Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Summer pleasures


There are few things I like more than a bookshop that sells old Penguins, and in Totnes recently I was delighted to an excellent selection. I came away with the eight books below, though I could have bought more if I hadn't been restricting myself to books I really "needed" (my mother-in-law didn't believe you could need a book, an attitude which did little to build bridges between us!)

I realised a while ago that I didn't possess a single book by P.G. Wodehouse – when I wanted to read one I always got it out of the library. Since these institutions are now "information centres" or some such, and no longer believe in the necessity of books (like my mother-in-law), I can't rely on them any more even for the classics. So I was pleased to find both The Code of the Woosters, containing the saga of the Fink-Nottle/Bassett nuptials and the affair of the cow-creamer, and Summer Lightning, in which Lord Emsworth's prize pig is stolen. To re-read these books is to rediscover a wealth of old friends.

Ivy Compton-Burnett's A House and Its Head is another old acquaintance; in fact I had to leave another of her books because I couldn't remember if I already had it. It's a long time since I read it, so I can't remember what happens, though I do recall the opening chapter, with its family wrangles over the breakfast table, a typical Compton-Burnett scene.

The Angel in the Corner by Monica Dickens was not a book I remembered reading, though I thought I recognised the story of a young woman who makes a disastrous marriage to escape her domineering mother. Lacking the humour of her more autobiographical work, it makes an interesting, if earnest, contribution to my collection of books about the changes in the role of women since Victorian times.

What's Become of Waring by Anthony Powell is new to me, and promises some insight into that fascinating topic, the literary biography. According to the blurb, the death of travel writer T.T. Waring leads to a search for someone to chronicle his life. From what I know of Powell I imagine that, when it was published in 1932, the parade of putative biographers looked eminently recognisable to the literary establishment, and added bite to its wit. I shan't know who the characters represent, but will enjoy it anyway.

Angela Thirkell's Barsetshire novels are a recently-discovered delight. I can't tell you how much I love her books, and how I treasure every word. They share Wodehouse's gentle farce with Barbara Pym's excellent women, and I know that in due course every single one I can get hold of will be added to my book shelves, regardless of expense (there are quite a few). In Before Lunch (splendid title!) Thirkell creates an infuriating character to rival some of Miss Austen's, though Mr Middleton is admittedly more endearing than some of hers, and entirely lacks the malice of a Mrs Norris. Nonetheless, you find yourself wondering how his wife can bear him with such patience, and admiring her fortitude, particularly when the friend with whom she can exchange the occasional ruefully-raised eyebrow becomes romantically entangled. Summer Half, the second of her books that I bought, is still to be savoured, when I can bring myself to start it – anticipation is part of the pleasure.

Finally, another unknown, The Midas Consequence by Michael Ayrton, a writer perhaps better-known now for his painting and sculpture than for his books, though I fear most people will ask "who?" Some 20 years ago there was an exhibition of his work at the City Art Centre in Edinburgh; I went with my husband, and we fell so in love with one work that we seriously wondered whether we could sell the car to be able to buy it. Sanity prevailed, but I rather wish we had done so. I shall write about both book and artist later, I think, but in the meantime people might like to follow this link to a quite magnificent portrait of Wyndham Lewis in the Tate Gallery.

17 comments:

  1. I just recently rented The Code of the Woosters, and plan to listen after I finish Team of Rivals (30 tapes!). I bet I've listened 3 or 4 times already, and I never, ever tire of it. In fact, most of the Wodehouse I've read has been aurally (is that the right word?). There are two narrators, the late, lamented Frederick Davidson, and Alexander Spencer. Both are wonderful.

    Sadly, I just gave all my Angela T. to the library. I've had them for years, and the only one I loved to pieces was The Demon in the House. I tried various others, and even tried reading them in order, but something just didn't 'take' with me. I wanted something different, though I couldn't tell you what; perhaps D.E. Stevenson, E.M. Delafield, Miss Read, Elizabeth Cadell?? Maybe, I'm just not sure. I so love the look of all your Penguins.

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  2. I went through a period in my late teens where I read almost nothing but Wodehouse and rather overdosed, but perhaps the time is right to go back. I must see what Oxfam has got. I love these old Penguins but at the moment am not enamoured with them at all as I'm reading a book short-listed for the Carnegie, published by them which is so bad it shouldn't have been published by anyone. Huffy post coming up towards the end of the week.

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  3. Nan, isn't it funny what will work for someone and not for others? I lent my husband a crime novel recently which had been recommended by a fellow blogger and which I had thoroughly enjoyed, and he loathed it. We didn't even agree about whether the writing was good.

    TT, I'm looking forward to reading the huffy post - dying to know what the book is.

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  4. Thanks to the intro to lots of folks I haven't read . . . Wodehouse is gorgeous, and I - with you - need to read more of his work.

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  5. If you were recently in Totnes then you were only yards away from where novelist Mary Wesley used to live. I've left a comment on someone's blog about Mary, but now I can't find where I left it ... I wonder if others do this? Leave comments and then 'lose' them?
    Margaret Powling

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  6. Andi, glad you found it interesting. I shall be posting more about old Penguins, I'm sure, though too many trips to that bookshop might prove expensive, so I must ration them.

    Galant, my mother used to see Mary Wesley in the doctor's surgery from time to time. She, like my mother, was also a regular at the plant stall in the market, too.

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  7. Do you live anywhere near Totnes, then, Nan? Although I'm not Devonian (although husband is), we live not that far away from Totnes.
    Margaret Powling

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  8. I too love these old Penguins. Something about the simplicity of the design. I imagine they're a little harder to find over here in Canada, though I do own quite a few. You've found a good batch!

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  9. No Wodehouse? What would Jeeves think?

    Goodness, leave your mother-in-law at a roadside McDonald's with a copy of "People". Of course you can need a book. I need several hundred.

    Books are magic, of course. Just give me bell, book, and border collie and I am happy.

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  10. Galant, my mother lives near Totnes, so I am a regular visitor, and I lived in Devon for quite a time, including for a while on Dartmoor, which remains very close to my heart.

    Melanie, I'm already planning what to look for on the next visit!

    Fireblossom, books were only one area of contention between my and my M-in-L, how to bring up sons being another. I suspect she's still criticising me from beyond the grave, but I'm still not listening.

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  11. Aren't old fashioned Penguins wonderful? They look so distinguished on the shelf!

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  12. Those old Penguins are so lovely! I don't run across many of those so I suppose they never looked like that here. So many of these sound wonderful, esp. the Thirkell whom I've yet to read but sounds delightful.

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  13. Oxford Reader, they do look very distinguished, don't they? I get a real glow of pleasure from looking at them, though I wish I could shelve them neatly to enjoy them. Must put up some more bookshelves!

    Tara, I think you would enjoy Thirkell (though that has to be a bit tentative, as I'd thought Nan would, and she obviously didn't!)

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  14. I possess several volumes of Wodehouse, Wesley and almost all of Anthony Powell, but sadly no Thirkell. Must try her. Thanks for all the suggestions.

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  15. I have just tagged you for a meme, here:

    http://writinglifeandtheuniverse.blogspot.com/2008/05/favourite-authors-at-moments-notice.html

    Of course there's no obligation to take part ... only if you feel like it.

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  16. I just came upon a post via Jen Robinson's blog about the house the Green Knowe books were based on. I know you gave the link on your original posting, but I thought you might like to read this:

    http://emmaco.livejournal.com/
    100548.html

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  17. So pretty! I love old Penguins, though I rarely read the ones I have, as they all seem about to fall apart. I did read A House and Its Head in that Penguin edition though, and really liked it.

    And of course you can need books! I have tried unsuccessfully to persuade my brother of this...

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