Friday, October 31, 2014
Something, a delightful papery something, has been lingering near my elbow for days now, and since I'm clearing the decks today, I'll take a brief hiatus from the joys of Patrick O'Brian to talk about it for a few minutes before it makes its way into the book room.
To begin, one of the disadvantages of living in a rural place, a truly out-of-the-way spot, and loving it enough to generally stay put, is that many things I would love to know about escape my notice completely. For years and years. Even with the world at my doorstep, via the book reviews and blogs that I read regularly, and as bookish as (I think) I am, I came across something the other day that I truly don't think I've ever heard of. Until now. I found a used copy of a little magazine at a thrift shop last week. It was a dollar and I looked askance for a moment - only a moment - thinking, Do I really need this, I mean, holy crackers another odd little bookish thing, complicating my life...? before deciding to bring it home. And I'm so glad that I did. Here it is - a quarterly book review - the little magazine of my dreams:
Because the whole thing is edited and written by book people, for book people. Real book people. In fact the sixteen book reviews/essays contained in this issue all seem so pleasingly bookish I can hardly stand it. The authors review books that are decades old, even centuries old. Among them Alexander Smith's Dreamthorp (1863; and even quoting from Christopher Morley's fine introduction to the 1934 edition), Richard Mabey's Food for Free (1972), The Expedition of Humphrey Clinker by Tobias Smollett (1771), a travel memoir by Lady Macartney entitled An English Lady in Chinese Turkestan (1931), Julian Tennyson's Suffolk Scene (1939; and mentioning Ronald Blythe to boot), L.M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables (1908), and so it goes. One essay, entitled Confessions of a Manuscript Curator, is written by C.J. Wright, "...Keeper of Manuscripts at the British Library until his retirement in 2005." (p.92). Another essay, entitled Social Climbing, deals with the clandestine sport of night climbing buildings at Cambridge, and reviews two books on the subject. Funny and fascinating. And every piece draws the reader in immediately. A few first sentences, to prove that assertion:
Jeremy Lewis, writing about Michael Wharton (p.14):
"I got to know Michael Wharton in the early 1980s, when I was working as an editor at Chatto & Windus."
Michele Hanson, about to recommend Smollett (p.35):
"Last year I was invited to join a friend's book group."
A. F. Harrold, on Robert Herrick (p.61):
"I remember hearing Leonard Cohen being interviewed some years ago, and he said, when asked whether he minded being referred to as a 'minor poet', that no he didn't mind at all, in fact he had spent many delightful hours in the company of minor poets, such as Herrick."
Lucy Lethbridge, beginning her review of Roderick Grant's Strathalder (1978; p.78):
"There are few things more guaranteed to provoke a pleasurable wallow in melancholy than a ruin."
Daisy Hay, sneaking up on Anne of Green Gables (p.82):
"Last summer, during a trip to Canada's maritime provinces, my husband and I went on a literary pilgrimage."
On and on it goes, like this. Book talk, of all kinds, covering all genres. Each review - each essay I will say, because they seem so much more than reviews - has me taking notes and nodding my head in agreement, and wondering how I can get my hands on the hitherto-unknown-to-me titles the editors kindly cite in footnotes, even - especially!- the ones that quietly say "...out of print."
All back issues are still available, and current subscription information is on their website. With a quote from Ronald Blythe to seal the deal ("Slightly Foxed is pure happiness."). And naturally the good people at this little magazine also publish books, both hardcover and paperback reprints of worthy memoirs and autobiographies. And they own a bookshop in London. Which sells new and used and antiquarian books. They are even seeking a manager for the used and antiquarian department, if anyone's interested. (Don't think that I didn't think, though only for a second, What if...).
But forgive me for all this effusion! Oh, I love books too much, it's terrible! Should I have even bought this issue of Slightly Foxed in the first place? Or should I have left it there alone in the thrift shop, with a faint sigh and no backward glance? What with ten years of back issues to pick and choose from somehow, not to mention their books, which look so enticing I can't even say, I am thinking perhaps yes...? Ryan heard me expressing this worrisome thought and calmly reminded me that the holidays are on approach. He is a pearl beyond price, I'll say it once again.