Tag Archives: Evelyn Waugh

Other People’s Bookshelves #78 – Christina Philippou

Hello and welcome to the latest in Other People’s Bookshelves, a series of posts set to feed into the perfectly natural filthy book lust we all feel and give you a fix through other people’s books and shelves. This week we are in in the south coast of the UK, in a place not far from Southsea where I used to live, to join Christina Philippou, whose blog you can find here, and have a nosey through her bookshelves. There is, as always with these lovely folks, quite the spread on so let’s all grab a cuppa/glass of something and a nibble of something before settling down to get to know Christina and her bookshelves better, and then I am off for a wander around my old haunts. But first, over to Christina…

I’m an ex-forensic accountant, now university lecturer, and am also a book blogger and fiction author. When not working, reading, or writing, I can normally be found engaging in sport or undertaking some form of nature appreciation with my family. I have three passports to go with my three children, but I’m not a spy.

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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?

Books to be read, work-related books, and REALLY good books go onto our shelves, although that’s two people’s (rather different) taste in books, so there’re a few that I wouldn’t keep (despite having read) that remain on our shelves. Every year we do a ‘clear-out’ and donate ‘cast-offs’ to our local library.

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?

Shelves are organised by genre: crime, romantic/ feel-good, campus lit, literary fiction, classics, Greek literature, travel literature (local authors from countries we have travelled to), other fiction, sport, popular science, history, general non-fiction… The shelves that don’t get culled are the travel guides ones – they just grow and have now taken over most of the top of the large bookshelf.

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

On The Road’ by Jack Kerouac – money well spent and yes, still on my bookshelf!

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 used to be more eclectic in my reading tastes but I now read most things (embarrassing or not) and, as I file all my books by category, my guilty pleasures are on show for all our visitors to see…

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?

There’s two: My mum’s copy of ‘The Book of Nonsense’, which is a collection of poems, stories and rhymes for children, which I absolutely adored and was inspired by as a child, and my copy of Στα ψέματα παίζαμε (loosely translating as ‘We played at Lies’), an exquisitely written novel tracing backwards from the present the exploits of five school friends, in snapshots, every World Cup, and is not only unavailable in English, but is also now out of print in Greek as well.

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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?

Brideshead Revisited always held a certain fascination for me, and was influential in shaping a lot of my reading when I was younger (as well as some of my writing). A different copy now resides on my shelves.

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?

Definitely buy keepers. I am lucky enough to get quite a few review e-copies, and I also download a lot of books, but anything that hits that special 5* space gets bought in paper copy.

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

Death in Profile by Guy Fraser-Sampson and Night Games by Anna Krien.

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

I realised that my copy of Half Bad by Sally Green has gone missing, so that will need to be replaced.

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

Diverse!

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Huge thanks to Christina for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves. If you would like to catch up with the other posts in the series of Other People’s Bookshelves have a gander here. Don’t forget if you would like to participate (and I would love you to – hint, hint, hint as without you volunteering it doesn’t happen) in the 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 Christina’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that she mentions?

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Rounding Up The Reviews #4; A Bumper Crop of Book Reviews Before 2014 Ends

So in an effort to combat my blog OCD panic, I like to have reviewed everything I have read in a year and start a year a fresh, and a backlog of reviews I thought I’d do a round up of some of the books – there are more to come – that I have read and wanted to share thoughts with you about – be they good, bad or indifferent. So no waffle, just some quick(ish) book reviews today…

Scoop – Evelyn Waugh

Penguin Modern Classics, paperback, 1938 (2000 edition), fiction, 240 pages, bought by my good self

I like Evelyn Waugh a lot and had heard marvellous things about Scoop from all the right people, so it had been on my ‘to read at some point’ list for quite some time when Rob chose it as a classic choice for Hear Read This! a few months ago. Sadly I really, really, really didn’t like it. The tale is one of mistaken identity as William Boot, who usually writes about things such as badgers and crested grebes, is sent in place of another journalist named Boot to the African state of Ishmaelia where he is to report for The Beat on a ‘very promising little war’.

By rights this book should have been completely up my street, a satire on the industry that I worked for (and hasn’t changed) for quite some time by an author I loved. I just found it deeply dated, rather boring, nothing new and actually a little bit (to put it mildly, I hate the excuse ‘of it’s time’) racist frankly. There were a few moments that I almost enjoyed but generally I was bored and couldn’t wait for it to be over. You can hear my thoughts along with Kate, Rob and Gavin here.

Nights at the Circus – Angela Carter

Vintage Classics, paperback, 1984 (1998 edition), fiction, 368 pages, inherited from Granny Savidge

I have an interesting relationship with Carter’s writing, I either think it is utterly magical and wonderful or I just think it is rather bonkers verging on silly. Sophie Fevvers is famous around the world for supposedly being either part swan, with her amazing wings, or an utter fraud. Jack Waltzer, journalist, goes to interview her and find out not realising he is about to follow Sophie on quite the journey between nineteenth-century London, St Petersberg and Siberia. I found Nights at the Circus (again another book I have been meaning to read for ages and then my old book group chose it) to be a mixture of the two the whole way through, a romp I enjoyed yet occasionally didn’t get or felt went a bit too far magically and plot wise – what was Carter on?

Overall I enjoyed it immensely for its camp bonkers moments and gothic turns and eventually succumbed to its madness. Yet having finished it, I realised I didn’t have that much to say about it, I just enjoyed it overall which makes it sound more of a damp squib than I mean it to. I felt it should be a collection of short stories about Sophie rather than an adventure with her, if that makes sense? I think I wanted something like her fairy tales and didn’t get it; maybe I need to read it again?

Wind Sand and Stars – Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Penguin Modern Classics, paperback, 1939 (2000 edition), memoir, 144 pages, borrowed from the library

Like me, you may not know Saint-Exupery for anything other than The Little Prince and not for his stories, both fiction and none, of pilots and airborne adventures. Wind Sand and Stars is a nonfiction set of accounts of some of his flights from when he started in 1926 until and just passed the time in 1936 when he crashed in the desert and somehow survived. I have to say the idea of a book about planes excites me about as much, well maybe a bit more, as a book about boats BUT having loved Julian Barnes Levels of Life and its tales of ballooning and grief I was up for something new.

On one level, pun not intended, Wind Sand and Stars is a tale of one man and his first exciting, and often death defying, trips into the air. Now I don’t like flying but I could completely understand, through his writing, how Antoine became addicted. The descriptions of the freedom and the awe it gives is rather contagious. I also found the story of the crash to be a genuinely terrifying then thrilling reading experience. Yes, there’s a but coming. The problem with the book is that it takes on this almost meta meets philosophical tone which becomes rather preachy/smug and a bit annoying, so apart from the beginning and the drama I found the book a bit ‘meh’. I wanted to like it more, honest. You can hear my thoughts in more detail along with Kate, Rob and Gavin here.

Cold Hand in Mine – Robert Aickman

Faber & Faber, paperback, 1975 (2014 edition), short stories, 368 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

I received all of Aickman’s reissued collections unsolicited from Faber & Faber earlier in the year and thought ‘ooh these sound weird and wonderful’ and so thought they would be interesting to bring to the table for a classic choice on Hear Read This! (I know most of the books we do on there end up in round up review posts) as something different. As you will see in the next week or so 2014 has been the year of rediscovering the short story for me and so it ticked that box too being a collection of self proclaimed ‘strange stories’.

Well strange indeed they are but almost too strange. I like a ghost story, a horror story, urban legend, twisted fairy tale or just piece of bizarreness if it has a point/plot/thrill to it. All Aickman’s tales in this collection rather let me down, even the ones I rather loved like the almost-but-not-quite brilliant The Hospice, because the endings all let them down. Sadly in actuality sometimes the bonkers premise/middle (The Real Road to the Church, Niemandswasser, The Clockwatcher) just didn’t make sense and lacked punch. I felt like Aickman wanted to always be more clever, tricksy or just weird than the reader but in a way that made him feel better and doesn’t actually do anything for the reader. Each tale left me feeling cheated. Gav said this is the weird genre, I think maybe it is just not the genre for me. Glad I can say I have read them, unsure if I will read anymore unless one of you convinces me. You can hear my thoughts in more detail along with Kate, Rob and Gavin here.

The Poisoning Angel – Jean Teule

Gallic Books, paperback, 2014, fiction, 240 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

I love Jean Teule’s writing and so chose The Poisoning Angel for Hear Read This! as I thought a darkly funny book in translation would be something different. Like the brilliant, but very dark and gory Eat Him If You Like, this is based on a true story – the case of Helene Jegado who became one of the most notorious prisoners of her time and indeed in French history, we follow her journey from the time she poisons her mother…

Unlike Rob, Kate and Gavin, I really enjoyed this book. I laughed the whole way through, which I think you are meant to do, as Helene just wanders around the countryside for a few decades killing people off, not being caught by the police and no one thinking the better or inviting her in. That isn’t a complete spoiler, you know that from the blurb. There isn’t masses more to say about the book other than give it a whirl! You can hear my thoughts in more detail along with Kate, Rob and Gavin here.

The Hypnotist – Lars Kepler

Blue Door Books, paperback, 2012, fiction, 624 pages, from my own personal TBR

I read this while I was off in the authors; there are actually two of them, homeland of Sweden between two of the Camilla Lackberg novels – I truly was on a cold crime binge. It is a hard book to explain so I am stealing the blurb “Detective Inspector Joona Linna is faced with a boy who witnessed the gruesome murder of his family. He’s suffered more than one hundred knife wounds and is comatose with shock. Linna’s running out of time. The killer’s on the run and, seemingly, there are no clues. Desperate for information, Linna enlists disgraced specialist Dr Erik Maria Bark, a hypnotist who vowed never to practice again. As the hypnosis begins, a long and terrifying chain of events unfurls with reverberations far beyond Linna’s case.” This sounded just my kind of thing.

Now it is quite a doorstopper but as it started I was racing through the book. A creepy child, a scary serial killer, some hypnotism what wasn’t to love? Then I started to get, not bored exactly, a little jaded with it. You see I love a twisty book like Gone Girl or the even better (seriously) Alex and this felt like one of those initially, in fact more like Alex as it’s really quite nasty. Then the twists started to get too much, I started to get confused and lose belief in the story as I went on. I think the best crime authors have the generosity to make the reader feel clever and twist them at just the right times whilst spinning a true spiders web, this began to feel a bit like the authors were being too clever – Aickman syndrome, see above. It was a page turner, it was clever, it was twisty… It just didn’t quite get me along for the whole whirlwind ride.

Orfeo – Richard Powers

Atlantic Books, paperback, 2014, fiction, 384 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

I have left my thoughts on this one till last as it is the only book in this selection I didn’t finish and actually threw at a wall. I admit it started off very, very well. I liked the idea of a lonely composer calling the police when his dog dies, them discovering his home made science lab and thinking he might be a terrorist. A bit farfetched maybe, but fun. Then the writing bowled me over, I have never seen music written about so brilliantly.

The notes float and rise. They turn speech as pointless as a radio ventriloquist. Light and darkness splash over Peter at each chord change, thrill with no middleman. The pitches topple forward; they fall beat by beat into their followers, obeying an inner logic, dark and beautiful.
Another milky, troubled chord twists the boy’s belly. Several promising paths lead forward into unknown notes. But of all possible branches, the melody goes strange. One surprise leap prickles Peter’s skin. Welts bloom on his forearms. His tiny manhood stiffens with inchoate desire.
The drunken angel band sets out on a harder song. These new chords are like the woods on the hill near Peter’s grandmother’s, where his father once took them sledding. Step by step the singers stumble forward in a thicket of tangled harmonies.

So why did I throw it at the wall? Two reasons. Firstly, the writing about music is incredible… the first, second and even possibly the third time. Powers soon becomes a one trick pony as he carts this trick out over and over and over, there is almost a lyrical comparative sentence in every paragraph at one point. Clever becomes too clever and smug a theme with some of this selection of books! Secondly, remember I mentioned the farcical element, again went too far and made the story of Peter’s past seem all at odds with itself and slightly clichéd and done before. You can hear my thoughts in more detail along with Kate, Rob and Gavin here.

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So there we are the last round up of the year, well if you exclude a small catch up of books I don’t want to spoil which I will post in the next week or so! Have you read any of these books? If so what did you think of them? Would you recommend any other books by these authors?

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Filed under Angela Carter, Antoine de Saint-Exupery, Atlantic Books, Blue Door Books, Book Thoughts, Evelyn Waugh, Faber & Faber, Gallic Books, Lars Kepler, Penguin Classics, Review, Richard Powers, Robert Aickman, Rounding Up The Reviews, Vintage Classics

Other People’s Bookshelves #43; Seamus Duggan

Hello and welcome to the latest in Other People’s Bookshelves, a regular series of posts where you get to have a nosey at other book lovers bookshelves. This week we are heading of to the Irish Midlands to join Seamus Duggan who blogs at Vapour Trails, and who has kindly agreed to be the latest participant to share their shelves (thank you to all of you who have volunteered to share your shelves you will be getting emails from me very soon) with you all. So grab yourself a cup of tea, or maybe a pint of Guinness or Irish Cream, and lets have a look through his bookshelves and find out more about him.

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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?

A book has to be pretty woeful for me to get rid of it. Mostly the ones I get rid of are ones that I never really wanted to read but which came into my possession as part of a box I bought in an auction. My wife and daughter keep coughing pointedly during the TV programme Hoarders which often seems to be on in the evening when I emerge into the TV room. Are they trying to say something? Perhaps.
Do you organize 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 have made many attempts at organising my books and there are areas like crime/Sci-fi /music/Irish/Spanish/German etc etc and have even got as far as alphabetising my collections of Short Stories but each area ends up being too small for the number of books as they grow and simultaneously the areas on each side become oversubscribed and the resulting hybrid is usually chaos.  This is even more exaggerated as the shelves progressively become two books deep. What lies beneath? Who knows. One problem I keep coming across is when a book is too large for the shelf it should go on, throwing everything into confusion. Having fitted out a room in my current house as a ‘library’ it is almost as if I am driven to fill every available inch of space. I am currently extending the shelves up to the ceiling and looking at the bare wall over my desk.
What was the first book you ever bought with your own money and does it reside on your shelves now?
Given my current habits I myself fund it hard to believe but I was really a library addict as a child. I cannot remember the first book I bought with my own money but my earliest memory is of the Ladybird reading series and my determination to make it to the final book in the series.
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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?
Not really, there are good and bad books on the shelves and they include my kids books I have bought by the box at auction in order to get a couple of books. Once I bought a whole pallet of books and I have made some profit from the few I sold but have had to get rid of a lot and will have to get rid of many more. They are mostly British history books. I have toyed with the idea of trying to sell books online but am not organised enough. 
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 think I would burn in the throes of indecision. Perhaps my copies of Ulysses, Riddley Walker and Carpenter’s Gothic, all of which I re-read regularly which has invested the actual books with memories, such as the time Carpenter’s Gothic got soaked in cider, retaining the scent for years afterwards. I also have some First Editions that I love. JR , again by William Gaddis and The Black Prince by Iris Murdoch stand out.
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?
I have a particular memory of Gone with the Wind which I read during a rainy holiday at my grandmother’s house. It was the first ‘adult’ book of that size that I’d read. I remember being determined to read Ulysses and although only partially successful at fourteen I have gone on to read it a number of times. However it is the copy I bought at college that I have on my shelves.
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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 buy almost every book I want to read that I come across in Charity/second hand bookshops. How I’ll ever get to read them all is not clear. (I won’t). I love being able to browse through the hundreds of unread books when wondering what to read next. because of all these books I never borrow any more.
What was the last book that you added to your bookshelves?
Found A Handful of Dust yesterday. I couldn’t find my old copy and have been thinking it due a re-read. I feel a little indebted to Mr Waugh (see below).
Are there any books that you wish you had on your bookshelves that you don’t currently?
A first folio Shakespeare! It would be nice to pay off the mortgage and be able to afford to live a little more comfortably! I recently found a first edition of Waugh in Abyssinia which I put up for auction and sold for £1,500 which will help with the out of control credit card / overdraft situation. (http://www.bonhams.com/auctions/21761/lot/180/) As a reader I am currently hoping to pick up some Cesar Aria and maybe Your Face Tomorrow by Javier Marias. These are the sort of books that very rarely show up in charity shops (although good things come to those that wait).
What do you think someone perusing your shelves would think of your reading taste, or what would you like them to think?
They would probably think that I’ve lost touch with reality and need to live more and read less. There is probably something for everyone. It’s got to the stage when I dig around a bit I find books which come as complete surprises to me. Eclectic is the word, I guess, or eccentric.
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A huge thanks to Seamus for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves. If you would like to catch up with the other posts in the series of Other People’s Bookshelves have a gander here. Don’t forgot if you would like to participate (and I would love you to – hint, hint, hint) in the 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 Seamus’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that he mentions?

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Noblesse Oblige – Nancy Mitford (Editor)

I am rather a fan of the Mitford sisters, I have made it my mission to at some point have read every book they have published, be they fictional, essays, memoirs, investigative pieces or letters etc. One book I didn’t think I would get to read until I had saved up some serious cash was ‘Noblesse Oblige’ an edited collection by Nancy Mitford. This is a book which is rather expensive second hand and being a series of essays about class I wasn’t sure I was that fussed spending oodles of money on now. However a while back one of my friends was making an art installation of books for a hospital and had bought over 4ft of old Penguin classics and invited me to peruse it and pilfer from it as he had too many. This was one of the gems inside, one of those ‘oh my god’ book moments you sometimes have when your bookish excitement runneth over. Well actually it would have been worth the money because ‘Noblesse Oblige’ is a fascinating look not only into class and social history but also into how language evolves.

Penguin Books, paperback, 1956, non fiction, 109 pages, from my own personal TBR

I do think that the subtitle of ‘Noblesse Oblige’ is a rather off putting and misleading one. It states it is ‘An Enquiry into the Identifiable Characteristics of the English Aristocracy’ which both sounds like it could be rather irritating and also potentially rather dull, actually it is neither. It does look at the distinctions of class, through essays and response essays and letters from various sources, but it looks at a lot more than that too, and is really rather funny both on occasion with intent but also with the hindsight of a modern reader.

In 1954 Professor Alan Ross of Birmingham University published an paper called ‘U and Non-U, an Essay in Social Linguistics’ all about class, the upper (U) and lower (Non-U) and how you could tell them apart in times where “a member of the upper class is, for instance, not necessarily better educated, cleaner or richer than someone not of his class’. This didn’t produce much outrage in Helsinki where it was published until Nancy Mitford’s beady eyes spotted it (possibly because her book ‘The Pursuit of Love’ was mentioned in it) and used it to discuss her love of the British aristocracy in an article in Encounter which then did cause a huge level of controversy, debate and some absolute fury and ill will throughout the UK and even in Paris and New York. This piece, ‘The English Aristocracy’ is the second section of the book.

What follows are further reactions to Nancy’s own essay. One looks at the future of class in ‘What U-Future?’ which is the last full essay before John Betjeman’s poem ‘How To Get on in Society’ and sadly is rather a damp squib to end upon as it is a little dull. The other two essays are fascinating, one, ‘Posh Lingo’ by ‘Strix’, looks at how language evolves and changes naturally but also with ‘fashion’, I found the history and stories behind words like ‘cinema’ and who the lower classes got it correct quicker when it arrived, plus tales of how ‘wizard’ and ‘cheers’ came in (and in the former case out) of fashion utterly fascinating.

My favourite response though was ‘An Open Letter’ to Nancy from her own well known friend Evelyn Waugh. Renowned for being a wit but also rather acerbic and occasionally spiteful he does indeed seem to have his claws out for his very own friend as he adds his own thoughts to the class debate and points out that Nancy is a delightful trouble maker to write such a thing but also someone who only just managed to be upper class and now resides in another country, so who is she really to even bring it all up?

“That way lay madness and I fear that if you are taken too seriously you and Professor Ross may well drive your readers into the bin. When in your novel you made ‘Uncle Matthew’ utter his catalogue of irrational prohibitions, you were accurately recording a typical conversational extravagance. When you emerge in propria persona as the guide to Doric youth, you are more mischievous.’

There is this dry and often sly wit running through the whole of ‘Noblesse Oblige’, in fact at the time many people thought (or hoped) it was a satire and now in the modern day the preposterous nature of it is often rather laughable. Really though ‘Noblesse Oblige’ is, as I mentioned earlier, a thoroughly interesting and insightful look at both class in social history and of the late 1940’s to early 1950’s in the UK but also as a record and look into how language and words change their importance and usage. I really rather enjoyed it, how could you not enjoy any book that brings in the word ‘primogeniture’ to argue a case? I do hope someone reprints it again one day.

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Filed under Nancy Mitford, Non Fiction, Penguin Books, Review

The Bookshop at 10 Curzon Street: Letters Between Nancy Mitford and Heywood Hill 1952-73 edited by John Saumarez Smith

There is nothing worse than a book funk, those dreaded times where no matter what you might have on your bookshelves/at the library/in the local charity shop nothing, but nothing, seems to tempt you. Thank goodness then for friends’ bookshelves, as spotting ‘The Bookshop at 10 Curzon Street’ the other day I begged and pleaded to borrow a copy, now they might be begging and pleading for it back. I mean seriously, how could a book combining Nancy Mitford, books and bookshops go wrong?

Francis Lincoln Publishers, paperback, 2005, non fiction, 192 pages, kindly lent by a friend

I have to say initially ‘The Bookshop at 10 Curzon Street’ made me feel like a bit of a Mitford ignoramus. How did I have no idea that Nancy Mitford had owned part of a bookshop when I am such a fan? I had a good think about it and a vague memory came to me from ‘Letters Between Six Sisters’ that she does actually mention working in one. 10 Curzon Street was that bookshop and though she owned it in some part for some time and it became known as ‘Nancy Mitford’s Bookshop’ the owner was actually Heywood Hill (which sounds like a place but is in fact a man). This book is a collection of edited snippets of their correspondence through two decades, an utter joy for a Mitford fan like me.

Being a writer, a lover of literature and having worked in a bookshop Nancy Mitford makes an interesting correspondent to start with. Throw in her wit and the fact that she mingled in some of the most interesting society in London and Paris as a Mitford sister and you have insight into so many worlds, written in such a way that you cannot help be fascinated whilst smiling wryly. Who else read and yet knew Evelyn Waugh, and many other authors of the times, so well? Apparently Heywood Hill as it goes, close friend of Nancy and the likes of Ivy Compton Burnett, and so the sparing of these two literary lovers, who also happen to be at the heart of the literary world at the time, is any book lovers dream.

‘It’s like with Mr Maugham who calls me Nancy and I always feel I can’t get out Willie… Oh for an amusing novel – no not Henry Green, not yet at least. How I wish I could get on with Miss Compton Burnett but it’s my blind spot. So I plod on with St. Simon, such a nice readable edition, Racine, which, on account of the notes, is as good as Punch.’

My one slight issue with the book is that whilst it is called ‘letters between’ it’s actually very much ‘edits of letters between – with notes’. None of the full letters actually appear in the book, it’s very much just tasters of the best bits. The positive of this of course is that we get the highlights, yet unlike having read so many of her full letters Nancy Mitford could describe walking to the shop or some other every day event in an immensely readable and funny way, it seemed a shame these day to day comments were cut. It also annoyed me and yet intrigued me to read John Saumarez Smith’s notes and the regular mention of a collection of Mitford’s letters called ‘Love from Nancy’ when he didn’t include them, I wanted to read them there and then but alas don’t own them, which of course needs to be rectified. I liked the highlights as I said, yet I wanted more and not just simply the snippets we get. You read a bit and want the rest.

‘…I would like a book plate, simply Nancy Mitford like the Baskerville Bible title pages, lots of squiggles. Could you ponder…?’
‘…Oh isn’t it lovely [the bookplate]… Can we start with 500 or do I have to stoke up for life? Goodness what a sticking and licking there’ll be – yes please, gum…’

That aside I think John Saumarez Smith does a good job with editing this collection of letters. He explains the background behind Nancy and Heywood’s interesting relationship as business partners (‘do let’s divorce’ Nancy wrote at one time) and thanks to a great introduction, best read after you have finished the book as always I think, plus footnotes and commentary between some of the letters to explain what was going on in Nancy or Heywood’s life, we get more insight into the underlying tones of the words and where some of the in jokes, which are never too exclusive, are directed.

I came away feeling I knew Nancy Mitford all the more, well as much as anyone can ever know one of their sadly deceased icons, through these letters of a friendship that lasted decades. Best of all there were times when certain things she wrote particularly struck a chord with me and that can be a rarity and feels all the more special in the instances where it happens.

‘You know my flat and now there’s not room for another bookcase. Every month I give at least 20 books to “the students” who come for them with a sack – many French writers now send me their books, with fulsome dedicaces all of which go in the sack! Unread of course…’

I really, really, really enjoyed ‘The Bookshop at 10 Curzon Street’, being a fan of all things Mitford it bowled me over far more than Helene Hanff’s ’84 Charing Cross Road’ which I enjoyed but actually now think is slightly inferior to this collection of letters (though that is more personal taste and love of Nancy) and deserves to be as well read frankly. If you are a lover of the Mitford’s, and Nancy in particular, then you simply must read this book. I would also strongly suggest any lover of books to give this one a whirl; though maybe try a Mitford novel first for a flavour of the style of wit you are getting, as she might not be for everyone. I really must order ‘The Letters of Nancy Mitford and Evelyn Waugh’ back out from the library pronto.

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Filed under Books About Books, Books of 2012, Francis Lincoln Publishers, Heywood Hill, John Saumarez Smith, Nancy Mitford

Finding Books Funny…

Nothing quite beats sitting down with a book loving friend in the flesh over a pot of tea/glass of wine or two does it? It is also great for catching up over what you have both been reading and passing on great reads. It also sometimes throws up heated debate, say about Jennifer Egan’s ‘A Visit from the Goon Squad’, and some lively discussion which fires your brain about all things bookish. This is exactly what happened when I spent several hours with my lovely friend Emma yesterday and the first of two things we talked about which made me internally note ‘that would make a good blog post’ was funny novels. I have always struggled with comic novels and yet would like to read some as I do like a laugh. Yet we were both really pushed to think of that many novels that have made us laugh out loud.

I do pointedly say novels because I have noticed as Christmas draws near it’s that time of year when all the comedians decide it is really time to share their life story and generally, in my humble opinion, they are rubbish. The only good comedian memoirs I can think of are Alan Carr’s ‘Look Who It Is’ and Dawn French’s ‘Dear Fatty’, the latter was funny but also very moving.  

Dawn French was actually one of the first names I thought of, and her novel ‘A Tiny Bit Marvellous’, when I was thinking of contemporary writers who might be very funny, but I wouldn’t know as I haven’t read it (I should here apologise to my mother who bought me this last Christmas) as yet. I then thought about Stephen Fry and pondered if maybe his novels would be funny? Not memoirs, the fictional novels. Julie Walter’s novel didn’t sound like it was going to be funny, was it? Has anyone read them? Emma was struggling too, she mentioned Jon Niven and we both discussed Sue Townsend (though we also said Adrian Mole etc were funnier when we were younger) but then we were a little lost.

Even with classic funny novels I struggled, I could only think of three. Emma said Charles Dickens, and then told me to ‘get out this house’ when I shamefully admitted I have yet to read him. Dickens… funny… really? Anyway the first I thought of was ‘The Loved One’ by Evelyn Waugh and the second and third were ‘The Pursuit of Love’ and ‘Love in a Cold Climate’ both by Nancy Mitford. I have heard Stella Gibbons is very funny, ‘Cold Comfort Farm’ has been on my TBR for years, I really must get round to it… I must.

  

The thing is though that humour is subjective isn’t it. I like my humour dark in the main, hence the Waugh novel which is set in a funeral home and cemetery is right up my street, and also that dry observational wit which can leave me in stitches as Mitford does. I don’t like slapstick and I am not that fussed by pastiche. It is tricky isn’t it and yet quite unlike Zoe Williams who believes in a time of worry/crisis we should read nonfiction (you can hear me and Gavin discuss this article on the latest episode of The Readers); I think I might quite like the odd hilarious read instead.

So I thought I would throw this out to all of you and see if you could help. Have any novels by comedians been as funny as you hoped? Which books have made you laugh out loud be they modern or classic and why? Recommendations are highly welcomed.

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Four Metres of Penguin Classics…

As I mentioned recently, one of my friends did an art installation involving books for a local hospital and this meant buying 4 metres of Penguin classics, from a charity shop warehouse – so the a good cause benefitted too, with the odd additional book mixed in. As they ended up only needing just over three metres of these gems I was asked if I might like to have a few for myself. Well how could I say no? The only problem was choosing which ones to take out of quite a selection…

Which went on and on…

I can’t pretend I wasn’t like a kid in a sweet shop. However after some whittling down, because literally I could have ended up taking away about 30+ of the books, and I am aware I have a lot of books already, I decided that I had to be strict. There were a few books that I simply had to have as soon as I saw them. I also allowed myself to pick a few books that just took my fancy; the only rule was that they had to be short. There was then some more whittling from the rather large amount I had picked up/pulled off the shelves…

And I ended up with just the ten copies, though four of them weren’t for me so actually just the six…

  • Noblesse Oblige edited by Nancy Mitford – this one I grabbed the second I saw it, it’s a fortune on Amazon so I was thrilled to get this with my Mitford obsession.
  • The Death of the Heart by Elizabeth Bowen – I have read no Bowen and after seeing Rachel’s raving about her I think it’s high time.
  • My Memories of Six Reigns by Princess Marie Louise – I have a copy of this already but I love this one’s simplicity more, Neil Bartlett recommended it to Savidge Reads and its readers last year. I am debating what to do with the spare.
  • Bonjour Tristesse by Francoise Sagan – I haven’t read much Fench fiction, and this seemed short and a little dark and possibly tragic. Maybe I am wrong?
  • A World of Strangers by Nadine Gordimer – This I picked up for Kimbofo (who won’t know it yet, surprise) as I thought she might like it – she’s probably read it but it’s a fabulous edition.
  • Where Angels Fear To Tread by E.M. Forster – I read Forster for A-Level English and the teacher put me off completely. I have heard lots about this so it could end up being the next one I try.
  • The Comforters by Muriel Spark – I was very tempted to keep this one for myself but Polly of Novel Insights introduced me to Spark and I thought she would like this one.
  • Castle Gay by John Buchan – Again a present for Polly, I know she likes and adventure, and yes – the title made me snigger too.
  • The Loved One by Evelyn Waugh – who also writes in ‘Noblesse Oblige’ interestingly, though the cover doesn’t say so, I read this a while back and LOVED it so now I have two, my other one might have to find a new home.
  • Hons and Rebels by Jessica Mitford – with my Mitford-mania you might expect this to be another one for my never ending Mitford collection. In actual fact this if for my lovely friend Dom (again, surprise) who introduced me to the wondair clan.

I think I was quite restrained, though I have been thinking of finding out the number of the charity that sell 4 metres of Penguin classics for £20 (seriously that’s all it cost) though that would be dangerous wouldn’t it. Oh and I found one more gem of a book, that one (and what I found inside it) needs a special mention all of its own. What Penguin Classic would you most love to own? Why is it that those orange covers are so appealing? What do you make of my collection and choices?

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Penguin Books, Penguin Classics