Sunday Salon: Weekending in Devon

The Sunday SalonDespite losing an hour, we packed in a lot of fun this weekend. Yesterday we took the steam train and ferry from Paignton to Dartmouth with some friends. The weather was perfect, with blue skies and some real warmth from the sun for one of the first times this year. We ate local crab sandwiches, took a cruise around the estuary and (after some searching) found a place for cream tea with delicious scones and terrible wait staff.

We weren’t in Devon for a literary break, but it so happens that one of the stops on the steam train line is Greenway Halt, which exists solely for visitors to Greenway, the estate of one Agatha Christie. I haven’t read her books since I was a teenager but back then I was a big fan. I couldn’t resist picking up one of her titles in the railway shop. Maybe I’ll rekindle my fandom and next time we’re in Devon I can drag Tim round another author’s home!

Braveheart

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Holiday bookses

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While in Cornwall this past week, I read two books and bought five, plus I talked Tim into buying another three that I kinda want to read too (all our purchases are pictured above). I don’t really do book bans, and any vague notions of one that I do have are always suspended while on holiday, but five books in a week feels like a lot. Then again, we found some lovely bookshops, and I always want to support great bookshops.

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World Book Day 2016

Happy World Book Day! Every child went to school today dressed as their favourite book character and 14 million children in the UK and Ireland have received a £1 book voucher. (There are 10 special £1 books for the occasion, or they can just get £1 off any book they like.) It’s a fantastic celebration of books and reading and I really feel that as a book blogger I should contribute…something.

I am hugely behind on book reviews, having finished no less than three books this week, but I’ve been unwell and full-of-cold brain is not conducive to good writing. I’m sure all the top journalists say the same.

But what I can still manage is to write about the four new books I gained this last week. Because this post is mainly pictures and even ol’ snuffles here can take a couple of photos.

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There were no slow degrees of consciousness

books baguettes bedbugsBooks, Baguettes and Bedbugs
by Jeremy Mercer

I’ve seen this book recommended by lots of people over the years, but I must admit, all I knew about it was that it’s about the Shakespeare and Company bookshop in Paris, a tourist attraction I’ve never visited, and knew of only as a famous bookshop associated with some famous authors and artists. So I learned a lot, and completely fell in love with the shop and its story.

I’ve been to Paris twice, and travelled through it another two or three times, and it’s a little crazy that a famous English-language bookshop near the city centre wasn’t on my list of attractions to visit. It certainly will be next time, though it won’t be quite the same shop that Mercer describes.

First, I learned that the current incarnation of the bookshop, on Rue de la Bûcherie, is not the same as the first bookshop by that name, which was opened and run by Sylvia Beach from 1919 until 1940. That shop had its own wonderful history with colourful characters who have popped up in various things I’ve read, but Mercer for the most part skips past all that to the second Shakespeare and Company bookshop, which was opened in 1951 by George Whitman. He originally called his shop Le Mistral, but changed it in 1964 to Shakespeare and Company in tribute to Sylvia Beach, following her death.

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Literary day out: Hay-on-Wye

Addyman Books

When I was a teenager, I forget which year, for my birthday I asked for money and a trip to Hay-on-Wye. For those unfamiliar with it, Hay-on-Wye is a small town in Wales that’s very pretty, surrounded by lovely walking country, but most importantly it’s full of bookshops – about two dozen of them in fact. It’s pretty awesome and that was my favourite birthday treat ever. So this year when a friend invited me to spend Easter weekend in the Brecon Beacons, including Sunday in Hay-on-Wye, I obviously said yes.

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Cambridge bookshops

I know our holiday was a month ago, I have been meaning to post about this and kept forgetting/waiting for my photos to be developed.

One of the many nice things about Cambridge is its abundance of bookshops. In these times of bookshops, both independent and chain varieties, closing left, right and centre, it’s good to know they’re flourishing somewhere.

The Haunted Bookshop

The Angel Bookshop

Cambridge University Press

G David Bookseller

I particularly liked Heffers bookshop, which is owned by Blackwells and reminded me a lot of their very excellent Oxford branch. Sadly my photo of that storefront came out particularly badly.

Of course, we couldn’t resist buying something in each of several of these lovely lovely shops. I really must stop buying books for a long while now! Here are just some of our purchases. See if you can guess which are for me and which for Tim, though I should warn you that to be crafty some were for both of us. It’s good to share.

Holiday books

(Why yes, that is a first-edition Daphne there. In the classic yellow Gollancz jacket. That will have pride of place on my bookshelves, when I can get to them again.)

Musical interlude: The Bookshop Band

I have heard The Bookshop Band on the radio a couple of times now and I think they’re great. They’re actually local to me, brilliantly, so I will try to check them out live. But for now, here’s a video they made.

“A shop with books in” – a song inspired by bookshops, written for Independent Booksellers’ Week 2012 by The Bookshop Band from The Bookshop Band on Vimeo.

Local bookshops: Bloom & Curll

Bloom & Curll

Bloom & Curll is so close to being the perfect bookshop for me that I feel I should apologise for not being a regular customer. It has a quirky, arty feel and look but is still most definitely all about the books.

They are piled everywhere, almost higgledy piggledy yet meticulously organised. Old and new sit side by side, with some classic Penguin editions serving as both booklover lures and eyecatching art. Section labels epitomise the style of the shop – they are either handmade paper cutouts in classily chosen colour and pattern combinations, or bright childlike magnetic letters. The book selection leans towards the literary end of fiction, with some specialised areas for philosophical, theological and sociological works. The shop is small enough not to overwhelm me with choice, while still stocking more books that I want than I can afford.

I love the location of Bloom & Curll, nestled among the indie stylings of Colston Street, Christmas Steps and nearby Upper Maudlin Street, but I worry that that also works against it – on my every visit I have been the only customer. However, the shop window promises chess classes and apparently this Thursday they’re hosting a book launch, which looks worth checking out. Hopefully such events will keep attracting new customers through their doors.

Bloom & Curll, 74 Colston Street, Bristol

My next book

One of my favourite things is standing at my bookshelves selecting my next book to read. I can happily stare at my books for far longer than seems reasonable, waiting for a whim to make me choose one over all of the others. But most people don’t have more than 100 unread books sat around in their house, so how do you choose your next book?

In addition to my physical TBR I also have a wishlist of another 50 or so books (from word of mouth, or authors I follow, or reviews I’ve read) and I am constantly adding stars to posts in my Google Reader that mention books I like the sound of. I can’t imagine ever running out of ideas for what to read, and consequently I don’t use services like Goodreads or Your Next Read or even Amazon recommendations. But other people are often mentioning how useful they find them. Maybe if I got through books more quickly…

I also get great pleasure from going to a bookshop without any titles in mind and just browsing until something jumps out at me. Much like my method of choosing from my own library! I am trying to reduce the TBR at the moment and have therefore not yet been to Bristol’s brand new Foyles bookshop, or indeed the almost-as-new The Last Bookshop on Park Street, but later this year I plan to do a bit of a tour of Bristol’s bookshops. Watch this space!

The value of books

Books v. Cigarettes
by George Orwell

This is part of the Great Ideas range, yet another excellent and also stylish set of paperbacks from Penguin that are either excerpts from longer works or collections of shorter essays, as this one is. They’re small and affordable (unless like me you find you want to buy the whole set – there’s 80 of them so far!) and well designed. And from what I can tell from my sample size of two, the contents have been carefully and skillfully chosen.

It would be hard to go wrong with George Orwell, mind, which may be why Penguin already has three books of his writings in this range. Everything I have read by Orwell – fiction, autobiography, letters, newspaper columns – has been exceptionally well crafted, intelligent but also interesting and accessible. He was very open about things like money, social background, politics and patriotism, which are things we can all relate to and yet seem so rarely to be discussed.

I picked this book up in the wonderful Toppings bookshop in Bath, one of that now rare breed of independent bookshops that are bigger than a shoebox and have a genuinely good selection of books, which was appropriate because two of the selected essays deal with buying and selling books, and I found Orwell’s thoughts on the subject and expectations for its future fascinating. In the opening essay, he compares his spending on books with his spending on tobacco, to see whether there is merit in the claims he often hears that books are too expensive for “normal” people. With some lengthy reasoning and a little maths he concludes that this is rubbish and the true reason that people don’t buy books is that they consider reading to be a dull pastime, not the cost. I wonder what he would have made of the breaking of the Net Book Agreement.

Which brings us to his second essay, on bookselling. Orwell worked in a bookshop for a time and makes some lively, often caustic, observations of regular customers that he remembers. But what I found most interesting were his closing remarks. First, that “any educated person ought to be able to make a small secure living out of a bookshop…combines can never squeeze the small independent bookseller out of existence as they have squeezed the grocer and the milkman” – a surprisingly shortsighted comment from the man who wrote 1984. And second, his description of how working in a bookshop made him fall temporarily out of love with books, almost made them repulsive to him. That was a real surprise to me and I’d like to hear from any booklovers who have worked in a bookshop to see if they felt the same.

The other essays deal with book reviewing (which he is most vicious about, sadly), patriotism (he was just too young to fight in the First World War and felt it very keenly), free speech, his experience of a particularly awful French hospital and his time at boarding school (an endlessly fascinating topic to me, and one that is of great interest here because he was a scholarship boy, so he was an outside observer to the high end of the class system that dominates such schools). It’s a truly excellent selection of writing and I doubt it will be long before I buy more books from this series.

Published 2008 by Penguin. Essays originally published between 1936 and 1952.
Number 57 in the Great Ideas series.
ISBN 978-0-1410-3661-8