Saturday, May 29, 2010

Strasbourg and Amsterdam book stalls

The top two photos are from Amsterdam, where I stumbled on some book stalls. The bottom two photos were taken in Strasbourg, France, which has a lovely little book market near its city center. The books are sold in the shadow of the Notre Dame Cathedral.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Thoughts on Filthy English and other books

I am supposed to be in New York City for a book bloggers' convention. I couldn't do it. Not after traveling to five countries during the month of May. Home feels good just now.

Here's a quick summary of the last three books I've read:

Filthy English by Peter Silverton. Subtitled: "The How, Why, When and What of Everyday Swearing." I picked this book up in Alfriston, England. I debated the purchase. I was backpacking and had taken only two paperback books that I planned to discard after reading. Now I was without a book and wanted to read but didn't want to add to the weight I was carrying. I left without the book, but returned later to buy it. I'm glad I did. It's an entertaining exploration of cussing. BTW, I found Filthy English in Much Ado Books, which was named England's Independent Bookshop of the Year in 2007.

Notes From A Small Island by Bill Bryson. After traipsing the length of the South Downs Way, I knew I had to read a book by Bill Bryson. And I knew that book would have to be Notes From A Small Island. I read this book back in 1995 when it was first issued. I was hoping for something different from it this time around, some vertification of a shared experience, perhaps. I didn't find it. I was actually somewhat disappointed in the book. The humor seemed forced and juvenile and Bryson didn't write about any of the places I'd been. I was hoping for something about Winchester or Upper Beeding or Amberley, but it wasn't there.

Where the God of Love Hangs Out by Amy Bloom. There are many books yet to read in 2010, but this collection of short stories is going to be among my favorite reads of the year. I can't imagine too many books slipping ahead of it. Bloom's last book, Away, which appeared in 2007, was a novel. I didn't like it much, but Bloom is a wonder as a short story writer. The characters are vivid as is the writing. Bloom's perception and empathy for the human condition is extraordinary, as are these stories.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

More pictures from trip to England

Three photos from London. I've been traveling more than reading this month.

The top photo is Bathurst Mews. It's one of those streets you never see in America, accessible only via a tight (for a small car) little archway. Near the far end is R.A. Gekoski Rare Books and Manuscripts.

In addition to dabbling in the rare book trade, Rick Gekoski has written two bibliomemoirs, my favorite, Tolkien's Gown, and the more recent, Outside of a Dog. Rick was kind enough to sign my copy of Tolkien's Gown, despite it being titled Nabokov's Butterfly in the States.

The decision to re-title the book was a curious decision by Rick's American publisher, and not one he's happy with it. He normally won't sign the American edition, indicating he did not have any input into renaming the book.

But read it. Read them both. They offer wonderful insight into the rare book trade.

Photo two is Cecil Court, which is described in Wikipedia as "a short but tranquil pedestrian street with charming Victorian shop-frontages in London . . . linking Charing Cross Road and St. Martin's Lane.

Most of those charming shops are bookstores. There's between a half-dozen to a dozen shops. Some stores specializing in maps and prints, too. Booksellers who often make the journey to London to acquire books indicate Cecil Court is not what it once was. It seemed pretty spectacular to me. Brilliant as the Brits say.

Photo three is an inside shot of the Globe Theatre, which I toured during my visit. It's cool. I bought a lot of souvenirs there.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Photos from Monk's House in Rodmell

During my walking tour of England, I visited the village of Rodmell, site of Monk's House. The house was a retreat from London for Virginia and Leonard Woolf.

The top photo shows Virginia's bedroom. The second photo is a bust of Leonard that sits in the Monk's House garden. The third shot shows the house from the garden and the final photo is representative of the garden's beauty.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Scenes of Winchester England

Two scenes from Winchester England. The photo on the top was taken at the Winchester Cathedral -- yes, that cathedral; the one made famous in the Rudy Vallee-like song by the New Vaudeville Band. The annual book sale raises funds to purchase music for the choir. The photo on bottom is a close (alley) just off the city center.

I read two books during my travels: Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson and Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky. I highly recommend both books.

Museum is Atkinson's first books and only cements her standing (with me) as one of the finest writer's in England today. It's a David Copperfield-like story of a young York girl. As Ruby recounts her life, Atkinson leaps back in time to tell the story of Ruby's mother and grandmother and their extended family.

Suite Francaise is the story of the Nazi invasion of Paris and the occupation of a French village. Nemirovsky is as unsparing of the Parisians and French villagers as she is the Nazis. Ironically, Nemirovsky, a Jew, died in the Holocaust. The uncompleted novel (actually two novellas) was discovered decades after her death by her daughter. We are the richer for this discovery.

Two very fine novels.