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‘To become what we are capable of becoming is the only end in life’ – #RLSDay 2017!

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I discovered recently – lord knows where, but I think it had something to do with moustaches…. Anyway, as I was saying, I discovered recently that there is a rather wonderful Robert Louis Stevenson Day, celebrated every year on his birthday which happens to be today, 13th November. So I thought I would join in a little, as RLS is an author who I’m keen to explore more of, having loved what I’ve read so far!

On my recent jaunt to Edinburgh (his home city) I was keen to look for traces, as I mentioned, and fortunately the very lovely Writers’ Museum had a whole room dedicated to him. The Museum itself was a beautifully atmospheric place, and I really felt the presence of RLS in the room – here are a few pictures from the visit:

The lovely Writers’ Museum

Way into the RLS room

One of the exhibits

Another exhibit!

I also discovered that the walk down the long hill from Henderson’s Salad Table to our holiday rental took me past Heriot Row, and it was at number 17 that Stevenson grew up. On my last night in Edinburgh I had a quick peep at the place (which is apparently a family home, but used for RLS events).

Heriot Row picture c. Scotiana

You can read more about the place here:

http://www.cityofliterature.com/a-to-z/17-heriot-row-stevenson-house/

Finally, I have been dipping randomly into the book of Selected Poems by RLS which I picked up at the Writer’s Museum and I wanted to share one rather poignant verse which really struck me:

I SAW RED EVENING THROUGH THE RAIN

I saw red evening through the rain
Lower above the steaming plain;
I heard the hour strike small and still,
From the black belfry on the hill.

Thought is driven out of doors tonight
By bitter memory of delight;
The sharp constraint of finger tips,
Or the shuddering touch of lips.

I heard the hour strike small and still,
From the black belfry on the hill.
Behind me I could still look down
On the outspread monstrous town.

The sharp constraint of finger tips,
Or the shuddering touch of lips,
And all old memories of delight
Crowd upon my soul tonight.

Behind me I could still look down
On the outspread feverish town;
But before me, still and grey,
And lonely was the forward way.

If you want to read more about the RLS Day, there is a site devoted to it here:

https://rlsday.wordpress.com

and of course there is masses more online. I’m just wondering to myself why it’s taken me quite so long to explore the work of this great Scottish writer more deeply! Happy RLS Day! 🙂

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Time for some bookish confessions…

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Yes. Good intentions. Not to buy more books, to read from the stacks and to try to downsize the amount of volumes in the house. Unfortunately, as OH observed a little fretfully recently, even more seem to be arriving on a regular basis (and he hasn’t actually seen all of those that have made their way in…) I seem to be destined to acquire books, however hard I try, so I though I would share the latest fruits of my addiction with you… 🙂

First up, some titles have arrived courtesy of Very Kind Fellow Bloggers:

The very lovely Liz at Adventures in reading, writing and working at home kindly passed on to me the Alexei Sayle autobiographies when she’d read them. I’m looking forward to them very much, as he’s so funny and of course staunchly left-wing, so they should be a fab read.

“Rupture” arrived from Sarah at Hard Book Habit, and I’m also really looking forward to that one, as I haven’t read any Icelandic crime for a while and this one comes highly recommended. So kind!

So I can’t take the blame, can I, when lovely people send me books? Or, indeed, when lovely publishers send me books like these!

The top two titles are ones I’m covering for Shiny New Books and probably should be read next. Then there are a couple of lovely titles from the British Library, which are very exciting – particularly the collection of translated crime shorts. Below them are two titles from the excellent Michael Walmer that sound marvellous; and finally at the bottom an intriguing book from OUP on scent in Victorian literature…

And then – ahem – there are the books I’ve been buying, and here they are:

I should say that this has been over a period of several weeks but even so, it’s not good for the rafters… To be specific:

I bought these two online – “The Cornish Trilogy” because of Kat’s excellent review and because I felt I really should read Robertson Davies; and “Grand Hotel Abyss” because it sounded marvellous and Verso sent one of those rotten emails with substantial discounts (they do this regularly and it’s Very Bad for the TBR!!)

These three are from charity shops. The two on the outside were £1 each so there was no question about picking them up. Patrick Leigh Fermor is a must, and Saramago is an author I want to read. The Orwell was more expensive (thanks, Oxfam) but, hey – it’s Orwell so no contest.

This, of course, was inevitable… Although I picked up a copy of Stevenson’s poems in Edinburgh I wanted more. I’ve been rummaging through bookshelves all week to try to find my copy of “Jekyll” and having failed, I picked up a copy for £1 in a charity shop last weekend. The other two came from an online source, and in particular I was keen to get “New Arabian Nights” after Himadri at The Argumentative Old Git waxed so lyrical about it recently.

And finally – with all my reading around the French Revolution and (shhhh!) iconoclasm recently, I came across recommendations for these two books. Well, they were cheap – although to be honest, it’s not the cost that is ever the issue with book buying, as I tend to go for the bargains. It’s whether I can shoe-horn any more into the house… Ah well – carpe librum, as they say!!

In mitigation, I should direct your attention to the heap waiting to be removed from the house in one way or another (not the Dickens books, I hasten to add – they’re on my Dickens shelf and they’re staying there….):

Home is the weary traveller…

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…though I suspect that not all of me made it back – I think I’ve left my heart in Edinburgh…

I think the trip can be regarded as a success as far as its original intent, in that I got mum to all the available remaining memory points (and more than originally planned!) She was so happy to have revisited places like the house we lived in and the church she was married in, and so that was a job well done! I hope she created new memories, because I certainly did…

Edinburgh skyline from The Mound – the weather was amazing all week…

The trip was not without its problems and conflicts, mostly arising out of her physical restrictions at 83, her general stubbornness and intransigence (which always brings out in me the baggage I have with her) and the fact that she had to be reminded occasionally that the trip was not all about her and what she wanted to do but that I had needs too..

Mum enjoying a cuppa in a posh place called The Dome which was once a Bank head office she worked in.

However, Edinburgh seemed to win out over all obstacles, and some of the highlights were:

  • The train journey itself, though fraught with Seat Wars, went through some amazingly beautiful scenery. We travelled the East Coast Line and particularly after Newcastle (a city I haven’t visited in decades but should really revisit) the views out to the North Sea were stunning!
  • repeated visits to Princes Street and the gardens (a strong memory from my childhood) where I found myself constantly looking up unbelievingly and thinking “Fuck! That’s Edinburgh Castle!!”
  • seeing the house I used to visit my granny in when I was small, which was a few yards away from the lovely basement flat we’d rented
  • finding out that it was very much possible to be a vegan in Edinburgh!

    Inside the wonderful Henderson’s Salad Table

  • leading on from that, the discovery of the very lovely Henderson’s Salad Table on Hanover Road. I ended up taking myself out into the Edinburgh night on a couple of occasions as mum refused to go out in the evening and I hadn’t come all the way to my home city to sit indoors while she watched Eastenders. Edinburgh felt an incredibly safe city to wander around at night and I ended up eating at Henderson’s a couple of times. It was cosy, beautifully welcoming and the food and staff were perfect. The kind of place you can relax in and feel unpressured about eating out on your own while scribbling up notes in your journal on the day and drinking gin…
  • The National Gallery on The Mound – I visited on a Thursday where they have a late night opening and spent some happy hours with the paintings – particularly four wonderful portraits by one of my favourite painters, Allan Ramsay .

    The Writers’ Museum

  • the discovery of the Writers’ Museum. I came to Edinburgh hoping for traces of Robert Louis Stevenson, but struggled initially – even the large and lovely Waterstones only had the usual two books of his that most shops stock. But as we were ambling down the Royal Mile on the second day, I spotted a little sign pointing down an alley, and tucked away in a funny little tower-like building was the Writers’ Museum. Joy! A whole room devoted to RLS (as well as rooms on others like Burns, of course) and I was able to come away with my only book purchase of the trip – a selection of his poems.
  • I peeked into the National Library of Scotland too which looked rather lovely, and couldn’t resist an RLS tote bag (amongst other things).
  • Monuments! Edinburgh is stuffed to the gills with them and mainly of Dead White (often English!) Men! After all the cogitating I’ve done recently about iconoclasm I tended to find myself looking at them in a very different way: questioning why they were there, what they were intended to say and what they actually said nowadays, and muttering to several of them that they really ought to be torn down… 🤣🤣

But of course the highlight of the trip was the beautiful city of Edinburgh itself. It was slightly weird how instantly at home I felt there, and though I haven’t visited since 1972 it felt oddly as if I hadn’t ever left. Maybe that’s what’s meant by homecoming – certainly I don’t want to leave it so long before I visit again…

A Dark Inheritance

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The Travelling Companion by Ian Rankin

You know how it is: you amble into Waterstones to have a rummage through the French Revolution volumes when a fetching little hardback, attractively displayed on a table with a lot of other pretties (they do that so well in Waterstones!), calls out to you… And despite the fact that you’re *still* reading “Crime and Punishment”, it somehow comes home with you in your bag and ends up getting in the way of Dostoevsky…

I should confess before we go any further that I’ve never read *anything* by Ian Rankin before; not necessarily surprising, as I don’t read a lot of modern crime novels, but perhaps I should have since he hails from my home city! This little treasure, however, was irresistible: a small hardback with an enticing description of a tale set in Paris but drawing on one of Edinburgh’s finest authors, Robert Louis Stevenson.

The book is actually part of a series of tales called “Bibliomysteries” which take a great work of literature and riff on it, producing a selection of short stories; and having read this one I’m very keen to read more. Set in the early 1980s, it introduces us to Rankin’s narrator, a young man called Ronnie. Taking a bit of a gap year after studying Stevenson, he’s temporarily working for the famous Shakespeare and Co in Paris, missing his girlfriend Charlotte (or perhaps not…), smoking the odd bit of dope and not really knowing what to do with himself.

Stevenson, looking rather elegant and fancy

His boss (apparently a descendant of Walt Whitman) sends him off to meet the mysterious Benjamin Turk, a somewhat mysterious customer who wishes to sell some books – and it’s here that things get a little odd, with mysterious lost manuscripts, too much red wine and a strange woman in a floral dress who pops up here and there…

Rankin in his (and my!) home city

And more than that I refuse to say!! “The Travelling Companion” (which is supposedly the title of a lost Stevenson story) is absolutely gripping and I would hate to spoil it for you by revealing any more of the plot. Suffice to say, Rankin is obviously a very clever author because the story twists along beautifully to a wonderful denouement, and I ended it feeling I wanted to read it all over again to pick up the nuances and hints I might have missed. I desperately want to discuss how clever it is, how well Rankin portrays the changes that happen to Ronnie, the disjuncture between the life he left behind in Edinburgh and the life he finds in Paris, but I can’t risk spoiling the book. Telling you *nothing* else about it….. 😉

I read “Jekyll” in pre-blog days and loved its atmospheric ghoulishness, but I must admit I’m now very keen to not only read more of Stevenson, but also to explore his life a little more and see whether there are references I missed in this story, and how much (if anything!) draws on fact. A fascinating read, an intriguing story and a very successful impulse buy….!

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