Recent Book Purchases

Books Again

I mentioned earlier that I only bought two books in Wigtown (Scotland’s book town – allegedly). I managed to get a lovely hardback copy of Dorothy Dunnett’s Scales of Gold, it’s one of her House of Niccolo books. I also bought a Virago, The Flint Anchor by Sylvia Townsend Warner in a shop called Byre Books which is hidden away behind some houses on the main street.

Jack had looked up an online list of secondhand bookshops in the UK. There was a shop listed in Gatehouse of Fleet, a very small town with not a lot in it, but a very wee shop on the High Street has a mixture of art and old books for sale. I managed (just) to stop myself from buying any of the art but I couldn’t resist buying three books.

Beth Chatto’s Garden Notebook. I don’t have any of her books but I used to read her articles and when we lived in Essex for a couple of years we were close to her garden, but I used to always just catch a glimpse of it from the bus to Colchester. She died just last week but she was a good old age, over 90.

Peeps at Many Lands is a series of travel books and I bought the Corsica book which was published in 1909. It was written by Ernest Young and illustrated by E.A. Norbury. Published by Adam and Charles Black. It has some nice colour illustrations.

I think the man in the bookshop thought that I just bought books with pretty pictures because the other book I bought there is The Englishman’s Castle by John Gloag with charming illustrations of various sorts of grand homes by Marjory Whittington. This was was published in 1944 and has that Book Production War Economy Standard logo on it. I have quite a lot of books published in wartime and I must say that although the paper was supposedly not the best quality they’ve all fared well over the years, much better than modern paperbacks anyway. They seem to begin to deteriorate after just ten years or so.

Incredibly there’s another bookshop in Gatehouse of Fleet although it’s a bit more difficult to find as it’s housed in part of an old mill by the edge of the River Fleet. It’s a lot bigger and has mainly old books, I don’t think there is much at all in the way of modern-ish paperbacks which suits me fine. I bought a book by J.I.M. Stewart called The Man Who Won the Pools. Also The Garden of Ignorance by Mrs. Marion Cran which was published in 1917 I believe.

The last one I bought there is called Recording Scotland, published by Oliver and Boyd in 1952 and has loads of lovely illustrations of places in Scotland by famous artists. Somewhere I bought a copy of Penelope Lively’s A Stitch in Time, one of her books she wrote for children.

On the way back home we drove along the Ayrshire coast and into Lanarkshire with the intention of visiting Garrion Bridge, an antiques centre that we hadn’t been to for years. To be honest there’s very little there that could be described as an antique but we did find some books there. So I came away with a couple by D.E. Stevensons – Five Windows and Sarah’s Cottage and also a couple of old but pristine orange Penguin books by the Bradford author Oliver Onions,Widdershins and The Story of Ragged Robin, but those ones are gifts for a friend who collects that author. We were so chuffed to find those ones.

I think you’ll agree that that was quite a haul.

Mr Fortune’s Maggot by Sylvia Townsend Warner

Mr Fortune's Maggot cover

Previously I had only read Sylvia Townsend Warner‘s Lolly Willowes, and enjoyed it although I suspect not quite as much as many people did. But when I saw this old paperback in an Edinburgh bookshop I decided to buy it although I had never heard of it before.

Mr Fortune’s Maggot was published in 1927, the second book by the author. It’s not a very attractive title, but apparently in this case ‘maggot’ means a fad, a whimsical or perverse fancy.

Mr Fortune is a bachelor, he had worked in a bank for years before he decided to become a vicar, he was drawn to missionary work and eventually found himself on a Pacific island called Fanua, hoping to convert the inhabitants to Christianity. I have to say that my heart sank when I realised the subject matter of this book but it ended up being a good read.

Mr Fortune’s endeavours get off to a good start as he inadvertently makes a convert on his first day on the island. A young boy has become attached to him and helps him build his home and shows him how to survive on the island. He makes no more headway in converting the rest of the islanders who are a relaxed and welcoming lot, happy with their own form of worship, each has a small wooden god of their own, a sort of lucky totem.

Mr Fortune thinks he is taking care of Lueli (whom he has christened Theodore) but really it’s the opposite and Lueli sees Mr Fortune as a responsibility. A volcanic eruption changes everything with Mr Fortune losing his faith. Eventually it dawns on Mr Fortune that he is an interloper and that he is doing harm, has no right to try and change the way the islanders live or to meddle with their religious beliefs.

Considering this book was published in 1929 that’s quite an amazing thing for an author to write. Sylvia Townsend Warner was decades ahead of the times in thinking that colonialism was an evil. Thankfully the UK gave it up long ago. Sadly there are still people who believe that they should go out and become missionaries and I have a nasty feeling that a lot of the inter-tribal violence in places like Africa nowadays is the upshot of that.

Anyway, it turned out to be a surprisingly enjoyable read. It may seem like sacrilege to some people but I liked it more than Lolly Willowes.

Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner

Lolly Willowes cover

Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner is one of a bunch of Virago books which have been languishing unread on a shelf for years, so when I saw that quite a few bloggers seemed to have read it recently I thought I should get around to it too.

I have to say that I didn’t love this book as much as I had expected to. It’s a book of two halves really. When her father dies Lolly Willowes has to move in with her brother and his wife and their family. She has been left money of her own but nobody expects her to strike out on her own and have an independent life. She’s one of those maiden aunts, handy for when the children need to be looked after, but otherwise unwanted.

After years of living her life to suit other people she eventually decides to move out to Great Mop, a rural village, where she’s able to learn more about nature and the plants and potions that have always attracted her. The book changes completely, just as Lolly did, and it seemed apt that I got to this point in the book on Halloween, as the village turns out to be full of witches.

You might be interested in reading this Guardian article about Sylvia Townsend Warner: the neglected writer.