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Kissing May goodbye and thinking about June! ;D

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As well as being the last day of May, today is a Bank Holiday in the UK and also the Summer Half Term in schools. So I’m hoping to get a little time to rest, relax and read – which will be quite perfect! Looking back on May, it’s been a manic month in real life, but I *have* managed to read some lovely, lovely books and here they are:

I’m really happy about the books I read, and there were no disappointments so I count that as a result! Impossible to pick favourites, but the Dostoevsky and Plath/Sexton biographies were both pretty outstanding.

As for June, I’m currently keeping my options fairly open. However, one thing I *am* certain about is that I’m taking part in a blog tour for one of the new British Library Women Writers titles – and that post will be up on Wednesday. Spoiler alert – I loved the book – tune in to see what I thought of it!

There are, of course, numerous challenges floating about in the blogosphere, most notably “20 Books of Summer”, hosted by Cathy from 746Books. I’ve always steered clear of this, not because I don’t think it’s a great event – it really is a good one! And I think I would have no trouble completing it because I’ve been known to read close to that many books in a month. The issue I would have is sticking to a list – I am notoriously bad at that, even failing when I make my own plans, which is why I mostly stick to my random reading trends following my whims. However, there *are* a good number of books I’m circling with an intention to read soon, and here are some:

Barthes and Derrida are calling; but there’s Stepanova and bell hooks – all so tempting….

This impressive pile has some of the chunkier volumes which are lurking, and I’ve been wondering about making them some kind of summer reading project; perhaps a low-pressure intention to dip into Whitman and “Aurora Leigh” over the summer holidays and just enjoy them, maybe reading alongside other books.

There’s also the ginormous pile of review books which never seems to get any smaller! Here’s a towering heap of them and they all sound absolutely marvellous too!

But for now, there’s June to get through, so I shall continue to let my grasshopper mind guide me on my reading journey! What plans do you have for June and summer reading? 😀

On My Book Table… 4 – decisions, decisions!

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Since I last reported on the state of my Book Table, it has been through several changes as there have been bookish comings and goings as well as raging indecision about what to read next. This of course is particularly bad at what is a busy time of year, but as I’m now off work for the festive season, it seemed a good time to tidy up a little and take stock. So here is the current state of the Table itself:

As you can probably tell, there are a number of heavyweight books on there (and I don’t mean in size necessarily, but in content). Shall we take a closer look?

This stack is mainly review books – some lovely British Library Editions, glorious Russians from Pushkin Press, an intriguing title from Michael Walmer and an author new to me from NYRB. Then there’s “Jam Today”, a book I was very excited to track down recently. All of these would be ideal next reads.

This is what I mean by heavyweight… Essays, short fiction, Montaigne, Proust, Pessoa, philosophy. I’d like to read them all at once, which is not helpful. Especially as I feel as if I could quite easily have a month of reading nothing but Fitzcarraldo books!

And finally, Barthes… Three physical books (there is a digital one too) and the Binet book about Barthes which has been on the Table for months. I am nearing the end of “Mythologies”, but unsure whether I should read another Barthes straight off or let the first settle a bit…

Of course, there are the birthday arrivals which came into the house recently and haven’t made it to the Book Table yet (and they’ll no doubt be joined by some Christmas arrivals at some point soon). A further complication exists in the form of the Book Token my work presented me with on my birthday which is itching to be spent. An embarrassment of riches, but I do find that the more choices I have, the harder the decision becomes! What would *you* read next??? 😀

The dilemmas of bibliophiles through the ages… @BL_Publishing @shedworking

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Shelf Life by Alex Johnson

British Library Publishing have been rather spoiling me recently with unexpected review books; “The Pocket Detective” was an unexpected treat, and another perfect-for-me volume popped through the letter box recently in the form of “Shelf Life”. An anthology of writings about books and reading collected and annotated by Alex Johnson, it contains some real gems from a dazzling array of illustrious writers.

If you love books, you most likely also love books about books, and so this is going to be an essential collection for you. It not only covers the reasons for reading, the pleasures and benefits it brings, and the dangers of not reading enough, but also spreads its net wider. So we consider the problems of physically housing a library (a subject familiar to all bibliophiles); the dangers of letting children near your treasured volumes; and, lawks a-mercy, the difficulty of destroying them (excuse me while I have an attack of vapours….) Although I jest a little; I know that charity shops have been swamped by donations of vast amounts of unwanted “50 Shades…” books, so J.C. Squire does maybe have a point…

It isn’t all flippancy though; the rather grumpy Schopenhauer discusses the psychological implications of random, trivial reading (he’s obviously not a fan of chick-lit then, nor of Hegel it seems from his comments here…) He also urges caution in reading too much and not allowing yourself time to think about the book just read, encouraging giving yourself the mental space to assimilate the reading. Theodore Roosevelt warns against swamping one’s soul in the sea of vapidity which overwhelms him who reads only “the last new books”. And the book also includes what might perhaps the most famous essay on books, Walter Benjamin‘s “Unpacking My Library”, which I’d read before and which never fails to delight.

By Michael D Beckwith [CC0], from Wikimedia Commons

One of the most absorbing of the essays is that of Gladstone (the famous British PM) who discusses the issues surrounding the construction of your personal library, and the vagaries of cataloguing, wrestling with the eternal problem facing the bibliophile of how and where to categorise and shelf those pesky volumes – proving that nothing changes in the world of books! Intriguingly, while I was reading this particular part of the book, I invested half an hour in a somewhat lightweight but occasionally diverting little series on BBC2, “Monkman and Seagull’s Genius Guide To Britain“; in a strange case of serendipity, during the episode I watched the brainy pair visited Gladstone’s personal library which I’d just read about, and it was lovely to actually see the place. It’s housed in a building which also offers hotel rooms, so that you can stay overnight and look at the books – heaven! 🙂

Needless to say, “Shelf Life” is packed to the gills with gems and I could have quoted half of it. However, I’ll share a few of my favourite lines with you:

Charles Lamb on the condition of library books: How they speak of the thousand thumbs, that have turned over their pages with delight!

Theodore Roosevelt on how a reader’s choice of book may reflect their state of mind: If he does not care for Anna Karenina, War and Peace, Sebastopol, and The Cossacks he misses much; but if he cares for The Kreutzer Sonata he had better make up his mind that for pathological reasons he will be wise thereafter to avoid Tolstoy entirely. Tolstoy is an interesting and stimulating writer, but an exceedingly unsafe moral adviser.

Gladstone on the importance of classic works: Books require no eulogy from me; none could be permitted me, when they already drawn their testimonials from Cicero and Macaulay. But books are the voices of the dead. They are a main instrument of communion with the vast human procession of the other world. They are the allies of the thought of man… In a room well filled with them, no one has felt or can feel solitary.

“Shelf Life” is a real delight of a book. Johnson, who has a number of blogs (including a very interesting looking one all about bookshelves!), clearly knows his stuff and the selection of essays here is wonderfully varied, entertaining and fascinating. I mentioned the dreaded C-word recently when I blogged about “The Pocket Detective” and I fear that “Shelf Life” is another essential potential gift for the book lover in your life. And, hey – it will add to your pile of books about books so that you’ll have the perfect solution to one aspect of shelving your books by having to give them a dedicated space of their own! 🙂

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