Three Things… #2 – documentaries, and the price of books…


I quite enjoyed my first go at this nice little meme, thought up by Paula, where we post about what we’re Reading, Looking and Thinking. So I thought I would share again where I am – a little snapshot of my state of mind today, you might say!


Choices, choices…

I’m dipping into a number of books at the moment, mostly shorter ones after the epic, mammoth, involving and wonderful read that was “The Aviator”. There are the next couple of Penguin Moderns and a pair of lovely review classics from Ampersand. Also on the immediate TBR is “Flights” and a very interesting-sounding British Library Crime Classic, “The Division Bell”. As well as books, I’m trying to catch up on the issues of the London Review of Books which have been massing on the coffee table, along with copies of the TLS (a Russian special) and the latest “Happy Reader”. Plenty to keep the avid bibliophile amused….


Great excitement chez the Ramblings, as BBC4 (finally!) decide to repeat one of the Documentaries that Distracted last year – and probably my favourite. The three-part “Utopia: In Search of the Dream”, written and presented by Professor Richard Clay, was one my viewing highlights of 2017, so I’m glad to see it getting another airing. The series was a bracing and eclectic mix, looking at utopias, dystopias, repressive regimes (from both sides of the politic divide), architecture, art, music et al – very broad indeed. I’d recommend catching the series while you can if you have access to BBC4 or the iPlayer – thought-provoking stuff!

Which obliquely leads on to…


A topic vexing my mind lately has been the cost of books. Not just ordinary new books, which do of course vary according to where you buy them, and in what format; but older, out of print or rarer titles that seem to fluctuate madly according to the day of the week.

Of course, we all know that a certain big river store’s prices are often slashed wildly and that real bookshops struggle to compete. There’s the issue also of local shops not always stocking what you want, but as they now all seem to be able to order in quickly I’m finding myself drawn back to Waterstones and the like, and if I have to order online I tend to go for Wordery nowadays who seem quite a decent lot.

The iconoclasm books continue to breed…. =:o

However, old or rare books are a different kettle of (vegan) fish. It was the “Iconoclasm in Revolutionary Paris: the Transformation of Signs” book by the aforementioned Richard Clay which got me thinking about values. As I’ve posted about on here before, I had been unable to find this one at a sensible price anywhere, so I resorted to getting Youngest Child to borrow it from her University library over Christmas. With second-hand copies going at over £1,000, I wasn’t going to be owning a copy any time soon.

But I set up alerts on a number of online booksellers and one morning, ping! A load of messages starting to come in with Reasonably Priced and Brand New copies available at under £100. So as I’ve posted, I picked up a copy and was dead chuffed. However, the interesting follow-up to this is that I never got round to cancelling all the alerts and messages are still rolling in with copies for sale – and the price since I bought my copy has been gradually creeping up and up, until a recent email dropped in offering a second-hand version for an eye-watering £8,792.58…. Yes, really…. And it seems to keep going up…

One of my rarer Viragos…

So WHY is it that some book prices vary so intensely and what sets the value? I know this one is an academic book, published in limited quantities by a smaller publisher, but is it simply the rarity value? It’s not only academic books that can have rare prices – I know Jane at Beyond Eden Rock has written about Margery Sharp’s “Rhododendron Pie” which is almost impossible to find at a decent price; and when I first wanted to read A.A. Milne’s “Four Days’ Wonder” it was prohibitively priced so I didn’t bother. I guess it’s some kind of complex calculation of the rarity of the book vs the amount of people who want to read it; when Simon at Stuck in a Book first blogged about “Guard Your Daughters”, the price of second-hand copies rocketed; and Anne Bridge’s “Illyrian Spring”, long sought after by Virago devotees, commanded silly prices before its reprint by Daunt Books.

I guess the moral is simple: if you want a book, and you see it at a price you’re prepared to pay, grab it. Certainly, I’m very glad I got hold of my iconoclasm book when I did – because there’s no way I could afford getting on for nine grand!!!!


So there’s a snapshot of where my head is at the moment – full of books, magazines, documentaries and iconoclasm – the usual rambling and eclectic mix! 🙂

Celebrating Margery Sharp’s birthday with The Nutmeg Tree!


Margery Sharp is a much-loved author amongst bloggers I follow, and in particular by those lovely people on the LibraryThing Virago group; indeed, one of Sharp’s novels (“The Eye of Love”) is a VMC. So when Jane at Beyond Eden Rock decided she would hold another celebration of Sharp’s birthday this year, I was determined to join in (I failed last year!) I do actually have a copy of “Eye” but I decided instead to go with the other Sharp I own, “The Nutmeg Tree”, which I believe is one of her best-known books and has also been filmed as “Julia Misbehaves”.


“Nutmeg” is a lovely, ostensibly light-hearted romp featuring the titular lady, Julia Packett (also known as Mrs. Macdermott…) The book opens with her singing lustily in her bath while fending off bailiffs and creditors, and we’re obviously instantly in the company of a very irrepressible heroine. Julia’s back story is soon revealed: a ‘good time girl’ who loves showbiz theatricals, the smell of the grease paint and the roar of the crowd, and of course men, during WW1 she met and married Mr. Packett, a soldier on leave. Her husband was killed in the war and she was left a young widow with a baby daughter, and was taken in by her saintly and monied in-laws. She sticks living in the country for as long as she can, but the quiet, ladylike life is not for Julia; by mutual agreement she hands over her daughter Susan to the grandparents to bring up and heads off for city life. However, after years of happy times on stage and with a variety of gentleman companions, she is surprised to receive a letter from her daughter Susan asking for her help; Susan is in love and wishes to marry, but her grandparents disapprove. Maternal instincts kick in, and Julia dispenses with her creditors and rushes off to France to help. En route, attempting to act like a lady, she encounters a troupe of acrobats and is temporarily dazzled by the amazing Fred! But she puts this behind her, and is disconcerted to find that Susan’s intended, Bryan, is a man of similar temperament to herself, and completely unsuitable for the glowingly moral and frankly priggish Susan! Further complications arise in the form of Susan’s guardian, Sir William Waring, and it begins to seem unlikely that anyone will manage to attain a happy ending…

I have to say that my first experience of reading Margery Sharp was a wonderful one. Her prose is lovely, easy to read and thoroughly engaging, and her characters such fun! I laughed out loud in several places and followed the various scrapes into which Julia got herself with glee. However, I said above that the book was ostensibly light-hearted and there’s a lot more to it than meets the eye.

For a start, there’s Julia herself and her frankness about her lifestyle and her love affairs. Let’s not forget that the book was published in 1937, when England wasn’t particularly swinging, and so the fact that Sharp allows her heroine to be honest about her fondness for men and preferring a lively life on the stage, as opposed to a dull and respectable life in the country, is very refreshing.

It was not in her nature to deny: if she took lovers more freely than most women it was largely because she could not bear to see men sad when it was so easy to make them happy. He sensuousness was half compassion; she could never keep men on a string, which was perhaps why only one had ever married her…

In fact, with her cheerful amorality and zest for life, Julia seemed to me very much an English version of one of Colette’s heroines. However, the difference between France and England is very pointed here; the class system in this country was still well enough defined that Julia feels that she does not fit, and has to behave like a lady. Colette or one of her characters would most likely have not given a damn, and would have just been herself. And indeed, it’s when Julia relaxes and simply acts naturally that things start to go right for her… More I shall not say because I don’t want to spoil the plot for anyone.


When it comes down to it, despite her apparently ramshackle lifestyle, Julia is a good and moral person and makes the right decisions whereas less scrupulous characters will not; at a decisive point in the plot, Julia realises she’s misjudged a particular character and they are “bad”. The book ends in a slightly ambiguous fashion, with hints that all will be well for the main characters but with nothing set in stone; a nice touch by Sharp as life is not always predictable!

The book was just a delight to read and I could list so many things I loved about it; for example, Julia’s mother-in-law, who’s described as “one of the type, not rare among Englishwomen, in whom full individuality blossoms only with age: one of those whom at sixty-one, suddenly startle their relatives by going up in aeroplanes or by marrying their chauffeurs…” Julia’s attempts to manipulate her daughter into a path she thinks better are very clever and funny, and her growing relationship with Sir William is delicately handled. All in all, my first read of Margery Sharp was a wonderfully positive one; so thanks to Jane for hosting the Margery Sharp Birthday event and prompting me to read her work – I’m sure this won’t be the last! 🙂

Margery Sharp Day – plus other bookish ramblings!



Today is the 110th birthday of author Margery Sharp, and Jane at Fleur in her World has declared it “Margery Sharp Day” in celebration. Sharp is an author much-beloved in blogging circles, particularly those of us who congregate around the LibraryThing Virago group – and in fact the imprint has brought her book “The Eye of Love” back into the public eye, though sadly most of her adult work seems to be out of print.

A number of bloggers are featuring her work today, including Jane herself, as well as HeavenAli and Kirsty at the Literary Sisters. I’m sure there are going to be many, many more posts today, so keep an eye on Fleur in Her World to see what’s happening. Hopefully the following that Sharp has might interest a publisher enough to make them consider some reprints – we can but hope!

As for me, I own two Margery Sharp titles and here they are:


I had a minor crisis recently when I couldn’t find “The Nutmeg Tree” (not an uncommon occurrence, with the piles of books lying about the house) but it did turn up – a lovely old paperback I picked up from Claude Cox Books a while back. Alas, I am currently submerged in review books so I haven’t been able to read either of these titles – but I’m sure I will get to them eventually! In the meantime, happy birthday Margery!



Meanwhile, I almost felt like declaring yesterday Rebecca West day, thanks to some new arrivals!  A lovely LibraryThinger from Canada, Cathy, had sent me a copy of West’s “The Thinking Reed” some time ago; it’s one of her titles I’ve been keen to read and Cathy had a spare. It popped through the door yesterday and I’m very excited – and the cover, as with most original green Viragoes, is just lovely. The West theme continued when I discovered a pristine copy of “Cousin Rosamund” for £1 in the Sue Ryder Charity Shop. I already have quite a good version but was happy to upgrade!


Other new arrivals shown in the stack of books came from the Oxfam:

parade madrid

“Parade’s End” was there two weeks ago when I was last in, and I was strong and didn’t buy it, and then instantly regretted it. Fortunately, it was still there yesterday…. And the Mendoza title is from MacLehose/Quercus and so picking it up was a no-brainer.

The final books in the pile are from the library:


Both the Fitzgerald and the Modiano are books I want to read – but whether I shall get round to them is another matter! 🙂


And last, but not least (as they say) – today is also the birthday of the wonderful Virginia Woolf, one of my favourite writers ever. Nobody uses words like Woolf.

Each has his past shut in him like the leaves of a book known to him by his heart, and his friends can only read the title.
Happy birthday Virginia!

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