I think I've mentioned a couple of times here that a very dear friend had cancer. We lost her on Monday - she was in the local hospice with excellent care and pain management and with friends and family around her which is probably as good a way to go as anyone can hope for. It's good to know she won't have to suffer anymore, and the last months had been a struggle, but I'll miss her so much.
Part of what bound us together was a shared love of books and the theatre. She was a single mother and we spent a lot of time in Borders books when her son was young, drinking coffee and browsing whilst he played in the children's section and as neither of us had much money at the time a well-chosen paperback was the present of choice for years. One of those was 'Valley of the Dolls', along with 'Peyton Place' and 'The Thornbirds'. She gave me 'Moby Dick' which I still haven't read.
Valley of the Dolls is possibly my favourite of these reprints. I'm casting around for the right way to describe them. They are classics of a sort - scandalous and incredibly popular in their day and now ready for a reappraisal, though it's not any literary merit that draws me to them. It's the popularity and the side view into women's literary history they give. A lot of the power to shock has faded but the underlying truth of women's lives has not. It's also what one of my colleagues describes as a really good bad time.
It was also a great time to pick up second-hand green spined Virago's, any charity shop would have a decent selection, amazon marketplace was in its infancy, and they were cheap. Many of them looked like they'd never been read, or if they had they'd genuinely only had one careful lady owner. You just don't get the selection anymore, and shopping online for them just isn't the same. The Bronte's Went to Woolworth's came from Oxfam around the corner from work, I found the Mae West in Scarthin Books, F. M. Mayor's 'The Squire's Daughter' from the local hospice shop (I'm very glad they got my money now).
I don't know which one I was more excited about. Probably the Mae West - she really needs to be back in print. Her novels are extremely funny and just as badass as you would expect or could hope for. When I read 'Thank Heaven Fasting' I only knew E. M Delafield from the Diary of a Provincial Lady - I still remember it making me cry - these are the books I first blogged about here a long time ago. I was job hunting after a couple of close together redundancies and read a lot to stop overthinking or getting despondent.
I found the Flint Anchor in a charity shop on my way back from a job interview. I thought it was a good omen, and it was in that I got the job, less so for how much I ended up feeling about that job.
Mrs Oliphant is another favourite Virago discovery. I'd been reading Trollope's Barchester books when I came across this with no idea that her Carlingford chronicles were a direct response to him. I'd argue that she takes the basics of the plots and does them rather better - you might disagree, but undoubtedly both series are richer for familiarity with the other. Red Pottage was another book big in its day that has undeservedly slipped from view - books like this really underline how skewed the canon is.
Mary Renault, Beryl Bainbridge, and the Rumer Godden are the books that represent the heyday of blogging to me. I keep writing here because I enjoy it and I like being able to look back at what I was doing but it's been 14 years and I wasn't an early adopter. Blogs have become old fashioned and review copies haven't turned up with every post for a long time now (they still do at work and I've still got more to read with than I can cope with).
A Woman in Berlin takes me from my Grandfather dancing with Molly Keane to my maternal grandmother fleeing post war Germany - she never talked about her childhood with us, or how she left to find my grandfather after he'd returned to England (he'd left her behind, pregnant, when he came out of the army). This book made much more sense of why she hated Russians so much and why she didn't speak about her early life. I have no idea of what her experience actually was but for a view of the price women pay for war this is an incredibly important book.