Pickering bookshop finds

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I’d spotted this old bookshop in Pickering on arrival, decided it would be best visited just before departure. So, after a 5 mile morning constitutional on Monday, to the bookshop we went. I didn’t let a wall of Mills and Boon distract me and went straight for the classics shelf searching for old Penguins that may be on the Guardian’s 1,000 novels list that I’ve been reading from, on and off for the past four years. My pocket £8.75 lighter, am super happy with the finds. The top Edgar Allan Poe and G.K. Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday are Beloved’s picks (I will read them too) and the bottom Angela Carter is ‘off the list’ but I’ve wanted to read it for a while. Am particularly looking forward to Lady Audley’s Secret, don’t know much about it other than it being a Victorian sensation novel and have just found out (thank you Wikipedia) that elements of it mirror the Constance Kent case, of which Kate Summerscale wrote in Suspicions of Mr Whicher. That’ll do brilliantly.

I know I went overboard with book buying considering that there are so many unread books at home, but I am working through my ‘pile of shame’ and not doing too badly. I’d also taken Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn to read on Kindle and got frustrated with it beyond belief. Hence a splurge on books to compensate. Can not believe that every single newspaper’s book review section has been writing up new summer reads as ‘this summer’s Gone Girl‘ when the original is really not all that good. I thought the writing was pedestrian, especially early on but kept reading to see what would happen, not that the twists were totally unexpected or even that gripping – something obviously had to happen. I did get to the end, didn’t think that the characters were all that well developed – disturbed, yes, but the whole thing felt written ‘by the numbers’ as if to fit in to a 100 minute film without any real character development. There is nothing wrong with reading a book and thinking ‘this would make a great film’ but I don’t like when the book reads as if the author had already thought there may be extra money in this from scripts and film rights and that’s how this book felt. By the numbers. Perhaps I am being too harsh, perhaps it’s just not for me. I do like my Pickering haul very much though!

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Just read, The Bottle Factory Outing, Beryl Bainbridge

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How marvellous to spend a morning with Beryl. I’ve been reading The Bottle Factory Outing on my way to and from work and since I only had 50 pages left to read, I thought I’d do that at home this morning instead of taking the book with me. I don’t like finishing a book on the bus journey and then have to just sit there with nothing to do or, weep as I have done occasionally at a particularly sad ending. Charles Dickens usually reduces me to tears (not necessarily just the endings, selfless gestures will leave me an emotional wreck almost every time) and I’ll never forget finishing A Tale of Two Cities, I was in floods of tears, thought someone might have alerted the driver to stop the bus but morning commuters only notice if someone collapses in a fainting fit so I was left alone, weeping. Anyway, back to Beryl. The Bottle Factory Outing is a short book, very funny in that awkward, uncomfortable and a slightly cringy way. She had a gift of making her characters perfectly clear with just a gesture, a look or a mannerism, which I find wonderful and a joy to read – although this lot of characters are quite opposite of joyful. I’d read it and think ‘Oh don’t!’, that’s not going to happen and just sit there cringing as it did. I wasn’t expecting the story to turn out as it did although the cover quote did say ‘horrifying’ immediately after ‘funny’. That’s the beauty of Beryl’s writing, she’ll surprise you and you’ll smile (or gasp), be grateful and want to read more of her books. I first came across Beryl quite late, think it was when she didn’t win the Booker for Master Georgie and I only started reading her books a year or two ago when The Guardian’s 1,000 novels list reminded me. I thought Master Georgie was fantastic and loved According to Queeney too. Think Master Georgie remains my favourite of her books but would definitely recommend The Bottle Factory Outing, regardless of what some commenters on Good Reads say. I wander what Brenda and Freda, the main characters from The Bottle Factory Outing would have said to the posthumous ‘Best of Beryl’ Booker going to Master Georgie, think Brenda would have just tried ringing Stanley up and Freda… well, that’s probably a whole other story in itself.

Just read, Slaughterhouse 5 by Kurt Vonnegut

Have to admit, war literature is not something I read frequently. It was on The Guardian’s 1,000 novels list so thought I should. Took me a while to get into Slaughterhouse 5 and I picked up one of bedside occasional reads, Angela Carter’s fairytale anthology instead, a million miles away from Slaughterhouse 5′ subject matter. I could see that Slaugherhouse 5 was a very good book, think the start just disoriented me a bit and when I picked it up again, I realised that it was deliberately written that way. Then I really got into it. It is a most excellent, thought provoking read.

IMG_0516It’s a very clever book too, manages to be funny while dealing with heavy stuff, the idiocy of war and destruction, the alienation. I don’t want to give out any of the plot, it is a short book that everyone should read, pacifists and gun aficionados alike, although it may not mean much to the latter. It is very powerful and while reading it I thought back of All Quiet on the Western Front, my grandmother’s fabric covered hardback, which I read many years ago and would love to read again.

As it happens, Slaugherhouse 5 is a recent addition to ‘pile of shame’, I wasn’t mean to be buying any books for a while but clearly have no self control. I now want to read more Kurt Vonnegut. So it goes.

Just read, Dusty Answer by Rosamond Lehmann

I picked Dusty Answer up last summer in a great little antiquarian bookshop in Keswick, never having read any Rosamond Lehmann’s books but remembering her name from The Guardian’s 1000 novels list. While this book is not on the actual list (but three of her other novels are), I rather enjoyed reading it and getting lost in it. There is a great sense of dreaminess as the main character, Judith Earle comes of age and her relationships with those around her change. You are never told what Judith looks like, she is described through the reactions those around her have to her. Her own imagined conversations and situations are intertwined with real life and there is almost a sense of otherworldliness. IMG_0510The book was published in 1927 and could be considered quite feminist in that context, there are characters of ambiguous sexuality, quite obvious but only hinted at, like on the cover, which I thought was pretty perfect. It is a good read, I read half of it in one sitting yesterday afternoon, the deliberately slow tempo and Judith’s dream world draw you in so that the instances when she has important conversations stand out in a complete contrast. Perhaps not as fun as Nancy Mitford’s books or E.M. Delafield’s Diary of a Provincial Lady but more subtle and rather good.

Just read, Mrs Robinson’s Disgrace, Kate Summerscale

IMG_0473This is a very good book. I really enjoyed Kate Summerscale’s Suspicions of Mr Whicher a few years ago so bought Mrs Robinson’s Disgrace soon after it came out, sometime early summer I think. Only just got around to reading it and it took me a while, not because the book was slow going, on the contrary, I’ve just been busy. What I really like about Kate Summerscale is how she manages to make the story utterly fascinating. On the surface, it is not really a big story or a very important event, it was just a bit of a Victorian divorce scandal but Kate Summerscale builds on this to discuss Victorian morality, the media, social standing of women and what a momentous occasion the introduction of the divorce was in 1858. Also the fascination with writing diaries, influences of Romantic poetry and fiction, and basically how unfulfilled and repressed some women (and men) were in their lives in mid nineteenth century. Interwoven with all this, familiar Victorian characters such as Dickens, Wilkie Collins and Charles Darwin appear and it is fascinating to see how current events often influenced what the first two wrote about. I love reading Dickens and particularly love finding out, (always sometime later) how a real event inspired a character or a storyline, he was such a magpie (in the nicest possible sense).  Then there are bits of medicine, what was accepted and what was considered ‘quackery’ – for example homeopathy and craniology as well as some ideas in psychology and psychoanalysis that predated Freud. At the same time, the narrative is never weighed down, there are no clunky conclusions and there is ambiguity, you are not forced to feel pity or to make a judgment, Summerscale just draws a parallel or your attention to something, then moves on. I didn’t feel there was anything laboured or overworked but the story will definitely linger. What a marvel of a book.