Wednesday, 16 October 2013

America: The Books

As promised yesterday, I shall probably write a few posts about my time in America, staying with my lovely friend Lorna and her husband Will, but I had to start with the bloggers and the books... and, given how many I bought, this might be rather a long post!

Will, Teresa, me, Lorna, Thomas.
Nationality indicated by handy flags...

I'd always assumed, from the testimonies of various American bloggers and other friends, that American bookshops (sorry, stores) were rather overpriced and understocked.  Well, if you are looking for Anglophilia, then I daresay that's true - but I came with the intention of buying only books I would be unlikely to find in England and, let me tell you, I didn't come back empty-handed.  Indeed, I came back with (ahem) 22 books.  Top tip: they don't weigh carry-on luggage, so I crammed as many books as possible into that, and pretended that my shoulder wasn't falling off as I walked through the airport.

While in America, I had the great joy of meeting up with Thomas at My Porch and Teresa from Shelf Love - more about them later - but I'm going to tell you about the bookshops in order, and I certainly hadn't restrained myself before I saw them.

blurry, because I took the photo from the bus...

Bookshop 1: Book Bank in Alexandria, Virginia

I may have gone a bit mad in this one, because it was the first and because I had a fistful of dollars... it was also probably my favourite of the bookshops I went to, partly because of the range and partly because of the wonderful woman behind the desk.  This woman, probably about fifty, was very knowledgeable about the books we bought, but not quite expert at the workings of a bookshop - she was training, and when the owner came back told him "I've made a list of all the mistakes I've made, and put it by the till."  And then she added - in a sentence that I hope will become a catchphrase for me - "What I think is great is that now I know when I'm making mistakes!"  What a woman.  And here are the books I bought, and why...


Floater - Calvin Trillin
Thomas gave me Tepper Isn't Going Out a while ago, and I loved it - so I was pleased to find another. And then I discovered that they're everywhere in America - but this one was still worth the purchase, as I immediately read and loved it.  Since it was about journalists in Washington DC, it was particularly appropriate, as I was staying with a couple of them.

Book Lust - Nancy Pearl
The first of several books which have been on my Amazon Wishlist for ages, but not so easy to find in England - a celebrity librarian talks about book recommendations?  I'm in.

Seize the Day - Saul Bellow
Forever ago I wrote this title down on a notecard I used for book recommendations.  I don't remember who recommended it or why, but this was the first time I've found it in a shop.  A bit nervous about trying Bellow, but at least it's a nice short one.

Old Books, Rare Friends - Leona Rostenberg & Madeleine Stern
Another one off the wishlist - a non-fic tale about old ladies and bibliophilia is another one I can't see myself not liking.

Ride a Cockhorse - Richard Kennedy
I was determined, when coming to the US, not to come back without at least a few NYRB Classics, and this one was the first one I came across, and looked interesting.

A Home at the End of the World - Michael Cunningham
I've been meaning to read more Cunningham ever since I read and loved The Hours ten years ago, but had yet to buy any.  As you'll discover, this was not the only one I bought on my holiday....

Used and Rare - Lawrence & Nancy Goldstone
One of the things I often saw in bookshops Stateside which isn't all that common in the UK was a shelf of 'books about books', and well-stocked at that.  This was another one I just couldn't resist...


Bookshop 2: Riverby Books, Washington D.C.

Just around the corner from the Folger Shakespeare Library, incidentally.  Yes, the first thing I went to in America was an exhibition about Shakespeare, which wasn't exactly travelling far from home.  It was also the first day of the torrential rains, which continued apace throughout my stay - but rather that than the rocketing temperatures of my first weekend (which, everyone assured me, was nothing compared to the summer).  I took shelter in a bookshop, which was no hardship, and it was there that I discovered the curious animal that is the mass-market paperback.  I've trained my eyes to ignore cheap, nasty editions, because in the UK they're almost invariably cheap, nasty books - but in the US there are plenty of great books which hide between this awful covers.  (Sadly, no photo of the bookshop, because it was just too wet.)


An Anthropologist on Mars - Oliver Sacks
I could probably have found this one in England, but I thought I should justify the long rain-avoidance time I spent in the shop, and I'm always willing to add to my Sacks shelf.

Portrait of Jennie - Robert Nathan
This one has been on my wishlist for ages, and impossible to find in the UK.  Sadly I found it just too late to include in my thesis, which would have been useful (it's about a girl who ages at a different rate from everyone else) but I still enjoyed reading it - which I have done already.  When I review it, I'll show you the unpleasant cover...



Bookshop 3: The Lantern, Georgetown

Thomas was free to show me around Georgetown, and we had a fun afternoon chatting about books, bloggers, and whatnot, and I enjoyed being shown the beautiful sites of Georgetown.  I'd already stayed one night at Thomas's house when I arrived (and got to meet the entirely adorable Lucy, who has single-pawedly brought dogs up a lot in my estimation) but I was coldy and jet-lagged and exhausted, so it was nice to have a chance to see him when I was actually compos mentis.  And we found a bookshop, of course...


The Rise of Silas Lapham - William Dean Howells
I don't know anything about this book, but Thomas pressed it into my hands, and at $2 I thought it was worth a go.

Land's End - Michael Cunningham
Another Cunningham, as mentioned above - and this one came signed, and with a sweet little drawing of boats by the author himself!

The Charmer - Patrick Hamilton
And this is where I broke my self-imposed rule of only buying American authors.  Well, I say self-imposed, but really it came after Thomas reprimanded me for only bringing British books on holiday.  You should all know by now that I love love love Hamilton's novel The Slaves of Solitude, and have been meaning to try another one for a while - this one, so far, is stylistically far less sophisticated, but enjoyable nonetheless.

The Fur Person - May Sarton
This one wasn't actually a book purchase, but a gift from Thomas.  Thanks!

Not relevant, but here I am (with Lorna) by the White House, y'all.

Bookshop 4: Books for America, Washington D.C.

This actually represents Bookshop 3a (Second Story Books) and 3b (Kramerbooks) too, but I didn't actually buy anything in either of those - see what restraint!  By this point of the trip, I was getting more conscious about the weight and size of my bag, and so only bought one book... All Men Are Liars by Alberto Manguel.  And American paperbacks are a hundred times nicer than UK paperbacks, am I right?  Such a lovely feel to them.


Bookshop 5, 6, 7, 8: various shops around Virginia

These were the bookshops I went to with Thomas and Teresa, and I've decided (since this post is getting long) that I'll tell you more about that trip in another post.  But I'll let you know which books I bought - only four!  


Hollywood in the Thirties - John Baxter
50 cents in a library sale: yes please!

Fancies and Goodnights - John Collier
Collier was one of the authors I wrote about in my thesis (I will tell you more about that in due course) and so I was pleased to find a collection of his short stories.  But I have since discovered that I could have found an NYRB Classics edition, rather than the noxious paperback I found...

The Brandon Papers - Quentin Bell
I hadn't realised that Virginia Woolf's nephew wrote a novel (or maybe novels?) so I again broke my no-Brits rule for book buying on this trip.  And Thomas and Teresa were buying so many books that I felt I couldn't lag too far behind!

The Moon and the Bonfires - Cesare Pavese
I know nothing at all about this, but a $1 NYRB was inevitably coming home with me.


Bookshop 9: Capitol Hill Books (guess where?)

On my final day, Lorna and I headed up to this amazing shop - there wasn't an inch of wall space which wasn't covered by books, as you can see.  The old gentleman who runs the shop turned up about half an hour after opening time (and opening time was 11.30am so not exactly horrendously early) but made up for it with his witty signs ("As recommended by Lindsay Lohan from rehab", "Beware, may contain data" etc. etc.)  Despite having packed my bags that morning, I still came away with four more books...


Mr. Hodge and Mr. Hazard - Elinor Wylie
Another one of my thesis authors; it's encouraging that I didn't get to the point where I never wanted to see any of their names again!

The Unknown Masterpiece - Honore de Balzac
Another NYRB, but this time I actually do know the author (of course) and wanted to read more by him.

Instead of a Letter - Diana Athill
More for my Athill shelf!  This is one of the books I could find easily in the UK, but the delight of an American paperback swayed me.  And I didn't put up too much resistance, I must confess.  Oh, it is lovely.

Private Demons: The Life of Shirley Jackson - Judy Oppenheimer
This was the last book I spotted, only about a minute before we had to buy our books and leave - and the book I was most thrilled to find, as it is next to impossible to find in the UK, and not that easy to find in the US.  And it's even inscribed by the author, which is always fun.  

Right, that's all for now, folks!  As always, let me know if you've read any of these, or want to, etc. etc.  And soon I'll tell you all about the bloggers' day out to Virginia...

39 comments:

  1. Hi Si
    what a haul (but I discover that means stolen or obtained illegally!)
    What a great collection. Hope you recover from jet lag soon

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    1. I didn't know that that was the meaning of haul! Oops... promise I paid for all of 'em!

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  2. It's not too many books if you've managed to lug it home! It's great to go to another country and get books you can only find there:)

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    1. Absolutely! It made me feel oddly virtuous in my book buying, as though I were on some sort of cultural programme...

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  3. I think you showed great restraint in not buying more books - I've been known to jettison clothes to make room for books acquired on a holiday! I do hope you enjoy Saul Bellow: I've been a fan since my college days, but he's been languishing on the shelves for a bit, hidden behind new-comers. Having seen your post, the one book I have to read, right now, without delay, is Henderson the Rain King - and there it was, exactly where I thought it would be. It's not often I find the book I want as easily as that, so that makes it a practically perfect moment!

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    1. I did throw away a pair of old flip-flops to give myself more room for books, Christine!

      Since the Saul Bellow is so short, I wouldn't be surprised if I got around to reading it sooner rather than later. I wouldn't have had you pegged as a fan of his, so that is interesting - and definitely made me feel more hopeful about liking him too.

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  4. I remember clearly the day Princess (to be) Mary of Tasmania married Prince Frederick of Denmark b/c I was in the hospital having heart checks, tied to monitors as I watched it? Did I have a heart problem? No , I had separated the muscles from my rib cage from carrying too many books home from America on a recent trip there. So mate, you have done well.

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  5. What a lovely lot of books. Have you seen the movie of Portrait of Jennie? Jennifer Jones, Joseph Cotton & Ethel Barrymore in a small but very touching role. I'm very fond of it. I read the book years ago, got it on ILL but don't remember much about it.

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    1. I've bought the DVD now! I was waiting to read the book first, but now the DVD is on its way to me, and I'll report back. The book was a very quick read, and already it is flying from my mind, so I might have to speed-read again before I watch the film.

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  6. Portrait of Jennie - have read it many times. I have it in the marvelous anthology Stories to Remember which was my dad's; many are the treasures collected in densely printed pages. I've recently acquired another Robert Nathan, The Sea-Gull Cry, which is shelved to await reading for the year 1944 for the upcoming Century of Books.

    Saul Bellow - a bit intimidating, yes. I've dipped into his works on occasion and am still not quite sure how I feel about them. I'm interested to hear your impressions.

    I do envy you the discovery of the Shirley Jackson biography - great find!

    Good job squeezing all of those books into your luggage.

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    1. How nice that a couple of people have read Portrait of Jennie, that came as a bit of a surprise! According to the paperback it was a huge seller, but it obviously wasn't on my side of the Pond. I'd be intrigued to hear about another Robert Nathan - and will hopefully blog about P of J before too long.

      Finding the Shirley Jackson biog was wonderful! I even cried "yes!" to myself as I pulled it off the shelf...

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  7. Wonderful haul. I'd love to read some more Calvin Trillin since I loved Tepper too.

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    1. Floater was fantastic! I'll blog about it soon, hopefully before the details fly from my mind...

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  8. I'm having my mother read The Fur Person at the moment so she can tell me if it is too sad. I can't do very sad cat books. I am hopeful it will pass the test though, as I really want to read more Sarton. (And what a wonderful haul of books - yeah for hand luggage!)

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    1. I just finished The Fur Person and didn't think it was sad at all. Everyone is still alive at the end of the book.

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    2. I love that you have a test reader, Vicki! Thomas, as you see, has done the job for me - and I'm sure to read it soon, for Reading Presently.

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  9. Amazing finds, Simon - well done (and for lugging them home!) Many new authors and books to me - I do possess the Pavese but I can't remember if I've read it! Capitol Hill Books looks perfect.....

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    1. I was pretty pleased by how many could squeeze into my bags! There certainly were some gems of bookshops, and I'm thrilled with what I brought with me.

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  10. "celebrity librarian" - wonderful!

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    1. I know! How I'd love the UK to have one of them.

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  11. Lovely loot you've got there! (somehow, 'loot' seems to sound much more illegal than 'haul'!) I envy those NYRB editions that you managed to get for .... a dollar? And the Shirley Jackson biography sounds really good too. The only one that I've read is the Lawrence & Nancy Goldstone's Used & Rare. Quite a fun read on book-hunting at auctions & other interesting places.

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    1. I know! The dollar NYRB was at a library sale where everything was $2 or less - so I'm surprised I only came away with two things. If I'd lived locally, and hadn't had to negotiate baggage allowance, I'd have bought much more...

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  12. I hope you like the book about Shirley Jackson. She was not at all as I had imagined.

    I'm glad you managed to have a good trip and amass quite a suitcase full of books. I'm looking forward to reading more of your adventures.

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    1. I've read a couple of articles, so I am prepared for SJ to be a bit, er, unusual!

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  13. Good work. 22 is the same number of books I brought back from my first trip to Britain in 1973. Yes, mostly in the carry-on.

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    1. Was it really? Fantastic! I also had 6 or 7 that I'd taken to read, so it was definitely a heavy bag...

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  14. I had the same problem when I was last in New Orleans - American paperback editions are just so much lovelier than a lot of British ones - its very hard not to buy books that you already own just because the cover is so nice. Looking forward to hearing how you get on with the Shirley Jackson biography - it is pretty good. I think there is a new biography of her out soon too?

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    1. Precisely! They have such a very lovely feel to them, Americans must get a horrible surprise when they see the flimsy paperbacks we have here.

      I hadn't heard about a new SJ biog - or, if I had, I'd forgotten. Must look out for that!

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  15. I went to Hay-on-Wye this summer and actually had to take a big parcel of books to the post office to send them home. Therefore, I think you haven't bought too many new books (can one ever?).

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    1. Haha! Excellent - I did toy with that, but thought I'd manage as I was - which I did just about.

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  16. If you're ever in Dallas-Fort Worth, we will gladly do a book tour with you! And Nancy Pearl is so awesome. :) Every librarian's hero.

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    1. That would be very lovely! One day I'll be back, be assured...

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  17. You might be interested to know that there is a Nancy Pearl action figure (with sushing action). I'm glad you made it to Capitol Hill Books before you left. I think his bookselling is just a cover for his hoarding.

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    1. I have seen that figure on someone's blog... maybe Bluestalking Reader? There were so many books you'd love in Capitol Hill Books, how come they're still there?? Lots of Viragos... and lots of EH Young. Get on it!

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  18. what a great haul! :)
    have a good time reading them! ;)

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  19. Nice stack of books there! You still managed to find a few titles/authors I've never heard of - even in America. :) Kudos to you for getting them into your carryon.

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    1. I'm excited about varying my American reading a bit, and exploring more - and also, actually, realised that I *do* read quite a few US authors. Well, more than I thought I did, anyway.

      One day I'll make it to Texas! The friend I was staying with is actually at the annual meeting of undertakers in Austin right now...

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  20. We appreciate your kind thoughts about Book Bank in Alexandria--and our wonderful novice bookseller!

    Don Alexander, former owner and now volunteer overlord

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