Oh dear, blog readers, you see before you a humble and mournful man. Am I to come this far and fall at the final hurdle? Project 24 has not been easy... it involves repressing all that part of me which screams joyfully, waving my hands around, whenever I see secondhand books... to come before shelves of lovely, musty, well-loved hardbacks from the 1920s and 1930s, it goes against everything in my nature to be circumspect and sensible.
My better side was trampled in the dust the other day, when I scooped up three books at my favourite shop in Oxford, Arcadia. It's mostly gifty, cardy, wrapping-papery but also has a back room of secondhand books, specialising in Penguin paperbacks. In said shop, I bought...
I'm going to have to work hard to defend these, aren't I?
-Personal Pleasures by Rose Macaulay looks like great fun - a bit like Modern Delight (see here) or presumably J.B. Priestley's Delight, which I haven't actually read. It has many short chapters on things with please Macaulay - from 'Departure of Visitors' to 'Turtles in Hyde Park'; 'Hot Bath' to 'Improving the Dictionary'. I think it's going to be fun... it's readily available, and I could have left it there and bought it later... but... but...
-As It Was & World Without End by Helen Thomas - these autobiographical books by poet Edward Thomas' wife appear on my 50 Books list, but I have only got them in a modern reprint called Under Storm's Wing. When I spotted these loved old editions, I couldn't leave them there - do go and see what I wrote about them then, including the stunning final paragraph of World Without End where Helen bids farewell to her husband for the last time as he heads to war, easily the most moving writing I have read outside the Bible. Oh, I'm going to go ahead and put the paragraph here too.
A thick mist hung everywhere, and there was no sound except, far away in the valley, a train shunting. I stood at the gate watching him go; he turned back to wave until the mist and the hill hid him. I heard his old call coming up to me: 'Coo-ee!' he called. 'Coo-ee!' I answered, keeping my voice strong to call again. Again through the muffled air came his 'Coo-ee'. And again went my answer like an echo. 'Coo-ee' came fainter next time with the hill between us, but my 'Coo-ee' went out of my lungs strong to pierce to him as he strode away from me. 'Coo-ee!' So faint now, it might be only my own call flung back from the thick air and muffling snow. I put my hands up to my mouth to make a trumpet, but no sound came. Panic seized me, and I ran through the mist and the snow to the top of the hill, and stood there a moment dumbly, with straining eyes and ears. There was nothing but the mist and the snow and the silence of death.
Then with leaden feet which stumbled in a sudden darkness that overwhelmed me I groped my way back to the empty house.
I'll give you a moment to recover... There we go.
But these three books are not the only ones I have bought. On Bank Holiday Monday my housemate Mel and I decided to visit Lower Slaughter in the Cotswolds, because (a) it looked pretty, and (b) it has a funny name. Little did we know that they had a fete on...
Against my better judgement, I sidled up to the book stall... and saw (and grabbed) Susan and Joanna by Elizabeth Cambridge. She wrote the wonderful Persephone book Hostages to Fortune, and I've been trying to track down Susan and Joanna for a while (since a TLS review of it has featured in several of my essays) but can only find one copy for sale online, and it's a fortune. Just one English pound to me - how could I say no?
But I won't be buying any books for a month or two... honest, I won't... will I?