Sunday, June 4, 2017

Ten Books

Simon at Stuck In A Book has redone his ten random books meme (choose ten books at random of the shelf and talk about them, and yourself a little bit in the process). I enjoyed this last time (though how can it be so many years ago?), love nosing around other peoples books, and perhaps love rooting through my own books even more, where I can be guaranteed to find pleasant surprises.

The chance to find book treasures I might have forgotten I had seemed like far the best way to spend a few hours on a Sunday otherwise overshadowed by yesterday's attacks in London, especially as the rest of the day has been dominated by getting and setting up a new phone. (Obviously I'd forgotten all my passwords, and the very patient young woman in the shop might as well have been speaking a different language, it is clearly a sign of getting older when a new gadget raises dread rather than enthusiasm).

Back to the books; I'm currently overwhelmed by piles of unread books everywhere, so I thought I'd pick ten of them from out of various heaps before they (hopefully) find more permanent homes. It definitely seemed like a good way to find a few overlooked gems.

Zola's 'The Sin of Abbé Mouret' came easily to hand, it's only been in my flat for a week or so, was at the top of the closest pile, and is the next book I'll read. I'm slowly working my way through the Rougon-Macquart cycle, it's taking years, but there's no hurry. This one came to me as a review copy, and it's next on the pile because I've promised it to Shiny New Books. I'm looking forward to it after really enjoying 'The Conquest of Plassans' (to which it acts as a direct sequel) but I'm also wary of Zola after the excesses of 'Earth', it'll be interesting to see what mood he's in this time.

Robert Merle's 'City of Wisdom and Blood' is part of another epic French cycle (the fortunes of France, apparently Merle is a sort of modern day Dumas) this time passer blushed by Pushkin Press. I have the first 3 in the series (this is number 2), each of them makes me feel a little bit guilty. The problem is that they're quite long books (this one is over 500 pages) it's the same reason I have an armful of unread Dumas titles, there just never seems to be time to read them. There used to be time, I used to love long books, but somewhere in the last 3 or 4 years things have changed and I'm not quite sure what to do about it.

When I saw that Vintage had reprinted 'Fräulein Schmidt and Mr Anstruther' ibwas really pleased to see something other than 'The Enchanted April' or 'Elizabeth and her German Garden', then really surprised when I realised I didn't have a copy, I thought I'd collected all the old green Virago editions.  My enthusiasm for Von Arnim waned a little after reading Somerset Maugham lay into her (he made one fair points) but it's been a while and I'm ready to have another go. I want to read this one soon.

This particularly beautiful cloth bound edition of 'The Iliad' is another review copy. It's also a prod to remind me that having read, and loved, 'The Odyssey' when I was 17, it's basically been on a mental to do list for 26 years. It's taken me longer to get round to than it took Odysseus to get back home, and he took long enough over that. These editions from Oxford World's Classics are so very handsome, so very much the sort of book I look at and want to read, that maybe it won't be much longer...

I think it was Miranda Mills who recommended Eva Ibbotson's 'Madensky Square' a while ago. I'd read one previous Ibbotson for a book group, and thought this might make for some light reading to have on standby against the sort of week when nothing else will do. That week hasn't come yet, but when it does I'm prepared for it. I'm assuming this is the kind of book that will hit the same sort of spot that Georgette Heyer does. It might also be just what I need to balance Zola with.

I have a small collection (very small) of vintage Penguins. Some have been chosen for their titles, others for their authors. T. H. White is someone I keep collecting, but (again) haven't actually read much of. 'Farewell Victoria' is apparently a sort of overview of the Victorian era seen through the eyes of Mundy, as we follow him from childhood to old age when he's a still a groom, amongst an army of chauffeurs in an almost unrecognisable world. I need a rainy day and an absence of other commitments to get on with this one, it's exactly the sort of book I forget I have and feel excited about every time I turn it up.

'Russian Magic Tales from Pushkin to Platnov' is another half forgotten treasure, I found it in a wine box that's enjoying a new life as a bookshelf on a windowsill behind blinds I never draw (because I have delicate watercolours hanging in my bedroom which can't cope with direct sunlight). I love fairy tales, myths, and legends, and am building up a reasonable library of them. The more I read them the more links between them emerge and the more interested I get.

Frédéric Dard's 'Crush' is a Pushkin Vertigo, I have a few in this series now, the ones I've read have all been excellent (Dard's 'Bird in a Cage' has the best twist I think I've ever read). I've been in a bit of a reading slump for the last few weeks, but just looking at this book is lifting it (Zola first). I wonder if it's better to have beautiful bookshelves with plenty of space where you can find everything, or to live in the equivalent of a second hand book shop with no discernible system but where you keep finding great stuff ? (The first probably, but chaos has its compensations).

'Long Live Great Bardfield: The Autobiography of Tirzah Garwood' represents my love for Persephone books (I've met some wonderful people thanks to Persephone books), and for the artists she associated with, as well as the artist Tirzah was herself. It's also another very long book, and somehow there's always something else to do before I can sit down with something like this.

'Arsene Lupin Vs Sherlock Holmes' by Maurice Leblanc published by Alma classics is sadly dust covered. I think I've read Leblanc before (I've certainly got more Lupin stories, but maybe unread). It sounds fun, slightly irreverent on the subject of Holmes, and I should have read it ages ago. At least it's dust free now.


  1. I agree with you about long books, I wonder if we too are having our brains affected by too much internet? And there's also that feeling of other books piling up meanwhile...

    I love this idea of ten books. I am particularly intrigued by the Russian magic tales, I hope you'll write about them here. Also the Tirzh Garwood.

    One of the lecturers on my MA course lived in a permanent state of disarray but claimed that the unusual juxtapositions created by mess and no system encouraged him to make unexpected links and have new ideas. So I'd say the messy approach may have its compensations. :)

  2. I agree about the unexpected links and ideas. My cookbooks never stay organised for long and I do have space for them, they just seem determined to do their own thing. What I hate are piles of stuff everywhere- I need another rooms worth of wall for shelves.

    I don't know what happens to time. I don't think it's Internet especially, knitting is probably a bigger culprit for me, but mostly I suspect I'm just older and have a bit less energy at the end of the day. I sometimes day dream about a not very serious or painful injury - just something that would keep me housebound for a month or two and let me catch up on some reading. I can't actually think of anything that wouldn't be really horrible in reality but the dream of a summer off is beguiling (how I miss student days for just that).

  3. Thanks for taking part! I'd forgotten that Vintage had done that more obscure E von A - I agree, always so much better when they dive into the less available catalogues. And it's a really good book too.

  4. I think they've done 'Vera' too. So pleased to see it because good as they both are, we do not need yet more editions of The Enchanted April' or 'Elizabeth and Her German Garden'.

  5. I am still catching up from my Ayrshire holiday...

    I have enjoyed this post enormously; as usual you have given insights and hints as to what I might read next. Currently, I am struggling with Antonia White and her Catholicism and so far, she is winning. I wish that it were not so.

  6. Thank you! I hope Ayrshire was wonderful, I've stopped in it a couple of times and found it beautiful, maybe time to plan another trip.