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On My Book Table… 8 – what next?

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May has been an odd sort of reading month for me. I’ve read fewer books than I might have expected, given the amount of extra time I’ve got through not going out, paying visits to London and the like. I must admit to feeling a little bit twitchy after about 10 weeks of lockdown, with the only places I go to being the post office and the occasional nip into the local Co-op for veg. Browsing the local charity shops was one of my great pleasures and I’ve no idea when I’ll do that again. But I’m trying not to be too ungrateful, as I can work from home and safety is the main thing. Nevertheless, books *have* still made their way into the house, and I have been having a little bit of a shuffle of the book table, trying to decide what to read next – never an easy task for me… 😀 Here’s what’s been attracting my attention recently!

Some beautiful Elizabeth Bowen titles…

I have been shouting a bit recently on social media about Elizabeth Bowen; and the random discovery that there were some enticing-looking editions from Edinburgh University Press, bringing together uncollected short stories, essays, broadcasts and the like, was just too much to resist. They arrived, together with two other, older collections, as well as a book of Bowen and Charles Ritchie’s love letters. As I’ve said, I really could go on a Bowen Binge right now.

Classics, chunky and slimmer…

I’m also a huge fan of classics (fairly obviously) and there are a lot vying for attention right now. Carlyle and Chateaubriand have been lurking for a while, with Huysmans and Barbellion more recent arrivals. However, Ruskin has been someone I’ve always intended to read (so I really *should* get round to it before I get any older). The little hardback about why Ruskin matters turned up somewhere in my online browsing, and so I picked up some selected writings of Ruskin himself while I was at it. A new copy of Woolf’s “The Waves” may have fallen into my basket at the same time – I quite fancy a re-read and my original copy (which is nearly 40 years old) is just too crumbly and fragile to be comfortable with.

Some slightly more sombre volumes

One thing I *have* been taking advantage of during these strange times is online bookish stuff; by which I mean mainly the festivals. The Charleston Festival moved online and there was a marvellous broadcast of an interview with Virago’s Lennie Goodings by Joan Bakewell – what a pair of inspirational women! However, one author has been very much in my sightline, from the Charleston Festival and also the Hay Online Festival, and that’s Philippe Sands. I’d previously read his short work on the city of Lvov/Lemberg and “East West Street” had been on my wishlist for ages; so stumbling across it just before lockdown in a charity shop was a treat. Sands is a notable human rights lawyer, and his most recent book “Ratline” deals with the life (and afterlife) of prominent Nazis. His talks for Charleston and Hay were sobering and fascinating, and had me gathering together a number of titles covering difficult WW2 and post-War topics. Arendt, West and Czapski are all authors who’ve considered the inhumanity of our race, and bearing in mind the fragile stage of many countries at the moment, any of these books could be timely reading. It’s ironic that I’ve never attended either festival in person, but this current crisis has given me the chance to…

Books about books and books about authors are always a good thing, and there are plenty lurking on the TBR. One of the Nabokovs I’ve had for a while, the other arrived recently; as did the Steiner. The Very Short Introduction to Russian Literature takes an intrguing angle, and might be well matched with Isaiah Berlin (and indeed Nabokov). This could be another wormhole…

Or, indeed, I could just go down a British Library Crime Classics wormhole!! This is quite a nice pile of their titles, though nowhere near as impressive as the one Simon from Stuck in a Book shared on Twitter! These are a mixture of review copies and ones procured by my dear friend J., who seems to come across them in charity shops more than I do. They’re such a wonderful comforting distraction to read – and there are two Lorac titles in there which are *very* tempting!

Random books…

Finally, a little random pile of various enticing titles! I have been dipping into Mollie Panter-Downes’ “London War Notes”, which has been distracting and surprisingly cathartic. Since I’m not likely to be at the beach any time soon, “A Fortnight in September” by R. C. Sherriff is also very appealing – I do love a Persephone. Bachelard is another book which have been lurking for a while, and since reading “Malicroix” I’m keener than ever to get to it. The two white cover Fitzcarraldos are the last two I have unread, and both appeal strongly. And last, but certainly not least, is a lovely collection of essays by Joseph Brodsky, into which I’ve also been dipping. They’re marvellous, but best read slowly with time to digest in between – such a good writer.

So – an *awful* lot of choices and I find myself very undecided about what to actually read next. Have you read any of these? Which would take *your* fancy?????

The Further Exploits of the Queen of the Oxfam Shops

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No, that isn’t the title of a recent read – and lest anyone thinks I’ve gone rather arrogant, I should point out that I didn’t take that moniker upon myself! One of my lovely friends on the LibraryThing Virago group (you know who you are!) jokingly dubbed me that recently when we were having a conversation about Penelope Lively. I’ve only ever read Lively’s children’s novels and so another Viragoite urged me to get some of her work. I knew I’d seen some in local charity shops – hence my new title! And when have I ever turned down the challenge to track down a book? However, I tracked down more than I had anticipated… This is the pile I came home with and this is the story!

Off I trotted into the Big Town, and it turned out there *were* quite a few Penelope Lively books in the charity shops. I decided to be restrained and selective and picked out two I thought appealed, having a good read of the back blurbs, and they were only £1 each:

I remember reading about “The Photograph” when it came out and liking the sound of it. As for “City of the Mind” I have a thing about architecture and as this one is based around a London architect it was an obvious choice.

So I did think I was doing quite well with the restraint thing, until I hit the Oxfam… They had no Lively fiction but did have one of her books of autobiography:

Then I had a look at the general fiction and lo and behold! A Tove Jansson!!

Simon T at Stuck in a Book has always sung her praises and was encouraging me only recently to read some of her work – so grabbing this was a no brainer!

I should have left the Oxfam then, but I had one of those feelings you get when you’re on a book search…. I’d been looking at my Amazon wish list and one of the books on it was The Portable Hannah Arendt. The book is one I’ve wanted to pick up for a while, and although it’s not over expensive online, when you add on postage the price shoots up. Arendt is an intriguing woman, and she floated back into my thoughts because my friend H, who I saw last week, is very keen on her work – which reminded me I wanted this book. And oddly in the Oxfam I felt the pull of the philosophy section (not where I usually go) and there, sitting on the shelf waiting for me, was this:

Serendipity or what? You tell me – but it cost slightly less than the online copies and there’s no postage on top *and* it’s in excellent condition (important, because I’m so fed up with buying misdescribed books!) Phew!

So I came out of the Oxfam with a lighter purse (not by too much, though) and a much heavier bag. What happened next in The Works I refuse to take any blame for…. I had to go in there anyway for some stationery. And they have boxes and boxes and boxes of books for £1 at the moment (some even less). So it would have been foolish not to browse, no? These are what I found:

Uncle Silas was £1 and sounds creepy classic fun. The Spark was also £1 and is a Virago I don’t have. The Emma Tennant was 59p (59p!!!) – for a Canongate Classic!! I read Tennant in the 1970s/1980s but can recall absolutely nothing about her work, so this is a good chance to rediscover her.

I blame my friends on the Virago group – totally – my book habit may be a little out of control but they can’t say they haven’t encouraged me!! 🙂

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