I read ten books in October.
Shaun Bythell’s first book, The Diary of a Bookseller, has been translated into twenty languages and been a best seller. His droll account of the trials and tribulations of selling second-hand books in Wigtown in the southwest of Scotland found thousands of happy readers, and he’s done it once more with Confessions.
We meet Nicky again, his eccentric assistant who brings him ‘treats’ on a Friday scavenged from supermarket dump bins, and there’s an equally eccentric new addition to the staff, a young Italian woman he nicknames ‘Granny’. He’s still having his arguments with Amazon and with customers who want a discount off a 50p book. It’s a hard way to make a living.
There’s a new one I haven’t read yet called Seven Kinds of People You Find in Bookshops. And after the success his writing has brought him, even more tourists will surely flock, post-pandemic, to Scotland’s National Booktown and visit his shop. I’d love to be one of them.
The Nonesuch by Georgette Heyer
I read a few
Georgette Heyers that my mum had and then forgot about her for about fifty
years. Much enjoying catching up – what delightful worlds she conjures up for
readers to escape to in these difficult times. Lent to me by Anne Stenhouse who is a
long-time fan(atic), currently having a complete reread – and who is also a Regency author herself, most recently of Courting the Countess.
Faro’s Daughter by Georgette Heyer
My copy was bought at the Christian Aid Book Sale 2019 (very sadly there wasn’t one in 2020).
Chasing the Case: The First Isabel Long Mystery by Joan Livingston
Read on Kindle. When I first heard of this book/series it ticked boxes for me. I love books set in rural America and I like cold-case crime novels and older, female protagonists. Tick, tick, tick. Thoroughly enjoyed the first 75% but slightly disappointed thereafter. First, Isabel’s character started not to ring true for me and, second, it wasn’t really thanks to her sleuthing that the perpetrator was uncovered.
I’d read another in the series – maybe.
In Cold Blood by Jane Bettany
Read on Kindle. This novel won a Good Housekeeping First Novel Award. Another protagonist called Isabel; this one, Isabel Blood, is a Detective Inspector with an interesting family history. A body is found in the garden of the house she lived in as a child – well, that was a great start to the book.
I thought, no spoilers, that the premise for the plot was fresh and intriguing but, as in Chasing the Case, I found the resolution unsatisfactory. Everything pointed to who the most likely murderer was so I thought there would be a last-minute twist; there wasn’t; and having the villain filling in the gaps with a confession probably happens in real life but here it would have been good if the detective had worked it all out. It was a bit of an anti-climax.
My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
Read on Kindle for book group. ‘As smart and murderous as Killing Eve, My Sister, the Serial Killer is a blackly comic novel about how blood is thicker – and more difficult to get out of the carpet.’ Set in Lagos; sibling loyalty is put to the ultimate test again and again. Enjoyed the book – but to get the full experience try the version read/performed on Radio 4.
I’ve been listening to Desert Island Discs archives while on the exercise bike. There’s a section where only ‘fragments’ remain ie the conversation but not the music. I was interested to hear the edition with Helene Hanff, Pennsylvanian-born author of 24 Charing Cross Road fame. I’d reread (for the umpteenth time) that and its sequel The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street fairly recently but was inspired to go to her other titles on my shelf.
Her parents couldn’t afford to send her to college for more than a year so she further-educated herself through borrowing from the public library and subsequently, and life-changingly, ordering books from an antiquarian bookshop in London. Her ambition was to be a playwright and between short-lived or part-time jobs that’s what she worked on.
Here’s a story from the 30s with modern resonance: the Bureau of New Plays held a contest for budding playwrights, awarding $1500 to the best two, to subsidise them while they wrote. The following year HH was one of twelve recipients but this time round the award was organised by the Theatre Guild. Subsidy dollars were not handed out but the would-be playwrights had a year-long programme of classes, lectures and workshops. Not one of them ever had a play produced.
And the two from the year before? Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams.
‘Q’ being the Cambridge don Sir Arthur Quiller Couch, whose book On the Art of Writing, formed her early reading tastes.
Apple of My Eye
Asked to write extended captions for a photographic book on New York, her home for many years, HH realised there were famous landmarks she hadn’t visited and set out to rectify that.
Following the popularity of 24 Charing Cross Road – the book and a play – HH was asked by Woman’s Hour to do a regular ‘letter’ slot; some of these are collected here.