Thursday 2 September 2010


Project 24 - #18, #19, #20, #21...

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?


  1. You lucky thing! I never find anything at book stalls at fetes. BUT I am going to one on Saturday - my last slice of Englishness before I leave. Maybe I'll get lucky. I dreamt I found Greenbanks for 10p at a fete the other night - it's a bit sad when you start dreaming about discovering Dorothy Whipples in unusual places, isn't it?!

  2. Oh, it was bound to happen at some point! I'm sure you can still make it. And you found some lovely books.

  3. I love your confession and honesty in purchasing these great finds.

    A great blog, thanks

    Helen Tilston

  4. I think my will power is stronger than yours Simon! I nearly bought a book the other day, but decided that with access to a number of libraries full of literature that I have never read I really didn't need to deviate from the goal of Project Zero.

  5. These books were "finds" and "gems". You would be foolish to pass them by. I think you've done a good job here by picking them up. I didnt know that names like Little Slaughter existed even. Sounds so nice. A fete sounds so nostalgic. Like going back into a book.

  6. Hahaha this had me giggling out loud. I think honestly your doing really well. Plus the weather will get darker soon and fetes and the like will stop so temptation will lessen, wont it? Maybe...?

  7. It's wonderful when you come across a book you've been looking for, isn't it? It's fate, you had to get it. And at a fete too! (I know, it's lame, but I couldnt' help it.)

  8. To find a much sought after book at a fete you just happened to stumble upon is called Fate. You HAD to buy that one! As for the others...why not, after all, you may not find anything that strikes your fancy for the rest of the year *stifles laughter*.

  9. "I can resist anything except temptation".
    Why don't you "sell" these books at cost to anyone who might otherwise not know what to give you for Christmas? That would free up 4 spaces in Project 24.

  10. Hmmm, only 3 left. You can surely hold out until October for 1. November should have birthday books coming in to "steel you up," then you are nearly to Christmas...I say you can make it until the week after Christmas and maybe bag the last two with a gift card! (except ya'll don't call them that...what do you call them? Ah, over at Peresphone it says "book tokens." So I guess token is the word I'm looking for.)
    Hang in there, Simon! You've done well this long and the end is in sight. :)

  11. Simon, Simon, Simon.... It is CLEAR that 2 of those books don't count. You bought the 2 Helen Thomases to replace something already on your shelves, which of course you will now pass on to some lucky friend.

    I can't find a way to discount the others, though.

    The chapter titles alone of Personal Pleasures sound wonderful, so I guess I'll need to track it down.

  12. I want to come to England, with an empty suitcase and go CRAZY at all the wonderful secondhand book stores you have. After this year ends of course so you can join me!

  13. Hmmm, could you ofset books bought by disposing of some of your duplicate copies of other titles... (please don't throw anything at me for suggesting it)

  14. Dear Simon,

    Just a few words to cheer you on, from a long-time lurker and one of your biggest fans.

    For many years I resisted anything to do with on-line books, sticking to actual bookstores and whatever UK editions I could find while traversing Frankfurt airport. (I live in the Washington, DC area.)

    But then in the spring of 2009 I fell, and I fell hard. I discovered the lovely, learned “Stuck in a Book” and through you the broader world of book blogs [especially Random Jottings..., A work in progress, and Life must be filled up]; an introduction to a whole new world of unknown books [Mrs Hargreaves, Dorothy Whipple, Mrs Tim, Persephone Books, et al]; and most importantly, the amazing possibilities of the Book Depository and free shipping to the US. So - 23 orders, 111 delivered books, and 7 open orders (pending publication) later, I am a much poorer, yet somehow richer, book lover - if you know what I mean.

    Not surprisingly, I have now hit my own road to Damascus on (over) book-buying and as of 1 September consider myself on quite a strict budget. Just waiting on those final 2 orders from Amazon (Dorothy Whipple autobiography) & Book Depository (Deb Devonshire autobiography--plus those other 6 pending books)!

    But what finally tempted me to comment here is Daniel from Halifax. Back in March I visited London & Oxford and consider it a personal best that I was able to make it back to the States with 61 books in my luggage (not including the Colin Dexter-ish types I read & left enroute), which included a copy of “As it Was/World Without End” (Faber Paperbacks from one of the few remaining Charing Cross stores).
    [Sigh--I have a great photo of those 61 books, including my 2 “Silence Please” eggcups from the Bodleian, but sadly can’t post in a comment.]

    Anyway, the point of all this is:

    Courage mes freres - book lovers of the world unite!

    With kind regards from the US,

  15. Simon, Simon - if you don't mean to buy books you should NOT walk through to the back room in Arcadia - and DON'T blame my birthday card purchase for luring you in there! However, should you overbuy books in 2011 I can always remove the bed from your bedrom here - you could build a massive bookshelf unit in the middle of the room and doze on top of it like a cat - curled up amongst your reserve collection ;-)

  16. Rachel - it happens so infrequently, I love that leap my heart does when I see something I've been hankering for, completely unexpectedly. Did you fete show up anything?

    Kristen - thanks Kristen! I'm definitely going cold turkey for the nex month or so...

    Helen - thanks - confession was definitely needed!

    Peter - yes, you definitely have better self control than me :) It did give me something of a rush to buy a book... which is hilarious, if perhaps worrying.

    Mystica - I like your spin on this one! And I do love all little village activites - so much more spirit and community in a village than in a city. Especially when things are all done in an amateur, friendly sort of way - although I have to say Lower Slaughter's was more pro than amateur!

    Simon - haha, maybe maybe! But I doubt it...

    Sakura - Mel was making that pun ALL DAY so she was pleased that you have too ;)

    Darlene - oh yes, I suspect I won't find anything that catches my fancy... AHEM. I could easily buy 24 from my Amazon wishlist right now...

    Curzon - tempting, but I will stay true in spirit as well as letter! (For now...)

    Susan - book tokens it is indeed! My family and friends seem determined NOT to buy me any books for my birthday, as it is "good for me." With friends like that...

    Susan D - if only I could bring myself to part with the other Helen Thomas book - but THAT one has an intro and letters from Helen to Edward etc., so... I'm afraid they're all staying on the shelf!

    Daniel - come, come! In January I am going to go book CRAZY.

    Hayley - if only I had the strength to do that sort of thing...

    Brigitte - thank you SO very, very much for your lovely message. I wish you'd commented before March and I could have met you in Oxford - I am so impressed by the 61 books you brought back, I'd love to see the photo if you want to email it to me! And I am humbled by 111 ordered books in the last 18 months - very impressive by anyone's standards. I've been meaning to reply before, because your comment was so nice and made my day - sorry it's taken me this long to get back to you. And apologies for indirectly costing you so much on books!


I've now moved to, and all my old posts are over there too - do come and say hello :)

I probably won't see your comment here, I'm afraid, but all my archive posts can also be found at