April 29, 2015 § Leave a comment
There are books which we see from year to year on shelves of libraries or in charity bookshops, and we are conscious of their great popularity. All the same, we appear to be constitutionally incapable of reading them. Some we have not read at all. Of others we might have read an opening paragraph or a blurb. Are we reluctant to read them because there has been too much talk of them? Do we suspect from the little we know that we won’t like them? It is true that we have read other books we anticipated not liking and discovered that we did. Yet what is it about this handful of books that we simply will not take down from the shelves to read further in an endeavour to overcome our prejudice? We may even have sought and received confirmation from other people that these are good books, but we shy at the thought of reading them. And we do not. Ten such books are listed below:
The White Tiger by Aravid Adiga
The Curious Incident of a Dog at Night-time by Mark Haddon
Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernières
The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
The Life of Pi by Yann Martel
Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden
Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier
Is there anyone who has not seen a copy of ‘The Private Lives of Pippa Lee’ in a North London charity shop?
February 15, 2013 § Leave a comment
When I first made the rounds of charity shops in North London, I used to be very disappointed in the books on offer. In the mid-nineties The Millstone by Margaret Drabble was a regular sighting. (Now you are more likely to see Notes from an Exhibition. ) I supposed these charity shops would be filled with the interesting libraries of the recently deceased. And I supposed wrongly. They were filled largely with the recently published cast-offs of the living and thriving: just as many are today.
A small revolution occurred when Oxfam opened its dedicated bookshops. The books are laid out in a defined order under titles such as history, biography etc. The fiction section might be divided in two (modern fiction and classics) or three (and crime) or four (and science fiction). I frequent the Oxfam shops in Crouch End and Muswell Hill.
Sometimes I take the W5 and spin up to the Highgate Oxfam. The books are more expensive there than in Crouch End or Muswell Hill, but Highgate’s literature section is good. On a recent visit to Highgate I was tempted by a number of books which included a hardback complete collection of Katherine Mansfield’s short stories. But as a soft back collection, not quite, adorns the bookshelves in the sitting room, I had to let it go. No doubt I shall regret that hardback collection.
The art of economy is one which sadly eludes me. Will the Katherine Mansfield collection haunt me as the tan leather satchel in the window of the other Highgate Oxfam does? I passed up on the satchel at the end of August: I look in vain now for something as good.
I remember hearing a man talk about a particular set of china his mother had seen but not bought (because she didn’t feel she could afford it), and forever afterwards regretted it. His attitude was: you always have money for the things you really really want. And this is true, in a way, because there are very few things that you really really want.
I shall have to console myself by reading Great Stories of all Nations (George G Harrap & Co, 1927) and On the Art of Writing* by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch (Cambridge University Press, 1923), both bought, last year, from Oxfam, Muswell Hill.
* Based on a series of lectures (first published in book form in 1916).