Foraging for food for thought

© C A Lovegrove

We’re just about at the end of a few days break in Bristol and, pending a book review, I’m just posting a few items of bookish news for now.

First off, in between visits to friends and old haunts I’ve taken in a few bookshops. Let me list them: one Oxfam bookshop, The Last Bookshop (which, paradoxically, was the first one I went to on a second outing), a second Oxfam bookshop, and Bristol’s remaining Waterstones — it used to have three — or, as I still prefer to think of it, Waterstone’s.

Also, since I’m currently rereading Diana Wynne Jones’s Archer’s Goon, I revisited some Bristol sites that I’m certain inspired a few of the fictional places in the fantasy. After a review I shall be putting together a few photos and speculations for a related post.

My haul in Westbury-on-Trym’s Oxfam bookshop was made up of a classic Michael Moorcock title, a Silvia Townsend Warner novel — rather fortuitously, as it had been recently recommended by a blogger — and a slim Jorge Luis Borges collection which is regarded as an early classic of his.

A day later I found myself in Central Bristol. The Last Bookshop is run by Oxford-based @BillAndBenBooks. They recycle remainders, returns and overstocks “to give them a second life” and currently are selling all items at £3.00. Here I picked up a copy of Charlotte Brontë’s last novel, a Gothic tale by Joan Aiken, a George Orwell novel partly written when he was in Southwold (where we visited a few weeks ago and about which I posted a report on its literary connections), and a U K Le Guin collection of short stories. Coincidentally a US stamp was officially issued on 27th July in honour of UKLG.

At the nearby Oxfam bookshop I picked up a couple of Jan Mark titles, including a much praised and award-winning novel. I’d previously enjoyed a new collection of her short stories and her unusual YA novel Heathrow Nights.

Then it was on to the well-stocked Waterstone’s in Bristol’s Galleries shopping mall. I was on the lookout for a replacement copy of Philippa Pearce’s Tom’s Midnight Garden (which I wanted for a Twitter readalong) and the recently-published school story by academic and fellow blogger Daisy May Johnson. In addition I leapt on Katherine Addison’s follow-up to The Goblin Emperor, a sort of sequel but one which works as a standalone. In the photo I’ve also included a Philip Reeve title from his Mortal Engines universe which I forgot to include in my first Oxfam photo of purchases.

So there we have it, a cornucopia of delights, most of which which I hope to get round to reading, reviewing and discussing in due course with whatever leisure opportunities I have left. As a certain wizard advised a hobbit (and us too of course) “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

Have you read any of these? What would you start with?

  1. Katherine Addison, The Witness for the Dead
  2. Joan Aiken, The Silence of Herondale
  3. Jorge Luis Borges, A Universal History of Infamy
  4. Charlotte Brontë, Villette
  5. Daisy May Johnson, How to be Brave
  6. Ursula K Le Guin, The Wind’s Twelve Quarters & The Compass Rose
  7. Jan Mark, Nothing to be Afraid of
  8. Jan Mark, Thunder and Lightnings
  9. Michael Moorcock, Behold the Man
  10. George Orwell, A Clergyman’s Daughter
  11. Philippa Pearce, Tom’s Midnight Garden
  12. Philip Reeve, Night Flights
  13. Sylvia Townsend Warner, Lolly Willowes

48 thoughts on “Foraging for food for thought

  1. Only Villette which I rather liked–more so on my second read. I didn’t love the heroine but just the way the book is crafted was something I enjoyed.

    Tom’s Midnight Garden is one I’ve been meaning to read for ages but as always, too many books… but I do mean to get to it soon.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have to read Emily’s sole novel and the second of Anne’s two books first, but I’m looking forward to Villette straight after them, so your assessment is very welcome!

      Tom’s Midnight Garden is a chapter-a-day group read on Twitter, if you’re interested, hosted by @ReadAlongs and using the hashtag #MidnightBookMagic: chapter 4 today!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I would have loved to join in the Tom read but I don’t have a copy yet.

        Wuthering Heights I have read once with a group, but certain aspects of Heathcliff’s character (one incident in particular) put me off so much that I wondered why he is so admired as a character. I may pick it up again some day with a more open mind.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. As you know, Lizzie, I like to assess the physical products in person—the feel, the look, the particular edition, the finish—and, with secondhand books, their actual condition, so real bookstores almost always trump online outlets. And the STW is already getting a lot of love here… 😁

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      1. Never online outlets for me. But I can’t remember the last time I bought a book. Not through parsimony–I’m just reluctant to bring more books into my collection until I’ve read what I already own!

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Good for you, that’s self-control I aspire to! To my credit I’ve been trying to discard books I’ll never read or consult again to local charity shops all through lockdown and it’s only relatively recently that I’ve got out to dedicated bookshops to disburse money! But I shall continue to select books to pass on.

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      1. You can generally never go wrong with Orwell but that one seemed a bit uncharacteristically mean-spirited. And “Tom’s Midnight Garden” is a gem I must re-read. Thanks to your list I have just headed today into a re-read of “Lolly Willowes” – so many delightful digs and odd juxtapositions. Love it for all its peculiarities and STW was brilliant. (Reading her wartime stories together with…oh the distractions!)

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I’ve just started the STW, delightful digs and odd juxtapositions included, and found the Sarah Waters intro to this edition really helpful. I also, previous to this trip, bought the Handheld edition of Of Cats and Elfins: Short Tales and Fantasies which includes the Cat’s Cradle stories and some Elfin tales, though I’m saving these till after the Willowes novel.

          As for the Orwell, I got this for curiosity’s sake, even though I know it’s not as well regarded as his other fiction, because it obviously draws on his Suffolk roots and I can now imagine the landscape from personal experience.

          Finally, the Pearce: I knew the story would appeal to the child in me but this time round I’m savouring even more the circumstantial details that an adult might relish more, descriptions of nature, seasonal changes, historical references, and so on—it’s a novel that works on many levels for different readers.

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  2. What a great selection of books to look forward to! I have only read Villette and Tom’s Midnight Garden, both of which I enjoyed, but I’m curious about most of the others. The Silence of Herondale sounds like my sort of book!

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    1. That Aiken title does indeed sound your sort of thing, Helen, I’ll try and get it read and reviewed sometime soon just to help persuade you! But the Sylvia Townsend Warner sounds to be the main priority at the moment…

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    1. Don’t get me wrong, I intend to read all of these sooner than later: the Orwell calls to me more than the Borges, but I intend to finish both. Still, you’re right, I go with my gut as to when I’ll pick them up, and I appreciate your approving noises! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Erm, too many, possibly. Just went upstairs with a ruler: at least 38 yards of shelving, or 114 feet packed with books. Not forgetting sundry tottering piles. Mind you, about 40% of these are non fiction /atlases / periodicals / biography / dictionaries and other reference books.

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  3. Thanks for the news about Bill and Ben, for some reason I haven’t come across them despite walking up and down Walton St in Oxford, I will keep my eyes open now!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. They’ve two outlets in Oxford, haven’t they, the Walton St Last Bookshop but also The Book Stop in Magdalen Street, so Bristol’s fortunate in also being represented. Happy hunting!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. What an interesting selection. As you know, I’ve read How to Be Brave which is a real mood lifter of a book. The Jan Mark, Thunder and Lightnings, was a Twitter read along a little while ago and I enjoyed both the read and the discussion. I love Tom’s Midnight Garden and wish I’d got my act together to join in the chat this week. Your bulk buying is making me feel so much better about my own inability to resist a bookshop!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. How to be Brave definitely draws you in from the very first page, Anne, and I had to resist ploughing on regardless! I regretted not having a copy of the Jan Mark in time for the Readalong, hence my reacquisition of the Pearce for this readalong. As for bookshops, resist all such resistance, it is futile!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. What a lovely book haul! It’s wonderful to be back in bookshops and libraries again. I’ve just read the Borges, Brontë, and part of the Le Guin and it took me a couple of tries before I got into Villette. Whichever book calls to you the loudest, I hope you thoroughly enjoy it.

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    1. I’m cheered by the fact you’ve recently read many of the titles mentioned here and presumably enjoyed them! As it happens I’ve just started the Townsend Warner but hope to get on to the Borges before too long, lots of short accounts to dip into and out of.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. raddledoldtart

    I’d reread the Joan Aiken first, as I know I’d enjoy it the most from that list. Will be very interested to find out if you like the Orwell, which is a big favourite of mine – tho it is one I’d class as potentially more likely to be enjoyed by women readers?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hah, I was tempted by the Aiken too but the Townsend Warner got in first as so many responses here sang its praises, and I’m enjoying what I’ve seen so far! As I’ve said above I got the Orwell partly for its local colour, having spent a week in Southwold, but I have no fear of its being a ‘woman’s novel’ — in fact I’ve been eyeing a Dodie Smith romance for some time, and have Amanda Craig’s recent bestseller as a possibility for later this year.

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  7. I liked Lolly Willowes in a quiet sort of way (and reviewed it on Aug. 22, 2020). I just started reading The Witness for the Dead because it has necromancy in it, so if you read it soon we can compare notes.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I just checked and, yes, I liked and commented on your review—in fact it was another impetus for me to get a copy whenever I would come across it. And here we are!

      The Addington is one I want to read soon but I suspect you may complete your reading of it before I actually start it. But we’ll see.

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      1. Yes, after reading your post I have resolved to try to find one next week! (There are none in my home town and the Waterstone’s (!) I used to go to has shut.) Maybe a quick drive to Cambridge is in order? There are regular bookshops and secondhand bookshops full of hidden corners and little steps. 😁

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  8. I am coveting a bunch of these! The Silence of Herondale – I’m always up for more gothic Joan Aiken – Thunder and Lightnings (my son is into flying at the moment so I’d love to share it with him too), and the Addison looks tempting even though I have not yet read the first book. I also want to reread Lolly Willowes. I’m sure you’ll love the UKL stories, always a treat.

    If you read Villette I’m eager to know your thoughts. I wrote my thesis on it in college and there’s much to ponder in the melancholy psychological tale, I think.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Do read the first Addison at least, I regret giving away my copy as I yearn to enjoy it all over again; this second one, according to reviewers, works well enough as a standalone, however, and gives enough background to make it intelligible to new readers.

      From looking at the contents list I seem to have read several of the Le Guin stories from other collections, but I never mind reading them again in a new context. I hadn’t realised you’d done a thesis on the Brontë novel—perhaps I may read Villette now before I get round to Wuthering Heights and Wildfell Hall… I’ll think about it!

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    1. Yes, it’s about halfway down Park Street on the left if your back’s to the University Tower. And yes, the Oxfam bookshop is at the top, virtually opposite the Tower, on the corner of the road going up to Berkeley Square (passing There and Back Lane). Happy book hunting if you’re going in the near future!

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