Monday, 19 January 2015

London, mistakes, and (inevitably) books

There are books at the bottom of this post. I'll get to them.

I'm going to stop beginning all my blog posts with an apology for not having blogged enough recently... soon... but I do really intend to post more frequently, honest. Life has been surprisingly busy of late, considering there's no real reason why things should have changed.

One of those busynesses was very nice, though - this Saturday I was in London. I was there for two reasons - firstly to meet up with some lovely people from the Virago Modern Classics group on LibraryThing (including your friend and mine Kaggsy), discussing books, eating pancakes, and generally having a high old time.

This was where things started to go wrong.

Turns out the buses aren't running to the railway station in Oxford. So I had a very tiring fast-paced walk to get to the station... just in time to see the train leave. Oops. So I caught the next train, only to discover (when I eventually arrived at Paddington, and had headed off on the Central Line) that the tube stop I wanted to go to was closed. After visiting most of London (so it felt), I eventually turned up, a little the worse for travel, but very pleased to see everyone.

I was only there for a bit of the extravaganza, though (the pancake bit, at My Old Dutch, but not the book-buying bit afterwards). And that was because I was dashing off to the British Film Institute to see For Services Rendered by W. Somerset Maugham, a BBC Play of the Day from 1959. It was being screened as part of the Maggie Smith Festival, and my lovely friend Andrea (whom you may recall from Simon and Andrea's Film Club) had got me a ticket for my birthday.

I went to a BFI screening of The Home-Maker back in 2005, put on by Persephone. So I went to the place where I had seen that screened. Turns out... there are two British Film Institutes. And I was at the wrong one. As I discovered while on the phone to Andrea about 5 minutes before the film was due to start... so ran across London, and tubes and whatnot, and eventually got there only ten minutes late... and it was, in conclusion, brilliant.

After the film, we scoured the book stalls on the Southbank - a search which is fun but which has always been fruitless; does anybody else find this? And then I went off to the Notting Hill Book & Comic Exchange, which has never proven fruitless. Yes, I bought a few books... and added to the couple that Luci from LibraryThing had kindly given me. And here they are...

A Reading Diary - Alberto Manguel
I can't get enough of books about books, particularly when they're by our Alberto.

When You Are Engulfed in Flames - David Sedaris
Last weekendm I had the annoying experience in a charity shop of somebody buying Me Talk Pretty One Day just as I got to the bookshelves, and my book group is reading that Sedaris soon. But I'll settle for adding this one to my collection!

Owls and Satyrs - David Pryce-Jones
I know nothing at all about this book or this author, but it looked intriguing and was only £1. Anybody know anything?

The Golden Apples - Eudora Welty
This edition was rather lovely, and I am determined to read more by Welty soon (after loving The Optimist's Daughter).

A Meeting by the River - Christopher Isherwood
Curse my love of matching books... I keep buying Isherwoods in this series, when I stumble across them, despite not actually loving the one Isherwood I've read...

Our Hidden Lives - ed. Simon Garfield
I'm a sucker for diaries, and this one brings together various different people in post-war Britain.

Better Than Life - Daniel Pennac
This book, and the one above, were from Luci. To circle back to where I began this list - I do love a book about books!


  1. I've got a Me Talk Pretty I don't actually NEED to keep - email me your address and I'll send it to you. I'm glad you had a nice time at the meetup and was sorry to miss you, I just couldn't manage two in one week (although I ended up taking Sunday off anyway). I have "Our Hidden Lives" and it's SHELVED which means I've read it ... except I really do not think I have. Oops. I love the South Bank book stalls and used to buy stuff there All The Time, by the way! Haven't been for years ...

  2. I can be somewhat ambivalent about Isherwood, but I really did like A Meeting By The River. I think I have proselytized about it to you in the past. A brother goes off to India in search of his brother who is planning on becoming a monk.

    Like Liz, I have had good luck at the South Bank book stalls, but it has been an awfully long time so who knows what I would think now. Likely that it, and my reading tastes have changed in the decade since I have been there.

  3. I have always found little there but one day I stumbled across a long hunter for title by von Arnim and was delighted

  4. Your day sounds like a screwball comedy! I'm glad you didn't give up and that the BFI screening turned out to be wonderful.

    I also have that Simon Garfield book on the TBR shelves, hope to get to it this year.

  5. Can't believe it, but I've never been to the South Bank book stalls! I'm glad you made your rendevous (what's the plural of rendevous?) eventually.

  6. Glad you made it Simon, but it must have been a rush! The South Bank book stalls are lovely, I find, but a little exhausting - and it's a bit of a case of mining for gold because a lot of the books aren't ones that appeal to me. Nevertheless I have found treasures in the past - and it looks like you got some treats too. I am very keen to read Manguel, needless to say!


  7. I had great luck at the South Bank books stalls the one time I went, but I think it had a lot to do with them having books that I can't easily find in the U.S. I have a habit here of picking up and at least considering any green Viragos that I find, usually getting them if I'm even moderately interested in the book, but I had to be a lot choosier about the Viragos at the South Bank because there were so many.

  8. Our Hidden Lives! One of the best things I've EVER read. I absolutely loved it and continue to browse in it regularly. Wonderful, I wish I was reading it for the first time.

  9. Bought 'Our Hidden Lives' on Charing Cross Rd during one of my trips to London. It does look good, doesn't it. And I've been to the South Bank book stalls once but didn't buy anything - obviously not trying hard enough!
    You poor thing, Simon, I felt exhausted for you but things seemed to work out alright in the end.

  10. I've really enjoyed Simon Garfield's books of diary excerpts. We Are at War and Private Battles are excellent, as is Our Hidden Lives. Enjoy!

  11. I've read (and loved) Manguel's The Library at Night, only to discovery how many books he'd written, most with very inciting titles: The Dictionary of Imaginary Places, Reading Pictures: A History of Love and Hate, The traveler, the tower, and the worm: the reader as metaphor.

  12. I have been reading your blog for years and pick a lot of my books based on what you are reading, but the thing that finally made me comment was your mention of eating pancakes at My Old Dutch. My husband and I ate there on our honeymoon almost 22 years ago. I got a a two pence coin as change after eating there one night and I have had it in my change purse from that day to this.


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