Tag Archives: Anne Frank

Other People’s Bookshelves #24 – Lyndsy Spence

Hello and welcome to the latest in the series of Other People’s Bookshelves where we get to have a good old nosey through other peoples book collections. Slightly late today due to Christmas shopping – let’s not even talk about it – but I am sure you’ve all been sorting last minute festive preparations. So how better to unwind than by grabbing yourself a cup of tea and settle down, as we are off to the land of Hollywood legends and my favourite Mitford ladies as we join Lyndsy Spence, who has become my new best friend (through her love of Mitfords, which may surpass mine, and Margaret Lockwood who is in my favourite film ever Slipper and the Rose as the truly wicked stepmother as well as being wonderful in The Wicked Lady) who I want to talk all things wondair over cocktails. I will find Lyndsy and make this happen. Anyway, before I get myself arrested for stalking, I will hand over to her to tell us more about herself before we go routing through her shelves…

I run The Mitford Society, an online community dedicated to the Mitford girls. I’m the author of The Mitford Girls’ Guide to Life (published by The History Press). I also have another biography due to come out in 2015. My short film The Flower Girl was shot on location in L.A. and my screenplay on Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier is in development with a production company in London. I love old films and I hope to publish a biography on Margaret Lockwood in time for her 100th birthday in 2016.

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Do you keep all the books you read on your shelves or only your favourites, does a book have to be REALLY good to end up on your shelves or is there a system like one in one out, etc?

I have more books than clothes so space is really becoming an issue. I have a very tall bookshelf which I am always re-arranging to try and fit everything on it! It started off lovely but now it’s all over the place. I try to keep my hardback books together; you know the very tall ones, which are stacked hugger-mugger. Then my paperback ones are together. I used to have a ‘Mitford Shelf’ but sadly it collapsed as my collection grew. I have two shelves above my writing desk dedicated to very pretty books, mostly Mitford, but I have to be careful not to stack anything too heavy on it!

Do you organise your shelves in a certain way? For example do you have them in alphabetical order of author, or colour coded? Do you have different bookshelves for different books (for example, I have all my read books on one shelf, crime on another and my TBR on even more shelves) or systems of separating them/spreading them out? Do you cull your bookshelves ever?

I suppose I was a bit hasty and answered this question above. I like to have everything on hand…organized chaos…and writing biography I find that I rarely read for pleasure, every book is a sort of cross reference. Since I prefer to have everything together I keep my makeup bag amongst the books, and even a few souvenirs from my travels (How Non-U!) one day when I have more space I will have a proper library and a system in place! I make it a point to try and keep the Mitford books together and anything by Virago and Vintage as they’re very pretty and make a lovely decoration when not being read. The bottom shelf is naturally a bit taller, so I store my coffee table books down there. I don’t have many: Andy Warhol, Edie Sedgwick, the usual Hollywood movie books and my latest addition Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait by my friend Kendra Bean.

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What was the first book you ever bought with your own money and does it reside on your shelves now?

I suppose the first books I bought with my own money were second-hand biographies of Vivien Leigh, Elizabeth Taylor and also Gone with the Wind… I actually think I bought them all at once! I try to keep my celeb bios together, only recently I removed the naff 1980s style covers off many of the hardbacks!

Are there any guilty pleasures on your bookshelves you would be embarrassed people might see, or like me do you have a hidden shelf for those somewhere else in the house?

I call them my trashy Hollywood biographies. No, but I recall when I was a teenager someone sent me the vintage parody book Is Sex Necessary and my mother kept glancing at it out of the corner of her eye. I had it on my shelf and wasn’t ashamed of it but I also noticed my grandmother spying it when my room was being decorated and my books were all over the landing. I suppose that would be the only one.

Which book on the shelves is your most prized, mine would be a collection of Conan Doyle stories my Great Uncle Derrick memorised and retold me on long walks and then gave me when I was older? Which books would you try and save if (heaven forbid) there was a fire?

I have some lovely first editions which I’ve found for next to nothing over the years. Only recently I found a first edition of The Green Hat at Castle Ward’s book shop. Inside it has a cut out of Arlen’s death notice and the owner has scribbled all over the inside pages in Arabic. It’s also in great shape. I have a first edition of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Kitty Foyle, The Lady of the Lake, that, too, is scribbled with a schoolgirl’s notes from the 1930s, and a 2nd edition of Anne Frank’s Diary which my neighbour gave me. I don’t think I’d loan them to anyone even though I’ve clearly read them etc (I don’t see the point in not using them!) but I’m very possessive over a book my parents bought me from a market called The Red Flowers which was privately printed by a minister during WW1, inside it is inscribed to his sister with the date, and it was distributed to the children in his parish whose fathers were serving at the Front. I have a few signed books of old films stars like Maureen O’Hara (I met her ages ago), Dinah Shore, Joan Fontaine…to name a few. Often I buy them only to discover the signature. I love finding things like that. My copy of The Water Beetle arrived with somebody’s shopping list inside!

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What is the first ‘grown up’, and I don’t mean in a ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ way, that you remember on your parent’s shelves or at the library, you really wanted to read? Did you ever get around to it and are they on your shelves now?

The first grown up book I read was a biography of Judy Garland by her daughter Lorna Luft. I was about 12 or 13 and it was the first biography I’d ever read. Of course, as we know Judy had a very tragic life, so I guess it was ‘grown up’ in the sense that it was dealing with issues that I’d never read about before.

If you love a book but have borrowed the copy do you find you have to then buy the book and have it on your bookshelves or do you just buy every book you want to read?

I don’t really borrow books only because I hardly ever get around to reading them. And I’m banned from my local library, so borrowing was never an option. (I am banned because the librarian accused me of not returning Mein Kampf- which I needed for my history project- and Patricia Neal’s autobiography which I borrowed when I was 14. I left it on the trolley and never checked it back in. She’s never forgiven me!)

What was the last book that you added to your bookshelves?

Curtains by Victor Olliver, it’s a dazzling satire, a total camp classic! I’ve also just discovered the Cazalet Chronicles and I hope someone will buy me them for Christmas! I’m also going to buy the new biography of P.L Travers.

Are there any books that you wish you had on your bookshelves that you don’t currently?

The Cazalet Chronicles!

What do you think someone perusing your shelves would think of your reading taste, or what would you like them to think?

I’m not too self-conscious of my reading preferences but perhaps that said person would think I am person who adores the inter-war era, injected with a bit of tragedy (my old Hollywood bios) topped off with a bit of frivolous glamour. I can also dust off the old academic books when I need to!

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A huge thanks to Lyndsy for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves, and almost making me sick with jealousy at her Mitford Editions – sigh! Don’t forgot if you would like to participate (and I would love you to – hint, hint, hint) in the Other People’s Book Shelves series then drop me an email to savidgereads@gmail.com with the subject Other People’s Bookshelves, thanks in advance. In the meantime… what do you think of Lyndsy’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that she mentions?

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Anne Frank’s House, Amsterdam

056As I showed you the other day, the streets of Amsterdam are quite a site to behold as they wind along the canals. Every street has its sense of peace and quite, there is no real hustle and bustle on theses roads, maybe a little on the ones that interconnect them perhaps. As you walk down Prinsengracht, which I often did as my hotel was on it, I would take in the houses as I headed towards the centre of the town, beautiful town houses with their own sense of history yet ultimately unassuming. Houses including this one here ——-> only this one does stand out a little the nearer you get as along side it’s next door neighbour, then through the square, then around the church nearby is a huge throng of people (apparently starting at before opening ours until the last possible moment every single day) all waiting for the unassuming house you see is the home of Anne Frank’s, or was when she and her family were taken into hiding from the Nazi’s.

I read Anne Frank’s Diary for the first time not too long ago. My impressions were a little mixed. It was a book that initially I was a little worried I wouldn’t get on with as I wasn’t sure about Anne herself. Now some people might be up in arms about this but actually there’s a fascinating exhibition on Anne once you’ve been through the house that showed all the sides of Anne, a brave but brilliant thing to do. I found when I got a rounder picture of her the more horrific what befell a normal young girl who happened to be born in the era she did. Yet actually I think this just added to the experience of visiting the house which was, for me, a deeply moving and disturbing one.

The experience of being in her home is a shocking one from the start, so shocking a fellow visitor was actually physically ill as we entered the first room which showed videos from the concentration camps. A silence befell all of us that then walked on throughout the warehouse cum house and the more we learned of the history of the family and their escape there. Yet it isn’t until you come to the famous ‘secret bookshelf door’ that it really hits you that these were scared people hiding for their lives. Anne’s diaries inform us of this and yet looking back I realised how brave and upbeat she was considering and a wave of emotion hit me I wasn’t prepared for.

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As you climb the steep staircase onwards it hits you even further, a family, and additional couple and a male friend all in these confined spaces. How must Anne’s parents, and indeed Anne, really felt about her sharing such a small space with a strange man. How could they have coped in such a confined space?

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Obviously having read her diaries I had known they had all had their moments. Yet nothing prepares you for how small it all really is. How cramped, and claustrophobic. The room above May look all jolly but it’s a replica of what the room was like with light, when you’re there the lights are off as they would have been, curtains drawn during the day, in order to remain so hidden. The more we went on the harder it was to believe Anne and her family coped with it all, but what choice did they have?

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I had always felt a bit funny about the idea of visiting Anne Frank’s house, a bit like hearing people visiting concentration camps, I was concerned it might be inappropriate/car crash tourism. Having now been myself, seen where Anne Frank lived in those conditions and the exhibition about what happened to her, the family and many of her friends I have changed my mind. It isn’t for the faint hearted, some of the videos and accounts you see and hear are incredibly disturbing (on more than one occasion I was reduced to tears) yet we must never forget these people and what happened and try and stop it happening in our world now. The fact so many people are going to see Anne Frank’s house and reading her diaries for me is a sign of hope for future generations. May they always read and remember.

The Anne Frank House is situated in the centre of Amsterdam at Prinsengracht 263-267. A huge thanks to Holland.com who sent me to Amsterdam for work and then managed to get me an advance track ticket into the Anne Frank House, a place that, along with all it holds, will stay with me forever. Also note only the top picture is mine, pictures cannot be taken throughout so I have borrowed these from many sources.

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Ambling Around Amsterdam…

So, as I mentioned yesterday, I thought this week on the blog we could go Dutch both in the books that feature this week and the non-review posts too. All of this is in honour of a lovely trip I took to Amsterdam a few months ago for work and so today I thought we could have a little amble around the city before taking in two very special bookish places later in the week. It is hard to try an encapsulate any city, but particularly Amsterdam, so I thought we could start with a picture that sums up the city over all as well as being my first and lasting impression of it…

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It is so beautiful! I think over the course of one walk from the train station to my hotel I fell in love with (and mentally moved into) about fifty or sixty different houses. Isn’t it bizarre, if you think about it (not for too long or it hurts your head) how every city, particularly in Europe, has its own style? You can often see a picture and instantly know what that city is, you certainly can with this one. I completely enjoyed getting completely lost in the city and just enjoying seeing what every single street had in store, eventually I found my hotel (the Hotel Andaz which is a converted library and managed by a lovely woman called Daphne, could it be more perfect) and my amazing and amazingly bonkers bedroom.

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A fish spoon!?! What is going on there? The whole hotel has this slightly kitsch meets incredibly expensive classy vibe to it that I just loved the whole place. I do have a hotel rule of thumb though, I always judge them by their breakfasts and after having an early night that night after the adventure of getting lost in the city and seeing some bookshops (more on those later this week) I was soon able to judge this hotel by that system.

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Amazing again. Now that is my sort of never ending breakfast, oh and you could have cooked food too – I am not at liberty to say how many times I made the visits I made to the buffet, or how many of the cooked breakfasts I tried. So let us move on… It was time for some culture and so I headed to the heart of it. Amsterdam’s very own Museum Plein, or ‘museum square’, which is  a park just a ten minute walk from the city centre surrounded by museums.

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You could easily loose a day as whatever your taste in art there is a museum which will draw you in (see what I did there). Highlights for me were the Van Gogh museum, where to see some of the world most famous paintings is quite a heady experience. I have always liked Van Gogh, and indeed the Beard is very good at making copies of them in a non-illegal way, so I happily got lost in there for a good few hours and discovered this gorgeous picture that I had never seen of his before.

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It is one of those incredible pictures which seems to tell the start of a story, the more you look at it the more you get and also (though this could just be because of my mind) the darker the picture actually seems. Hidden depths in that one. I am a BIG fan of modern art. Ok, let’s rephrase that, I am a big fan of good modern art. I particularly love Picasso and so if I know somewhere has some, even just one, I have to go and have a gander and so I headed for the Stedelijk Museum of modern art. I saw some lovely Picasso’s and many more and also this old chestnut which I do actually think is art, especially on a massive scale…

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This however I do not…

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Hmmmm. It’s not even a good display in a double glazing showroom that! Before my head could pop with any more pop art, do you see what I did there, I stopped and had a coffee on the square before heading over to the Rijksmuseum and had to take a shameless ‘selfie’ (so down with the kids) with the I Amsterdam sign, well when in Amsterdam…

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The incredible Rijksmuseum (which has recently had a multimillion euro makeover) probably needs a full day or two to explore and is where you can see some of Rembrant’s best known works amongst many others. I had a gander at those but I find art from around that period a little austere and so headed for some of the wackier stuff. I think, after two hours looking, this was the most mind boggling thing that I found, which surprise, surprise happened to be a book.

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This is actually the notebook of a psychopath which was part of an experiment in the 1950’s to see whether if you let lots of psychopaths keep journals some similarities might show in the text. I found this idea fascinating and am amazed there isn’t a book about these books somewhere. I wanted to break it our if its case, instead for fear of being arrested I headed by out into the city to find my evenings dinner. In doing so I got completely delightfully lost and ended up in the heart of the Red Light District which was NOTHING like I expected it to be…

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And once dinner was over it was time to head for my hotel, and bed (and breakfast the next morning)to get some rest before my next port of call which was Anne Frank’s house, a place I didn’t expect to have such a reaction as I did. More on that later in the week though. Hope you have enjoyed our little jaunt around the city? We are in for a Dutch ‘detour’ of sorts again tomorrow…

(A big thanks to Holland.com who sent me away on a work trip and kindly got me into all the museums, and put me up in such a literary hotel, mentioned above!)

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Books To Take On My Travels #1

I have a little routine with my reading habits whenever I go away be it a work trip or a holiday. I really like to try and learn about the places I am going through books be they nonfiction, travel guides or fiction itself (new, old, any genre). Well as I am off again in the next few weeks for a long weekend I thought I should ask in advance for some of your recommendations on what books I should be hunting out. It would help if I told you where I was going really wouldn’t it?

Yes I am off to Amsterdam for work, a travel feature, in a few weeks and so I could really do with some recommendations of books that I should take with me. I am already doing some of my ‘lead up reading’ as I grabbed as many guidebooks from the library as I could find the other day, however what I really want is some books that I can read once I am there.

Amsterdam Guides

I have already had a think and, of course, Amsterdam’s most famous book is ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ and one of the things that is firmly written down in mine (and The Beard’s, as managed to get him a place on the trip) itinerary is to make sure we visit the Anne Frank house. I only read that infamous book last year so it might be a little early for a re-read, and also I read Etty Hillesums diaries and letters this year, so with going and the pre-reading I think I need something different to be reading whilst I am there. The only other book I could think of was Ian McEwan’s ‘Amsterdam’ but that was only for the title and indeed I have read that one already too.

So, what books written about Amsterdam, set there or indeed by someone from Amsterdam should I be tracking down before I go away to pack in my luggage?

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The Diary of a Young Girl – Anne Frank

I think the reason that I had left reading ‘The Diary of a Young Girl’ by Anne Frank for such a long time, or certainly put off by it for so long, was the fact I worried that I wouldn’t be moved by it and what that would say about me. The story behind the story, well true story behind the true story, of Anne Frank is probably as famous as the book itself, indeed it is why it is so well known. What would people think of me, and indeed what would I think of myself, if I read these diary entries and came away feeling nothing? Fortunately I haven’t had to ask myself those questions because whilst it didn’t have me weeping these diary entries have left an impression on me.

Penguin Books, paperback, 1947, reprint 2000, non fiction, 368 pages, borrowed from a friend

It seems slightly unnecessary to give any background to the story of ‘The Diary of a Young Girl’ by Anne Frank because I think most of us know it. Forced into hiding from the SS in 1942 as Jewish family in Amsterdam the Frank family move into the hidden annexe of a warehouse in order to escape the Nazi’s and the concentration camps of World War Two. Whilst in hiding the youngest daughter of the family, Anne, kept a diary of her life there until they were unfortunately found out – and I don’t think that is a spoiler considering the fact that Anne died in one of the concentration camps and that is what has made this story become so well known.

When I started the book I have to admit I didn’t think I was going to get on with it, which roughly translates to me not getting on with Anne Frank, people will be up in arms about that but bear with me. Anne Frank was a thirteen year old girl when she wrote what were her personal diaries and ones I am sure she had no intention of becoming read the way they are today, so they are going to be filled with flights of fancy, gossip about the girls at school she doesn’t like and the boys she does. I did feel so sad when I read that the reason she wanted a diary as she didn’t feel she had a true friend, though initially I thought I knew why that might be. As soon as I got my head accustomed to that, and the fact that (and she admits this herself in her diaries) she was rather a precocious young girl it all started to work and by about fifty pages in I started to really like Anne and was enjoying being party to her inner thoughts. I can see why this would be a very effective read for younger people of Anne’s age.

Anne was definitely wiser than her years. As the book goes on she matures, in part due to age and in part the situation and her insights into people is quite fascinating. I had no idea that the Frank family lived in such a large annexe, in my head it has always been that Anne and her family lived in a tiny box room rather than the two story annexe she describes, I also had no idea that they lived with another family, the van Daans, and a single man, Albert Dussel. The way Anne describes how they interact, the highs and lows of living with so many people in such small a space with no escape and how you never really know people until you live with them is fascinating, it’s also very claustrophobic.  It’s her blunt young personality and way of describing her observations that do almost make you feel you are there with them all.

The second thing I didn’t expect was how funny ‘The Diary of a Young Girl’ would be. Her observations and way of writing about her co-habitants, in particular berating and criticising Mrs van Daan who spends all her time criticising everyone else, are superb. These also make the darker moments, such as her fear during the bombing of Amsterdam and when they hear people in the warehouse below when no one should be there, become all the darker. I did get a little bit bored in the middle, but that is the whole point, Anne was bored to bits stuck with the same people and same routine day after day. It completes the picture of what it must have been like even if I was tempted to skim read – but I didn’t.

Obviously when you read what happened to the family that you have spent the time with its a very difficult thing to take on board. Something which I don’t think, no matter how great a fictional version of these events might be can ever truly captured like they are in a book like this. One of the saddest things for me about ‘The Diary of a Young Girl’ for me was that Anne Frank clearly had a talent for writing; the way at such a young age she managed to make me almost feel I was with her in the annexe only shows what great talent could have been ahead. I think actually that might have been the most poignant thing for me about the whole experience of reading it. That mixed in with feeling like you really get to know Anne because it is such an open and honest account does leave you with a feeling of melancholy, but we need that don’t we, so we don’t forget what happened.

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Three For Thirty… and a Possible Few For Forty

Thank you all so much for your comments and recommendations on my post about three books I should read before I am thirty and forty books before I am forty. It is exactly three weeks today that my thirties will start and so I have made a decision on the three books I will be reading in the final three weeks of my twenties. It was a tricky choice…

Well actually the first decision was a pretty easy one. I wanted one to be a non fiction novel regardless, and I have always liked letters and diaries and so ‘The Diary of a Young Girl’ by Anne Frank fitted the bill and is a book I have always meant to read. What has stopped me? In all honesty I have always been worried it might not affect me and what that would say about me. Is that bad?

Anyway that was my first choice. I decided I wanted one of the books to be rather chunky, and ‘The French Lieutenant’s Woman’ by John Fowles ticks lots of boxes. Its set in my favourite period in history, the Victorian era, has a fallen woman at its heart and John Fowles is an author I have wanted to return to. Oh, and it has a gorgeous new cover which popped through the door the other day. Oh, and… the lovely Karen has chosen it for her Cornflower Book Group in April, so maybe a few of you could join in.

Last but not least (and I might not read them in this order anyway) thanks to Annabel of Gaskella who mentioned Beryl Bainbridge, yet another author I have ‘always meant to read’. Well on World Book Day I wanted to buy a book and not something new. ‘The Bottle Factory Outing’ is one I have heard great things about and sounds like a good way in so that is the third and final choice.

So what about the forty to read before I am forty. Well you mentioned some corkers (some I had read and loved but that means we are on a wavelength) and here is the list of the twenty four titles that have come in so far that could end up in the mix.

Maps for lost Lovers – Nadeem Aslam
Miss Hargreaves – Frank Baker
The Regeneration Trilogy – Pat Barker
2666 – Robert Bolano
The Big Sleep – Raymond Chandler
The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao – Junot Diaz
Famous Last Words – Timothy Findley
Through a Glass, Darkly – Jostein Gaarder
American Gods – Neil Gaiman
Cranford – Elizabeth Gaskell
The Major of Casterbridge – Thomas Hardy
Catch 22 – Joseph Heller
For Whom The Bell Tolls – Ernest Hemingway
The Poisonwood Bible – Barbara Kingsolver
Into Thin Air – Jon Krakauer
Independent People – Halldor Laxness
Three Horses – Erri de Luca
Night Train to Lisbon – Pascal Mercier
A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry
The Raj Quartet – Paul Scott
A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth
The Map of Love – Adhaf Soueif
The Life and Loves of a She-Devil – Fay Weldon
In Great Waters – Kit Whitfield

Isn’t it a great and rather diverse list? Would you second any of these? Are there any that I might be missing and should consider (there is still space for sixteen more, and I might change some), if you think so do let me know. What do you think of my three before thirty? Let me know if you fancy reading any of them too.

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Simon’s Bookish Bits #10

Did you know that today the 27th of February 2010 is the very first day of Jewish Book Week? Well if you did or didn’t know I only found out thanks to the rather retro library that I went to earlier in the week (they have a wonderful information centre on all things bookish too if I haven’t sold this library enough). Anyway I got a lovely brochure on an event happening in London starting today, sorry for the late warning, and going on until next Sunday.

I hope that any of you who have heard of it before will forgive me when I say that I thought this was the first year it started as I had never heard of it ever before. Having now done some research into the whole event it actually was initially started back in 1948 and yet I hadn’t heard of it until now and so am spreading the word to all of you. Hoorah! I will definitely be going to some of the upcoming events, will you? If you want more information than me just waffling on then go to www.jewishbookweek.com

This book week also made me think quite a bit and I am actually not sure how many Jewish books I have actually read whether they be by a Jewish author or with a Jewish theme. I thought I must have read a few yet it seems I haven’t read many. The only one that I could instantly think of and was indeed on the blog is ‘When We Were Bad’ by Charlotte Mendelson. I still have another of hers to read actually, maybe this is the week. I was thinking that what I might do is make take a slow and steady read of ‘The Diary of Young Girl’ by Anne Frank which I actually cannot believe I haven’t read. I though going through this slowly might be the way to go with the subject matter. What Jewish based books would you recommend? I would love your thoughts I may just have more in my TBR I hadn’t a clue about.

Oh and an additional note the lovely Simon T of Stuck in a Book did a lovely post on all this, which I wasn’t aware of when I scheduled this, and Simon T links into the next part of my Bookish Bits. I think I have mentioned that there is a UK Book Bloggers meeting going on in May, on Saturday the 8th as a matter of fact and you need to email Simon if you want to attend and get any further details. I will be there and am really, really looking forward to the whole day, including a book swap, and hope to see some of you there!!!

Now before I dash off for a day with Novel Insights looking at books but not buying them yet discussing them to death over coffee, I have another question for you which came to me when a book that I have been very excited about dropped through my letter box (I will be doing a bigger book incoming round up next week)…

Yes, big hoorah, the new Stella Duffy novel ‘Theodora’ has been sent to me rather in advance as its not actually out until June though naturally I will be reading it almost immediately. I wondered if seeing advance reviews, as in way, way in advance; actually make you want to buy/read/borrow a book. Or do you forget the book as it’s far off in the future? Would you rather read a review of a book just as it comes out? Let me know as it interests me, oh and Jewish books too. Thanks in advance!

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