl by Christina Stead

In 2016 I read my first Christina Stead work, a shortish tale called “The Puzzleheaded Girl”. My response to it was unsure in many ways, and my next encounter with Stead was even more difficult. Frankly, I’m not sure if she’s an author I’ll ever return to (despite the fact her Virago editions look lovely on the shelf…)

By The Pricking of My Thumbs by Agatha Christie

Latter-day Christie featuring an older Tommy and Tuppence Beresford (I love Tommy and Tuppence) and it was a wonderful romp with a very clever plot. As I said in my review, if I had infinite time I would read all of Christie’s books chronologically from start to end (and wallow in their wonderfulness).

Garden Open Tomorrow by Beverley Nichols

I’m rather sad that I’ve already read this, and fairly recently, because I’d love the excuse to read another Beverley. But then, who needs an excuse to read Beverley???

The Wedding Group by Elizabeth Taylor

It’s quite a while since I read any of the wonderful novels by Elizabeth Taylor – and actually an annual readalong of the books by the lovely LibraryThing Virago group was actually one of the factors which impelled me into starting Rambling! And this was one of my favourite Taylors, a little darker than some of her other works.

The Heart-Keeper by Francoise Sagan

This was a really *weird*Β  one…. Kirsty at The Literary Sisters kindly passed it on to me, but I found myself unable to really get to grips with what it was about, finally concluding “Basically, I found myself totally flummoxed by this book! At just over 100 pages, it seems to struggle to get its point across and really I still don’t know what it’s trying to be after thinking about it for several days. I haven’t found a lot about it online and it may be that it either sunk like a trace after its publication or other readers are as confused as I was!” An odd one indeed, and not a title I’m likely to revisit (in fact I don’t even know why it’s on my shelves still – off to the donation box with it!!)

The Sculptor’s Daughter by Tove JanssonI’m a relatively recent convert to Tove Jansson, but I absolutely love her work, both for adults and children. “Sculptor’s Daughter” was her first book for adults, and it’s a beautifully written work which presumably blurs fact and fiction; it appears to be simply autobiographical, but I’m not so sure! Whichever it is, it’s lovely!

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There are also a number of books from 1968 which I read pre-blog so of course haven’t reviewed, and some of them are strikingly good. Solzhenitsyn’s “Cancer Ward” appeared in the same year as his other magnum opus and was equally powerful. “Slouching Towards Bethlehem”, a collection of Joan Didion’s essays, was I think the second book of hers I read and I remember being mightily impressed. On the poetry front, when I discovered my local library was stocking Persephones, I borrowed “It’s Hard to be Hip Over 30” by Judith Viorst, a wonderfully witty, wry and entertaining collection which I highly recommend. And I’m pretty sure I’ve read “Maigret Hesitates”, though with the amount of books Simenon wrote, it’s hard to be sure…

So – I hope you’re all getting on well with your #1968Club reading – there really are a *lot* of wonderful books to choose from! πŸ™‚

 

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