30 November 2010

Book-a-palooza: Penguin's Great Ideas

I meant to unveil one book-a-palooza post a day, but I got impatient. All the text and pictures were ready, I couldn't resist dumping them all at once. 

And if these Penguins don't interest you (!) scroll down there are plenty of other book treasures that follow.

I saved the best Book-a-palooza post for last.

Some of you may remember my obsession in getting all 20 volumes of the Penguin English Journey's series. Well obssessions ran amok on my recent trip to London. As you saw earlier, I couldn't help buying almost all of the Penguin Great Loves series. But far crazier was my last minute decision to acquire all 100 volumes in the Great Ideas series.

What possessed me? I already owned two that I had picked up a year ago at an English bookshop in Den Haag. And then when I was in the original Daunt Books on Marylebone High Street on a rainy Friday night a few weeks ago, I picked up a copy of Nationalism just because I loved the cover (see below).

Later that weekend right before drifting off to jet-lag enhanced slumber I noticed that the volume was numbered and that there are 100 books in the series. One thing led to another and our last full day in London I found myself in Daunt Books on Fulham Road where I managed to snag about 45 volumes in one fell swoop. But this still left fifty-some still to buy. As we wended our way across central London that day I called in at every new bookshop we passed to see if they had more of them. The giant Waterstone's at Picadilly. Nothing. At the fantastically wonderful Hatchards just a few doors down from that, not one to be found. Foyles on Charing Cross Road, another goose egg. I was starting to despair, the helpful folks at Hatchards explained that they once had them all in one section but after the original promotion they put them into general stock which made them worse than a needle in a haystack given the time I had left. Then, after almost not even going in, I walked into the Blackwell's on Charing Cross Road and asked at the information counter. He pointed me toward a full display of the whole series. Earlier at Daunt I had noted down all the numbers that were still missing. I took that list and started grabbing the ones I needed off the shelf. I soon had to enlist John's help to hold the ones I was going to buy as I went through my numbered list. Within five minutes John had about 52 books in his arms. I had managed to find all the volumes that were missing. I couldn't believe my luck. Finding all missing 97 volumes in one day. The best part is that Blackwells had them on sale 3 for the price of 2!

And let me tell you, they are beautiful. Most of covers have some element of embossed design. Some are very intricate and some are extremely simple. Below are a selection of my favorites.

Penguin knows at least two things: 1) Pretty covers matter; and 2) Create a numbered series and OCD book collectors will spend way too much money, like climbing Everest, just because it is there.

Can you spot the rainbow of Great Ideas on the top shelf?

The cover that started it all for me.

Book-a-palooza: A Walk Down Charing Cross Road

I have gotten way behind in writing about recent book adventures, so all this week I will be posting about some of fun things I have picked up in the last couple of weeks.

I was on a hunt for something in particular when I went into Foyles on Charing Cross Road. (Much more on that later this week.) When the young man at the information counter told me they didn't have it I noticed over his shoulder Deborah Devonshire's latest book. Turned out it was even signed, albeit on a bookplate pasted in the front. I am looking forward to this.

But then I noticed Darlene at Roses Over a Cottage Door that the Canadian cover is way better (I think). I would give up my signed English copy for her Canadian one. Frances writes about it and other things Mitford here.

And in the basement of another shop I found these two little gems plus a similar sized A Passage to India. I am ashamed to admit I don't know the shop name. I have been in the place numerous times over the years, as I have been with many of those secondhand shops that line the east side of Charing Cross Road, and I have never bothered to look at the names of the stores. Even when I lived just around the corner and walked by almost daily I never took notice of what the shops were called. Now that I think about it, even more amazing is that I lived so close to Charing Cross Road and bought so few books. That's what happens when one is young and broke. I think at the time any extra money I had went to buy tickets for classical music concerts.

Book-a-palooza: Penguin's Great Loves

I have gotten way behind in writing about recent book adventures, so all this week I will be posting about some of fun things I have picked up in the last couple of weeks.

God knows I love a Penguin series. Here is their Great Loves series. I am still in need of one more volume to complete the 20-volume set.

I think the covers are quite lovely.

Book-a-palooza: Vintage Penguins and Laski at Lloyd's of Kew

I have gotten way behind in writing about recent book adventures, so all this week I will be posting about some of fun things I have picked up in the last couple of weeks.
I couldn't help but purchase a few vintage Penguin titles when I saw the range of them available at Lloyd's of Kew. They are in quite good condition. I just hope they stand up to one more reading, as I am intent on reading these copies. I will have to be extra careful.

I generally like Huxley's work and have never heard of these titles so it seemed like a good purchase. And as for The Thin Man, I don't read much mystery or crime fiction but I couldn't resist this fantastic standard Penguin green.

Perhaps even more fantastic is this really nice copy of The Village by Marghanita Laski. I haven't read any of her work but bought two reissues at Persephone earlier that week.

I thought I would also show you a few more photos of Lloyd's of Kew. We did not take these pictures, they are actually postcards on sale at the shop.

Photo: (c) Urike Bulle 2010

Photo: (c) Urike Bulle 2010

Photo: (c) Urike Bulle 2010

Book-a-palooza: Slightly Foxed Editions

I have gotten way behind in writing about recent book adventures, so all this week I will be posting about some of fun things I have picked up in the last couple of weeks.

You may remember the great pictures we took of John Sandoe Books just of the King's Road. While there I picked up two volumes of Slightly Foxed Editions. I've read on other blogs about the Slightly Foxed shop on Gloucester Road in London and their Foxed Quarterly, so when I saw these I knew I shouldn't pass them up. Nice bindings, lovely smooth paper, and each one is a limited run and numbered.

#9 The High Path by Ted Walker
#10 A House in Flanders by Michael Jenkins

29 November 2010

Book-a-palooza: Persephone Outing

I have gotten way behind in writing about recent book adventures, so all this week I will be posting about some of fun things I have picked up in the last couple of weeks.

Many of you wondered what I picked up on my first visit to Persephone when we were in London two weeks ago. Rather than carry them home in my already full suitcase, I had them shipped and they were remarkably quick in showing up on my doorstep. With the exception of the Whipple, these are all new authors for me. I have wanted The Hopkins Manuscript since I gave it as a gift last year to Jodie at Book Gazing for the Persephone Secret Santa. And the Richmal Crompton I got because I remembered how much Simon liked it. What I didn't know when I bought it was that Crompton is (one of?) his favorite author(s) and that is how came to know Persephone in the first place. High hopes for that one.

The New House by Lettice Cooper
Family Roundabout by Richmal Crompton
Little Boy Lost by Marghanita Laski
To Bed With Grand Music by Marghanita Laski
Doreen by Barbara Noble
A House in the Country by Jocelyn Playfair
The Fortnight in September by RC Sheriff
The Hopkins Manuscript by RC Sheriff
They Were Sisters by Dorothy Whipple

28 November 2010

Book-a-palooza: Running around DC

I have gotten way behind in writing about recent book adventures, so all this week I will be posting about some of fun things I have picked up in the last couple of weeks.

I am going to kick off my book-a-palooza week with a few snaps of the books I picked up on Friday here in DC. Here is the whole pile.

First stop was Books for America which I have mentioned many times here on My Porch. I never fail to find at least a few good things whenever I go to this local charity shop. They have high turnover, good stock, and low prices. This time I came away with only four:

Family Man by Calvin Trillin

The Skin Chairs by Barbara Comyns - I have never read any Comyns so this seemed like a good buy.

Thomas Hardy by Ralph Pite - I kind of like to collect literary biographies. I don't tend to read them, but like having them for reference.

The Life of Katherine Mansfield by Antony Alpers - Another literary bio. I have never read any of Mansfield's work but have read so much about her on other blogs that I know I will some day.

Then we went to Capitol Hill Books. This is an old DC row house stacked to the rafters with books. And since I don't go there often, there was a lot for me to choose from. In addition to these great books on London and Cambridge, I also got one on Wells Cathedral.

And who could pass up this beat-up old hardback copy of ICB's A God and His Gifts? I also got a paperback of A Family and a Fortune. These were especially good finds given how scarce her books are in this country.

I already own the Vintage Classics reissue of Pied Piper, but I couldn't say no to this great old cover. Plus I got three other titles I have never read before.


Sunday Painting: Autumn by Winslow Homer

All the leaves are off the trees now, but the woods near our house are blanketed with leaves that remind me of this painting everytime I go by.

Autumn (1877)
Winslow Homer, 1836-1910
National Gallery of Art, Washington

26 November 2010

Book Review: A Closed Eye by Anita Brookner

Having now read A Closed Eye, I have only one of Anita Brookner's 24 novels left to read. Hopefully the prolific 82-year old Brookner will keep writing, but as her output slows (she no longer writes a novel a year) I have come to a certain pre-emptive peace with the reality that it can't go on forever. One of the reasons for my sanguinity is that her shortish novels are all so packed with nuance and emotion that they seem like the perfect books for re-reading.

I have often commented that I am not so good at distinguishing between Brookner's novels. On the surface they all seem to be very similar. Inevitably the characters are loners who seem to get a sort of exquisitely painful pleasure out of their self-imposed isolation and their inability to connect emotionally with those around them. They all speak at least a little French, usually have flats in London, spend the majority of their time walking the streets, and seem to be waiting for sleep and/or death.

All of these things are present in A Closed Eye, yet I think it is the most different of all Brookner's novels. Protagonist Harriet Lytton rages against the inertia of life like no other Brookner character in my memory. But true to Brookner's fach, Harriet's rage is silent and largely unacted upon. So intensely does she want her daughter Imogen to capture all the life she herself has missed that she fails to do anything about her own situation. She accepts, in fact encourages (albeit silently), Imogen becoming spoiled, self-centered, and insufferably intolerant of her. And although, like most other Brookner heroines, Harriet's life is once of complacency, surrounded by death and depression and feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, she does at least have old school friends that form a support network. And Harriet makes at least one bold move that separates her from the typical Brookner model. And in the end--so subtle that one could miss it--there is a glimmer of hope.

There is something about these bleak books that not only fascinate me but comfort me as well. I recognize that there is something about the isolation that I find alluring. But I have opined before that I am also drawn to these characters because they are cautionary tales. Perfect examples of what I don't want to become. A typically bleak scene:
Suddenly there was nothing for her to do. Freddie ate lunch out, so she made do with a sandwich. She could have taken a long walk, for in the early days of her marriage she had keenly regretted her lost liberty, but now that she was older she preferred to stay indoors and look out of the window. There was little to see in the quiet square; few people passed, and if she saw anyone she knew she retreated instinctively.
So what of the plot? There is one, there always is with Brookner. But the details and the emotions are so much the point that plot doesn't really matter. And for once I have an answer to the question: "Which Brookner should I start with?" I have never been able to answer this before because of the sameness of Brookner's novels. For those that think you would be predisposed to like this kind of book, you can start anywhere. But for those of you who aren't sure, you should start with A Closed Eye. It contains enough action that it could unwittingly ease you into the depressing, but cosy, warm-bath-water-world of Brookner's fiction. Like slipping into a coma.

On the other hand if you are prone to depression you might want to steer clear of Brookner entirely.

(And for reading fiends out there this one has lots of little references to literary works.)


24 November 2010

I Love Lucy

Lucy my dog that is. (Although Lucille Ball is pretty great too.) She has only been with us since October 31st, but man oh man do we love her.

23 November 2010

Reading Lists

11/24 UPDATE: The more I look at the list below, the more it annoys me.

First, not only is all the formatting totally apesh*t, but it doesn't even accurately capture the ones I put in blue. What I see as I compose this is not what happens when I publish this post, so you really won't know which 35 I have read. My sense of tidiness and order is hugely offended by the mishmash that follows. I suppose I could learn something about HTML and fix it, but ye gods, I can't know everything.

Second, Steve and Simon and others are right about the oddness of this list. It isn't the first time I have seen it around the interwebs. In my excitement about a book list (any book list) I didn't really think critically about what was on it. Although I did notice the Shakespeare duplication and the absolute dubiosity (I think I just made that word up, and I like it.) of Mitch Albom being on the list, I really didn't think about what a crap list it is for the reasons that some of you noted in the comments and for others.

Most reading lists are bound to elicit praise and criticism in varying doses, it kind of goes with the territory. A vast world of books and a vast world of readers with different tastes and points of view, could there be any other result. I will say, however, that for all its faults the Modern Library Top 100 of the 20th century does a much better job than the "BBC list" of capturing some sense of great books that literate English speakers might consider canon-worthy.

Plus on the Modern Library list, I have read 61 out of 100 so I look a whole lot better. (Of course I have been purposefully reading from that list since it first came out in the late 1990s.)  You may already have noticed I have a permanent page up top devoted to my intermittent devotion to that list. You can also look at it here.

And many thanks to dpv at The Hogpath Bugle who gives us a great link that deals with the provenance of this FB meme.

My friend Staci posted this on FB, but FB wouldn't let me paste this into a note. So I am posting it here. [And now Blogger is doing funny things to the font. Sorry it ain't pretty.]

Have you read more than 6 of these books? The BBC believes most people will have read only 6 of the 100 books listed here.  

Staci thought I would have read about 90% of these. She was wrong, but with 35 read, I certainly did better than 6.

I am putting the ones I have read in blue.
The ones in italics I have partially read.
The ones with the strike through are the ones I am VERY unlikely to even want to read.

 1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
 2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien
 3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
 4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling  
 5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
 6 The Bible  
 7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
 8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell 
 9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
 10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
 11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott
 12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
 13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
 14 Complete Works of Shakespeare  
 15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
 16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien
 17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulk
 18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
 19 The Time Traveler’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
 20 Middlemarch - George Eliot
 21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell
 22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald
 24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
 25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
 27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky 
 28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck 
 29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll 
 30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
 31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
 32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens 
 33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis 
 34 Emma -Jane Austen
 35 Persuasion - Jane Austen
 36 The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe - CS Lewis 
 37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
 38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
 39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
 40 Winnie the Pooh - A.A. Milne
 41 Animal Farm - George Orwell 
 42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
 43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
 44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving
 45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins 
 46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery
 47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
 48 The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood 
 49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding
 50 Atonement - Ian McEwan
 51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel
 52 Dune - Frank Herbert
 53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons 
 54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen 
 55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
 56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon  
 57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
 58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
 59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon
 60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
 61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
 62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
 63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt
 64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold 
 65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
 66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac
 67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
 68 Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding
 69 Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie 
 70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville 
 71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
 72 Dracula - Bram Stoker 
 73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
 74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
 75 Ulysses - James Joyce 
 76 The Inferno - Dante  
 77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
 78 Germinal - Emile Zola
 79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
 80 Possession - AS Byatt
 81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
 82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
 83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker
 84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
 85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
 86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
 87 Charlotte’s Web - E.B. White
 88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
 89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
 90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
 91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
 92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery 
 93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
 94 Watership Down - Richard Adams
 95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
 96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
 97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas 
 98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare
 99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl 
 100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo

22 November 2010

A walk down Atwood's Alley

And it's lined with great fiction.

A great visit to Lloyd's of Kew

We kept passing Lloyd's of Kew on our way to and fro but it always seemed to be the outside of business hours. So it was great that we managed a good, but quick browse on our last day in London.

The extremely friendly proprietor (Lloyd perhaps?).

Being near Kew Gardens, they had a great garden section. John was in heaven.

It has a great book tree. Rob Around Books has a much better picture of it.

Great little selection of original Penguins. One of these days soon I will share with you what I bought.

11/23 UPDATE: I only just now noticed that copy of The Woman in White.
It would have gone into my luggage if I had noticed it that day.

He had great postcards of books in the shop. I bought several that I will share with you all once I scan them in.

I don't think John was going for this blurry effect, but I quite like it.