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Yesterday I popped down to London for a few hours to meet up with two fellow bloggers, Karen from Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings and Jacqui from Jacqui wine’s Journal. I took the slow train from Birmingham New Street, arriving in London about quarter past twelve. Karen had taken the opportunity to visit an exhibition at Tate Modern in the morning, which you can read about on her blog. We had chosen to meet at Foyles on Charing Cross Road, but as it was lunchtime, we decided to have lunch and a chat before the book shopping commenced. I have met Karen a few times but despite ‘knowing’ Jacqui online for years, it was the first time we had met in person. For me it was an instant meeting of minds, it was so lovely to be able to talk in person, and so we enjoyed a nice relaxed lunch at Pret before heading back to Foyles to start our shopping. Jacqui gave me my first book of the day; Normal People by Sally Rooney, which I think looks very good.

 I took the chance to snap the 84 Charing Cross Road plaque – and it inspired one of my book choices.

In Foyles using a gift voucher I had been saving I bought:

The Slaves of Solitude by Patrick Hamilton, since reading Craven House, I have wanted to read more by Hamilton. This seems to be the one every Hamilton fan recommends.

Human Voices by Penelope Fitzgerald – It is too long since I read any Penelope Fitzgerald and I have heard such good things about this one.

The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street by Helene Hanff, I love Helene Hanff but there are still a couple of books by her I haven’t read. I have meant to read this one for years.

We took a short taxi ride to Judd books which is one of those small second hand book shops with bookcases to the ceiling, every bit of space crammed with books. An Aladdin’s cave indeed. Here we were joined by a friend of Karen’s, naturally she fitted in well with three bloggers shopping for books.

In Judd books I bought:

Reality, Reality by Jackie Kay – I have meant to read more by her since reading her memoir Red Dust Road. This is a collection of stories.

What’s For Dinner by James Schuyler – I was attracted by the nyrb label on the spine – I hadn’t heard of the book. A glance at the blurb and at the contents told me I wanted it.

We took a short walk from Judd books down to Skoob books – another shop wonderfully crammed from floor to ceiling. I was looking for those elusive green spines, most of those spotted I had already. We met a lovely American lady who had just moved over here. She overheard our excited book chatter – and wanted to connect with us online, it was lovely to meet another book enthusiast.

In Skoob books I bought:

Anna Apparent by Nina Bawden – regular readers will know how much I love Bawden – it feels like a while since I read anything by her.

The Way things are by E. M Delafield – I really haven’t read enough by Delafield and I’m really looking forward to this one.

The Optimists Daughter by Eudora Welty. I got off to a bad start with Welty a few years ago – having to give up on Losing Battles – wrong time perhaps. Last year I read Delta Wedding and loved it.

A quick cuppa in a nearby Costa and I headed back to Euston for my train home. I was able to read a few of the short stories in my current read on the train down and up, The Richer, The Poorer a lovely new edition of stories and reminiscences from Dorothy West, sent to me by Virago, I am enjoying it immensely.

So, it was a lovely day, so glad I have finally met Jacqui in person, and exciting to browse the kinds of bookshops we don’t have in Birmingham, which considering the size of the city is a constant moan of mine.  

I am really very pleased with the lovely books I bought this time. I know I already have a silly number waiting to be read – but what’s a few more between friends? My only problem now, is wanting to read them all immediately.

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I cannot lie, books have come into the house.

It might not seem like it, but I really have reduced the amount I have been buying recently. However, what with the enormous number of wonderful books I received at Christmas a handful of review copies all arriving at around the same time – my shelves are not feeling the benefit yet. My tbr stands at 258 (I am keeping my spreadsheet from last year going – it proves useful in all sorts of ways) which is about where it was for most of last year – it never really improves by much.

However, I am also attempting to rid myself of books I am unlikely to read again. My virago books, Persephones, my old out of print editions are books I cannot, will not part with, but modern mass market paperbacks, translated fiction and those books I buy for my book group – can be passed on and enjoyed by others. I am taking steps in reducing the number of those I have in the house, but it is admittedly a slow process. It was the bookcrossing meet up today – so that’s another small pile gone.

Sometimes the dogged pursuit of one particular book – finally pays off – and so it was this week – with the help of my friend, Liz. Last year I read The Juniper Tree by Barbara Comyns, a book which made my end of year list. Certainly not the only Comyns I have read – I have now read six of her novels – but probably the one that made me decide to track down everything she had written as soon as possible. So, it was about then that I first became aware that A Touch of Mistletoe and some of Comyns other books are especially hard to track down. There is something about the knowledge that something is hard to get that only makes one want it more. Despite not having all Comyns books yet – I decided I had to buy it – I will worry about those others later. Reasonably priced copies were few and far between – absurdly priced copies would pop up every now and then, so it seemed the scarcity of even the VMC edition was driving prices up. To cut a very long story short, Liz found a copy of A Touch of Mistletoe on Amazon marketplace at such a reasonable price – we doubted it was the right book. Having already lost out on a copy – when I didn’t see a message another friend sent me in time – Liz just bought it on my behalf – and had it sent to her house. We met up for a cuppa a few days ago and I brought the book home – the condition of it is practically perfect. So, I still have three (I think) Comyns to track down – but I think I need to wait a while before I start chasing Comyns all over the internet again, it really is quite exhausting.

The other two books I bought this week are by Polish writer Olga Tokarczuk, Flights which has been reviewed everywhere, a challenging work I suspect but which won the International Man Booker, and the wonderfully titled Drive Your Plow over the Bones of the Dead – which I may have bought for the title alone.

The last book which came into my house in the last few weeks is The Rental Heart and other fairytales by Kirsty Logan – chosen by my very small book group. Since buying the book, I have realised I may not be able to attend that meeting. It is probably not a book I would have acquired without my book group – it is short stories, and very slight, so I may read it anyway.  

What books have come into your house recently?

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You may have noticed that I rather love books by twentieth century women writers, and so it was never going to be too long before I paid a visit to The Second Shelf in London. A delightful little shop in the heart of the capital selling my kinds of books.

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My friend Meg and I got the train to Euston, and from there it was a short tube ride to Leicester Square on the Northern Line, swapping to the Piccadilly Line for one stop, we got off at Piccadilly Circus and walked to the shop via Shaftesbury Avenue and Great Windmill Street. Tucked away in Smiths Court is the Second Shelf – and it is a delight. The proprietor Allison Devers who has worked so hard to get this project off the ground was so warm and welcoming, and we had a lovely chat and were permitted to take photos – I did ask first of course.

There were so many books by the kinds of writers I love, I saw Daphne Du Maurier, Anita Brooker, Nina Bawden, Margaret Atwood, Virginia Woolf and many others. It is an Aladdin’s cave of women’s literature.

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Well I was always going to buy some books – and of course I did. Actually, one was purchased a few weeks ago, paid for and just picked up today. The other three – were just too hard to resist. I could have bought several others. I am so happy with these four books.

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A Game of Hide and Seek – by Elizabeth Taylor – one of my favourite writers, definitely one of my top five – and A Game of Hide and Seek is probably my favourite of her novels. I have a green virago edition too, which I am keeping – I have read it twice already, and as I am planning on re-reading some of the others this is just going on my special books, bookshelf for now. It isn’t a first edition, it’s the book club edition (book club editions are cheaper obviously) but I adore the cover. I can just imagine Harriet and Vesey going into that little house.

My mothers House and Sido by Colette – I have been reminded a couple of times lately how I really need to read more Colette – and this gorgeous little book shouted out to me. A 1953, American first edition.

The Unspeakable Skipton by Pamela Hansford Johnson, I have come to really enjoy PHJ’s writing. She was pretty prolific, and I have only read about four of her novels so far. This one just sounds so interesting, and I loved the cover. It is also a first edition.

The Rain Forest by Olivia Manning – many of you will have seen my love of Olivia Manning through my reading of The Balkan and Levant trilogies (the last one of those left to read) and others of her work. This, one of her later novels is a first edition.

I am completely delighted with my beautiful purchases.

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After this we went to a tiny deli next door and had a cup of tea – the food smelled amazing – but we had a table booked elsewhere where we were meeting three other friends. A lovely long lazy chatty lunch at Bill’s on Brewer Street was next on the agenda – which was rather busy and a bit chaotic at times, but the food was good, and it is great catching up with people I don’t see very often.

Before heading back to Euston Meg and I had some time to kill and so we went to the National Portrait Gallery, we spent about 45 minutes in there – and still managed to see quite a lot. The literary theme continued there with portraits of Iris Murdoch, Doris Lessing, Seamus Heaney and photographs of Edna O’Brien, Beryl Bainbridge and Nadine Gordimer among others.

A truly lovely day, with laughs and treats a plenty, I realise now, I really needed it!

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As the year starts drawing towards Christmas, I have to stop buying books – it is obviously not easy for me. However, buying books for other people does help to scratch the itch. The Librarything Virago group have a lovely Christmas gift exchange – which naturally involves books. I am currently enjoying selecting and buying books for the person whose name I drew. It’s one of the gifts I enjoy buying most each year.

So, the latest books to come into my house (that are for me) could be seen as my last hurrah for the year.

Some second-hand book shopping while I was away in Devon at half term yielded these lovely books.

Blind Messenger by Joanna Cannan (1941)– a bit of a rare find I thought, so I sort of took a chance on it. I loved Princes of the Land published by Persephone, and I have High Table by her tbr – Liz read it and liked but didn’t love it I seem to remember. I could really do with the print being larger – but beggars can’t be choosers – I will need to turn on all the lights when I finally read it.

Mrs Reinhardt and other stories by Edna O’Brien (1978)– I have often thought I haven’t read enough Edna O’Brien – and I do love short stories. I actually have another Edna O’Brien book tbr that I shall most likely be reading soon for my ACOB.

Mary O’Grady by Mary Lavin (1950) – a green virago I didn’t have – the story of a woman’s life, and motherhood in Dublin in the first part of the twentieth century.

The Ante-room by Kate O’Brien (1934) – a modern virago – set in Ireland in the late nineteenth century. I haven’t read Kate O’Brien yet – though I do have another of her novels on my tbr bookcase. I must say this does look very good.

Before going away, I started ruminating on Katherine Mansfield – I saw something on line about her which got me thinking. It ended in predictable fashion – I went looking for books.

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The Aloe – by Katherine Mansfield (1930) her only novel – well novella really – was later reworked to become her famous short story Prelude. She wrote The Aloe to capture her recollection of childhood. I have been wanting to get to know Katherine Mansfield better for a long time, I read The Montana Stories earlier this year – ever since when, I have had this yearning for more. Well I haven’t been able to fit more in to my A Century of Books – but I am planning on reading this very soon after I complete the challenge.

You may remember me posting about the lovely Second Shelf books – well despite their website not being completely up and running yet (you can’t shop from it just yet) I managed to order myself two reasonably priced Katherine Mansfield first editions. The arrived wrapped up like little presents (they were presents to myself!) and I was delighted with the look and feel of these books by an author I first read a few years ago but fell properly in love with earlier this year. So, I bought The Collected Stories (1945) and The Doves Nest (1923) I have already read a lot of the stories in these two books, but I will want to read them again one day, whether I should read first editions I never really know, probably collectors would say not to (I do sometimes read my first editions – though I don’t have many – books are for reading – aren’t they?)

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I have now ordered a surprise first edition from them – which I think get sent out in a couple of weeks. I have seen so many people tweeting their delight with their surprise first editions – that I caved in – surprises are exciting. I am really going to have to rein in the book spending next year – I have gone a bit mad lately – but the joy of books coming through the post is irresistible. I will no doubt let you know what I get when it arrives (I’m calling it my early Christmas present to myself).

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Something else I discovered because of Twitter – was book buddle – I bought one with pretty poppies on, but they come with lots of designs. A good potential Christmas gift too – a padded sleeve to protect your book when you are carrying it around in your bag. I love mine and it has already accompanied me around the city on various buses as well as on my holiday to Devon. A simple but useful idea. How did I manage without one so long?

So, how is your shopping bag for books? Bought anything good recently?

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A little something for the weekend.

You might have seen me mentioning the Second Shelf on my September in review post the other day. So now my copy of their first ever quarterly has arrived and I thought I would share a few little tit-bits with you.

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It’s a lovely, quality publication, bringing together women’s writing and rare, collectable books. Featured in this quarterly are publishing houses I had never heard of – and writers completely new to me – names like Dawn Powell, Mary Butts and Miriam Tlali, (they sound wonderful) alongside names I am very familiar with, Sylvia Plath, Barbara Comyns, Katherine Mansfield and Jeanette Winterson among them. I am always excited to find out about writers I might want to read, even if their books really are as rare as hens’ teeth. It makes second hand book shopping more and more of a treasure hunt.

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I love what Second Shelf are doing, inspiring readers to start their own precious collections of wonderful books by women. Now what could be better? Of course, I do own lots and lots of books by women, but a few more can’t hurt – can it?

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Now, not everyone can afford to collect these rare books, many of them are well outside my price range – but it is nice to dream. The images are gorgeous, and there are several more affordable volumes too I have been seriously tempted by. There is something about an old book with a bit of history that is special I think. I am not even that bothered about owning true first editions, a few of my Agatha Christie ‘firsts’ are actually book club editions, but I still love them.

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I was excited to discover that the very author I was reading (and have now finished – review to come) Tove Ditlevsen was also featured. Early Spring, a memoir that I was reading the day my Second Shelf quarterly arrived seems to be a rather hard to find book even in paperback.

I can see my Second Shelf quarterly becoming a must have – such a fabulous resource to return to time and again, and the pictures – I will never tire of looking at them.

I hope I have whetted your appetites – those of you are able to support Second Shelf by subscribing I’m sure you won’t regret it. The website will be up and running soon, in the meantime if there were things you wanted to buy you can email them.

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Tales from the tbr

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It’s been a while since I did one of these posts – but there are some books that have come into the house – so I thought I would share them with you.

I spent a lovely five days in the Isle of Wight towards the end of August, one day half way through my visit I spent a pleasant morning mooching around Ryde – tea was drunk before a quick look at a couple of charity shop bookshelves. I was drawn to a shelf of vintage hardbacks and walked away with these:

The Greater Darkness (1963) – David Rubin
Another Woman’s House (1947) – M. G Eberhart
The Flight of the Falcon (1965) – Daphne du Maurier

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I suppose I have taken a bit of a risk with those first two – as I know absolutely nothing about either the books or their authors, but they do look really good, and Daphne is always a safe bet. All three probably on the back burner until after A Century of Books is finished.

The week before I went back to work, I met up with a friend for a catch up – we met at Waterstone’s and so the inevitable happened. Two more I can’t read for ACOB and I really, really want to read them, I shall have to see if I can squeeze them in.

Warlight (2018) by Michael Ondaatje
The Librarian (2018) Salley Vickers

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My sister went to Astley Book Farm with a friend – and I gave her a short list of things to look for (short because I shouldn’t really be acquiring more books, should I?). She found Plagued by the Nightingale (1931) by Kay Boyle.

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On Saturday I met up with some friends from the Librarything Virago group when they visited Birmingham, and I was given a lovely green edition of Olivia (1949) by Olivia (aka Dorothy Strachey). I did have something else put aside for 1949 of ACOB which I still have to read – but perhaps I could read this instead – it’s much shorter than the other book.

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I received a publicity email from Handheld press the other day. They kindly sent me a pdf of Kingdoms of Elfin by Sylvia Townsend Warner which they are bringing out at Hallowe’en. I won’t be reading the pdf just now I just don’t have the time (ACOB!) – and I have already read most of the stories in this collection when I read The Selected Stories of Sylvia Townsend Warner. If you are looking for something whimsical and a bit different this Hallowe’en – then you could do worse than invest in this little volume. Some of you probably already know Sylvia Townsend Warner is one of my favourite writers.

A Century of Books update: I have completed 72 – very nearly 73 – so 100 by the end of December is looking quite possible. What will be hard is sticking to the prescribed books and not veering away, I can’t stray too far off the path if I am going to do it.

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On Saturday, I went down to London with Liz to meet other Librarything/blogging friends for a little catch up and book buying fest. If there is one thing my little old house doesn’t need its books – but while book shops exist – I buy books.

I like a train journey, plenty of time for Liz and I to chat and read – it was lovely. I was reading an old green Virago Death Comes For the Archbishop – by Willa Cather which I have now finished – wonderful! Liz was reading A Year of Reading Dangerously by Andy Miller.

On arrival in London we headed straight for Charing Cross Road, where Liz and I met Karen, Luci and Claire and enjoyed a marvellous lunch at Gaby’s a falafel place where I would definitely eat again.

There was time for a good old chat too at lunch, and as we marched purposefully between bookshops. Luci had gifted us all books – she always arrives with a bagful ready to find new homes, I snapped up a beautifully pristine green Virago called None Turn Back by Storm Jameson. It is the third in the trilogy which began with Company Parade – which I read a while ago – just need the second volume now.

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We happily rooted through the shelves at Any Amount of Books and Henry Pordes on Charing Cross Road, two simply wonderful shops where I have found glorious treasures in the past. On Saturday, I bought one book in each.

Saraband by Eliot Bliss I found in Any Amount of Books, another greenie – which I didn’t know anything about but it is in superb condition, and looks really good. It is apparently similar to Frost in May – no bad thing. It is a coming of age story about a young girl who lives with her grandmother, develops a close friendship with her cousin Tim, and is sent to a convent school.

My next purchase came a couple of doors up at Henry Pordes.
The Orchid House by Phyllis Shand Allfrey. It is a novel set in the decline of the colonial era on a Caribbean Island.

We made a quick stop at the Oxfam bookshop – where I have found things in the past – but didn’t buy anything (shocking I know) Luci donated the rest of the books she had brought to give away. We hurried on to the London Review Bookshop, where I treated myself to a new hardback.

2016-11-20_20-00-28The World Gone Mad – the diaries of Astrid Lindgren 1939 – 1945. I think I have a strange fascination with war diaries and memoirs, and still have the Persephone edition of Mollie Panter Downes London War Notes to read.

We reached the Persephone shop just as it was getting dark, and perhaps Lamb’s Conduit Street is seen at its most atmospheric at such times. I bought six Persephone books, four as gifts so I can’t show a photograph of those – though two are for Liz’s Christmas present and one for her birthday in January – she has been instructed to forget.

The two I bought just for myself were:

Every Good Deed and other Stories by Dorothy Whipple – a new Whipple, I could not buy it – and I can’t wait to read it, I might save it for the Christmas holidays.
Long Live Great Bardfield; the autobiography of Tirzah Garwood, who I had to confess to knowing nothing about but it does look excellent.

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It was a lovely day, rounded off by half an hour in a pub close to the Persephone shop – they didn’t have a machine to make my tea – so I had mulled wine- and my goodness it was nice. Liz and I then walked back to Euston where we caught our train home, having thoroughly enjoyed our busy, bookish day.

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