Monday, 4 December 2017

Book Haul (aka I'm Buying Again)

Earlier in the year I bought a new bookcase, had a couple of smallish culls and have tried to stick to the libraries (I belong to libraries in my home borough of Merton, and my work borough of Kensington) but now I’m bringing books in faster than I can read them again. Given that my new bookcase was immediately filled with the double shelved books I had to move just to see what was behind them, I’m busily trying to read and discard the newbies before I get too attached.  

Here then is the latest influx…


I've just discovered that the charity shop in Tooting near the railway station sells Penguins for a pound. They don't have a lot of the greens, but I did find The Waxworks Murder by John Dickson Carr. On the whole I would have to file this book under worthwhile but strange. I think it was meant to be creepy too, but somehow the unnerving atmosphere of the waxworks and the mephistophelian character of Bencolin weren’t quite doing what I could sense they were meant to.  The narrator kept telling us he was creeped out (not in those words, it was the 30s) but I never really suspended my disbelief long enough to feel it.

I also recently read (courtesy of Copperfields in Wimbledon, which keeps its old Penguins on a bookshelf in the doorway, apparently indifferent to Elizabeth Von Arnim's stricture that what is meat for roses is poison for books) The Plague and I by Betty MacDonald, which is about her spell in a sanatorium for TB.

Apart from her sense of humour – which is what carries you through the book despite the talk of collapsed lungs, death, ice cold beds and so on - what came through for me most strongly in this one was the frustration of both patients and nurses.

Patients because of course TB mostly struck down the young and healthy, people who found it hard to keep still all day for months on end, or go home and not go straight back to former habits. People who, like Betty herself, were of working age and who lost their jobs when they became ill, and needed to find work again. Or who were primary care givers reduced to seeing their children once a month for 10 minutes and desperate to get back to them.

Nurses because complete compliance with the bedrest treatment was the only known cure for TB at the time, and almost impossible to ensure. A sympathetic nurse, one who turned a blind eye to a patient sitting up when she was not meant to, might contribute to a relapse, even haemorrhage and death. So they distanced themselves and clung to the rules, and separated patients who insisted on talking.  

The Great Port – Jan Morris

My copy of this comes from Oxford Polytechnic Library, it’s a battered, coverless, dusty blue hardback with ‘withdrawn’ stamped across the title page, and Morris’ old name on the spine. Let others talk of pristine pages and unbroken spines - I do love a well thumbed book.

As far as the text goes it’s interesting but not grabbing me. The places aren’t coming alive and the characters aren’t either. Maybe it’s because I recently read Helene Hanff’s Apple of my Eye, and she was a New Yorker, or maybe it’s because I’ve also recently read Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere by Morris, which is so much more in every way.

Or perhaps it’s simply the wrong book at the wrong time. I’ll set it aside for now.

Then there is Marian Keyes Making it up as I go Along (on the Kindle, or more accurately, on my phone and mostly while I’m on the tube)

At first I wasn’t sure there was really a book here, to be honest. It starts with a selection of her make up articles, all of which are amusing – she doesn’t take it too seriously and she’s not trying to sell you things - but which are definitely at their best in short bites. There’s an ‘I’m a bit of an eejit and get overexcited about silly things and have to call my Mam’ schtick which started to annoy after the third consecutive chapter. (Which is fair enough, because of course they’re not chapters – they’re short pieces of writing which were never intended to be read in a lump).

Gradually though that eases off and you pick up on the fact that you are reading someone who is genuinely ill, on medication for that, and doing her damnedest to keep well and count her blessings and get on with her life.

I still don’t think it was a good idea to create longer chapters out of posts or articles on similar subjects though. Some sort of mixing it up or maybe a note at the beginning which would free the reader to mix it up would be a boon. There’s plenty here to pick and choose from – and she’s very, very funny.* 

Incidentally I’ve not actually read any of Marian Keyes fiction, probably because it seems to be packaged as chick lit, which isn’t my downtime reading of choice (that would be vintage crime). On the other hand the thing she loses points for on Amazon is (shock horror!) having characters her readers don’t like, which quite piques my interest. Maybe I’ll get round to it.  

* edit to the above: I didn't read the introduction. There is indeed a bit telling you to read it in any order you like. 

The Mitfords – Letters between Six Sisters. I’ve barely started this one, but I’m sure a fellow blogger put me on to it. I wish I could remember who.

Goodbye to all Cats – P G Wodehouse. This actually contains 3 short stories, of which Goodbye to all Cats is only the first. For the record my sympathies are with Dahlia. Anyone who throws a cat out of a window just because it lays on their evening clothes deserves to have their engagement broken off. This is quite a slight book and probably not really worth the £4.99 I spent on it. I fancied a little light Wodehouse though, and it did hit the spot. 

and lastly.. Games People Play – Eric Berne M.D. One of the one pound penguins. It’s about the psychology of human relationships, and even if some of it is a little out of date (it was published in the 60s and I’m sure psychology and society have shifted somewhat since then) it looks interesting. 

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