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On My Book Table…7 – modest ambitions!

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After the excitement of all the reading and sharing from the #1920Club I was as usual a bit uncertain as to what I wanted to read next. I went for some Golden Age crime of various sorts, but then I decided it was time to have a bit of a reshuffle of the book table to see if I could focus on books I fancied tackling in the immediate future. Plus, a few new titles have made it through the blockades so I thought I would share those too! So here we go…

First up, let’s take a look at the contents of the Book Basket. Some of these are the same as when I last  shared this on social media – the Nairn and the two Huysmans are still WIPs. However, another sneaky little Notting Hill Editions hardback has crept in, in the form of Roland Barthes’ “Mourning Diary” – yes, another addition to my growing Barthes pile! That’s a recent arrival, as is the Dickinson volume. I’ve had a skinny Faber selected volume of her poems since my teens but I’ve been hankering after a complete edition for some time now. When I saw this one available for a reasonable price I snapped it up – ideal for dipping!

Chunksters! Let’s have some big books! All of these have been hanging around waiting for me to notice them for some time now; the Mollie Panter-Downes “London War Notes” volume is a beautiful Persephone I picked up some time back when they had a special offer. It seems like it would be apt reading for these times. The Chateaubriand is a lovely review copy from NYRB (I need to catch up….) and what I’ve read so far has been fascinating. And Carlyle’s “French Revolution” jumped back into my line of sight recently when I read the marvellous Persephone Jane Carlyle book. All would be wonderful to sink into for hours…

Then we have a few random titles which happen to appeal, mostly unearthed after a recent reshuffle. The Colette is one I’ve intended to reread for ages, but somehow never get to despite it being the perfect recent read for 1920… The Bachelard is a more recent acquisition and one which my radar picked up again recently (you might understand why next week). And “I Burn Paris” had been started a couple of times; it’s a beautiful hardback Twisted Spoon edition and although the subject matter is perhaps going to be a little triggery in these pandemic times, I do want to get to it sooner rather than later.

Last but not least, some recent arrivals. Needless to say, because of Outside Circumstances, the books making their way into the Ramblings have reduced in number – no browsing in charity shops nowadays, alas. But I *am* acquiring the odd one or two! The NYRBs are review copies – thank you! – and I’m very excited about these, particularly the Malaparte. “The Yellow Sofa” was one I read about on Tony’s Book Blog and I loved the sound of it (and it’s slim…). “Paris Then and Now” is pretty pictures of the place – ’nuff said. And the Mansfield is a most lovely first edition of her “Novels and Novelists” collection of reviews which I snagged at a Very Reasonable Price online. Last, but definitely not least, “People, Places, Things” is a collection of Elizabeth Bowen’s essays. This is a scholarly publication – but why her non-fiction isn’t more widely available is a mystery to me as I love her writing.

So there you have it. Plenty of reading available for this strange lockdown world in which we find ourselves. As I write this, I’m just coming to the end of another wonderful and comforting Golden Age crime read from the British Library Crime Classics series; so where I go next is anyone’s guess… ;D

#1920Club – the ones that got away! ;D

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Phew! Well, that was an interesting and varied week of reading. Thanks *so* much to everyone who joined in – it’s been a particularly wonderful Club and I think 1920 was a great year to choose. So many unexpected books turn out to have been published in the year and it’s been fascinating reading everyone’s posts and comments!

I’m very happy with the books I read for 1920, but inevitably I ran out of time and didn’t read all I wanted to. So here is a pile of the books I have on hand and *could* have read, but which got away…

pile of books flowers james joyce colette cheri 1920 club reading

As you can see, there are some chunky books as well as slim ones, and lovely choices. I regret not getting back to either Mansfield or Colette, as I’ve been keen to revisit both. Hesse is an old favourite too, and “Wandering” was appealing right now, though may well have triggered claustrophobia…

“Ulysses” is more of a long-term goal, so I didn’t really intend to tackle that one this week, tbh. Likewise, the Lawrence might be a good place for me to try to start with his work, but it didn’t feel this was the right moment. The Fitzgerald and Carswell are books I haven’t read (though I’ve read other books by both of them and loved them). Again, not enough time…

So those are the possible reads which got away. Maybe I’ll catch up with at least one of them later on this year. However, as I said, I’m very happy with what I read as I chose some favourite authors and also managed to get back into reading Proust! I hope you’ve all enjoyed reading along with Simon and myself, and do share links to any posts I’ve missed on the 1920 Club page here – I’ll try to gather up any links I’ve missed over the next few days.

As for which year we choose for our next Club in six months’ time? Watch this space…. ;D

#1920club – looking at some previous reads

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As is traditional during our Club reading weeks, I plan to take a look back at some previous reads from 1920. However, unlike before, I’m struggling to find any books from that year which I’ve actually covered on the Ramblings! (Mind you, the blog is not that well indexed…) Looking through lists from that year, I’ve identified several past reads, and here they are:

books and flowers colette hungry hears katherine mansfield bliss #1920club

Colette’s “Cheri” (seen here in two different editions, both of which include “The Last of Cheri”) is a book I read back in the day and have been determined to revisit at a number of points but always failed – I don’t know why, but because of the size of the book in which I’m currently involved, I think the same thing may happen again this time.

Katherine Mansfield’s “Bliss” is again a collection I read in my twenties; Mansfield is a marvellous author, and I loved the dramatised version of her life which I was lucky enough to receive as a gift. Another writer I should go back and re-read…

There are two volumes by Hermann Hesse in the pile – “Klingsor’s Last Summer” and “Wandering”. I read tons of Hesse in my twenties, and *presume* I read these as they’re in my collection. But alas, I can’t actually be sure! The covers are – well, very dated…

And finally in the picture is “Hungry Hearts” by Anzia Yezierska. I *know* I’ve read this collection of short stories, tales of a Polish-Jewish immigrant in turn of the 20th century New York, and I remember being very affected by them. I have a Penguin Modern Classic edition, though the book was also a Virago. I was pleased to find I still had this one in the stacks!

Not pictured, alas, is a wonderful book I’ve read and loved but don’t seem to have a copy of any more (which is a shame). I refer of course to “Queen Lucia” by E.F. Benson, the first in his magnificent Mapp and Lucia sequence. I owned and read all six books back in my twenties, and was obsessed with the wonderful Channel 4 adaptation. Alas, they’ve gone AWOL somewhere down the years – but I can recommend them to anyone, and I believe they can be got in omnibus editions at a rather reasonable price.

So – that’s some of my previous reads for 1920. Do share what you’ve read in the past or are reading now – there are some varied and wonderful books from the year and I’m looking forward to hearing what everyone is discovering and enjoying! 😀

On My Book Table…6 – a bit of a shuffle!

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The world is a little bit scarier than usual at the moment, as we’re all quite aware, and so I’m trying personally to balance keeping my awareness of what’s happening at a sensible level and trying to keep myself on an even keel. Books have always been my go-to in times of stress and frankly are being a little bit of a lifeline right now. Anyway, after all the recent excitement of the #fitzcarraldofortnight, plus a number of new arrivals, I thought it was time to take stock and reorganise a little. Reading from one publisher is a lovely experience, but as I have so many other books lurking I wanted to try to clarify what I planned to pick up next. Of course, I never stick to reading plans, but it’s always fun to spend time shuffling books, as well as being very therapeutic… 😀

After spending some time digging among the stacks and moving books about, I ended up with a few piles I currently want to focus on and here’s the first:

This rather chunky pile has some of the weightier books (intellectually and literally!) that are calling right now. Some of these were in my last book table post, but some have snuck in when I wasn’t looking. There’s a lot of French writing there and both the Existentialist Cafe and Left Bank books sound excellent. Barthes is of course still hanging about in the wings even though I haven’t added him to the pile. I could go for a Barthes fortnight (or longer…) quite easily, but that might a bit brain-straining. Some of the volumes *are* reasonably slim so I might be able to slip them into my reading between bigger books – we shall see! 😀

Next up, some of the review books I have pending:

These are only *some* of the review books lurking, but if I put them all in a pile it looks scary and I panic, so I thought a modest selection would do. There are some beauties from the British Library Crime Classics and Science Fiction Classics range, as well as Camus and a classic Russian play and Frankenstein! They all sound so marvellous….

And this is the pile of recent finds or other titles I really want to read at the moment:

More French writing. The top two are books about French authors – I’ve read the start of each and they’re marvellous. The Queneau is short but essential (and another play! I’m reading more drama!!), the Hitchens and the Christiansen arrived recently, as did the beautiful Persephone (which I think I might well pick up soon). And the Makioka Sisters is there because there’s a readalong going on. I doubt I’ll get to it – I’ve failed every one so far this year, getting nowhere near either Proust or Musil. But it’s there just in case.

However, there *is* another pile of interest lurking. Coming up in April, Simon and I will be hosting the #1920club, the next in our themed weeks of reading from a particular year. I’ve been thinking ahead about which books I’d like to spend time with, and there really are some wonderful titles from 1920. I always try to read from the stacks and a quick dig revealed I had these books on the shelves:

All of them are beautiful titles, and most of them would be re-reads – which is not really what I want to do with the reading clubs. I have another new title lurking digitally which I am definitely going to overcome my aversion to e-reading and get to; but with the re-reads I shall have to be picky so that I can perhaps focus on unread books. Though it *would* be nice just to spend the week re-reading Agatha, Virginia and Colette…

And of course, just after I had finished writing this post, a lovely collection of review books popped through the door looking like this:

There are some wonderfully exciting titles there, including a new Crime Classic from the British Library; two editions from their new imprint focusing on Women Writers (which is being curated by Simon – well done, that man!); and a fascinating book on Artemisia Gentileschi with an introduction by Susan Sontag – how timely!

So there we go. The state of the books at the moment. I have just finished reading Lennie Goodings’ wonderful book about her life in the book trade and with Virago which I will eventually get to reviewing (I’m very behind…) – I highly recommend it. And I confess to being unsure as to what I’ll pick up next, although it may have to be escapism in the form of Golden Age crime. As usual, watch this space! 😀

On My Book Table… 2 – The Chunksters…

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I’m pleased to report that the Reading Chair and the Book Table have proved to be a great success chez Ramblings (well done, Mr. Kaggsy!) I have spent many a happy hour sitting comfortably with a book and a beverage; though alas, I don’t think I’ve tackled a single volume featured in my previous post about the table… That’s fairly typical of me, and I do have the excuse of the forthcoming 1930 Club which has necessitated some focus on the year in question. However, I thought I would share some images of what’s weighing down the table at the moment as possible reads – and they *are* quite chunky books!!

That’s a fairly imposing and daunting pile of books, isn’t it? Shall we take a look in more detail??

These two titles are on the book table for a good reason, i.e. the forthcoming #1930Club. I’ve mention John Dos Passos before, but not the Bunting (although of course I *have* wittered on about Basil on the Ramblings). All will become clear next week, hopefully…. 😉

Now – these three have been sitting around on the TBR for a while. “Imaginary Cities” (from Influx Press!!) was a Christmas gift from my brother some years back; “Night Walking” came into the house when Verso were having one of their oh-so-tempting sales; and the John Muir was a purchase on a whim because I wanted it (so there!) Having just watched a repeat of a documentary on Muir (which I somehow missed first time round) I’m keen to pick it up soon. We shall see…

These two lovelies are a little slimmer, but still very appealing. The Binet was on my book table last time, and has been on the TBR for as long as the Muir, as they arrived at the same time. The Colette is a beautiful edition of an anthology of extracts from her work, called “Earthly Paradise”. Apparently it’s now out of print and not at all cheap to get hold of – who knew? Makes me even more certain I must be careful about which books I prune when I pass some on to charity shops.

A mixed bag here. Two are newly arrived at the Ramblings – “Seashaken Houses” is all about lighthouses (I love lighthouses) and I resisted it for ages in Waterstones and then gave in. The Cunard book sounded fascinating (I can’t remember where I heard about it) and as the local library didn’t have it, I was left with no choice… I’ve had the Shklovsky for ages and keep meaning to start it and don’t – story of my life, really…

More new arrivals, this time from the very lovely Notting Hill Editions. I reviewed John Berger’s book “What Time Is It” recently; it’s the final book of three published by NHE which he did with Selcuk Demirel. I was knocked out by “Time…” and so was delighted to receive the two earlier books “Cataract” and “Smoke” – such treats in store… The third book in the picture is a selection of Montaigne’s essays; I’d often thought of reading him and then Marina Sofia’s post pushed me over the edge. Thanks so much, NHE! :DD

Another three chunksters lurk on the table, again books that I’ve had around for a while. “Liberty” is about French Revolutionary women; “Romantic Outlaws” is about Mary Wollstonecroft and Mary Shelley; and “The Wives” is about spouses of Russian authors. I long to sink myself into all three at once, which is really not practical…

And finally, a couple of slim volumes which weren’t on the pile in the first image, but have managed to sneak into the house despite Mr. Kaggsy’s best efforts (ha! not really – I think he’s given up worrying about the books, realisiing he was fighting a losing battle…) “Nagasaki” is thanks to a post on the BookerTalk blog – I loved the sound of it and couldn’t resist. “Doe Lea” is VERY VERY exciting! It’s a limited edition chapbook short story by M. John Harrison (who is a big favourite here on the Ramblings as you might have noticed..); and it’s a signed copy, one of only 200. Goodness, I went into overdrive when I found out it was available. Most pleased that it arrived safely and can’t wait to read it, yet don’t want to because I want to savour it!

Well, there you are. The Book Table is groaning a little under the weight of all these mighty tomes, and of course “The Anatomy of Melancholy” seems to be in permanent residence there helping to add to the tonnage. With my fickle mind I may not actually end up reading *any* of these next; but it’s lovely to get my books out, have them on the table, flick through them and just *enjoy* having them around! The pleasures of being a bookaholic… ;D

“To be astonished is one of the surest ways of not growing old too quickly” – sharing my love of #Colette and her books!

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There’s inevitably a bit of a buzz around the wonderful French author Colette at the moment, thanks to the recent film of her life (I’m still a bit conflicted about whether I want to see it or not). However, a lovely series of posts by Madame Bibi Lophile, who had a joyous week of reading Colette, led to me threatening to share images of my Colette collection here – yes, more gratuitous pictures of books!! I have actually done a little post on some of my Colette books before, but I thought I’d do an updated one anyway as Madame B seemed more than keen that I should do so. Ever happy to oblige, so here we go with more images from my Colette collection – be warned that this *will* be a fairly long post as I have a lot….

First up, I was going to share them in situ, but they’re sort of double shelved, and my pretty Penguins are for some reason at the back – so these are they before I took them down to photo!

And here is the whole shebang – my Colette collection, spread out on the spare bed and requiring two rows to show them all…

Gulp… Where to begin? Probably with the core of my collection, the fiction.

A good part of these consists of the pretty Penguins I first collected and read back in the early 1980s. This is when I first discovered Colette’s work, after reading about her in the “Literary Women” book. I created my own personal canon of women writers I wanted to explore, and Colette was one who absolutely consumed me. I think the Penguins came out in the 1970s and they have such lovely cover designs that I collected all I could find – as you can see, they’re most striking:

Of course, not all of her books were available in this imprint, and I’ve collected a number of other editions over the years:

The Collected Stories is falling to bits, but I read it a decade or so ago and it was a revelatory experience, really – I hadn’t revisited Colette for some years at the time and the collection was shockingly good and reminder of just what an incredible writer she was. And yes – there are another two sets of the Claudine books there. I don’t *need* them but I can’t bear to get rid of them. Some books you need to have three sets of. And there’s my Virago Colette plus some newer Penguin versions. Despite the fact I love my older books, some of them have got a bit fragile, and also the type is quite small, so having a newer, bigger Penguin to re-read is a useful thing! 😀

Shall we move on to the first Colette book I ever read? Yes, let’s – it was “Break of Day”:

This is mature Colette, contemplating a late affair and communing with nature and just being herself, and I loved it to bits. So much so that I set about reading her chronologically – well, everything I could get hold of at the time – and it was of those transformative reading experiences. I’ve revisited this one more than any other Colette book and I still love it.

Next up biographical stuff and the like:

You can’t quite see it, but there is a little Margaret Crosland paperback biography hiding away on the right. I have read most of these over the years, most recently the Judith Thurman, which I loved. Colette’s life and art were intimately bound up, and books about her are marvellous.I also have a couple of biographical oddities:

“Close to Colette” is by her third husband, Maurice Goudeket, and I haven’t read it yet – I dare say I shall cry a lot when I do… And the Time and Tide was tracked down because it has a piece about her by her stepson Bertrand de Jouvenel, with whom she had an affair when she was 52 and he was 16…. Ahem.

Then there are the rarities:

As I’ve bemoaned in the past, there is no real list of everything Colette published, and no complete edition translated into English. So I’ve had to hunt around for missing things, and these are some of them – her collections of her animal writings, for example, and a hardback of “Mitsou” plus a collection of writings in French.

Phew! If you take a look at these as well as my earlier post, you’ll see there is a *lot* of Colette at the Ramblings, for which I make no apology. I was prompted, however, after taking these down, to reshuffle the shelves a bit so the pretty ones were at the front, next to my George Perecs – and here’s what the shelf looks like now:

I like being able to see the lovely pastel Penguin spines! As for what really prompted this post, Madame B was bemoaning the lurid cover of her edition of “Cheri” (and I can understand why!). I picked up a modern Penguin not that long ago because I want to re-read it, and it has a much nicer (and more discreet) cover image:

Not one to feel embarrassed about reading on the train… 😀

And one final image – I had to share this little tray which I picked up in a charity store once, and upon which my small coffee maker normally sits:

Because of the Parisian lady and her dog, it inevitably gets referred to as my Colette tray. You see how my mind is always running on books…. (*sigh*)

#1944club – a heroine takes control of her own destiny

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Gigi by Colette
Translated by Roger Senhouse

Well, what a week it’s been so far! We’re getting to the end and today I wanted to post about one of my favourite authors, a writer I was so pleased I could re-read for the #1944Club! I’ve written fairly extensively on the Ramblings about Colette (and she’s probably trending, as they say, at the moment owing to there being a biopic in the offing); so the fact that one of her most famous works was published in 1944 was a real bonus.

Pretty but fragile Penguin edition….

“Gigi” is one of the titles that springs to the lips of those in the know when Colette’s name is mentioned; possibly because of the film starring Leslie Caron; and yet when I picked it up for a re-read I was astonished at how short it actually is. At around 50 pages in my pretty old Penguin, it would struggle to be classed as a novella, and I would almost expect to find it in my volume of her collected short stories. In fact, my Penguin has “Gigi” paired with “The Cat”, a longer work; yet reputation of the title story is large, and for a very good reason.

Gilberte, known affectionately as Gigi, is 15 going on grown-up; on the cusp of womanhood, still naive and closely protected by her mother, her Grandmother and her aunt Alicia, she is being discreetly lined up for life as a courtesan. The family is slightly on the outside of things; although they have higher class associates, they struggle financially, with Gigi’s mother singing at night to earn money. A legacy of one of Grandmother’s past liaisons is a current friendship with Gaston Lachaille, a rich man who nevertheless seems to enjoy calling on the little family of women where he can relax. Gigi calls him Uncle Tonton, and is happy to be spoiled with little treats. However, Tonton has broken up with his society girlfriend, at a point where Gigi is reaching an age to be of interest as more than a family friend. The older women seem to be considering some kind of modern version of Grandmother’s friendship with the Lachaille family; however, Gigi has ideas of her own…

As always, Colette’s writing is a pure delight. Despite its short length, “Gigi” brims with atmosphere, characters, settings and stories. Gigi herself is headstrong and engaging; Tonton a convincing besotted man . Leaving aside any morals here (when did we ever look to a Colette book for morals???), the story is beautifully told and it’s a joy seeing Gigi get her own way despite the attempts of the older women to control her.

So I might have shelled out on an expensive ‘paper lovers’ magazine just because it had some postcards of women reading, including Colette and Hepburn….

OK, OK, the morals. Tonton is 33, Gigi is 15; that age gap and her youth are problematic, although it has to be borne in mind that the story is set some considerable time in the past (which is no excuse really). However, I can’t help being reminded of how Colette married a man older than her, the libertine Willy (she was a naive looking 20, he was 34); and I wondered how much this coloured her narrative. Nevertheless, “Gigi” is beautifully written, evocative of time and place, and a fascinating look at the lives of certain women too easily dismissed. This was a time when being wife or mistress seemed the only options, unless you had money, and Gigi is intelligent enough to know which was the better choice.

“Gigi” was made into a successful stage show, and then a film; the former launched the career of Audrey Hepburn, when Colette reputedly pointed her out as the perfect actress to play her heroine. The film became a classic (though staring Caron not Hepburn) and Colette continued writing until her death. I wouldn’t say “Gigi” is necessarily the best place to start with her work; but nothing she writes is ever dull, and I’m happy to have become reacquainted with “Gigi” again for the 1944 Club!

Plans? What plans?? #WITmonth

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It’s no great secret that reading plans and I don’t get on that well together. More often than not if I make a schedule, join a challenge or even just try to think a few books ahead to what I’ll be reading next it all tends to go straight out of the window while I follow some random reading whim. However! August is Women in Translation month and I *do* always try to join in with that one – particularly as I read a lot of translated work and a lot of women’s writing!

So here is a little pile of possibles off the TBR which may attract my attention during this month. You’ll see one book which ticks the box for another August event – All Virago, All August, a little challenge by the members of the LibraryThing Virago Modern Classics group. This takes in Viragos, other books by Virago authors and Persephones too, and although I don’t commit to reading only those for the month I do try to enjoy at least one title. And the Triolet counts for WIT too so that would be ideal. Although a re-read of the Colette is very tempting. And I love Tsvetaeva at the moment so her diaries would be fab. And the others sound great too…

However, this is the book I’m currently reading and loving, and so as it will be the first book I finish and review in August, it will also definitely be my first WIT book!

Unfortunately, there are other volumes vying for my attention… As I was having a rummage for WIT titles I came across a few others which caught my eye:

The Spark, of course, would tie in with HeavenAli’s Reading Muriel celebration. The Baudelaire is Baudelaire and therefore needs no explanation. And the Malcolm Bradbury was mentioned on the From First Page to Last blog and I recalled I had a copy which I have now found! It’s set in a university and since I find universities and academics endlessly fascinating (probably because I never went to one…) it sounds like I really might enjoy it.

And then there are the review books lurking:

And don’t they look pretty and appealing, and I wish I could read them all in one go… Fortunately, I shall be doing some train travelling this month which may mean that I can get through a few of these titles while on the road (or the rails…). Come to think of it, Catherine the Great’s letters would count for WIT month as well, wouldn’t they??? 😀

So lots of choices again, alas. Are you planning any Women in Translation books this month, or any Viragos? Are you a planner or do you just follow your reading whims? Do tell! 🙂

Some booky and arty digressions! (or; drowning in books….)

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Those of you who follow me on Twitter might have picked up that I’ve been having a bit of a clear out recently – the pile of books on the landing, known locally as Death Row, has been severely pruned and there are now boxes in the hallway waiting for a local charity shop to collect. Unfortunately, the pruning process wasn’t as rigorous as I might have wished, as I ended up reprieving a fair number of books – but at least the landing is now passable without danger of falling over a pile of volumes…

Needless to say, however, this somehow spurred on a burst of buying (and I’ve managed to pick up a couple of things locally). So in the spirit of sharing gratuitous book pictures with those who love them, here are some lovelies! 🙂

They come from a variety of sources, new and used, and are all tempting me to pick them up straight away to read…

First up, a couple of finds in the local Samaritans Book Cave – and as I mentioned when I posted images of them on social media, I had only popped in to ask about donating…. But the Wharton is one I’ve never seen before and it sounds fascinating. I do of course have the Colette already, but it’s a very old, small Penguin with browning crumbly pages which I’m a bit scared to read again. And I *do* want to re-read the Cheri books, so of course want to start reading both of these at once.

These two are brand new, pay-day treats from an online source (ahem). I basically couldn’t resist Bergeners as I’ve heard such good things about it (and as I posted excitedly on Twitter, I now own a Seagull Books book!) The Patti Smith was essential, as I have just about everything else ever published by her (including old and rare poetry pamphlets from the 1970s). I just discovered she has an Instagram account you can follow – how exciting is that????

Finally in the new arrivals, a recent post by Liz reminded me that I had always wanted to own a book issued by the Left Book Club. A quick online search revealed that Orwells are prohibitively expensive; but I rather liked the look of this one about Rosa Luxemburg and so it was soon winging its way to me.

I could of course start reading any of these straight away (but which one?); though I am rather suffering from lots of books calling for my attention at once. There’s the lovely pile of British Library Crime Classics I featured a photo of recently, as well as other review books. Then there is this enticing pile featuring some books I’m keen on getting to soon:

I’ve already started the Chateaubriand and it’s excellent; long and full of beautiful prose. I want to read more RLS, and I’m very drawn to New Arabian Nights. Then there is poetry – perhaps I should have a couple of weeks of reading only verse???

Finally, here’s an author who’s been getting a lot of online love recently:

I was pretty sure that I’d read Jane Bowles, and I thought it was “Two Serious Ladies” that I’d read – but apparently not… The pretty Virago above is a fairly recently acquisition; the short story collection is a book I’ve had for decades (it has an old book-plate I used to use); and so I’ve obviously never read Bowles’ only novel. So tempting.

And there is, of course, this rather daunting volume – Dr. Richard Clay’s book on “Iconoclasm in revolutionary Paris”, which is currently sitting on my shelf glaring at me as if to say “Well, you went through all that angst to get me, so damn well read me!”

Here it is on the aforesaid shelf, and as you can see it has a new heavyweight companion…

The new arrival is another Big Book on iconoclasm which has just come out in paperback. It’s obvious I need to give up work and find some kind of employment that will pay me just to read…

So, I’m really not quite sure where to commit my reading energies at the moment: do I read review books or follow my whim? Or let myself by swayed by other people’s suggestions or go for a re-read? Or go for Difficult but Fascinating? Decisions, decisions…

The Arty Bit

This post is getting a bit long, but anyway. Ramblings readers will probably have picked up that I love a good art exhibition, but I pretty much always end up travelling to London for them as not much seems to happen locally. However, OH (that great enabler) noticed that the nearest Big Town had an art gallery and it was showing a collection of contemporary Chinese art, so I popped over during the recent half term break.

I confess that I know little about Chinese art (probably more about Japanese art, tbh) but this was fascinating. The works are remarkable varied, some drawing on traditional Chinese methods and others embracing more Western techniques. I took quick snaps of a few favourites (I’m never sure if you’re allowed to take photos in galleries, though phone cameras seem to be acceptable).

It really is an eye-opener of an exhibition, and even had free postcards!

What was disappointing, however, was how quiet the gallery was in the middle of a half term week. I do feel that perhaps they need to give themselves a higher profile; I wasn’t sure I even knew there was a gallery there, although I now find myself questioning that because of a very strange incident. I was on my up the stairs in the gallery to the upper mezzanine level, and halfway up there is a big list on the wall of supporters and past volunteers. I was a bit surprised to notice, therefore, that Middle Child’s name was featured…. Especially as when I quizzed her about it she claimed to have no idea why it’s up there!

She is, however, the arty one of the family, and I suspect may have been involved in something there when she was at college doing art. But obviously having a bad memory run in the family.

Well. I’m sorry – this is a really long post (but then I do like to live up to my name and ramble….) Now I just need to focus and decide what to read next…

The Price of Love #WITMonth #AllViragoAllAugust

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The Captive by Colette
Translated by Antonia White

I always enjoy taking part in Women in Translation month during August; I read a lot of translated literature anyway, and likewise a lot of women authors, so in some ways it’s a bit of a case of the month being what I already do. However, I haven’t managed to get on to so many titles this year because of “War and Peace”; but having picked up a lovely edition of Colette’s “The Captive” on my recent travels, I decided this would be an ideal re-read, particularly as she’s a Virago author too (and translated by another Virago author!).

I first read Colette in the early 1980s, and this was one of the titles I had, so it’s been over 35 years since I read this particular book (gulp!). I’ve returned to certain of her works over and over again (particularly “Break of Day”) but I’m pretty sure I’ve never re-read “The Captive” so I was very eager to see what I made of it after all this time.

Published in 1913, “The Captive” is narrated by Colette’s alter ego, Renée Néré, who featured in a number of the author’s works, most notably “The Vagabond”. In the latter story she was a music hall artist, travelling the country, living out of a trunk and performing wherever fate took her. In “The Captive”, Néré has retired from music hall after receiving a legacy and is frankly at a loose end. We first encounter her living in a hotel in Nice and basically wasting her time hanging around with Jean and May, a pair of young lovers with a destructive relationship, and the rather entertaining Masseau, an opium addict who serves as light relief! Renée is alternately bored and amused with her companions and often seems to wish she could be on her own, communing with nature and relishing her solitude.

Nice in the 1900s

However, Renée is not as straightforward as she seems, and despite her age still has her attractions. Inevitably, Jean is drawn to the older, more experienced woman and despite her attempts to escape him by running off to Geneva, they begin an affair which is characterised from the start by a simple physical connection rather than anything deeper. However, this relationship is nothing if not complex and we follow its twists and turns until it reaches a perhaps unexpected conclusion…

A simple sounding tale, perhaps, but in the hands of an author like Colette it’s anything but. Renée herself is a complex mix, attempting to resist the allure of the younger man yet unable to; despite her avowed independence, she craves love, and also to be reassured that she’s still attractive. As for Jean, for much of the book he’s unreadable and it’s only towards the end of the story that we see a little more of his personality emerge. All the nuances and complexities of an affair between man and woman are laid bare here: the little lies and compromises, the obsession and the disillusionment, the arguments and the bliss. In many ways Renée is trying to keep herself detached during the affair; she tries to convince herself that it’s simply a physical thing between them, but the longer the relationship goes on, the harder it is to really believe that. The title has been translated before as “The Shackle”, perhaps to indicate that love is such a thing and that Renée has been captured by the emotion. However, I believe the literal translation of the original French “L’Entrave” is ‘obstacle’, and Renée certainly encounters one in her quest for freedom.

You pretend to love me; this means that all day long I must bear the burden of your anxiety, your watch-dog vigilance, your suspicion. Tonight I am not off the chain, but it has slipped from your hand and trails behind me so that I do not feel the pull of it.

There are elements of the story which might sit uncomfortably with modern readers: the casual violence between Jean and May; the constant smoking; and the fact that a woman is considered past it at the ripe old age of 36… (heavens!) This latter is particularly striking, as modern attitudes would consider 36 to be in the prime of life; but Renée/Colette makes constant reference to her increasing age, the need to keep up certain barriers between the lovers, a certain heaviness of age – most odd! Much of the plot is concerned with the power balance within the relationship, which shifts as the story develops, and a to modern eyes the sacrifices Renée makes might be unacceptable; although I would wager that things have not changed as much as we might think they have… And it’s worth remembering that she is in a position of having basically no occupation: she misses the music hall (and a visit to her old colleague Brague makes that pain even worse), has no need to make a living and is at a loose end, so ripe for an emotional intrigue. There is a hint at one point that she is attempting a career as a writer, but this is never stated outright, and Renée seems very much a woman at a transitional period of her life.

Colette in the 1900s by Henri Manuel – this is rather how I image Renée…

The story itself is fascinating and involving; and I felt it very much reflected Colette’s view at the time, as she was a woman who certainly needed love. Yet there are other elements creeping in, those which became more prominent in her later books: her profound love of nature is evident, as well as her wonderful powers of observation and her ability to capture a place or person in a few lines. As I read I really felt as if I was *in* the South of France, or Paris, or Geneva, so vivid are the pictures she paints.

I’m never sure how widely known Colette is nowadays; in my feminist youth, she was someone we turned to readily as a pioneering woman who carved out her own life and lived it on her own terms, while writing wonderful books along the way. Returning to her writing with this book I felt, as I always do, not only what wonderful prose she wrote but what a wonderfully adventurous life she must have had. I loved my re-read of “The Captive” and if you haven’t read anything by the marvellous Colette I would strongly urge you to – a remarkable woman and a remarkable writer.

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