Tag Archives: Jessica Mitford

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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Time for Some Mitford Mania?

I know I do my ‘incoming posts’ at the end of every month about the books which come through the letterbox, however sometimes books come that need their own individual posts on the blog frankly (and you will be getting two posts about such books in the next 24 hours) and over the last few weeks a collection of books with a rather Mitford theme have turned up, and you know how I love all things Mitford, so I thought I should give them their own post… so I am.

My Mitford obsession has only started in the last few years since I read ‘The Mitford’s: Letters Between Six Sisters’ which has become one of my very favourite reads. I wish I knew what made me pick that book up initially as now I have quite forgotten. Anyway, in their letters Nancy, Pamela, Diana, Unity, Jessica and Deborah’s personalities all really shone through and all the things they had seen, and wrote about, from meeting the Queen to Hitler, from one sister shopping another to the police and one sister shooting herself, plus the divorces, love affairs and the like I became besotted. So imagine how thrilling that in the past few weeks all of these have arrived…

That to me is like some kind of Mitford lover’s heaven, do admit. You have these lovely newly re-released Nancy novels ‘Pigeon Pie’ and ‘Christmas Pudding’ by Capuchin Classics plus the re-issued Nancy non-fiction from Vintage with ‘Voltaire in Love’, ‘The Sun King’, ‘Madame de Pompadour’ and ‘Frederick The Great’. I don’t even know who some of these people are but I trust Nancy wouldn’t have written about just anyone. The final two hardback treats are Lisa Hilton’s book about an affair Nancy Mitford had and called ‘The Horror of Love’ and Deborah Devonshire’s, the only living Mitford sister, essays, thoughts and memoirs ‘All in One Basket’.  The choice is seems it endless.

In fact I am rather stuck on where to start in what I think is going to be an autumn and winter of dipping into utter Mitford joy. I have already decided that I will be reading ‘Christmas Pudding’ on Christmas Day as a real treat, but where to start next. I think as she has the democracy over these newly arrived treats, as well as all the Mitford books I have in the TBR, I need to pick a Nancy novel next. Should I start with ‘Highland Fling’ which was her first (and I got a fair few months ago) or should I branch out and try her non-fiction and see if her personality comes across as she writes about another woman larger than life with ‘Madame de Pompadour’? Decisions, decisions, decisions.

Do you have any outstanding Mitford novels on the shelves? Maybe its time to dust them off and give them a whirl too.

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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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Love in a Cold Climate – Nancy Mitford

I am sure that you are well aware by now that I am something of a Mitford maniac. Ever since reading their collected letters a few years ago (one of my very favourite reads) I have watched endless documentaries about them and the like and yet I read their memoirs and Nancy Mitford’s novels rather sporadically. Having been in the need of some comfort reading over the last few weeks, as well as having something of a crime fest, ‘Love in a Cold Climate’ was a book I knew I would adore and indeed did.

Technically ‘Love in a Cold Climate’ is a sequel to the wondair (those of you who love Mitford will know what I mean) ‘The Pursuit of Love’ though in many ways it runs alongside it in terms of nattaive and time scale. Told once again through the eyes of Fanny who narrated its predecessor we follow the story of the beautiful and perfect Polly Hampton from their childhood friendship, through to their ‘coming out’(no, not that sort) and onto a rather scandalous relationship that she then embarks upon. As this all goes on we are once again given an insight into the society of the 1930’s between the wars. Women’s roles are still to be somewhat submissive and the aim of a lady’s life is to find a suitable husband, it does seem odd to think that this was actually not that long ago.

It has been said, including by the authors sister Jessica Mitford who writes the introduction to my edition, that ‘Love in a Cold Climate’ was very much a rather autobiographical fictional piece. Uncle Matthew being very much like Nancy’s father and the children seeming to have all the traits of her sisters even down to the gang they called ‘The Hons’. What I love about all of Nancy’s writing (and I have also been reading the letters between her and Evelyn Waugh alongside) is her sense of humour. Some may find the setting rather twee or even irritating as she describes the naivety of the children, which soon becomes hilarious cheek and gossip, and the pompous nature of the adults in the society that Fanny and Polly frequent, I myself haven’t laughed so much at a book in quite some time.

“Well, the Lecherous Lecturer’s lecture was duchesses and, of course, one always prefers people to gates. But the fascinating thing was after the lecture he gave us a foretaste to sex. Think of the thrill! He took Linda up on the roof and did all sorts of blissful things to her; at least she could easily see how they would be blissful with anybody except the Lecturer. And I got some great sexy pinches as he passed the nursery landing when he was on his way down to dine. Do admit, Fanny.”

The characters are clearly caricatures of people Nancy knew or had met in passing, from Fanny’s mother ‘The Bolter’ who is mentioned through gossip often as a salacious lady who bolted from husband to husband, to Polly’s highly dramatic mother Lady Montdore and the wonderful if slightly disturbing Boy Dougdale also referred to as ‘The Lecherous Lecturer’. That this book is based so much on real people and how society worked in the 1930’s I find fascinating and should interest any of you who want to know more about that period in history.

Though it might not be to everyone’s taste I do urge anyone who hasn’t read Nancy Mitford to give her a try. If you like your books full of humour, crazy characters and some bittersweet moments thrown in then you simply can’t go wrong. In fact with the current craze for shows such as Downton Abbey this would be just the thing. A perfect read for when you need laughter and escapism. I loved it. 10/10

My edition, which features both ‘The Pursuit of Love’ and ‘Love in a Cold Climate’ was a wonderful edition that my friend Dom (who I speak in slight Mitford with and calls me ‘Jassy’ after the character who is really rather cheeky – cant see the resemblance can you) bought me a while back. It has been a perfect treat I’m glad I’d saved until I was feeling somewhat under the weather.

As I mentioned I have been back in the land of Mitford rather a lot of late. Alongside this I have been slowly making my way through Deborah Devonshire’s (the last surviving of the Mitford sisters) memoirs ‘Wait for Me’ and the letters between Nancy Mitford and Evelyn Waugh which make for fascinating reading and I will be reporting back on in due course. Have you read and loved anything Mitford, or are you yet to try them? If it’s the latter then you have some marvellous reading ahead, do admit!

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Filed under Books of 2011, Nancy Mitford, Penguin Books, Penguin Classics, Review, Vintage Books

All About Those Victorians

I actually wanted to call today’s post ‘All About Victorians and a Little Bit of Death’ but I thought that the second half of that sentence would either put people off or possibly attract the wrong sort of attention and so I toned it down somewhat. There is a reason behind my post today though, its not just being slightly macabre for the sake of it. I mentioned to you on Saturday that it was a big day for me at Highgate (and I was appallingly nervous) as it was the important tour guide training. I actually took a picture of a very newly uncovered tombstone that I thought might interest all you fellow book lovers because of whats carved on it…

Anyway the good news is that (hip, hip hoorah and a huge sign of relief) I am now officially one of Highgate Cemetery’s Tour Guides!! So should you happen to venture there on a weekend after the 10th of April then you might get me taking you around. Naturally I now want to be the best tour guide ever, unlikely as some of them have been there for a decade or more and know so much it makes me feel quite vexed, and so I am on the hunt for more reading matter that can bump up my knowledge of the Victorian era and even all things deathly, which means I need to face one of my reading weaknesses… Non fiction!

As you can see above I have dug out a few non fiction goodies I already own that might help me. ‘Necropolis’ by Catherine Arnold is a book about ‘London and its dead’ that I mentioned a while ago, dug out of the TBR and then promptly forgot to read. ‘Stiff’ and ‘Six Feet Over’ are the two of Mary Roach books that I have been meaning to read for ages, the first is all about what happens to your body after you die and latter is all about the afterlife which the Victorians were very into. ‘Underground London’ by Stephen Smith is about what lies underneath London that you might be missing out on and discusses some of the cemeteries etc. Finally Jessica Mitford’s book ‘The American Way of Death’ might be slightly off track and in the wrong country but it might have some relevant bits and we do get a lot of American visitors to the cemetery and I have been told ‘engaging with your audience is key’.

I need your help though. Not only do I think that there are more books on this subject I am more than likely missing out on I have a huge gap in my knowledge and that’s the in’s and out’s of Victorian life and the history of 1800 – 1900. I did get sent both ‘The Victorian House’ and ‘Consuming Passions’ by Judith Flanders in the post but they went missing which was very vexing and the publishers didn’t send a second set. I have heard these are marvellous though. What would you recommend? I can guarantee many of you will have wondrous recommendations of books that I should give a read and if you do I would be thrilled.

You might also know some places to go that I haven’t thought of. I dragged The Converted One and my friend Michelle round Brompton Cemetery yesterday (they filmed some of Sherlock Holmes there, so a sort of tenacious bookish theme there too).

I have also already done Kensal Green, which I previously shared with you, and aim to do the rest of the Magnificent Seven in due course. But apart from cemeteries where else might I go and visit? I know I live in London but I often find people who don’t hear or secret places those of us living here pass by. So that’s your mission today, to recommend places of Victorian interest to visit that I might have missed and even more importantly books on Victorians that I must, must read.

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The Secret Stash

Now this blog post has been hidden away because I am ashamed of the amount of books that had been bought since I last told you I had got quite an excessive amount and before I did the great Autumn Clearout. You will probably be aware of this as I have sent you here from another more recent post and will have explained there. So what on earth have I recently bought and brought into Savidge Towers to add to the never ending supply of books? Well…

Recently Aquired Part I

  • Diary of a Provincial Lady – E.M Delafield (I blame Elaine for this purchase completely after she raved about it)
  • Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day – Winifred Watson (which I was awarded from Paperback Reader)
  • Shalimar the Clown – Salman Rushdie
  • Dear Everybody – Michael Kimball (Lizzy this one is your fault for making me buy)
  • The American Way of Death Revisited – Jessica Mitford
  • Diary of an Ordinary Woman – Margaret Forster
  • English Passengers – Matthew Kneale (I blame my Gran for this one)
  • The Far Cry – Emma Smith
  • The Slap – Christos Tsiolkas (Jackie this one is all down to you and you are to blame)
  • Vanishing Point – Patricia Wentworth
  • At Risk – Patricia Cornwell (free from the office)
  • Nightingale Wood – Stella Gibbons
  • The Widow and Her Hero – Thomas Keneally (Juxtabook this one is all your fault)
  • Foreign Affairs – Alison Lurie
  • The Colour – Rose Tremain
  • The 2.5 Pillars of Wisdom – Alexander McCall Smith
  • Moral Disorder – Margaret Atwood
  • The Robber Bride – Margaret Atwood (a book I lent and never got back)

You can also see I have passed on blame to those who deserve it and thanks to those who sent me books etc. And if that wasnt enough there is also…

Recently Aquired Part II

  • Equator – Miguel Sousa Tavares (from Bloomsbury)
  • Pretty Monsters – Kelly Link (from Canongate and Kimbofo has raved about)
  • The People’s Train – Thomas Keneally (from the people at Sceptre)
  • Sunset Oasis – Bahaa Taher (from Sceptre)
  • Serena - Ron Rash (from Canongate)
  • The Death of Bunny Munro – Nick Cave (from Canongate also raved about by Kimbofo)
  • Falling Slowly – Anita Brookner
  • The Beckoning Lady – Margery Allingham
  • The Bay of Angels – Anita Brookner
  • From Doon With Death – Ruth Rendell (her first as must read in order)
  • Late Comers – Anita Brookner
  • The Life of Charlotte Bronte – Elizabeth Gaskell

I can’t justify it and I shan’t it just is what it is ha! At least I didnt buy all of them and I do blame some of you out there fully for some of the oens I did buy!  Which of these delights have you read or have been meaning to read?

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Mitford & Maupin Missions

My complete and utter favourite book of last year was undoubtedly The Mitford’s: Letters Between Six Sisters, I don’t think I have ever enjoyed any non-fiction as much in all my reading years. At the time it wasn’t the Mitford’s that appealed to me it was partly the fact it was letters between sisters but more the amount of time that the letters spanned, all that history. It wasn’t until reading the letters that I started to twig just who the sisters were, I had heard of Deborah and Nancy before only I knew Deborah as the owner of Chatsworth House which is just down the road from my Gran’s and Nancy as an author most authors raved about. At the time I got the book there was also a TV show on Unity and the rumours of her affair (and pregnancy) with Adolf Hitler. As everything about them became more and more unusual and the more letters I read I gained a bit of a fascination which has resulted in this…


Now four of these are new additions to the collection as I received In Tearing Haste from the delightful John Murray before Christmas, The Pursuit of Laughter and A Life of Contrasts from the lovely Gibson Square just after Christmas and Decca: The Letters of Jessica Mitford from the very kind people at Orion only yesterday, naturally I haven’t read any of those yet. I have in fact of that whole collection only read ‘The Letters’ and The Pursuit of Love, the rest have all come from some very good routing through charity shops. There are still so many I am missing though; Nancy’s biographies as well as The Blessing and Jessica’s books on Death in America etc, to name just a few. (I also should thank Mitch as she bought me The Letters for Christmas after my Gran, yes you naughty thing, ‘borrowed’ mine and then said I had given it to her lol – well you can have it now.)

I now have one more mission for 2009 is to read all the ones that I haven’t read yet but own. Plus there are many more coming, I actually have a PDF proof version of Deborah’s next book, but I am not allowed to say anymore than that.

Dovergreyreader looked at Mitfordmania when she reviewed A Pursuit of Laughter by Diana Mosley and it brought up some rather heated debate on Diana as a person. I don’t condone her like for Hitler I don’t even attempt to understand it, but what I was always taught in history was to look at both sides and someone who saw both sides of Hitler and one of the biggest events in our worlds history was Diana and though I don’t agree with her ideals I will be interested to hear her side of things if that makes sense. The other question that was raised was ‘are there too many Mitford based books on the market?’ I would say no, I actually think that some of their own books need to be reprinted rather than so many books about them in all honesty. I can understand the fascination though, they knew a wide range of famous people and indeed some of histories most renowned faces and through their love of letters and essays have captured years and year’s worth of history. I just wonder what Debo makes of it all as the furore around her and her sister is going and she is living to see it?

On a slightly different note another series of books I am going to make it my aim to read (well re-read in some cases) arrived yesterday also The Tales of the City Series by Armistead Maupin….

I first read the first three or four (or possibly five) of these about 8 years ago and wanted a land lady like Miss Madrigal, and strongly believed when I moved to London I would make some of the best friends in the world and they would be diverse and wonderful and everything would be fabulous. I would say half of that wish came true. I very rarely re-read novels I have read so it will be interesting to see what I make of these almost ten years down the line! I will keep you posted. I am currently debating if I should read all of them with no stop-gap, but am worried I will get Maupin Overkill, any advice?

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