I don’t do these Book Haul type posts very often, though I thoroughly enjoy reading other people’s – but these books all feel a bit special because I bought them in actual bookshops, mostly ones that aren’t even in Southampton. I think it will be a while before that stops being exciting for me. Almost of my book shopping over the past few years has been online, with occasional impulse buys in the supermarket – I imagine this is the case for most people – and it has been delightful to visit real bookshops again. I thought I’d tell you about my various trips, since they also cover sundry things that were on my Plans and Priorities post back in the New Year. (Let’s be clear, I do not typically buy this many new books in such quick succession – but since I wasn’t able to go to the London Bookshop Crawl this year, I spread the budget I put aside for that across a few weeks!)
London & Glasgow – February 2022
During the main part of my stay in (or, technically, near) Glasgow, I didn’t do any book shopping, being preoccupied instead with such important responsibilities as “being used as sentient climbing equipment by a four year old” and “speculating with due seriousness about what flavour of princesses dragons like to eat best”. I said at the start of the year that my most important priority was to see my best friend and her family, and we finally made it happen! It was wonderful to see them all.
Despite not doing any book shopping during the bulk of my trip, however, I had plenty of time to kill near Euston while waiting for the sleeper, so I went to the British Museum to see their excellent special exhibition on Peru. (I’ve included pictures below, but you can see the curators going through the exhibition on Youtube if you’re interested). There were disappointingly few books in the exhibition gift shop, but I did pick up Cochineal Red: Travels in Ancient Peru, which looks to be a sort of travelogue/archeology combination, and therefore fascinating. My friend and I have – in news that will not shock you – cancelled our twice-postponed Transmongolian trip and do not expect to reorganise it any time soon. We’re going to Peru instead – which is very exciting! I am accordingly on the lookout for books set in or written about Peru, especially fiction – recommendations gratefully received.
On my way back home, I also visited WH Smith in Glasgow Central. This is one of my favourite train stations in the UK, thanks to its extremely clean toilets, helpful staff, and fancy pseudo-Edwardian champagne bar (a nice place to spend a few hours waiting for a train, because the waiters don’t make a fuss if you order a half of lemonade and spend the rest of your time people-watching). It could only be improved by a little outpost of Waterstones or Foyles – still, to my surprise, I found Nella Larson’s Passing in the Smith’s, hidden amidst the sweets and chart toppers. It’s on my Classics Club list and I’m hoping to get to it soon. Hurrah. A trip to the mini-Foyles at London Waterloo before boarding my final train of the trip is to blame for John Boughton’s Municipal Dreams: The Rise and Fall of Council Housing. I’ve actually been wanting to read this for years, but because it is a proper Nerd Book (TM), I assumed it would be priced like an academic work – it was on my long list of books to request from the library one day. I’m delighted that I was wrong!
Southampton and Cowes – March 2022
The fact that Southampton is less glamorous than London and Glasgow does not mean I’m going to skip over the books I’ve recently picked up here. In the Before Times, my usual Saturday morning routine was to go into town, browse the charity shops for books, do my weekly shop, and then stop in my favourite coffee place for a flat white and a chocolate croissant. I can’t tell you how happy it makes me that I can finally do this again. My local Oxfam mostly sells furniture, but they always have a fantastic book selection too – I think there must be someone in the area who has very similar taste to me. In recent weeks, I’ve picked up Frost in May by Antonia White, The Girls of Slender Means by Muriel Spark, and a bindup of Edith Wharton novellas including Madame de Treymes. I already know that I love Wharton and Spark, and I’m looking forward to trying White for the first time – Frost in May was definitely an impulse buy.
I was off work last week – I always try to take my birthday week as leave if I can. I do not hold with this nonsense about adults not celebrating their birthdays, and always make a fuss over mine, since it’s such a lovely excuse to catch up with people whom I haven’t seen for a while. Anyway, on Tuesday I hopped on the ferry over to the Isle of Wight. Cowes and East Cowes are a rather strange combination, since you have the two extremes of seaside towns sat right next to each other. East Cowes seems tired and run-down, with boarded up shops and nowhere to eat – though it does have a proper pub, which is a nice place to wait for the ferry home. Cowes, on the other hand, is teeming with jewellery shops and art galleries. It’s the type of place where all the shops have “Buy Local” signs in the window, claiming self-righteously that if every resident spent £5 in a local shop per week, it would have a transformative effect on the town’s economy – while in no way selling anything that can be bought for a fiver. It does have some nice Art Deco flats and a few quiet places to sit and enjoy the sun, though, which is what I did.
I also visited Medina Bookshop. If I’m in an independent bookshop, especially one that’s pretty local to me, I normally try to buy something – on this occasion, there was nothing that really appealed, so I picked up one of their Blind Dates with a Book. (My thumb is over “family”).
Honestly, I was pretty disappointed with my choice, which based on the cover is the type of formulaic contemporary fiction I would never pick up by choice. I did give it a go after reading the premise – recently bereaved secular man tries to start a mosque in his sleepy English village in honour of his departed, devout mother; will it divide the village or bring it closer together? – but I found the writing to be plain and uninteresting. I only got a few pages in before deciding this was one to be donated. Still, I do like the blind date with a book idea, and would definitely give it a go again in future.
London – March 2022
Despite the fact that London is not especially to my tastes, I found myself there again last week, this time to watch Victoria Coren Mitchell and panelists recording Heresy for Radio 4. Since it’s a bit of a schlep to get into the city, I figured I might as well make it into a day out. I managed another one of my new year priorities, and ate lunch at an extremely nice fish restaurant, Parsons. For London, it was pretty affordable, and my main course of cuttlefish with squid ink fregola was one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. Extremely highly recommended if you’re ever in the area. (Disclaimer: my “main course” was actually a small plate. If you want to order one of the actual main courses, things get a lot pricier. The couple behind me ordered a pound of oysters, a bottle of champagne, and a £68 turbot to share!)
More pertinently, though, I also visited the incredible second-hand shop Any Amount of Books and the big Foyles flagship on Charing Cross Road. At Any Amount of Books, I picked up Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell – for which I have high hopes, given my immense love of North and South – and The Flea Palace by Elif Shafak, whose 10 Minutes and 38 Seconds in This Strange World I enjoyed very much when I read it a couple of years ago. And lastly, at the big Foyles, I picked up The Fortnight In September, which I’ve been meaning to read after seeing it positively reviewed so many places. (At the moment I’m having a break from books of that era because of all the snobbery, but I still like the premise so it’s one for the future). I also bought Goodbye to All Cats, a collection of PG Wodehouse stories that I read that afternoon and enjoyed thoroughly.
(At some point during all of this, I also picked up AS Byatt’s Possession. I have no recollection of buying this, but it’s new, so I am going to guess I bought it in either one of the many train station Foyles outposts I’ve visited recently, or at Waterstones in town. Either way, I have been planning to read it, and have no regrets).
That’s a lot of adventures and a lot of books – I should be good for reading material for a few months at least!