Monday 9 May 2011

Vintage Classics Day

Do keep popping back and checking out the comments on my One Book, Two Book post, since loads of lovely people have been joining in and popping links in there. Thanks everyone! Not too late to do your own, of course.

On Saturday I was in London for Vintage Classics Day, helping celebrate 21 years of the publisher Vintage. Check out this webpage for a clever mosaic, where you can click on the composite books. They very kindly gave me a complementary ticket to attend a day of talks and things - and it was lovely to see Claire, Sakura, Kim, Jackie, and Lynne who were also attending (Jackie's link will take you to a great write-up of the day.)

There were a number of sessions of the great and the good discussing classic fiction. The first was about favourite villains, but I think that's a discussion I'm going to put on hold for another blog post, as I have Strident Views About It.

Up next was a conversation with Rose Tremain. Shamefully I have read zilch by her, but she seemed an interesting and friendly woman - I especially liked what she said about the value of siblings (the inspiration for her latest novel, Trespass) as amongst the few people who have known you all your life. I'm only 25 and, outside my family, I only have one good friend whom I've known for more than a decade (Hi Sarah!) so I definitely appreciate Tremain bringing this up. Any suggestions for Tremain novels I should read?

Another talk was inspired by the 'Orange Inheritance' thingummy - previous winners of the prize chose books they'd pass on to future generations. I'm a bit disappointed by the selection, which only has one book that I hadn't heard of (I want them to unearth gems, please, not give us another edition of Thomas Hardy!) But it did lead to a particularly interesting discussion, with Mark Haddon cheering on Virginia Woolf's To The Lighthouse and Lionel Shriver championing Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates. It's always lovely to hear about books that I've read and loved, as usually I haven't read the books being discussed.

My favourite section was celebrityless - a behind-the-scenes chat with Jean, the librarian of Random House's archive library (I found the new job I want, then, although it did amuse me that they qualify anything worth over £100 as 'valuable'. In the Bodleian it would have to be worth at least fifty times that.)

And finally Sebastian Faulks spoke about his recent TV series Faulks on Fiction. He says he's yet to find anyone who saw all four episodes - I confess I only saw the first, but would be interested in watching the rest or reading his book. He was warm and funny, and really seemed to enjoy the session. Like Tremain, he's an author I've never read - except for his witty collection of pastiches, called Pistache.

All in all, it was a really fun day - thanks for inviting me, Vintage! My favourite moment might have been Rose Tremain gossiping a little about A.S. Byatt, or Lionel Shriver telling an audience member (who said she was disappointed by the ending to that Kevin book) that she was enraged. It's a good job I didn't mention that I thought Kevin was written appallingly - how odd that someone who appreciates William Maxwell's expertly subtle writing can overwrite so much! But mostly it was a joy, as it is always a joy, to be in a room filled with people who love books as passionately as I do.

PLUS, this was my first trip to Foyle's. I didn't buy anything, because I prefer secondhand books to new ones (bought eight secondhand books on Charing Cross Road...) but I must say it is an impressive selection and a lovely place to hang out. I'll be back...


  1. Simon, you know I am a huge supporter of your blog; however, I hope you would reconsider your opinion of Diana Mosley. Does 6.5 million Jews murdered with her full knowledge and encouragement qualify her for monsterhood? Not to mention the 9 million additional NON-COMBATANTS murdered by the Nazis? Diana and Unity, along with their mother, Pamela and other family members were virulent anti-Semites before and after Hitler came along, an untenable position then and now. Can you really fault Jessica for taking a political route that was the antithesis of Nazism? She probably wanted to get as far away from them as she possibly could. It would be lovely to believe that familial love is always unconditional. Unfortunately, that cannot always be possible.

  2. Hi Ellen - thanks for your comment. It has made me realise that it was insensitive of me to mention it, and opens up all sorts of issues, so I'm going to delete it I think. But, while I obviously think Diana's views were hideous, and don't blame Jessica for choosing a different political route, I still believe familial love should be absolutely unconditional, however much you disapprove of them. I don't think there is anything at all my brother could do that would stop me loving him, or make me ostracise him.

  3. ('you dispprove' part means 'you-in-general', not you-Ellen, hope that was obvious!)

    These comments probably won't make much sense now, but I thought it best to edit out that sentence. Perhaps I should make it very clear to anyone reading this section, mystified, that I wrote something about unconditional love in families, and absolutely am not in support of anything that the Nazis stood for, of course.

  4. Of course I in no way believe you identify in any way with Diana's views. We will have to agree to disagree about just how unconditional unconditional love can be. All my best to you, Ellen

  5. I have been on a Richard Yates kick lately, so am happy to see Lionel Shriver championing his work! Sounds like a wonderful event.

  6. It was great to see you Simon:) I too read Faulks' Pistache although I kept thinking it was called Pastiche (oops, so much for concentration!) I can't believe you bought 8 books - well done.

  7. Rose Tremain recommendation - everything she's ever written :) However, if you must start somewhere, the "Restoration" is as good as it gets.

  8. Foyles - hmm if, as I do, you have an interest in mathematics, physics, computing and engineering as well as literature, music and art, then you will have been howling with dispair at the truly dramatic cuts in their shelfspace devoted to those type of non-artistic books. They have cut back to probably 20% (or maybe less) display space since the 1980's and I've seen very significant cuts in the last few visits.

    This is not to say that I don't like and use Foyles, but sadly it is not what it was in some respects (although it's a much, much nicer place to browse and shop than 30 years ago!).

    Just an alternative point of view for you!

  9. Re: Rose Tremain suggestions, I can highly recommend Music & Silence which I read more than 10 years ago but still often think about. A really stunning novel about King Christian IV of Denmark.

    Great to see you on Saturday. It was a good day, wasn't it? I didn't end up buying anything afterwards... started wheezing and thought I was having an asthma attack, which has turned out to be horrible chest cold/infection that kept me in bed for most of yesterday. Yuk.

  10. I admit this this is rather shameless of me, but I'm an obsessive fan so I must ask: What IS the gossip about AS Byatt? (Is that terrible to ask?) :)

  11. Good to see you too!

    I smiled when Faulks mentioned how he was yet to find anyone who had seen all 4 episodes. I watched two and then my hard disc recorder died and so I lost the others. I had good intentions, but it wasn't to be. I wonder how manny people actually did watch them all?

  12. Tell Sebastian when you see him next that I saw all 4 episodes and have the book as well! I loved it!

    Also, hope to get plenty of advance notice of this event next year - it sounds like a good excuse for a weekend in London.

  13. I watched all four parts of Faulks on Fiction, and so did my mother. It was wonderful viewing for an elderly lady who loves the idea of books but lacks the short term memory to read much, though she remembers the classics she read years ago. And her daughter liked it enough to pick up the book of the series when it appeared in the library.

    Clearly you had a wonderful time!

  14. I recently read Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks and heartily recommend it.

    I too shamelessly enjoyed that gossipy tidbit about AS Byatt.

  15. JoAnn - Revolutionary Road is the only one I've read, but I do have Easter Parade waiting for me...

    Sakura - apart from those two Ann Bridges I bought, I went mad and bought five Henry Green novels (despite not having read anything by him before...) and a NYRB Lolly Willowes, because I couldn't resist...

    Alison - I have an inkling that Restoration is the one I have somewhere... perfect.

    Peter - You won't be surprised to learn that I spend most of my time in Fiction sections of bookshops! It is a shame, though, if a big, central shop like that doesn't have range.

    Kim - really lovely to see you again, so sorry you weren't well - hope you're recovered now...

    Dan - since you asked nicely... and since it was a public event, I shall pass on the gossip! Apparently ASB spent a long time telling Rose Tremain how pointless the Orange prize was, shortly after RT won it... !!

    Jackie - I did feel a bit guilty about not watching them all - I so often lament the lack of literary TV programmes, that I should have supported it when it was on.

    Lizzy - well done you! And, yes, it would be lovely to see you there next year - I'm already planning on attending!

    Jane - I think a couple of the eps are on YouTube, so I must seek out the ones I didn't watch...

    Claire - Birdsong is one of the handful of novels my Dad has read in the last decade, and he liked it. He also liked The Da Vinci Code, though, so...(!)


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