What are your book-buying habits? Do you prefer pristine, unsullied clinically safe books or do you trawl the charity shops looking for needy and deserving books to take home with you?
I had never given this issue much thought before Thurday when I was with a friend in what should have been book paradise. Five floors of almost ceiling to floor books. So what was the problem? Was the choice too much? Was it the difference between an everlasting smorgasboard and a humble cheeseboard with three carefully selected cheeses? Am I like this with everything in my life? Do I ask too many questions?
My literate, literary friend could not contain her joy and indeed had a mental list of delicacies she wished to peruse, savour and indeed take home with her. I stood near the stairs of this emporium like a startled rabbit frozen in the glare of the oncoming headlights. That’s it, I’m a humble creature unaccustomed to the bright lights and the high living. I prefer the shadowy depths of a secondhand book shop where I can hide timidly behind dusty shelves and piles of rotting books. My favourite position is sitting on the floor near a low shelf of design books or a cluster of old green Viragos. It is this habit that once caused a group of friends to leave me in a bookshop mistakenly believing that I had alrady left the premises.
So I prefer the ambience of dusty old shops to the stark fluourescent-lit souless cloned shops that are to be found in most towns. We have both a Waterstones and a Borders in the town where I work and of the two I prefer Borders. It is housed in the old Army & Navy stores and has at the heart of it an old carved wooden stairase that is several hundred years old, dating from the time when the building was an inn. The building has a feeling of warmth about and not just in a temperature-related way. The vibes are good. The Waterstones in the large shopping centre used to be better than it is now. The black bookcases created room-like areas and it was easy to get lost and sometimes not find a section that had been there the day before. I often wondered if some of those areas were like Brigadoon, only ever appearing every so many days. Some of the black shelves are still there but they have straightened up the higgledy-piggledy arrangment of units and relit the store. I am very susceptible to different light types. I can’t stay in any branch of M& S for more than 5 minutes because of their lighting. I start to feel physically sick.
Enough of lighting and back to books. It’s not just where and how they are sold, it is also the price. I feel bad about parting with money that is not just mine but belongs to the whole family. I know I work for it but I am not alone, we are a family of five and all the others have needs that should be met. I was fine when it was all my money and I did not have to think of anyone else. I have plenty of puffins and penguins that prove I didn’t always think this way. But I always feel bad when I buy several books even if like the three in the picture above they come from a charity shop (in this case Fara Rumanian Orphans Charity) and cost a total of £4.30 for the three books.
Left to right the books are:
A beautiful green Virago to add to my family: Ordinary Families by E. Arnot Robertson (first pub. 1933)
“possibly the first woman novelist to mention the effects of menstruation and pre-menstrual tension on her protagonists”
That all sounds a bit clinical so I shall tempt you with the beginning of Chapter One:
Margaret and I quarrelled because she would not let me sink her makeshift boat in the marsh pool, in which a fine steep sea could be worked up by hand in a few seconds. More exactly, I quarrelled with Margaret about it, for my sister always remained passive in the many disagreements we had when I was getting on eleven and she was nine. It is hard, as it always is with vivid childish memories, to know how much of the incident is recollected from the time of its happening, and how many suitable details the mind has added afterwards in reconstruction. The whole trivial occurrence seems clear in retrospect, but so objectively seen that it might be happening to any two other damp and dirty shrill-voiced children, playing on a strip of marsh ground much bigger than I now know it to be. The Lallie in the picture, who is myself, is as visiible as the Margaret, so that probably most of my memory of what followed hangs on my mother’s re-telling of the story she heard from Margaret two days afterwards . . .
A dark and mysterious Penguin: The Rooms inMy Mother’s House by Olga Lorenzo (first pub. ?1996)
The author mentions her own novel in her article on her doctorate in creative writing. “Shaming in child-rearing and its effects in later life”. The intriguing first few lines of the book read:
There were always more people living with them than they ever encountered, just as there were rooms in the house that they dared not enter. They did not allow themselves to know to what extent their past was there . . .
An anthology: The Penguin Book of Modern British Short Stories edited by Malcolm Bradbury
The introduction to this volume of 43 stories states that the aim of the book is to show a representive selection of writing since 1945 and demonstrate the general trends and directions since that date.
Two thirds of the way through the book, Beryl Bainbridge’s “Clap Hands, here Comes Charlie” starts:
Two weeks before Christmas, Angela Bisson have Mrs Henderson six tickets for the theatre. Mrs Henderson was Angela Bisson’s cleaning lady. ‘I wanted to avoid giving you money,’ Angela Bisson told her. ‘Anybody can give money. Somehow the whole process is so degrading . . . taking it . . . giving it. They’re reopening the Empire Theatre for a limited season. I wanted to give you a treat. Something you’ll always remember.’ Mrs Henderson said, ‘Thank you very much.’ She had never, when accepting money, felt degraded.
Perhaps this story would make a good companion read to “The Village” by Marghanita Laski considered by many to a fine representation of life in a village in the post-war years complete with the beginnings of the blurring of the class divide.