Thursday, 23 April 2015

London War Notes: now a Persephone!



Back in 2013, when I listed the best books I'd read that year, I had not a moment's doubt in putting London War Notes by Mollie Panter-Downes at the top of the list. I wrote:
It changed the way I think about the day-by-day events of the second world war, and (like Guard Your Daughters at the top of 2012's list) I think it is scandalous that it's out of print. Well, Guard Your Daughters is coming back into print in 2014, so fingers crossed for London War Notes following suit...
Well, sadly Guard Your Daughters never made it into print, but the crossed fingers for London War Notes worked a treat. Now you can get your own copy - in a beautiful Persephone edition, no less! More info from their site, here.

If this doesn't quite match my excitement when Miss Hargreaves came back into print, it's not a million miles away - London War Notes is such a valuable resource and a wonderful book that I do urge you to rush out and get a copy. Or, let's face it, order it online from the comfort of your own bed.

And do pop back and let me know what you think of it! If you've reviewed it, put a link in the comments, as I'd love to read people's responses.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Me... on The Readers podcast!

Thanks for the comments on yesterday's pic of my haul - do keep 'em coming!

I was going to save this for a mention in another post, but I couldn't wait. It's no secret that I have long wanted to appear on an episode of The Readers (and actually had that privilege in its very early days, where I talked about my favourite books). I've not been subtle about it.

Well, this time I got to be a guest for the whole episode! I stayed a night with Thomas while in DC, and we recorded an episode in his beautiful library (with Simon replacing Simon for an ep, confusingly).

I was pretty nervous and stunned to start with, but relaxed after a bit and had a really great time discussing bookish things with Thomas - specifically (1) our ideal bookish holidays, and (2) how many chances you give an author before giving up on them. And all sorts of tangents.

If you don't already subscribe to The Readers through iTunes or similar, you should - it's always fab - but you can download the episode by searching there, or you can listen online here.

Thomas and Simon do it every fortnight, so do check it out. I had such a blast doing it, and it goes without saying that I'd always be thrilled to be invited back, if I haven't disgraced myself. And it has rather given me a taste for podcasting... something I will mull over.

Anyway - go and have a listen, or download it and listen while walking/driving/etc. and let me know what you think!

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

The books I bought in the US of A



I'm back! Thank you for your lovely comments on my previous post - and for those of you who emailed/Facebooked/tweeted because of Blogger being so hopeless with comments. Any sort of communication is always a delight :)

I had such a wonderful time in Washington DC (and bits of Virginia and Maryland too). I'll be writing more about the trip soon, including meeting up with a whole heap of bloggers, but I'll start with what you really want to know: the books I bought.

Well, dear readers, I bought a heck of a lot. 34, I think. And, since I'd brought 7 books with me, that meant carrying more than 40 to the airport - and a substantial percentage were crammed in my hand luggage. It was quite the feat. And... here they are, with a little bit about why I bought them. As always, do comment (or email/tweet etc.!) if you have read any, want to know more about any, etc. etc.

The World in Falseface - George Jean Nathan
I was partly drawn to the prettiness and neat size of this book, but (less shallowly), it's about the theatre, and I always love that.

The Small Room - May Sarton
Big-time May Sarton fan Thomas (from My Porch) wasn't even with me when I picked this up - but it seemed like it could be a fun one.

Last Leaves - Stephen Leacock
A Leacock I didn't own, to join the piles of Leacock books I've yet to read... In fact, I don't think I've read any for about ten years, so must get onto that.

Nabokov's Butterfly - Rick Gekoski
A book about books - specifically book dealing with 20th-century classics. Called Tolkien's Gown in the UK, I think.

The Pilgrim Hawk - Glenway Wescott
Someone recommended this... Anyway, an NYRB Classic and an intro by Michael Cunningham sold me on it.

Alien Hearts - Guy de Maupassant
And another beautiful NYRB by an author I've been intending to read.

Portrait of an English Nobleman - E.F. Benson
Janet - E.F. Benson
Two in a series EFB wrote about different periods in London, with beautiful dustjackets.

The Shelf - Phyllis Rose
Non-fiction, about an experiment where Phyllis Rose decided to read everything on the LEQ-LES shelf of the New York library. I read this one while in DC, and it's BRILLIANT. More soon.

Soap Behind the Ears 
Nuts in May
The Ape in Me 
Dithers and Jitters 
Family Circle - Cornelia Otis Skinner
I really loved Popcorn by Cornelia Otis Skinner (and I'm going to write about it soon) but she's quite tricky to track down in the UK. So I had a parcel of Skinner books delivered to my friend's address, to take away with me...

Barrel Fever - David Sedaris
Naked - David Sedaris
Sedaris is another one who is readily available in the US, and a little less so here.

Mr Blandings Builds His Dream House - Eric Hodgins
This one went on my Amazon wishlist ages ago, and I can't remember why. But this edition is a beauty, and the two things combined made it irresistible.

Classics for Pleasure - Michael Dirda
Book about books = sold.

Why I Read - Wendy Lesser
...and another.

Benefits Forgot - G.E. Stern
A really beautiful copy of one of Stern's memoirs - which are piling up on my shelves now.

Bookends - Leona Rostenberg and Madeleine Stern
I enjoyed their book about friendship and book dealing, and, well - this one seems to be about the same thing.

The Ironing Board - Christopher Morley
Morley is everywhere in the US, and I nabbed this fun-looking collection.

By Nightfall - Michael Cunningham
On the plane, I read the Cunningham novel I bought last time I was in the US (A Home at the End of the World) so I thought I should replace it with another!

Mr Whittle and the Morning Star - Robert Nathan
The Enchanted Voyage - Robert Nathan
And last time I bought, read, and really enjoyed Robert Nathan's Portrait of Jennie - so, this trip, I took the opportunity to buy a couple more.

Absence of Mind - Marilynne Robinson
I've never really tried any of Robinson's non-fiction works (and am rather daunted by them). This one is on theology and science, and maybe one day I'll be brave enough to give it a go.

Family Man - Calvin Trillin
Remembering Denny - Calvin Trillin
Trillin is another author to be found everywhere in the US, and these two caught my attention - particularly the intriguing Remembering Denny, about a high school star who came to nothing.

Literary Feuds - Anthony Arthur
I can't lie, I love a literary feud...

Letters from the Editor - Harold Ross
I also love a collection of letters, and this one from the man who set up the New Yorker promises to be the best of the literary 1920s.

The Year of Reading Proust - Phyllis Rose
Another book by Rose that I bought and read while in America. It's even made me think about give old Marcel a try...

The Faithful Servants - Margery Sharp
Despite intending to only buy books that were hard to find in the UK, I couldn't leave this lovely Sharp behind.

Two-Part Invention - Madeleine L'Engle
This is another one that was on my Amazon wishlist for ages and I don't remember how it got there - but now it's all mine!

More on the bookshops, people, and activities soon - but, for now, let me know your thoughts on my purchases!

Friday, 10 April 2015

8 years of blogging!



Yep, dear blog readers, today is 8 years since I started blogging at Stuck-in-a-Book. Every year it comes around more quickly, and I seem to be running through the numbers at a rate of knots.

Thanks so much to all the lovely people who read this, particularly those who have been reading for many years. I really do appreciate your comments, emails, links, and friendship - and, of course, your blogs (for those of you who blog).

As you read this, I am off on a 'plane to America, visiting my friend in Washington DC. While there I am planning on meeting up with FIVE bloggers, three of whom I haven't met before. I'm not back til the 20 April, so you may hear their reports before you hear mine - and I am intending on returning to Blighty with bagfuls of books, of course.

See you in a couple of weeks!

Thursday, 9 April 2015

NYRB Classics: recommendations?

Loving Alfred and Guinevere and Skylark makes me think... are there little-known NYRB Classics that you would especially recommend?

I find that their list is extremely varied, and there are lots that I probably wouldn't bother picking up - but I am besotted with many of their authors, including Tove Jansson, Elizabeth von Arnim, Elizabeth Taylor, Ivy Compton-Burnett, and Rose Macaulay. And then things like those two novels aforementioned that I knew nothing about before being seduced by those NYRB covers. OH, and the extraordinary The Slaves of Solitude by Patrick Hamilton.


(I have stolen Thomas's image of NYRBs again, because I love it so much. Sorry, Thomas. And thanks.)

So please, dear NYRB fans, let us know your recommendations in the comments, please!

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Alfred and Guinevere by James Schuyler

There is something rather wonderful about choosing and reading a book while knowing very little about it. I knew nothing at all about James Schuyler or his 1958 novel Alfred and Guinevere when I picked it up in Hay on Wye last year - all I knew was that I loved NYRB Classics (and this one, from 2001, shows just how timeless their designs are - looking beautifully fresh 14 years later. Even though I can't find out what the painting is). Not being a poetry buff, I didn't realise that that was the arena in which Schuyler made his name - but I do now know that he had a knack with words that was rather extraordinary.

The eponymous Alfred and Guinevere are children who are sent to stay with their grandparents. Most of this slim novel is given in their dialogue, excerpts from Guinevere's diary, and letters that she writes. The novella probably says their ages, but I must have flown past that section. Guinevere is the elder; Alfred is pretty unschooled in reading and writing.

Undoubtedly the greatest achievement in this novel is Schuyler's ability to capture the cadences of children's conversation, particularly the back-and-forth of sibling arguments, which leap from battle to truce to battle, weaving in long-standing disagreements, I-know-something-you-don't-know novelties, and (most beautifully captured of all) snatches stolen from the conversation of adults around them, and novels the children probably shouldn't be reading. This is a trick Schuyler uses throughout: they borrow idioms and metaphors that sound extremely out of kilter with their childish bickering, because - of course - that is exactly what children do do. Perhaps particularly those who feel adrift from the adults around them, and uncertain of the events that have occurred (more on that soon). Here's an example from a letter Betty writes to Guinevere, her erstwhile friend:
Dear Guinevere,Thanks for the note. It is a shame boys make so much trouble and go around tattle-taling and spoiling intimate friendships. Of course your knocking me down like that made a permanent wound in my feelings which is slow to heal but it is not you at bottom I blame it is them. It was not me or Lois who told her mother or my mother what my mother told your mother she said you said. It was Stanley who told his mother and she told the other mothers. So you see how it goes.It is a shame what happens but I guess you have to take it as it comes and not spoil your life with vain regrets.More in sadness than in hate,Elizabeth Carolanne House
And there is this...
"You're scared to walk across the bridge and look. I can tell you're scared when you try to look like Mother.""I'll run away and leave you in the gathering gloom at the mercy of reckless drivers and we'll see who's scared.""I'll throw myself in the gutter and get sick and die, then you'll be sorry.""No I won't. I'll go to your funeral and say, 'Doesn't he look sweet in his coffin,' and cry, then everybody will feel sorry for me and give me things. I'll wear a black dress with black accessories and a hat with a black veil. Black is very becoming and makes you look older. Then I'll take your insurance money and go on a trip and meet a dark, interesting stranger."
Lest you think that this is a cutesy book, I should say that - behind the well-observed dialogue - there is an indistinct darkness. I suppose Guinevere's macabre callousness might already dismiss ideas of Brady Bunch levels of cuteness, but there is a much darker subtext. The children briefly discuss having found a dead body. At one very poignant moment, Guinevere blurts out "I'm sorry Daddy hit you", but it is not explored further than that. Schuyler gives just enough shade to make clear that all is not sunny.

But, at the same time, this is a very funny book. It is the sort of humour that stems almost entirely from acute observation - and that, if coupled with a slight (slight) heightened tone, is probably the thing I find most amusing. In only 126 pages, Schuyler combines humour and darkness in a really exceptional way.

Alfred and Guinevere is deceptively quick and simple. But, oh, there is an awful lot going on - not least an authorial restraint and style that I heartily applaud. If I had to pick any other novel that it reminded me of, I would pick another NYRB beauty - Skylark by Dezső Kosztolányi.

Have you read this? Do you know anything about James Schuyler? I now want to find out much more!

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Shiny New Books - one year old today!

I can't quite believe it, but Shiny New Books is a whole year old. Issue 5 is published today - which is, exactly to the day, one year since Issue 1.

It's live! Go and explore; you'll find a lot to love, and I'll throw out some highlights over the next few days. (EDIT: actually it might be a while before I manage to post those links, for reasons that will be disclosed...)

As always, many thanks to my wonderful co-editors Annabel, Victoria, and Harriet - and our latest addition, Jodie.

We're really proud of it, and I hope you enjoy it. The colours have come full circle and we're back to purple and gold!