This weekend is an annual book sale on behalf of Symphony Nova Scotia. I went last year and was favourably impressed with the quantity (while sorely missing the multiple autumn college book sales at the University of Toronto); this year I didn’t find so many to tempt me about gardening, the classics, or mysteries, but I did find enough to fulfill my $25 budget. Rather unusually, only one of them is one I’ve read before and bought to flesh out my collection. I’ve been reading a book about William Shakespeare (A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare: 1599, by James Shapiro), in which the importance of random people’s reading lists and library catalogues becomes quite interesting in the history of thought and letters. This, of course, being the Internet (and not my own little book where I occasionally keep lists of books read), I imagine it is myself who will be most interested in the future. It will be interesting to look back a year from now and see how many of the books bought today I’ve read in the interim. In the meantime, I thought I’d share my finds and reasons for choosing them.
In the order I draw them out of my bag, then, these are today’s acquisitions:
1. The Far Pavilions, by M.M. Kaye. I’ve long wondered about this book, which appears to be a sweeping historical saga set during the British Raj, for the simple reason that M.M. Kaye wrote a delightful fairy tale called The Ordinary Princess which always cheers me when I feel the need to read something short and happy. The Ordinary Princess is perhaps 900 pages shorter than The Far Pavilions, so I doubt I will have quite the same reaction to the latter.
2. The French Revolution, by Thomas Carlyle, in two volumes. This is one of those books that many, many other people refer to, and I thought it was about time I owned a copy that could sit on my shelf until I felt like reading it. Also, I still have fond memories of the many obscene multi-lingual puns in Carlyle’s Sartor Resartus, which I read in a class on English literature of the Enlightenment.
3. Lightly Poached, by Lillian Beckwith. This appears to be a memoir about poaching in the Hebrides. I don’t think one needs much more incentive than that.
4. Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, by Roald Dahl. This is the one I’ve read before; I’m sure there is at least one copy at my parents’ house, but I had a yen to read it earlier this month and am glad to have my own copy.
5. The Thread: A Mathematical Yarn, by Phillip J. Davis. I’m not actually sure what this is about, except that it appears to be, at least in part, a whimsically illustrated history of mathematics vaguely composed along the line of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.
6. Things Figured or Imagined: The Craft in Fiction, by Fred Stenson. A book to add to my collection of books on writing, this one by a Canadian.
7. The Pig Plantagenet, by Allen Andrews (drawings by Michael Foreman). Another whimsically illustrated tale, this one about a pig in thirteenth-century France trying to decide between life in the farmyard and life in the forest. (I do love the randomness of used book sales, where you don’t feel at all abashed at spending a dollar or two to find out what the story of the Pig Plantagenet is. If it turns out to be interesting, I will let you know.)
8. Changing Places: A Tale of Two Campuses, by David Lodge. I feel as if I’ve read something else by David Lodge, and that I found it funny but somehow imaginatively cramped; but as a comedy about academic life in 1969, I thought it worth a gander.
9. Acquired Tastes, by Peter Mayle. I enjoyed A Year in Provence, and quite like the idea of someone fairly ordinary working through infamously fancy tastes (hand-made shoes, caviar, mistresses, the like) to see whether they live up to their reputation.
10. Memoirs of a Geisha, by Arthur Golden. I’ve had this one recommended to me a couple of times, so thought I’d give it a try. It’s the kind of book I’d get out from the library, move around my living room for three weeks, and then return unread; owning my own copy might well mean that in the fourth week, when I’m finally ready to read it, it will be to hand.
11. In Search of Stones: A Pilgrimage of Faith, Reason, and Discovery, by M. Scott Peck, M.D. Now, I normally steer clear of modern books whose authors include their degree on the front cover (in the author biography it’s quite appropriate), but to be honest I didn’t notice until just now that it did. I like travel memoirs, and this one appears to be a journey round megaliths of one sort or another. Also, I liked that in the first paragraph the narrator notes the extreme litteredness of Paddington Station, due to the lack of garbage bins; this is something I also noticed (in Euston Station, I believe), and eventually concluded it had to do with bomb fears. I hadn’t realised the practice went back to the mid-nineties, however.
12. The Amy Vanderbilt Complete Book of Etiquette, by Nancy Tuckerman and Nancy Dunnan. I have, and have read through, Emily Post; here’s another view to counteract Debrett’s. I find this sort of thing fascinating for my own life, and also in the interests of story research.
Oddly enough, none of these are primarily intended for story research; usually I pick up something about blacksmithing or heraldry, vintage motor-cars or the birds of Europe, for that purpose. I did pick up a book on Surrey villages from the 1960s, but set it aside as not giving enough pertinent detail to be actually useful, and went for the Carlyle instead.
Not bad for $25. Anybody have any good finds (or reads) recently?