As promised yesterday, I shall probably write a few posts about my time in America, staying with my lovely friend Lorna and her husband Will, but I had to start with the bloggers and the books… and, given how many I bought, this might be rather a long post!
|Will, Teresa, me, Lorna, Thomas.
Nationality indicated by handy flags…
I’d always assumed, from the testimonies of various American bloggers and other friends, that American bookshops (sorry, stores) were rather overpriced and understocked. Well, if you are looking for Anglophilia, then I daresay that’s true – but I came with the intention of buying only books I would be unlikely to find in England and, let me tell you, I didn’t come back empty-handed. Indeed, I came back with (ahem) 22 books. Top tip: they don’t weigh carry-on luggage, so I crammed as many books as possible into that, and pretended that my shoulder wasn’t falling off as I walked through the airport.
While in America, I had the great joy of meeting up with Thomas at My Porch
and Teresa from Shelf Love
– more about them later – but I’m going to tell you about the bookshops in order, and I certainly hadn’t restrained myself before I saw them.
|blurry, because I took the photo from the bus…
Bookshop 1: Book Bank in Alexandria, Virginia
I may have gone a bit mad in this one, because it was the first and because I had a fistful of dollars… it was also probably my favourite of the bookshops I went to, partly because of the range and partly because of the wonderful woman behind the desk. This woman, probably about fifty, was very knowledgeable about the books we bought, but not quite expert at the workings of a bookshop – she was training, and when the owner came back told him “I’ve made a list of all the mistakes I’ve made, and put it by the till.” And then she added – in a sentence that I hope will become a catchphrase for me – “What I think is great is that now I know when I’m making mistakes!” What a woman. And here are the books I bought, and why…
Floater – Calvin Trillin
Thomas gave me Tepper Isn’t Going Out
a while ago, and I loved it
– so I was pleased to find another. And then I discovered that they’re everywhere in America – but this one was still worth the purchase, as I immediately read and loved it. Since it was about journalists in Washington DC, it was particularly appropriate, as I was staying with a couple of them.
Book Lust – Nancy Pearl
The first of several books which have been on my Amazon Wishlist for ages, but not so easy to find in England – a celebrity librarian talks about book recommendations? I’m in.
Seize the Day – Saul Bellow
Forever ago I wrote this title down on a notecard I used for book recommendations. I don’t remember who recommended it or why, but this was the first time I’ve found it in a shop. A bit nervous about trying Bellow, but at least it’s a nice short one.
Old Books, Rare Friends – Leona Rostenberg & Madeleine Stern
Another one off the wishlist – a non-fic tale about old ladies and bibliophilia is another one I can’t see myself not liking.
Ride a Cockhorse – Richard Kennedy
I was determined, when coming to the US, not to come back without at least a few NYRB Classics, and this one was the first one I came across, and looked interesting.
A Home at the End of the World – Michael Cunningham
I’ve been meaning to read more Cunningham ever since I read and loved The Hours ten years ago, but had yet to buy any. As you’ll discover, this was not the only one I bought on my holiday….
Used and Rare – Lawrence & Nancy Goldstone
One of the things I often saw in bookshops Stateside which isn’t all that common in the UK was a shelf of ‘books about books’, and well-stocked at that. This was another one I just couldn’t resist…
Bookshop 2: Riverby Books, Washington D.C.
Just around the corner from the Folger Shakespeare Library, incidentally. Yes, the first thing I went to in America was an exhibition about Shakespeare, which wasn’t exactly travelling far from home. It was also the first day of the torrential rains, which continued apace throughout my stay – but rather that than the rocketing temperatures of my first weekend (which, everyone assured me, was nothing compared to the summer). I took shelter in a bookshop, which was no hardship, and it was there that I discovered the curious animal that is the mass-market paperback. I’ve trained my eyes to ignore cheap, nasty editions, because in the UK they’re almost invariably cheap, nasty books – but in the US there are plenty of great books which hide between this awful covers. (Sadly, no photo of the bookshop, because it was just too wet.)
An Anthropologist on Mars – Oliver Sacks
I could probably have found this one in England, but I thought I should justify the long rain-avoidance time I spent in the shop, and I’m always willing to add to my Sacks shelf.
Portrait of Jennie – Robert Nathan
This one has been on my wishlist for ages, and impossible to find in the UK. Sadly I found it just too late to include in my thesis, which would have been useful (it’s about a girl who ages at a different rate from everyone else) but I still enjoyed reading it – which I have done already. When I review it, I’ll show you the unpleasant cover…
Bookshop 3: The Lantern, Georgetown
Thomas was free to show me around Georgetown, and we had a fun afternoon chatting about books, bloggers, and whatnot, and I enjoyed being shown the beautiful sites of Georgetown. I’d already stayed one night at Thomas’s house when I arrived (and got to meet the entirely adorable Lucy, who has single-pawedly brought dogs up a lot in my estimation) but I was coldy and jet-lagged and exhausted, so it was nice to have a chance to see him when I was actually compos mentis. And we found a bookshop, of course…
The Rise of Silas Lapham – William Dean Howells
I don’t know anything about this book, but Thomas pressed it into my hands, and at $2 I thought it was worth a go.
Land’s End – Michael Cunningham
Another Cunningham, as mentioned above – and this one came signed, and with a sweet little drawing of boats by the author himself!
The Charmer – Patrick Hamilton
And this is where I broke my self-imposed rule of only buying American authors. Well, I say self-imposed, but really it came after Thomas reprimanded me for only bringing British books on holiday. You should all know by now that I love love love Hamilton’s novel The Slaves of Solitude
, and have been meaning to try another one for a while – this one, so far, is stylistically far less sophisticated, but enjoyable nonetheless.
The Fur Person – May Sarton
This one wasn’t actually a book purchase, but a gift from Thomas. Thanks!
|Not relevant, but here I am (with Lorna) by the White House, y’all.
Bookshop 4: Books for America, Washington D.C.
This actually represents Bookshop 3a (Second Story Books) and 3b (Kramerbooks) too, but I didn’t actually buy anything in either of those – see what restraint! By this point of the trip, I was getting more conscious about the weight and size of my bag, and so only bought one book… All Men Are Liars by Alberto Manguel. And American paperbacks are a hundred times nicer than UK paperbacks, am I right? Such a lovely feel to them.
Bookshop 5, 6, 7, 8: various shops around Virginia
These were the bookshops I went to with Thomas and Teresa, and I’ve decided (since this post is getting long) that I’ll tell you more about that trip in another post. But I’ll let you know which books I bought – only four!
Hollywood in the Thirties – John Baxter
50 cents in a library sale: yes please!
Fancies and Goodnights – John Collier
Collier was one of the authors I wrote about in my thesis (I will tell you more about that in due course) and so I was pleased to find a collection of his short stories. But I have since discovered that I could have found an NYRB Classics edition, rather than the noxious paperback I found…
The Brandon Papers – Quentin Bell
I hadn’t realised that Virginia Woolf’s nephew wrote a novel (or maybe novels?) so I again broke my no-Brits rule for book buying on this trip. And Thomas and Teresa were buying so many books that I felt I couldn’t lag too far behind!
The Moon and the Bonfires – Cesare Pavese
I know nothing at all about this, but a $1 NYRB was inevitably coming home with me.
Bookshop 9: Capitol Hill Books (guess where?)
On my final day, Lorna and I headed up to this amazing shop – there wasn’t an inch of wall space which wasn’t covered by books, as you can see. The old gentleman who runs the shop turned up about half an hour after opening time (and opening time was 11.30am so not exactly horrendously early) but made up for it with his witty signs (“As recommended by Lindsay Lohan from rehab”, “Beware, may contain data” etc. etc.) Despite having packed my bags that morning, I still came away with four more books…
Mr. Hodge and Mr. Hazard – Elinor Wylie
Another one of my thesis authors; it’s encouraging that I didn’t get to the point where I never wanted to see any of their names again!
The Unknown Masterpiece – Honore de Balzac
Another NYRB, but this time I actually do know the author (of course) and wanted to read more by him.
Instead of a Letter – Diana Athill
More for my Athill shelf! This is one of the books I could find easily in the UK, but the delight of an American paperback swayed me. And I didn’t put up too much resistance, I must confess. Oh, it is lovely.
Private Demons: The Life of Shirley Jackson – Judy Oppenheimer
This was the last book I spotted, only about a minute before we had to buy our books and leave – and the book I was most thrilled to find, as it is next to impossible to find in the UK, and not that easy to find in the US. And it’s even inscribed by the author, which is always fun.
Right, that’s all for now, folks! As always, let me know if you’ve read any of these, or want to, etc. etc. And soon I’ll tell you all about the bloggers’ day out to Virginia…