Archive for the ‘Bookish Thoughts’ Category

After years as a devoted listener of Simon and Rachel’s Tea or Books? podcast, I have finally made my debut as a guest!  You can hear me in episode #102 as we discuss books about grief and decide if we prefer Four Gardens by Margery Sharp or Five Windows by D.E. Stevenson.  Both books are readily available from Dean Street Press if we inspire you to track them down!

You can listen to the episode HERE.  We also talk about lots of other books (Simon has the full list alongside the episode) and I thought I’d share the reviews I have for some of them if you’re interested in more details:

Miss Buncle’s Book by D.E. Stevenson
Hetty Dorval by Ethel Wilson
Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell
A Magnificent Obsession by Helen Rappaport
In the Mountains by Elizabeth von Arnim
Mrs Tim books by D.E. Stevenson: Mrs Tim Carries On, Mrs Tim Gets a Job, Mrs Tim Flies Home
Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield
Cluny Brown by Margery Sharp
The English Air by D.E. Stevenson
Green Money by D.E. Stevenson
Moon Tiger by Penelope Tiger


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Possession by A.S. Byatt is a work of absolute genius.

It’s been a chaotic work week for me with plenty of long days but even when I can only manage an hour of reading a day, it’s been a joy to slip back into Byatt’s 1990 Booker Prize winner novel of Victorian romance and modern-day academic sleuthing.

Byatt didn’t just write a novel.  She wrote poems and short stories and letters and diaries and biographies and academic analysis from multiple perspectives on all of it.  And yes, she also wrote a narrative that weaves it altogether.  The entirety is so cleverly conceived and brilliantly executed that it boggles the mind.

If you haven’t picked it up in a while (or ever?  What a treat you have in store in that case!), I urge you to do so now.  It’s a perfect book to immerse yourself in, offering multiple worlds, immense passion, and also, I had forgotten, quite a lot of humour around the academic rivalries.

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I promised to share more from the superb Love in the Blitz by Eileen Alexander, a collection of letters written by Alexander during the war to her future husband, following the first one.  So here we go – a delightful account of Alexander’s first and far from hum-drum encounter with working life.

Through family connections, she found herself filling in during the 1939 Christmas holidays in the office of Leslie Hore-Belisha, the Secretary of State for War.  She derides his staff as ‘Public Adorers’, devoted to him, but it’s not hard to see where that devotion could come from – Alexander is clearly fond of him after just the one meeting, though less fond of the Public Adorer who comes to interrupt it so Hore-Belisha can shift his focus once more to the war:

I’ve had a most fantastic day, darling, which is a Good Thing, because there’s been no time for my imagination to sit on brood (a lovely expression, I’ve always felt – and from one of my best-known plays too).

Miss Sloane introduced me to her underling – a Miss Fox, whose underling I am to be (and damn me if she isn’t a fully fledged Public Adorer as well!  This thing is becoming a cult – but I’m pledged to it now and there is no escape).

Then Miss Sloane said, ‘I think Mr Hore-Belisha wants to see you,’ and she flung open the double doors – and there I was in his room.  That was at three – at three-five he’d already found out why I love Malory – at 3.10 he was asking me what position the Jews held in Mediaeval Society (if any) and at 3.15 – I was giving him a lecture on Chivalric Love Poetry, and religious mania as exemplified in the ‘Book of Margery Kempe’.  He just sat and nodded all the while – and then he sighed and said, ‘My dear, you must come in and read me some of these things.  I feel like the child in Robert Louis Stevenson’s fable – everyone laughed at him for playing with toys – and so he put them away in a cupboard, saying that he’d play with them again when he was grown-up and no-one would dare laugh at him, then – and then he forgot all about them.  You have opened the cupboard for me, and I have caught a glimpse of the things I had forgotten.  Please come and read to me sometimes.’

It was very beautiful, darling – and then the crash came.  PA No. 1, who had been standing by chafing all things while, now bustled busily forward.  ‘Certainly, certainly,’ she said briskly, more in anger than in sorrow, ‘Eileen will be glad to read to you when we’ve got rid of the war – but you’ve got to see the Prime Minister in five minutes – and you put off Lady Dawson of Penn,’ (Leslie here interjected irritably, ‘Damn the woman’ and PA No. 1 looked as shocked as a PA can permit herself to look) ‘so as we could go through the points of your interview together’ – (glowering at me) ‘and we haven’t.’  Whereat she seized me by the shoulder and pushed me out – shutting the door with a determined click.  Not So Beautiful. (14 December 1939)

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Oh! dear, Gershon, (observe the comma – I am not being forward!) I wish you weren’t so much cleverer than I am.  When I first knew you, I was always in a state of waiting breathlessly for you to find out that I wasn’t clever, & erase me from the tables of your brain for ever – then I thought oh: well you must have found out by this time & were kindly overlooking it – but the more I saw of you, the more things I discovered you could do that I couldn’t – you could understand music, and pass your driving test at the second attempt, and play games, & follow the Hebrew in the prayer book without using your finger, & be forward without being impertinent, & sing in the street without being foolish – & all kinds of other things too – but this last display of versatility is too much – you can type as well – and in two colours – and two different sizes!  What can I do but say humbly that it’s been an honour to know you? (3 August 1939)

I have been longing for a really good collection of letters to read but Love in the Blitz by Eileen Alexander is exceeding my every expectation.  Alexander, a recent Cambridge graduate, was recovering from a car accident during the summer of 1939 when the letters to her future husband Gershon Ellenbogen begin and from the beginning they are extraordinary.  Bursting with life and humour, I can barely stand to put them down to do anything else – except perhaps pop by here to share a few snippets.  Expect more dispatches in coming days!

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Trafalgar Square on VE Day

All day long, little extra celebrations started up.  In the Mall, a model of a Gallic cock waltzed on a pole over the heads of the singing people. ‘It’s the Free French,’ said someone.  The Belgians in the crowd tagged along after a Belgian flag that marched by, its bearer invisible.  A procession of students raced through Green Park, among exploding squibs, clashing dustbin lids like cymbals and waving an immense Jeyes Disinfectant poster as a banner.  American sailors and laughing girls formed a conga line down the middle of Piccadilly, and cockneys linked arms in the Lambeth Walk.  It was a day and night of no fixed plan and no organized merriment.  Each group danced its own dance, sang its own song, and went its own way as the spirit moved it.  The most tolerant, self-effacing people in London on V-E Day were the police, who simply stood by, smiling benignly, while soldiers swung by one arm from lamp standards and laughing groups tore down hoardings to build the evening’s bonfires.[…] Just before the King’s speech, at nine Tuesday night, the big lamps outside the Palace came on and there were cheers and ohs from children who had never seen anything of that kind in their short, blacked-out lives.  As the evening wore on, most of the public buildings were flood-lighted.  The night was as warm as midsummer, and London, its shabbiness now hidden and its domes and remaining Wren spires warmed by lights and bonfires, was suddenly magnificent.  The handsomest building of all was the National Gallery, standing out honey-coloured near a ghostly, blue-shadowed St. Martin’s and the Charles I bit of Whitehall.  The floodlighted face of Big Ben loomed like a kind moon.

Mollie Panter-Downes – London War Notes

We file out by the St. Stephen’s entrance and the police have kept a lane through the crowd.  The crowd are friendly, recognising some of the Members.  I am with Nancy Astor who is, I feel, a trifle hurt that she does not get more cheering.  We then have a service – and very memorable it is.  The supreme moment is when the Chaplain reads out the names of those Members of Parliament who have lost their lives.  It is a sad thing to hear.  My eyes fill with tears.  I hope that Nancy does not notice.  ‘Men are so emotional,’ she says.

Harold Nicolson

Canadian naval staff on VE day (credit: George Metcalf Archival Collection)

It was without any doubt Churchill’s day.  Thousands of King George’s subjects wedged themselves in front of the Palace throughout the day, chanting ceaselessly, ‘We want the King’ and cheering themselves hoarse when he and the Queen and their daughters appeared, but when the crowd saw Churchill, there was a deep, full-throated, almost reverent roar.  He was at the head of a procession of Members of Parliament, walking back to the House of Commons from the traditional St. Margaret’s Thanksgiving Service.  Instantly, he was surrounded by people – people running, standing on tiptoe, holding up babies so that they could be told later they had seen him, and shouting affectionately the absurd little nurserymaid name, ‘Winnie, Winnie!’  One of two happily sozzled, very old, and incredibly dirty cockneys who had been engaged in a slow, shuffling dance, like a couple of Shakespeare’s clowns, bellowed, ‘That’s ‘im, that’s ‘his little old lovely bald ‘ead!’

Mollie Panter-Downes – London War Notes

Canadian soldiers celebrating in Piccadilly Circus (credit: Lieut. Arthur L. Cole)

Today the people of London and their children and thousands of visitors took to the streets and parks to celebrate victory in Europe.  Flags flew from all the buildings.  Shop windows were stuffed with red, white, and blue clothes, flowers and materials.  Planes flew overhead, and streamers, ticker tape and paper poured out of windows.  There was no traffic because people filled the streets and pavements.  I walked to the office and found only Air Marshal Slessor there. ‘It’s a National Holiday – you should have come,’ he said.  ‘Supposing I stay and help till lunchtime,’ I said and added, ‘besides it’s a brilliant time to throw some of your more boring papers out of our windows.’  Before I left I peeled the canvas off one window and emptied the contents of five wastepaper baskets on to Kingsway.  I longed to be more generous but did not dare.

Hermione Ranfurly – To War with Whitaker

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I am slowly starting to regain my reading rhythm (watch now, I may have just cursed myself) but the good news is that even when we’re struggling to read we have alternatives.  There are so many great podcasts out there now to help keep us entertained and remind us of how many equally devoted fellow readers are in the world.  The only problem is that there are so many podcasts and so many episodes – where do you start?

For fun, I’ve put together a list of my favourite episodes from my five favourite literary podcasts:

Backlisted: Georgette Heyer – Venetia
I have a fraught relationship with Backlisted (too much laughing over their own cleverness and too little focus on the actual books) but some of the earlier episodes are excellent.  The episode where they discover the joys of Georgette Heyer is, to me, clearly the best of the bunch.  There is nothing like the enthusiasm of someone who has just discovered a new and wonderful author.

Honourable Mention: R.F. Delderfield – To Serve Them All My Days – I grew up loving Delderfield but no one outside my family had any idea who he was.  Hearing Jenny Colgan enthuse over him made up for all the lonely years of reading.

You’re Booked: Sarra Manning
A podcast where the host goes around to snoop in other people’s bookshelves?  Brilliant.  Here Daisy stops by Sarra Manning’s flat and explores her wonderfully eclectic tastes.

Honourable Mention: Sophie Kinsella – I’ve not read much by Kinsella but she sounds delightful and I would happily steal most of her books.

Sentimental Garbage: A Countess Below Stairs
There is not enough love in the world for Eva Ibbotson so whenever someone wants to pay attention to her I am delighted, particularly when it comes in the form of rambling, sighing, besotted enthusiasm.

Honourable Mentions – a tie: Circle of Friends (Irish people getting emotional about the ultimate Irish comfort read) and Less (which I finally read and now understand all the love for).

The Slightly Foxed Podcast: Well-Cultivated Words
The Slightly Foxed podcast has been perfection since the very first episode.  The conversation is as intelligent, informed, and varied as their wonderful quarterly and they always find excellent guests.  My favourite episode so far was devoted to garden writing and it taught me an important lesson: don’t try to write down every book they mention that you want to read.  You won’t be able to keep up!  Thankfully they are all mentioned in the show notes.

Honourable Mention: Leaving That Place Called Home – an episode devoted entirely to travel writing?  Yes please.

Tea or Books: Titles: Fancy or Simple? and Hercule Poirot vs Miss Marple
I love Simon and Rachel and listening to their rambling conversations is almost as good as being part of one in real life.  This early episode where they struggle to pick a favourite between Poirot and Miss Marple is a favourite.

Honourable Mention: Internet vs Bookshop and Mr Pim Passes By vs Four Day’s Wonder – spreading the word about the excellence of A.A. Milne!

Do you have any favourite podcasts, bookish or otherwise?

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A Woman Reading by Ivan Olinsky

The decade is almost over and I shall end it as I started: seeking to emulate Simon.  His favourite books of the decade post made me want to look over my own from the last ten years.

In those ten years, I have read 1,613 books.  Some of those are rereads and I didn’t record the many scintillating textbooks I read over the same period for (during which I completed a dozen courses leading to two professional designations and two different licenses – it’s been a busy decade).  But most importantly, the decade is not over yet.  I have a couple of good reading weeks left and I intend to make use of them!

I always enjoy looking back at past years on the blog and was so happy when I put this list together to see what excellent judgement I exercised.  These all remain favourites that I would be happy to pick up right now and start rereading.  And the nicest thing to note is that my 2010 and 2011 favourites, which I struggled to track down at the time, are both back in print and easy to get.  A sure sign of progress over the last ten years!

2010: Mrs Tim Flies Home by D.E. Stevenson

What I wrote: “I fell in love with both Mrs Tim and D.E. Stevenson this year.  Mrs Tim of the Regiment was an excellent introduction to my new favourite heroine but a weak second half prevented it from being a favourite.  Mrs Tim Flies Home, on the other hand, suffers from no such shortcomings and so earned its top place on this list by being simply charming and heart-warming.”

2011: Summer Half by Angela Thirkell

What I wrote: “Anyone who has been following my blog this year could have probably predicted that Thirkell would take the top spot.  Since my first encounter with Thirkell last January, I have fallen completely in love with her Barsetshire novels and, of the twelve I’ve now read, I think Summer Half is the most perfectly formed.  It centers on the masters and students of Southbridge School and their interactions with some of the local families.  As with all good Thirkell novels, romance is in the air and the narrator’s sharp wit is there to comment on both the comically disastrous pairings and the ideal but bumbled ones.  Most importantly, Summer Half introduces my favourite Thirkell character, the astounding Lydia Keith.  Of all the books I read this year, not only is this the one that I am most eager to return to, it is the one I most wish I owned countless copies of so I could pass it on to everyone I meet.”

2012: The Element of Lavishness edited by Michael Steinman

What I wrote: “I read this in January and, honestly, no other book I read this year came even close to eclipsing it in my affections.  I had never read anything by either Warner or Maxwell before and knew very little about either of them but that made no difference.  Through their letters, I got to know both of them intimately and to witness the wonderful warmth and depth of their friendship as it evolved over the decades.  While both were extraordinary writers, it is Warner’s letters I remember the best now, almost a year after I read them.  She wrote beautifully about the domestic details of her life and the letters written between the death of her partner Valentine and her own death are as good a record of aging and loss as I have ever read.”

2013: Speaking of Jane Austen by Sheila Kaye-Smith and G.B. Stern

What I wrote: “All the other titles on this list were wonderful but not nearly as wonderful as this collection of delightfully eccentric Austen-focused essays.  And, of course, it is the only book I have ever come across that spends a sufficient amount of time lavishing praise on the deserving Emma (if you are looking for the fastest way to my heart, look no further).”

2014: The Small House at Allington by Anthony Trollope

What I wrote: “The penultimate Barsetshire book, I fell in love with The Small House at Allington as soon as I started reading it. This is Trollope at his most masterful, deftly juggling multiple storylines and a handful of equally-compelling central characters. I am fascinated by Lily Dale, anxious for Johnny Eames, and wildly conflicted over the fate of Aldolphus Crosbie, who I liked far more than any reader is supposed to like the man who jilts the heroine.  Brilliant and perfectly executed, this was the uncontested highlight of my reading year.”

2015: Sylvia Townsend Warner’s Letters edited by William Maxwell

What I wrote: “An enchanting collection of letters spanning almost fifty years.  STW was a wonderful correspondent, filling her letters with richly-detailed annecdotesself-deprecating humour, and the most delightful flights of whimsy.  I’ve yet to read a single one of her novels but, after reading this and the wonderful collection of her letters to William Maxwell (my favourite book of 2012), I can’t help but think of her as a close, dear friend.”

2016: I Was a Stranger by John Hackett

What I wrote: “In a year when the world was doing its best to show how cruel and petty man can be, this memoir of the courage and friendship showed by a Dutch family in occupied Holland to the British officer they hid reminded me that, even in the worst of times, kindness, trust, and love can still flourish.  A real gem that I am entirely indebted to Slightly Foxed for reissuing.”

2017: Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively

What I wrote: “I finally read Lively’s Booker prize winner and it is a masterpiece.  Technically dazzling, Lively plays with her favourite themes of love, history, and, above all, memory as septuagenarian Claudia lies on her deathbed and looks back on her life.  If I could write, this would be how I’d want to do it.  As I can’t, this is exactly what I want to read – again and again and again.”

2018: The Unwomanly Face of War by Svetlana Alexievich

What I wrote: “Without question, Alexievich’s ground-breaking oral history of Soviet women’s experiences of the Second World War was my book of the year.  More than one million Soviet women served in the military during the war (half of them in active combat roles) and Alexievich captures the full and fascinating range of their experiences in their own words.  It is a powerful and upsetting book and one I will not soon forget.”

2019: To be determined!  Check back on December 31st. (edit: check out my Top Ten Books of 2019 to see my final favourite of the decade)

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Garden Path in Spring by Duncan Grant (1944)

It feels like spring is just about here.  I’ve spent much of this weekend wandering about the city, where signs of spring can be found everywhere.  Snowdrops and crocuses, camelias and early rhododendrons, and, best of all, the first blossoming cherry trees.  After two extraordinarily harsh winters, it’s wonderful to see this and be reminded of how joyful it is to live in Vancouver at this time of year.  My measurement of whether it was a normal spring when I was growing up was whether the daffodils were in blossom on my birthday (February 19th).  This looks entirely possible this year.

It was an active weekend but I still had plenty of time for reading.  I read two great books over the last few days and wanted to share my thoughts while both were fresh in my mind.

On Friday, I managed to read all of Leap In by Alexandra Heminsley despite a full work day.  On my commute and over my lunch hour I happily sped through Heminsley’s tale of how she came to embrace swimming in her thirties.  Heminsley, a Brighton-based journalist and writer, had written an earlier book about taking up running (Running Like a Girl, which I haven’t read) so was no stranger to athletic pursuits but was clearly uncomfortable with the water when her journey began.  It’s wonderfully written and is so observant of the way swimming resonates with women in particular.  Yes, there are the hateful magazines and features on “bikini bodies” every spring but Heminsley finds a true community of swimmers, and recognizes how body shape and size out of the water has little to do with how you move once in it.  And how little vanity is involved in a changeroom.  Heminsley focuses quite a lot on body image towards the end, when her own body is undergoing transformations due to IVF treatment, and I’m excited to hear that her next non-fiction book will focus on this.

I’ve been swimming my entire life and can’t remember there ever being a time when I did not love the water.  I still swim regularly but, unlike Heminsley who finds herself in oceans, rivers and lakes, confine myself to pools during winter months.  That said, I spent Saturday morning walking the seawall here in Vancouver and the water was beautifully clear and flat – the way it often gets in winter.  It looked perfect for a swim.  Maybe one day…

(Also, Heminsley thankfully does not use that awful phrase “Wild Swimming” to describe swimming done anywhere other than pools.  This seems to be a uniquely British piece of linguistic idiocy.  Good riddance, where do they think the majority of people do their swimming?)

On a more practical note, Heminsley’s own frustrations with poorly fitted goggles inspired me to go and buy a new pair this weekend that I am absolutely delighted with.  Considering my last few pairs have all been salvaged from the lost and found, anything would have been a step up.  How luxurious to have goggles that fit and where the anti-fog coating hasn’t worn off!

The Heminsley book was a nice jolt back into fun reading but I was still left longing for a very specific kind of book.  For a few weeks, I’ve wanted something non-fiction, ideally diaries, preferably by a man, with humour and kindness and a bit a something special.  Helpful, yes?

I’d picked up Patrick Leigh Fermor’s letters (Dashing for the Post) last weekend to see if they would suit, but they didn’t hit the spot – close, but not quite.  I thought of returning to Harold Nicolson’s diaries – because, really, when is that not a good idea? – but then had a brilliant idea: why not pick up the Alec Guinness diaries I bought after loving A Positively Final Appearance?  Within a few pages of starting, it was clear: My Name Escapes Me was exactly what I needed.

The diaries start in January 1995 and carry through to mid-1996, a period when Guinness was in his early eighties and, to all intents and purposes, retired from acting.  He and his wife were both suffering from health issues and his friends were dying off at an alarming rate but his outlook is remarkably sunny.  He finds pleasure in old friends, beautiful music, and many books.  His tastes are joyfully eclectic and entirely unsnobbish.  He loves classics, taking pleasure in Shakespeare and Dickens, and gets wonderfully excited about books from favourite modern authors, like Tessa Waugh and John Updike.  An enthusiastic reader is the best kind and his comments (like this one on Anthony Trollope’s The American Senator) were a highlight of the book for me:

Finished Trollope’s The American Senator.  The opening chapters are a bit wearily confusing but once he has got thoroughly underway it is enthralling.  Arabella Trefoil is a great creation and for sheer awfulness matches Sylvia Tietjens in Ford Maddox Ford’s Parade’s End.  I’ve come across her several times, in various disguises but always recognizable, in London, Paris, Cairo and New York – but she lives mostly in Sussex.

And the spirit of kindness and humour I was looking for?  Guinness was full of them.  His regrets are always that he might have made someone feel uncomfortable or unwelcome, the true sign of a kind soul, and almost every day he finds something to smile or laugh over.  The best way to live, really.

I’m off to find a new book to end the weekend with (possibly Elizabeth of the German Garden, which Kate reviewed recently and reminded me how much I want to read) but I’ll leave you with a last word from Guinness to put a smile on your face:

It seems a pity that the good old phrase ‘living in sin’ is likely to be dropped by the C of E.  So many friends, happily living in sin, will feel very ordinary and humdrum when they become merely partners; or, as the Americans say, ‘an item’.  Living in sin has always sounded daring and exotic; something to do, perhaps, with Elinor Glyn and her tiger skin.

If you’d like to buy the books I’ve mentioned (or read a professionally and far more coherently written synopsis of them), check them out using the Book Depository links below.  If you buy via these links it means I receive a small commission (at no extra cost to you):

Leap In by Alexandra Heminsley

Running Like a Girl by Alexandra Heminsley

Dashing for the Post: The Letters of Patrick Leigh Fermor

The Diaries of Harold Nicolson

The Alec Guinness diaries – both My Name Escapes Me and A Positively Final Appearance – are both now out of print but second-hand copies can be easily found online


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The Pakenhams on their wedding day in 1931

I am having a simply marvelous time reading The Pebbled Shore by Elizabeth Longford this week.  I’ve been looking forward to it since learning a bit about Longford while reading her daughter Antonia Fraser’s memoir My History but it’s even better than I’d hoped for.

More ponderously known as Elizabeth (Harman) Pakenham, Lady Longford, she had just the sort of life I like to read about.  Born in Harley Street in 1906, her parents were both doctors (though her mother did not practice) and she grew up in a family where ambition was not limited by gender.  She studied at Oxford and became involved in politics very young, standing as a Labour candidate while still in her 20s.  She was a dedicated social reformer (a passion she shared with her husband), an enthusiastic mother of eight, and, eventually, a biographer.  In short, she is the center of the Venn diagram that charts my interest in 20th Century Britain: she knew all the literary, social and political figures I find most interesting.  Neville Chamberlain was her cousin, Nancy Mitford was a friend, Evelyn Waugh said both horrible and lovely things about her…it is all very, very wonderful.  And, not surprisingly, very, very quotable.

I had to interrupt my reading to share this particularly enjoyable note Hugh Gaitskell scribbled to her while they were at Oxford and which she, deeply amused when writing about it 60 years later, described as ” a gallant effort to raise my spirits”:

Here is an incident to be recorded – On the way home on Saturday night I met [John] Betjeman drunk who having discovered where I had been asked me if I had met a beautiful girl called Elizabeth Harman.  You have such a lot on your side – you ought to make more of it.  Love Hugh.

P.S. This letter appears sinister.  Consciously it isn’t but you never know.

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Young Boy Reading by Henri Lebasque

Reading through Packing My Library by Alberto Manguel, there were almost endless quotes I wanted to write down and share with you.  Some I’m saving for my review but others, like this, demanded to be shared immediately.  I love Manguel’s description of his school library as a place without order, rich for exploration and exciting discoveries.  That is what every school library should feel like to a child.

My earliest public library was that of Saint Andrews Scots School, one of the several elementary schools I attended in Buenos Aires before the age of twelve.  It had been founded as a bilingual school in 1838 and was the oldest school of British origin in South America.  The library, though small, was for me a rich, adventurous place.  I felt like a Rider Haggard explorer in the dark forest of stacks that had a earthy smell in summer and reeked of damp wood in winter.  I would go to the library mainly to put my name on the list for the new Hardy Boys installment or a collection of Sherlock Holmes stories.  That school library, as far as I was aware, didn’t have a rigorous order: I would find books on dinosaurs next to several copies of Black Beauty, and war adventures coupled with biographies of English poets.  This flock of books, gathered with no other purpose (it seemed) than to offer the students a generous variety, suited my temperament: I didn’t want a strict guided tour, I wanted the freedom of the city, like that honor (we learned in history class) that mayors bestowed in the Middle Ages on foreign visitors.

This post contains affiliate links from Book Depository, an online book retailer with free international shipping.  If you buy via these links it means I receive a small commission (at no extra cost to you).  

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