18 August 2013

Bits and Bobs (the birthday edition)

A boatload of Benson
Yesterday for my birthday I decided I wanted to go have a rummage around at a local charity bookshop that had all of their fiction on sale at 50 percent off. The bookstore is in Georgetown so it seems to get a fair amount of estate-type (read old) books as donations. It was here that I picked up a bunch of Pyms last time I was in. This time I got a bunch of old novels by E.F. Benson. Until recently I had only ever read his Lucia books so I am kind of excited to see what else he wrote.

The Climber (has a character Lucia, but I don't think it is the Lucia)

Messy desk

Does anyone know anything about The Grampian Quartet by Nan Shepherd?
I came across Nan Shepherd's The Grampian Quartet in an omnibus edition and for some reason decided to give it a try. At $3 it seemed like not much of a risk. But I really know nothing about the four novels: The Quarry Wood, The Weatherhouse, A Pass in the Grampians, and The Living Mountain. Have any of you read any of them?

Dave Eggers was right*
For some reason I decided that I was in the mood for Norman Mailer's 1979 epic, Pulitzer Prize-winning account of the execution of murderer Gary Gilmore. I had The Safety Net by Heinrich Boll on deck to read for my 1979 A Century of Books choice, but for some reason I just felt like it wasn't the time for it. I like Boll's work, but it isn't the kind of stuff one should rush through, and these days, as I try to finish up my century of books, I always seem to be in a rush. For some reason I thought that the 1,109 pages of this true crime account would go faster than the 313 pages of Boll. Now that I have read the Mailer in about four days, I would say that my assumption was correct.

When I picked up The Executioner's Song at Politics and Prose the clerk said Mailer needed an editor. After reading it, I concur. It did read quickly, and Mailer's intent was obviously to really flesh out all of the players and capture the whole zeitgeist of the Gary Gilmore execution circus, but he still could have used an editor.

*He said: "It's the fastest 1,000 pages you will ever know."

I finished the Mailer in 4 days, yet am stuck on A Suitable Boy at 714 pages, only half way done.  ASB is very good, just not something to rush through. Still, I do need to get moving on it.
Rebecca West is starting to bum me out
The first Rebecca West I ever read was The Return of the Soldier. I loved it, so I assumed I would love other West novels. It is starting to become painfully clear that West may not indeed be my cup of tea. I have read three others, Harriet Hume, The Judge and now The Thinking Reed. Each of them have been tedious in their own special way. Book Snob Rachel tells me there is at least one more I should try before I give up on West entirely. If only I could remember the title. 

Summer garden interlude

Bug love

Lucy checking the crops

After a tough day in the garden


  1. What beautiful Bensons!

    I too loved Return of the Soldier and found Harriet Hume tedious, so I shall be intrigued to see if any others do pass the grade with you... I have quite a few of hers. Might try The Sunflower...

  2. I've read The Living Mountain. It's not a novel, but a piece about Nan Shepherd's beloved Cairngorms, a meditation on her relationship with the landscape. My notes say it's "clear and calm and with a purity of prose and thought that lifts the spirit"; I hope you'll enjoy it, Thomas.

  3. her very best is: The Fountain overflows and the two wonderful books that follow on....do give it a try!

  4. Thank you for the garden pics! With the drought down here, we are only allowed to water once a week now, so our flowers are really starting to suffer. (What is Lucy sniffing? It looks like a chocolate tomato that we tried to grow last year, except yours is more purple. And do forgive my city-slicker ignorance!)

    As for Rebecca West, the only one I've read is The Fountain Overflows and I thought if was depressing. That said, I do have it in the lovely NYRB edition. After all, if you are going to hang on to a book you didn't care for, it should at least be a nice edition, yes? :)
    Happy Belated Birthday to you!

  5. Books, garden, and Lucy--what could be better!
    Looks as though your birthday haul was sufficient to occupy you for some time to come. Enjoy!

  6. I love the look of your flower gardens and your dog seems totally content as well;) lazy days of summer.

  7. Your garden is beautiful... hope you're enjoying it as much as Lucy seems to be.

    It's been nearly ten years, but I remember putting all other books aside and spending a solid 4 or 5 weeks reading A Suitable Boy. It's easy to get lost in that story.

  8. Thank you for the information about The executioner''s song, it has been on my 'want to read' list for quite some time now and I enjoyed what you just said about it.

    The garden looks beautiful and the dog looks very, very cute!

    Kind regards,

  9. Happy birthday, and congratulations on a fine Benson haul. Your garden is gorgeous - I love its structured wildness. Such a lot of planning to get it to come together like that!

  10. Happy belated birthday, Thomas! Truly an enviable boatload of Benson you've got there! Am really curious about the Norman Mailer now.... Oh, and your garden is looking really good with plenty of variety. Glad you've got a 'helpful & hardworking' assistant gardener there. ;)

  11. I'm just back from Maine and the Cape myself and catching up on all my favorite blogs. What is this store in Georgetown you mention? I came back with a huge stack of books from my favorite bookstore in Ptown, Tims.

  12. E.F. Benson was the writer of some of the best ghost stories I've ever read.

    Beautiful photos!

  13. Happy Birthday!

    I have only read "The Fountain Overflows" by Rebecca West, but I really liked it.

  14. Why didn't I get taken to this bookshop? Did you want to keep all the good stuff for yourself?!

    The book is The Fountain Overflows. You're going to love it. I find copies all the time - next time I see one I'll snap it up and send it to you!

  15. Simon: I've just looked up Benson. I didn't realize he was so prolific. This could be a good discovery.

    Karen: Thanks for the information. It will be interesting to explore.

    Marmee: That seems to be the consensus.

    Susan: It is some sort of purply tomato. For some reason she always goes over and sniffs them, but she is not interested in eating them.

    Margaret: Enough is never enough.

    Diane: She loves being outside She can spend 8 hours without even thinking of coming in.

    JoAnn: ASB is starting to become an albatross. I like it, I just can't seem to pick it up again.

    Bettina: It is a quick read, don't the let the size scare you.

    Vicki: John gets all the credit for garden planning. When I am reading novels he is reading garden books.

    Michelle: Benson and Mailer couldn't be further apart could they?

    Stefan: The Lantern on P Street just west of Wisconsin.

    Cath: I just discovered he wrote a lot of them too.

    Ruthiella: You add to the West consensus.

    Rachel: If we had more time I would have taken you there--especially since I went there the day you and I met. But, they have reduced summer hours and they weren't open that day. Which meant I had struck out at two bookstores that day and why I was compelled to go back on my birthday.

  16. My belated happy birthday wishes to you, Thomas.

    What a bargain to find hardback editions of E. F. Benson's books (I'm envious!). Not many people read Benson's books these days and even in UK old bookshops, they are incredibly rare to find them. Of course, you can find his Mapp and Lucia series in paperback quite easily but not the more obscure or less well known ones which you found in your local bookshop. I adore reading Benson's "The Freaks of Mayfair" when I was young. I read Mapp and Lucia (including Tom Holt's sequels published in the 1980s) when I was in my E. F. Benson's phase and I remember taking a holiday trip to my beloved Cotswold village, Broadway - "Riseholme" is based on Broadway - with full of antique shops and quaint sweet shops after I fell in love with his stories. A friend of mine, another avid fan of E. F. Beson, got married in Broadway (FYI: it has one of the oldest and most antiquated hotels). I highly recommend you to visit Broadway if you have never been next time when you are in England.

    Best wishes, Griffin

  17. Griffin: I am so happy to find these Bensons. I think John and I passed through "Riseholme" last year when we were in the Cotswolds. I know for sure we spent a really lovely night in "Tilling" (Rye).


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