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Russian art, blogging buddies, an old friend and books…

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… the perfect day out in London, plus a lovely surprise when I returned home!

Perfect train journey with coffee, book, Gregg’s vegan sausage roll and a comfy seat! 😀

I refer of course to my trip to the Big Smoke yesterday, which those of you who follow me on social media might have seen some mention of… 🤣 The trip was the idea of the lovely JacquiWine who thought it might be nice to meet up in real life, having encountered each other digitally for so long. And so she suggested that she and HeavenAli and I get together in London for bookish chat and book shopping – what a perfect concept!

Goncharova Self Portrait

As the ladies were not going to be in London until the middle of the day, I took the opportunity of a cheap train ticket to get into London at silly o’clock and rolled up at the Tate Modern as they opened for the day. I had been meaning to visit the Natalia Goncharova exhibition they were staging over the summer but never got round to it; and as it closes today I was happy to be able to squeeze in a visit!

One of Goncharova’s stunning images

Goncharova is an artist I’ve loved since I first discovered Russian avant garde art back in my late teens/early 20s, so being able to see some of her work in the flesh was a real treat. Her artwork is stunning, the exhibition was excellent and I was relieved to be able to make it through the exhibition shop with only the purchase of some postcards… 🤣

Postcards

I met up with the ladies at Foyles (of course!) and after lunch at a nearby Pret, we did a little browsing.

Foyles – I love the place!

Vegan lunch from Pret – very yummy!

Ali was lucky enough to have a book token and found some interesting titles which will no doubt appear on her blog in due course! I was after a particular title (more of which later..) but it wasn’t in stock; neither were a couple of other authors I was seeking out. So I thought I might get out unscathed, until at the last minute I spotted an imported Calvino I wanted. Irresistible, really!

The Calvino from Foyles plus a slim volume of poetry from Skoob

We then headed for Judd Books in Marchmont Street to meet up with my BFF, J, who was in town visiting another friend and had a few hours spare. We were keen for a catch up as it was a while since we’d met, and she also came with a carrier bag of books (gulp). It was in Judds that things went a bit pear-shaped as there were so many temptations- which I did not resist… Oh well – you only live once and I did send 4 boxes of books to the charity shop recently!

Several from Judd Books plus a Bourdouxhe from Ali – thank you! 😀

After Judds it would have been rude not to walk the few steps to Skoob Books – so we did! Here I was very restrained and only came out with one poetry book (pictured further up the post) – but none of us got out unscathed. Skoob is so tempting…. We also had a lovely chat with a lady who’d just moved to London from America and heard us nattering away about books!

Books from J. – mostly returned loans but there’s a rather lovely Mishima in there – one of only a couple of titles of his I don’t have… 😀

After coffee, Ali and Jacqui took their leave to catch respective trains, whilst J. and I bimbled back in the direction of Tottenham Court Road tube – which of course took us dangerously near the London Review Book Shop where things went off the rails. As I hinted above, I had been asking everywhere I went about a particular book, which might just have been inspired by the Backlisted Podcast – “The Anatomy of Melancholy” by Robert Burton. I wanted to have a look at it, to see what I thought about it and whether I could (or indeed wanted to) read it. Well, the LRB shop had a copy (thank you, very helpful guy behind the counter if you’re reading this, for pointing me in the right direction and encouraging me!!) It was so intriguing when I dipped in at random that I succumbed, and it came home with me. I blame that Andy Miller (again…)

Hurrah! And very interestingly, it cost less in a beautiful bricks and mortar bookshop than it does from a certain online source…

So I got home tired, happy and laden with books (the best state to be in, really). It was lovely to meet up with Jacqui and Ali, as well as catching up with J. However, I arrived to a bit of a surprise…. I have a reasonably big birthday coming up in December and Mr. Kaggsy has been fretting about what to get me (that isn’t more books). It transpired that he had decided I should have my gift now so I can get plenty of use out of it, so I returned home to find I now have my very own dedicated reading chair!!!

The Reading Chair! 😀

It’s quite marvellous – comfy, with pockets at the side to keep books in, plus he’d procured a special side table to keep pens, notebooks, additional books, drinks etc on! I call that fairly inspired from a man who doesn’t read, and its arrival was the perfect end to the perfect day. Now I just need to get settled and get reading!! 🤣

(You can read Ali’s post about our day here!)

So much for good intentions…

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There is a reason I don’t sign up for TBR-only reads or book-buying bans – and that’s amply illustrated by the results of a post-Christmas hop up to London to meet up with my dear friend J… We weren’t able to get together in December owing to a variety of circumstances, and so a plan to hit London in January, taking in bookshops and sales, was hatched. I was vaguely worried that the weather would stymie things, but it behaved for the day and we had a lovely time!

At a pit-stop in Foyles, J presented me with my birthday and Christmas gifts which she’d been reluctant to trust to the postal service, and I can understand why…

beverly-bks-17

What a beautiful selection of Beverley and Beverley-related books she gifted me! “Women…” does have a dustjacket but apparently this has been temporarily mislaid… “Cry Havoc” is very special as you can see:

cry-havoc-sig

As well as being a first edition, it’s also signed, so I am now the proud possessor of three signed Beverleys, thanks to the great kindness of others! A perfect accompaniment to the Foyles Cafe lovely tea. I was quite restrained in the shop itself, only purchasing a birthday present for somebody else – J was not so restrained, but I think she outdid me on the purchasing stakes all day!

crossed-destinies

J also presented me with this copy of Calvino’s “Castle of Crossed Destinies” so I can check if it’s the same as the one I have, and if it is I can pass it on to someone who might be keen to start exploring his work!

The next bookish stop was Any Amount of Books on the Charing Cross Road, one of the last of the old guard. I already had a heavy rucksack so was trying to be a little careful, but I couldn’t resist these:

any-amount-of-bksThe William Maxwell was from the £1 bins outside, and the other two from the paperback shelves. I’ve wanted the Kis title for a long time and I love the cover. The Delafield is a beautiful Virago I don’t have so couldn’t be resisted of course. And I think the nice man at the counter gave me a bit of a discount!

Henry Pordes next door have a lot less paperbacks and Viragos than they used to, though there were a number of tempting titles. However, I resisted more here, and just came out with something I need for a project:

pordes-pmp23I don’t come across the Penguin Modern Poets books that often in second-hand stores, so I do tend to grab them when I see them. I daresay I could chase them down online, but it’s nice to support the actual bookshops.

The Bloomsbury Oxfam was busier than I’d seen it for a long time when we arrived there, and here I had one of the most pleasing finds of the day:

astley-oxam-blms

Having been gifted a beautiful chunky biography of Thea Astley by Trish, my lovely Virago Secret Santa, I’ve been keen to track down some of her fiction. Surprisingly, none of the new bookshops had anything (and we tried Waterstones too). However, this title (one I’d heard of) was nestling on the shelves in the Oxfam just waiting for me!

Final bookish stop of the day was the lovely LRB bookshop, a place I rarely get out of without something and today was no exception:

lrb-berger-debray

The Debray is a title I’ve often mused about and as it was in the 50% off sale I pounced! And the Berger title is one I hadn’t come across before but it sounded fabulous and looks beautiful inside with all sorts of words and illustrations, so I finished the day as I started it – with books!

We *did* do other things apart from bookmania, including taking in the kikki.k shop and Paperchase at Covent Garden, the Cass art shop (where J got quite carried away) plus lunch at Gaby’s deli (yum!) and two visits to the Foyles cafe (the LRB teashop was full and J had developed a passion for the Foyles crushed ginger and lemon tea).

So a perfect day out, and evidence that I can’t stop buying books when the moment is right, and that there’s absolutely no point in trying…

Visiting the Russians at the NPG – plus some bookshop thoughts

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With my well-known love of all cultural things Russian, it was a given that I’d want to visit the National Portrait Gallery in London when they held their exhibition of portraits from the Tretyakov Gallery in Russia. And I was lucky enough to win a couple of tickets (plus some wonderful Russian books!) thanks to a Twitter competition – thanks to both the NPG and Alma Books for this! 🙂

I chose yesterday for the visit as I was hoping the trains would be in sensible mode – for several months at the beginning of the year there were no direct weekend trains to London without hideous bus journeys – and they were pretty much well-behaved, if a little delayed. I could have done with the Central Line being open, though!

I spent the day in the company of my dear friend J. and we met up in the lovely Foyles cafe for a catch up. It’s rather alarming to think that we’ve been visiting the Charing Cross Road bookshops for over 30 years, but nice that we can still do so! J. had very kindly brought me along some Beverley Nichols books she had procured for me, which was exciting:

beveerleys

I was so pleased with these, particularly “Yours sincerely” which still has a dustjacket of sorts. The others are two of his children’s books which will be in their original unedited form – apart from a slight issue in that each has had a page removed! J. is investigating possibilities to find the missing pages…

Of course, I couldn’t resist a look around Foyles, and picked up this:

midnight

I am having a bit of a Victor Serge thing at the moment, as I’m in the middle of “The Case of Comrade Tulayev” which is one of the most wonderful books I’ve ever read – so there may be more Serge below…

exhibition

After Foyles, we wandered down to the NPG and the exhibition – and it really was quite magical. I was keenest, of course, to see the famous Dostoevsky portrait in real life. It’s the only one of him painted from life, and it’s quite remarkable – you can see the sufferings of his life in his eyes.

Fedor Dostoevsky by Vasily Perov, 1872 © State Tretyakov Gallery

Fedor Dostoevsky by Vasily Perov, 1872
© State Tretyakov Gallery

Who else was there? Well, amongst others Tolstoy, Turgenev, Mussorgsky, Tchaikovsky – and Chekhov! The latter’s portrait was also quite amazing – the best portraiture really does make you feel as if you’re in the presence of the subject.

Anton Chekhov by Iosif Braz, 1898 © State Tretyakov Gallery

Anton Chekhov by Iosif Braz, 1898
© State Tretyakov Gallery

We went back to the Dostoevsky and Chekhov portraits a lot, but there was also this very striking image that drew us to it:

Anna Akhmatova by Olga Della-Vos-Kardovskaia, 1914 © State Tretyakov Gallery

Anna Akhmatova by Olga Della-Vos-Kardovskaia, 1914
© State Tretyakov Gallery

All in all, this was a remarkable exhibition – some wonderful and evocative portraits and a rare chance to see them in real life without having to travel to Russia. It runs until 26th June and I really recommend visiting it!

After the culture, we decided to head to Piccadilly, as I had a yen to visit the Waterstones there, and J. wanted to pop into Fortnum and Mason! Waterstones Piccadilly is touted as the biggest bookshop in Europe, sited in a beautiful art deco shop, and it certainly is lovely. Stretching over five floors it even has a Russian language bookshop within it, with some very pretty looking books that I couldn’t read! We decided to lunch on the top floor restaurant, which was a treat:

SDC13905

The bookshop itself is gorgeous, with an excellent selection, some shelves devoted to small publishers and lots of chairs to sit in while you consider what to purchase. I spent a *looong* time browsing while J. sat and finished this book which she then donated to me – how kind!

reader for hire

It was unlikely I would get out of the shop without purchases, and that was the case. As well as finding the perfect birthday present for my brother, I chose these for myself:

graveyard unforgiving

J. picked up a lovely little hardback collection of Akhmatova’s poetry but was much more restrained than I was today.

On to Fortnum and Mason – well, let’s just say it’s the poshest place I’ve ever been! I bought a little something for OH, and certainly thought that this was a glimpse of how the other half live…

After Piccadilly, we decided to head back to the Bloomsbury end of town, and fortunately J. spotted a useful bus! A quick visit to the Bloomsbury Oxfam revealed not a lot, and some very over-priced volumes – this is obviously a current trend on Oxfam shops which is a bit of a shame. So we decided to end the day with a cuppa in the LRB Bookshop cafe (they do *lovely* tea) and of course had a bit of a browse. I was particularly keen on looking for this title, which hadn’t been in either Foyles or Waterstones – but the wonderful LRB shop did have it!

zoo

So, another fab day out in London, with good company, artistic stimulation and books! It was interesting to range a little further with the book shopping and I got to thinking about the differences between the type of shops I visited (I’m thinking new books here, as I didn’t do any second-hand shopping). Despite its hugeness, and the loveliness of its architecture, I didn’t think the Waterstones was particularly superior to Foyles. The selection at the latter is just as good – in fact, they had titles that Waterstones didn’t – and I got the feeling that there is more in the way of mainstream fiction in Waterstones than the more out of the way books I like. Certainly the Waterstones biography section was remarkably good, and I imagine that they carry more stock of different genres, non fiction and the like. But interestingly it took the LRB Bookshop to come up with the Shklovsky I was looking for – so I guess it goes to show that there is room for a large number of bookshops, and I’m all in favour of that! 🙂

At the lovely LRB bookshop….

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One of my favourite places in London, alongside Foyles and the Bloomsbury Oxfam, is the rather lovely LRB bookshop in Bury Place, just round the corner from the British Museum:

lrb shopIt’s a small but wonderfully packed bookshop, featuring all sorts of lovelies and of course many of my favourite smaller presses (Pushkin, NYRB and the like). One of the joys of visiting the shop is the table displays, always guaranteed to have something interesting on them which you’ve not heard of before. Plus their cafe serves glorious tea!

I was passing through London yesterday on a hideous journey home (Bank Holiday weekend train cancellations and substitute coaches forcing me to take an inordinately long route) and so I made time to visit Foyles, the Oxfam and of course the LRB. I was very restrained, only buying one book and that in the latter – and was delighted to be offered a bag!

LRB

How nice! and the strap kind of matches the colour scheme of the book I purchased (an NYRB title – “The Professor and The Siren” by Giuseppe Tomasi De Lampedusa, author of “The Leopard” – which contains some short pieces by him).

The staff in the shop are always friendly and helpful – if you’re ever in London and looking for a bookshop it’s a great place to go!

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