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“…a face, a place, an emotion.” #ReadIndies @Confingo @Mr_Dave_Haslam

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My #ReadIndies book today is from a publisher I only came across recently – Cōnfingō Publishing. Based in Manchester, their website states that they “create beautiful editions of new fiction, poetry and art in all forms. Twice a year we produce a unique collection of previously unpublished works”. The book which caught my attention was “My Second Home” by Dave Haslam, a wonderful work which captured Sylvia Plath’s time in Paris – I wrote about it here, and loved it so much that I had to buy a signed bundle of Haslam’s works!

So I thought I would pick up another of these for #ReadIndies, and chose the first of his titles “A Life in Thirty-Five Boxes”; subtitled “How I Survived Selling My Record Collection”, it’s a work guaranteed to make any book or record (or indeed *anything*) collector stop and think about the stuff they store in their home…

Few of us own only a few possessions. We hold onto things, even when we don’t really know why. If you don’t throw things away, you’re collecting; by default.

Haslam is of course a DJ, so vinyl records have been his stock in trade. In the book, he explores not only his own collecting impulse but that of many others. What *is* it that makes humans want to collect stuff? Why do we have this need to gather the complete works of a music maker or author? Is it logical or even controllable? As someone who definitely has the collecting gene, if such a thing exists, I’ve definitely been prey to the irrational, emotional need to obtain a specific item, and have looked at it years later and wondered why I felt it was quite so essential…

Why do so many of us hug pieces of vinyl to our hearts? Because we know that each record is so much more than a hundred and twenty grams of treated and pressed polyvinyl chloride resin. Each record is a tangible token of who we were when we fell in love with that piece of music. The collection, however small and disorganised, represents a personal journey through music, our changing passions, our pleasures, our life. Our moments of rapture, and moments of regret.

As Haslam talks to other collectors and considers his own tendencies, it’s very clear that as human beings we get really strong emotional attachments to the objects which make up our lives. Certain records, certain books are connected with particular periods of our lives, becoming part of what makes us what we are. That attachment is what makes it hard for some of us to let go of our possessions as we get older – they’re something fundamental to who we are and so letting go is letting go also of our identity. I understand this feeling completely, as it’s something I struggle with when trying to thin my own collection of music and books. Some titles have been with me for most of my life (my original PIL Metal Box, the first single I ever owned which was bought for me by my grandmother, the Emily Dickinson Selected Poems I acquired in my teens). It’s definitely harder to part with things you’ve owned for decades, and I find more recent acquisitions can be passed on with less trouble…

The Confingo bundle!

Nevertheless, Haslam *does* sell his record collection, is happy to have found a good home for it, and feels lighter for taking this action. Getting rid of a big chunk of your life like that is a radical action, yet he’s able to move on, experiencing music in different format and resisting the inevitable temptation to start yet another collection…

So my second Cōnfingō/Haslam read was just as satisfying as my first, albeit the books are very different. One of the thing I love about the indie publishing model is that slim, thought-provoking works like this can make it into print in lovely editions and reach a wider audience than they otherwise might. Cōnfingō is another indie I can highly recommend and you might want to take a look at their website here – there are some very intriguing titles!

“…being a bit more Baudelaire…” – Sylvia Plath’s adventures in Paris @Mr_Dave_Haslam

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I’ve commented before on what a bad influence Book Twitter is on my TBR, but if I’m truly honest I really don’t mind. I’ve come across some wonderful books thanks to my random wanderings online, and today’s post is about a case in point. I first stumbled on mention of this book somewhere on Twitter and because of the subject matter was instantly intrigued! The book is “My Second Home: Sylvia Plath in Paris, 1956” by Dave Haslam; and being a bit of a Plath addict, it was of course a must!

Haslam is a writer, broadcaster and DJ, renowned for over 450 DJ sessions at the famous (notorious?) Haçienda nightclub in Manchester. As well as writing for publications like the New Musical Express, The Guardian, the London Review of Books, and The Times, he’s also published five full-length books. “My Second Home” is what he calls a mini book, part of a series called ‘Art Decades’ and as well as being a moving read, it’s also a beautifully produced little book. Published by Confingo Publishing in a limited edition, it explores a pivotal time in Plath’s life – and I couldn’t put it down.

Before her first trip to Paris, in a letter to her mother, Sylvia said she yearned to see ‘the blazing lights and wonders of (the) city’. Paris, to Sylvia, was a mythical place which promised light and delight and deep experiences. Maybe we all have such places in our minds. Where we imagine uncaging ourselves and discovering the secrets of life.

In 1955/6 Plath’s life was in flux; she was in Cambridge on a Fulbright Scholarship, and trying to adjust to the contrast between 1950s America and 1950s Britain. Her relationships were also in flux; she’d spent Christmas 1955 in Paris with lover Richard Sassoon, often referred to as her ‘man that got away’. However, when she returned to the city for Easter 1956, Sassoon had done a bunk and basically broken off the relationship. Things were complicated by the fact that not long before decamping to Paris, Plath had had her fateful first meeting with Ted Hughes, subsequently spending the night before her departure to France with him in London. Haslam’s book follows Plath through that Easter visit to Paris, drawing on her letters and journals, and painting a picture of a woman enjoying her freedom, exploring the city, contemplating having flings with casual acquaintances and pondering her future.

“My Second Home” is beautifully written; Haslam captures wonderfully the sense of how Plath was feeling, her joy at being in Paris and her sense of adventure. Being a single and attractive woman in Paris in 1950s was not without risk, but Plath negotiated things carefully, relished meeting up with old friends and making contacts with strangers. In the end, having missed a number of letters which had been forwarded to Cambridge by mistake, she returned to Cambridge and Ted; we know how that played out, but Haslam captures quite brilliantly Plath at a turning point where the future wasn’t yet written.

That’s it though. Fate, decisions, a conversation with a stranger, a moment of irresponsibility, someone hearing your faint cry. And opportunities, choices, decisions. Richard, Ted: do the missing letters hold any clues? What’s being said? What decisions have been made? Questions were falling like rain on the Paris rooftops.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this lovely little book, but it was a real treat. Haslam puts Plath firmly in context, exploring briefly her life before Paris, and summing up the aftermath. He also gives hints of what was happening in the wider world, allowing us a kind of time travel back to 1956 so we can almost wander through Paris by Plath’s side. This is the Paris captured in the film “The Red Balloon”, something of a touchstone in the book, and it’s a Paris I would have loved to see. Although Haslam is even-handed in his portrayal of Plath and those in her life, I sympathised with his obvious annoyance with Hughes’s portrayal of Plath’s Parisian adventure; particularly in his “Birthday Letters” poem about the time the couple stayed in Paris together. Haslam takes issue with Hughes’s later version of events, his viewpoint that his interpretation of Paris was the best one whilst belittling Plath’s experiences; Haslam disagrees, touchingly allowing Plath her Paris.

‘I felt downright happy,’ she wrote in her journal. She describes how a calmness came over her that Sunday morning, an awakening. It’s a beautiful moment, Plath’s realisation of liberation and belonging: ‘I had as much right to take my time eating, to look around; to wander & sit in the sun in Paris as anyone’.

I read “My Second Home” in one sitting and absolutely loved it; for 57 pages I was in Paris with Plath, seeing it through her eyes, and it was a wonderful experience. I finished the book feeling as emotional about Plath as I always do, and thoroughly impressed by Haslam’s achievement with the book. It left me with the beautiful image of Plath tripping through the City of Light in her lightweight ballet pumps, happy and proud to be living her life – and that’s how I would like to think of her. A lovely little book and recommended for anyone who loves Plath.

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