Thursday, October 11, 2007


Book-world news

Taking a break from catalogue show-and-tell to mention some other things. The National Book Award nominees were announced yesterday, and once again, I have read exactly none of the books on this list. I do plan to read Denis Johnson's Tree of Smoke. And right now I've got a very fine first edition in fine jacket of Fiskadoro sitting on my desk (Keep or sell? Keep or sell? is the refrain in my head). At least I've heard of most everyone on the list this year, and have even read some of their previous books. Love that Sherman Alexie. Not even considering reading Christopher Hitchens, though. I'm too much of an old-fashioned New England transcendentalist not to believe in some kind of a cosmic plan, not to say a divine one. Besides, there are too many other great books to read instead. I figure I'll start seeing used copies of the other NBA books in a year or so, then I may even read some of them. Until then, I will continue to languish in my own old to-be-read stacks.

Speaking of stacks of books, many are on display at Maud Newton's blog, in case folks haven't been following the terrific ongoing series of guest-posts in which bookish enthusiasts describe their favorite bookshops around the world (with pictures! of books! and bookstores!). Check out that South American bookshop housed in a renovated theater in Buenos Aires - now that is an appropriate setting for fine literature - holy mackerel!

What else. Lately I've been following the blog Book Trout, written by the good people at Old Saratoga Books in Schuylerville, New York, and enjoying their book reviews in particular. Always like to read about the reading life and opinions of other bookshop folks.

Finally, after reading next to nothing myself (in book form) over the last two months, mostly because of moving house, I'm nearly finished with Wild Mary: A Life of Mary Wesley by Patrick Marnham (Vintage, London 2007). And what a life it was... I recently ordered a slew of Mary Wesley's novels for a friend of mine, and got this for good measure since neither of us realized it even existed. I love reading memoirs and biographies of British writers during the period between the world wars and just after, and it's very interesting to read something published now, vs. then, and written about a woman, rather than a man. For those who aren't familiar with Mary Wesley, she lived a very full life, worked for MI5, had three children by three different fathers, became a nearly-destitute widow, then at 70 years old published her first novel, which became a bestseller in the U.K. Then she wrote another nine bestsellers after that, before dying at the age of 90. This authorized biography is almost graphic in places, but by now we've seen and read it all, so her "wildness" comes across as more honestly titillating than shocking. On to her novels, which seem as if they could have been written by Evelyn Waugh, had he lived a few more decades and written tell-all roman à clef fiction during the 1990s. If you like the following sentence, from one of her letters to her future husband (from p.123 in the biography), you will like Mary Wesley's writing:

" 'One aspect, a simple one, seems to be that having found one person in whom I have faith I am in a fair way to growing smugly impervious to the winds of malice. It's a startling and enjoyable feeling, rather like meeting God at a party.' "

I haven't finished the book yet, because I know what's coming. The worst part of reading biographies is knowing that these rich and amazing lives are over. I usually cry, even though I often detest many things about the subject of a given biography. Though more often I love them, their gifts, and it's too terrible to think that it's all over, forever. Another reason I won't be reading Christopher Hitchens's book. Every time I finish a biography, I think, "This can't be the end of it." Well, this is the end of this post, for now. I know when I start to wax philosophical that it's time to call it a day.

The Book Trout blushes to hear such nice things about her blog. Thank you Sarah. We are certainly a mutual admiration society as I enjoy peeking in on your bookshop doings and your delightful descriptions about antique books about books.

Old Saratoga Books/Book Trout Blog
Thanks, Rachel! I don't mind being part of a mutual admiration society. At least we know we're in good company, right?

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