Thursday 27 November 2008

Putting bread and butter on the table

You know that, even when you have hundreds of unread books, not a lot of spare cash, and no spare reading time - sometimes, even with these limitations, a book will make you buy it? Impossible-to-resist, head-straight-to-Amazon-to-buy sort of book? Well, my e-friend Lyn (from dovegreybooks Yahoo group, a source of many such books) mentioned one the other day, and, mere days later, it is in front of me.

It's The Bread and Butter Stories by Mary Norton. For those who recognise the name but can't think where, it's probably because she is the author of The Borrowers, a back I'm shamefully never read, but indeed to do so soon. We grew up loving the TV series. I'll tell you what Lyn wrote about it, not sure where it's quoted from, perha
ps the Virago website...

Reminiscent of Elizabeth von Arnim and Elizabeth Taylor, these 15 recently discovered short stories by the author of The Borrowers are wonderful period pieces about being an upper-middle class woman in the 1940s and early 50s. Many are reminiscent of Brief Encounter with their longings for adventure or romance to break the stifling constraints on their lives. Here are respectable conventional women settled into dull marriages finding themselves entertaining the notion of an affair while on holiday; a dowdy woman who suddenly decides to have her face done and take the £1.00 post-office savings and blow it on a fine hat. Then there are funny, satirical pieces: useful knowledge like how to cure cold feet at bedtime, a sideways look at acting for a television drama and a very entertaining and fascinating piece on writing for children which includes dialogue with an editor who wants short words and happy stories. Written with a wry and gentle humour, the collection makes for fascinating reading.

Doesn't it sound wonderful? I've yet to read them, but it will only be a matter of time... Lyn did only mention the book four days ago, after all. I have read the Introduction by Mary Norton's daughter - apparently Mary Norton called these stories 'bread and butter stories' because they put bread and butter on the table - written for magazines, but not published together until the 1990s when found in the attic... I'll report back when I'm done, but I'm willing to bet at least one person will already be scrambling to Amazon or abebooks to get their hands on a copy!


  1. Yes, I think it sounds wonderful. I loved the Borrowers as a child - though I never saw the series, only read the book.

    And, I agree with you on the inability to resist a book you really want. There is a particular book I want at present - the new AMS - I don't need it though, as I have at least a hundred unread books at home but I know I will shortly succumb and purchase it. Ah, the battle of self will. And, now I have yet another book to add to the "want it, but really shouldn't buy it" list:)

  2. Well I have acquired the ability to resist buying books I desire, even though I do have quite a lot of spare cash unlike our impoverished student Simon. Please do remember the existence of those wonderful Victorian institutions the Public Library. They DO need your support too (much more than Amazon!), particularly to keep them in existance for those members of our society who have no realistic chance of diverting their cash towards anything other than the necessities of life.

    Dark Puss

  3. Oops! I AM a librarian and I was just about to head for amazon. Sorry Peter (and you're quite right of course). So I'll stick to my current pile of unread books and order this one in to the library now, hanging my head in shame as I do so...

  4. I have worked in and loved libraries all my life and joined whenever and wherever I was living at the time. I used to borrow heaps of books but sadly, I very rarely visit my local library now. If I want to spend any time in an internet cafe/coffee shop/creche (aka junior library) and listen the hubbub of screaming children, teenagers hanging out over the computers and people flogging me Christmas cards and assorted merchandise, then I will seek such a place out.

    In the meantime, I rely on second hand bookshops and Amazon and am just glad they are there.

    And Simon, this book is now being ordered TODAY!

  5. "If I want to spend any time in an internet cafe/coffee shop/creche (aka junior library) and listen the hubbub of screaming children, teenagers hanging out over the computers and people flogging me Christmas cards and assorted merchandise, then I will seek such a place out."

    This made me laugh. It's so true. And we ARE selling Christmas cards at the mo!

  6. Dark Puss/Peter is quite right, and I do feel rather guilty - but only part of me (a large part, admittedly) wants to *read* the book - another sizeable part wants to own it, and that's a large chunk of the pleasure. I will try to use the library for book group books, and others which I probably won't want to look at again (indeed, I already do use the library for that a lot of the time) and think twice before heading over to Amazon.

  7. Not long on self-control here: Amazon delivered a Used and New copy yesterday! May I recommend the Wishlist function on Amazon: when you've found your book there, instead of buying it, put it on your wishlist. It is a kind of virtual TBR, and often you can buy the book later on when it is cheaper or in paperback. Means you won't forget about a good recommendation.

  8. I have a foot in several camps here (being Manx by birth I have three legs, of course). I did go straight to Amazon on reading your post, Simon, and like Curzon I use the wishlist function extensively (mine currently numbers 319 items!!) and I've put Mary Norton's book there for now. I too like to own books, as opposed to just reading them and giving them back, but I do use the library, though not often the local one, as it rather resembles what Elaine describes. By whatever means I come by a copy, I should like to read these stories, so thankyou for mentioning them.

  9. It sounds so, so wonderful. Thank you (and Lynne) for the notice.

  10. Thanks for the heads up, I've never heard of this one and it sounds lovely

  11. I'm on my way to the library now to pick up The Bread and Butter Stories

    I use Amazon's wish list extensively as a reminder ... not to forget the titles I want to read eventually (from the library). I really don't want to acqure more books ... trying to get rid of (pass on) the ones I have

  12. I've just been on the Somerset Library website Simon (to renew an overdue book). They have 6 copies of Bread and Butter Stories by Mary Norton - including one in large print, none are reserved at the moment.
    I could reserve a copy (for 50p) for when you come home at Christmas.

  13. Ah, Simon - do you remember the Toy Library you used to go to when you were 3 and 4 years old? The Plan was to teach you (at this tender age) that you did not need to OWN something in order to enjoy it! You Tested the toys, Sampled the toys, Enjoyed the toys - and then, very occasionally, one would stick out as the Obvious One to Own - usually just in time for Christmas or Birthday.
    Was all my careful rearing for nothing?
    A sadder and wiser mother,

  14. Ah, your example, OVW, taught me that it wasn't the same for me! I *do* have to own books to get full enjoyment from them. Just be glad it's not gold nuggets...


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