Bookshelf Travelling in Insane Times

Bookshelf Travelling in Insane Times is a meme which was started by Judith at Reader in the Wilderness and it has turned out to be a really useful tour around my own books, often books that I’ve forgotten that I had even bought and haven’t got around to reading. However this week my shelf is almost full of books that I’ve already read, in fact some of my favourite books reside on this shelf and I really like all the authors. Click the photo to enlarge it.

Bookshelf

I loved Olivia Manning’s Balkan trilogy Fortunes of War and went on to read her Levant trilogy too. You can read what I thought about Fortunes of War here. I see that I read it back in 2010 in my very early blogging days – how time flies.

Men Do Not Weep by Beverly Nichols is one of only two books on this shelf that I haven’t read, apparently it’s a political book which was published in 1941 so it should be interesting. He’s better known for the books that he wrote based on his life, buying houses and making them into homes for himself with especial interest in planning the garden. There’s quite a lot of snooty wit involved in his writing. The series which begins with Down the Garden Path is a good place to start if you’re interested in reading his books. It was first published in 1932 so it’s a real blast from the past, for me these are real comfort reads. You can see my thoughts on some of his books here.

Pied Piper by Nevil Shute is the other book that I haven’t got around to reading yet. I think it’s the fact that it’s a very old paperback that has put me off from reading it. Having just read the blurb again it sounds like it’s right up my street. The setting is France in 1940.

John Howard, a retired country solicitor, holidaying in the Jura mountains, is persuaded to escort two English children home to safety.

Helped by the stubbornness and the patience of old age, hindered by the addition of another five waifs and strays, he makes his way across a crumbling and defeated France.

Have any of you read this one, if so tell me what you thought of it?

The Tree That Sat Down by Beverley Nichols

The Tree That Sat Down cover

The Tree That Sat Down by Beverley Nichols was first published in 1945 and it’s the first of his books for children that I’ve read. Having said that – there are parts of this book that are probably aimed more at any adults who might read it.

Beverley Nichols describes it as ‘a fairy story and it’s a real old fashioned one, full of magic spells, wizards and transformation scenes. Maybe some of the characters have a modern touch … the witch for instance keeps a vacuum cleaner to assist her with her spells, but otherwise it joins all those other magic tales which begin once upon a time.’

The setting is a woodland where Judy and her granny have opened a shop to cater for the needs of the woodland animals – yes, it’s all very anthropomorphic. But then Sam and Old Sam open another shop nearby, with the intention of fleecing all the animals, conning them out of their money, and at the same time ruining Judy’s shop.

I enjoyed this book which is on one level a children’s fantasy tale and on another is a vehicle for the author to get some things off his chest, such as his feelings about how animals are treated by some humans, the over-commercialisation of society and mad consumerism – and his attitude to war.

Did you ever hear of such impertinence? It is an insult to the noble and peaceful family of Sheep. It is the Humans who go about in herds and don’t think for themselves! Look at the way they make War! Sheep would never be so foolish, nor would any other animal. Did you ever hear of a herd of sheep or any other animal leaving their homes and their pastures, and going off to fight say, a herd of zebras whom they’d never even met, just because some silly sheep had told them that the silly zebras wore striped coats, and that anybody who wore striped coats must be their enemy? That is exactly what Humans are doing all the time. Look at their dreadful way of waging war in the air. If I have a fight in the air it is because I am attacked. I fight for my life. But what would you think of me if I were to take a rock and fly off with it to a farmyard and just drop it into a basket of eggs.That is what Humans call “bombing”. They all do it, and they think it is wonderful, and they give medals to the Humans who break the most eggs. To me, it is all sheer folly and wickedness. I have very little hope for the Human race … very little. It will take them at least a million years to reach the level of animals … and long before then, I am afraid they will all have killed each other off.’

It’s fair to say that the previous six years of war seems to have left the author exasperated and a bit depressed I think. This is the first book in a trilogy, the other two are The Stream That Stood Still and The Mountain of Magic. I intend to get around to reading those ones – sometime.

More new to me book purchases

A recent trip to that place that I’m not supposed to be visiting – the library – ended up with me picking up four books that I had requested from them and three books from the for sale shelves. Honestly, there’s no hope for me!

I bought A Lovely Way to Burn by the Scottish author Louise Welsh. This was apparently a BBC Radio 4 Book at Bedtime, but I didn’t hear it.

The news of Andrea Camilleri’s death had just been announced a few days before and although I love watching the TV programme Montalbano which is based on these books I had only read one of them. So two have just joined my TBR list:

A Nest of Vipers and
The Pyramid of Mud

I’ll read one of those ones for the Reading Europe Challenge which I’ve been neglecting.

The Courts of Idleness cover

A trip into the West Port area of Edinburgh ended up with me buying two books by an author who seemed to be haunting me at one point as everywhere I went I saw his books, just as another blogger told me they were worth reading – the books all disappeared! So when I saw a whole load of Dornford Yates books I snapped up a couple of them. I was drawn to the modern paperback reprint first as I like the stylish cover. The Courts of Idleness is supposed to be funny – so fingers crossed because I need a laugh.

The other Dornford Yates book I bought is an old hardback from 1946 called The Stolen March. It was originally given to someone called Joyce from Kenneth in Falmouth, 8 May 1947. I love inscribed books but I never write in my own although I sometimes think I should. What are your thoughts on the matter?

I try not to buy books via the internet but sometimes you have no alternative as the chances of what you’re looking for turning up in a secondhand bookshop are just about nil, so I bit the bullet and bought The Stream That Stood Still and The Tree That Sat Down by Beverley Nichols, part of a woodland fantasy trilogy for young people. The other one I already had is The Mountain of Magic.

Have you read any of these ones?

New-to-me book purchases

I was really getting bookshop withdrawal symptoms as I hadn’t been to a second-hand bookshop for ages, so on Monday we drove to St Andrews, a place that we used to visit almost on a weekly basis but hadn’t been to for months – for no good reason at all. Anyway, it wasn’t long before I found some books that I just had to take home with me.

More Books New to Me

I found a Beverley Nichols book that I didn’t even realise existed.
Men Do Not Weep seems to be a book about World War 2 and was published in 1941, I think it’ll be an interesting read. You never know what you’ll get with Beverley Nichols though – his writing was so diverse, from cats to gardening and home hunting, novels and his thoughts on the USA.

Still on the subject of war is another book that I hadn’t heard of. It was the fact that I noticed Antony Beevor’s name on the cover that made me have a look at it as the author is anonymous. A Woman in Berlin is a diary which was written from 20th April 1945 to 22 June 1945. Not very long at all but a grim time in Berlin I’m sure. However on the back there’s a comment from the author Nina Bawden who says – ‘It could have been an unbearable story if it had not been for the courage and, astonishingly, the humour with which it is often told.’ It sounds like a must read to me. It was published by Virago.

Then I spotted a copy of a Geoff Hamilton book called Cottage Gardens, my favourite kind of garden and by my absolutely all time favourite garden writer and Gardeners’ World presenter, still lamented by me anyway 20 odd years after his far too early death.

On Tuesday we set off for Edinburgh, well we had seen the weather forecast and knew that we should grab every good day as it looks like the rain is coming in again on Thursday and Friday. After lunch at The Secret Herb Garden (more about that in a post still to come) we drove to Stockbridge, my favourite part of Edinburgh.

My first purchase was Curtain Up by Noel Streatfeild. I wasn’t sure about this one but the inside blurb says: ‘Plucked from their old home in Guernsey and sent all the way to wartime London to stay with their dead mother’s family ….’ This sounds right up my street – even if it was aimed at children.

The next was another Virago – Good Daughters by Mary Hocking. I haven’t read anything by the author but I know she’s fairly popular. This seems to be the first of a trilogy – the story of a family during the Second World War. Do you see a pattern forming here?! Apparently Mary Hocking brings good humour and sympathy to her depiction of the Fairley sisters growing up in their close-knit West London neighbourhood before, during and after the war.

Lastly I was really pleased to find a copy of ‘In the beginning’ said Great-Aunt Jane by Helen Bradley. I love her naive style of painting which she used to illustrate her own childhood memories for her grandchildren.

Have you read any of these ones?

The Star-Spangled Manner by Beverley Nichols

The Star-Spangled Manner cover

The Star-Spangled Manner by Beverley Nichols was first published in 1928 and it’s a collection of twenty-three essays about various aspects of life in America in those days. More than anything I was struck by how topical many of the subjects are, even after ninety years.

Beverley Nichols obviously liked visiting America, he lectured there and supervised the production of plays. He had lots of friends and very high-profile contacts there, but he was always an observer and often a critic. He even managed to have a meeting with the then President, Coolidge who apparently had a reputation for being rather silent and lacking in personality, but Nichols managed to get some interesting thoughts and anecdotes out of him.

Prohibition was in place at this time, so there are his observations on that – it’s a mess of course. He also meets a Trump-ish businessman with his eyes on the White House, but it’s towards the end of the book that his thoughts turn back to Britain and the need to regenerate British industry. He calls for Europe to unite and to get rid of all the economic tariffs between the various European countries.

From the previous books that I’ve read by Beverley Nichols I had no idea that he had a serious and deeply thoughtful side to his personality. He’s not perfect of course – who is? But I really like being in his company – via his books. How Brexit would have enraged him!

Book purchases

One of the best things about travelling around the UK is having the chance to visit different secondhand bookshops, not that there are that many of them left nowadays mind you. However, I did manage to buy eleven books on our recent trip to the Lake District, Derbyshire and Peterborough.

Books Again

My first purchase was in Penrith:
The Star Spangled Manner by Beverley Nichols – first published in 1928 but my copy is from 1937. It’s obviously his thoughts on America, a place he travelled in extensively. It’s a very nice and clean copy in fact I think it might never have been read.

At the same place I found:
The Sea for Breakfast and The Loud Halo – both by Lilian Beckwith. I’ve never read anything by her, but her books were very popular when I worked in libraries yonks ago. Again the books are in great condition, I love the covers.

Two Persephones were my next purchases – from the great bookshop in Buxton. I could spend all day in there but the old books are a bit pricey. These reprints were very reasonable though:

Gardener’s Nightcap by Muriel Stuart
Someone at a Distance by Dorothy Whipple

Somewhere, I can’t remember where, I bought Voices in the Wind by Evelyn Anthony. I used to read her books back in the 1970s but this one was published in 1985.

I bought a few books aimed at children: Pigeon Post by Arthur Ransom, Flight of the Grey Goose by Victor Canning and The Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks.

Over the Mountains by Pamela Frankau turns out to be the last in a trilogy, so I’ll have to track down the first two.

The last two are non-fiction:

The Blessings of a Good Thick Skirt by Mary Russell which is about women travellers and their world.

Lastly I bought a nice old copy of In Search of England by H.V. Morton This book has been reprinted a lot since it was first published in 1927 but my copy is from 1943 – complete with dust jacket.

Not a bad haul I think. Have you read any of these books?

Evensong by Beverley Nichols

Evensong Cover

Evensong by Beverley Nichols was first published in 1932 and it’s one of his straight novels, there are very few mentions of anything botanical at all, apart from flowers sent to a well-know operatic diva. Sadly, mine didn’t have its dust cover, shown to the right.

Pauline is a young Canadian woman who is travelling to England to be with her Aunt Irela who is a famous opera singer. Pauline is now alone in the world after the death of her father and she ends up being a paid companion to her aunt. This is no easy task as Irela is a bit of a monster, manipulative and spoiled, she has to be the centre of attraction, but she’s also miserably mean. Nichols wrote what can only be called an homage to Jane Austen when he has Irela arguing with herself over how much (little) money she should give her niece as payment.

Time is catching up with Irela though and her voice is nothing like as good as it once was, she can’t hit top C now and has to have well known arias re-scored so she can still sing them, not that she would ever admit that.

There’s a love interest for Pauline of course, but can she break away from her aunt? Or will she be stuck running after her forever?

This was enjoyable, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as his better known garden/home books such as Down the Garden Path or A Thatched Roof.

Uncle Samson by Beverley Nichols

Uncle Samson cover

Uncle Samson by Beverley Nichols was published in 1950 and I don’t think it has been reprinted since then, I don’t suppose it ever will be now, so I feel quite lucky that I stumbled across this one in a secondhand bookshop in Moffat. I had to add the book onto Goodreads as it didn’t appear on their lists. The book is the author’s thoughts on life and society in the USA in various parts of the country. I doubt if it was ever published in the US as although he praises the country and particularly the people for some things, there are plenty of things that he criticises.

In 1950 the recent independence of India was obviously still big news in the US and Nichols got tired of people jumping down his throat about the British Empire. After being lambasted for the British treatment of Indians he finally turned round and said – well at least we didn’t kill them all as you did with your Indians.

He says: America is a country where religious hysteria gushes through the fabric of the body politic with the force of a geyser.

One day Nichols was given a ticket for a New Year’s football match at the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans. He was puzzled by the ticket as it said on it: IMPORTANT This ticket is issued for use by a member of the Caucasian race only. It was followed by various dire threats about what would happen if it fell into the hands of a non-Caucasian.

What did it mean? Would he be allowed to use the ticket? He wasn’t Russian. Eventually he discovered it meant that black people couldn’t use the ticket. Bizarre. But of course in the 1950s the US was still a very segregated country and that upset him a lot. It was a subject he returned to again and again. He mentioned that the US was pouring money into the UK when they could have been spending it on housing as black people living just half a mile from the White House were living in shacks made out of flattened cans. He didn’t seem to realise that the money we were getting in the UK was loans which were obviously business transactions and indeed it was only a few years ago that those loans were paid back in full, with interest of course. That’s why the money wasn’t spent on making black neighbourhoods habitable. Sitting towards the back of a bus caused consternation. There’s room at the front said the conductor. But Nichols was happy sitting where he was, when he offered a young black man a light for his cigarette the poor chap started to tremble. Nichols was inadvertently getting him into trouble.

On a brighter note Nichols visited Walt Disney Studios and Walt showed him around personally. Nichols was very impressed with him, particularly that he queued up with everyone else at the canteen, and that everyone called him Walt.

There’s a chapter on American comics and comic strips. That was when I learned that there was a very popular comic strip called Blondie, I always thought that the band Blondie got there name from Debbie Harry’s hair colour – but maybe not.

It was the beginning of Alcoholics Anonymous and Nichols was very impressed with that when he had it explained to him.

Meeting Charlie Chaplin was sad as Chaplin was being persecuted. In fact Hollywood had turned against Chaplin completely, seeing him as a communist. It’s like living under the Gestapo he said. Eventually he had to go to Switzerland to live I believe.

Beverley Nichols had travelled frequently to the US over the previous 20 years and had visited 47 of the then 48 states, so he knew his subject well. I found this to be a really entertaining and interesting read, despite it being written almost 70 years ago.

Recent Book Purchases

While we were away on our recent (football inspired) trip down to England we took the opportunity to seek out secondhand bookshops, although there aren’t that many of them around nowadays, we visited the Moffat shop when we stopped there for lunch. We each bought a book there. Then on to Penrith in Northumberland where we found another bookshop. We also visited Oswestry, Shrewsbury, Alcester, Stratford on Avon, Much Wenlock, Ironbridge and Kendal. The upshot of that is that I bought a total of 25 books, Jack bought 11, he’s always more reticent than I am! Some of them were bought in charity shops.

I didn’t find any books that I’ve been lusting after for ages, just some books from authors that I’ve read and enjoyed before, and a few from authors I had never even heard of – but I liked the look of them. Here are a few of them.

Latest Book Haul

1. Uncle Samson by Beverley Nichols. It was published in 1950 and is his observations on the American way of life. I think it’ll be a witty report on social history.

2. Rendezvous by Daphne du Maurier is a collection of her short stories.

3. Getting It Right by Elizabeth Jane Howard. I loved the Cazalet Chronicles so I have high hopes for this one.

4. Seven Dead by J. Jefferson Farjeon, a British Library Crime Classic.

5. Counting the Stars by Helen Dunmore. She’s an author that I’ve only recently discovered – sadly she died just a few months ago.

6. An Experiment in Love by Hilary Mantel, published in 1995 and very different from her Tudor books I’m sure.

I found three D.E. Stevenson paperbacks in an antiques centre for all of £1 each, they were the most interesting things in the whole place.

7. Still Glides the Stream by D.E. Stevenson

8. Crooked Adam by D.E. Stevenson

9. The House of the Deer by D.E. Stevenson.

10. The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall is a Virago which was going for 50p so although I know I could have borrowed it from the library I decided to buy it.

That’ll do for now. Have you read any of these ones?

The 1968 Club

1968

At the moment I’m reading A Small Town in Germany by Len Deighton for the 1968 Club which has been organised by Simon at Stuck in a Book and Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings. This week came around far too quickly for me, I had intended to read a few books for it, but here are a few that I’ve read previously.

A Cargo of Eagles by Margery Allingham

Consider the Lilies by Iain Crichton Smith

The Public Image by Muriel Spark

Mount Vernon Love Story by Mary Higgins Clark

Garden Open Tomorrow by Beverley Nichols

The Salzburg Connection by Helen MacInnes

It’s an eclectic mix I think you’ll agree. I hope to have A Small Town in Germany finished soon.