Sunday, 26 February 2012

Spring day and Joanna Trollope

Yesterday was a warmish, blue-sky-ed day when scarves were just a splash of colour round your coat rather than wrapped three times round your neck to keep the cold out. I went for a quiet walk (without gloves!) and did the supermarket shopping before coming back to deal with the website and business emails. I still feel surprise and pleasure when someone emails to say that they like the appearance and the stories of The Whicharts and Five Farthings. This is usually a good weekend to sort out the paperwork as orders dip slightly, though they often rise the following week when payday arrives.

I've finished reading Joanna Trollope's The Soldier's Wife this week and really recommend it. I don't seem to have many of her novels left - I suspect I sent quite a few of the paperbacks to the charity shop when lack of space forced me to prune back the growing bookshelves. I did find a copy of The Choir tucked behind a bit of double-shelving, so have started on Chapter One and have been drawn back into the world of Aldminster. Some years later and set on an army base, The Soldier's Wife is one of her best - a fascinating character study of a marriage drifting and the effect the army has on wife and children. It might provide camaraderie to the men, but the effect on wife and children is to be isolated and set aside, even from their extended family. There's a painful scene between Dan (army husband) and small daughter who very simply states that 'We're all here because of you' with brutal, childish candour showing her unhappiness at being expected to cope and put up with the sustained absences of a much-loved father. I'd summarise the book as a study in loneliness where a loving family is struggling to communicate and make each other happy. Noel Streatfeild wrote in a similar vein about husbands with a vocation rather than a profession. In her case, the fathers were vicars, not army men, but the isolation from the family is still true.

This isn't a book to read to make you happy, though it's a book to read for its flawed characters who intrigue as much as they infuriate. I hadn't read a Joanna Trollope for years and now I'm wondering why. I think I'll start again with Daughters-in-Law.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Saturday and catching up

I'll try and link a couple of things that have caught my interest this week. The first - a friend has volunteered with the Mass Observation Project and I'm delighted for her. I've read a couple of the books and some parts were fascinating, though other parts were hastily skipped over. I hadn't realised that this was an ongoing project and am pleased to hear it. I know there are occasional attempts to have some sort of internet archive, but nothing quite has the range of Mass Observation. Some sort of blog archive might be useful though.

The next is a new-to-me blog by Clothes in Books - it does exactly as the title says. I know my customers tend to read Girls Own novels, so are familiar with Anne's desire for puffed sleeves or Pauline's wish for elegance in spite of having a budget of pennies, but 'Clothes' (I don't know the writer's name) has taken all sorts of quotes from fiction, added an illustration and a commentary. They were kind enough to mention The Whicharts earlier in the month, though not my enduring memory of Maimie's love of new clothes at any opportunity. I'm still thrilled that people are rediscovering a lost/forgotten Noel Streatfeild and find it an interesting read. It's pushed me to reread Jane Eyre and look at the visit to the silk warehouse and witness her horror of bright colours and ostentation.

I've been continuing in much the same way as usual : searching for suitable novels to add to the list and seeking out copyright holders of those novels already shortlisted.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Up in the air

Hearing the unwelcome words 'And now, in a change to some listings...' usually means that the drama you wanted to watch has been replaced by sport or that repeated time-filler, Top of the Pops 2'. BBC2 appear to be making it increasingly difficult for anyone to watch Pan Am, though I suspect any ratings for sport are higher, so drama is moved without much notice. Then again, moving everything for sport seems to be BBC policy and, as a drama fan, I dislike it. That's not to say that Pan Am is the best drama import, more that it's a relaxing way to spend an hour or so watching moving pictures with the most elegant costumes. Life 'in the air' has lost whatever glamour it might have had and isn't the subject for teenage novels any more. Though someone may decide that realism is necessary and commission a novel from the perspective of modern cabin crew.

I've been rereading the rather nice Air Hostess Ann (Pamela Hawken, 1952) this week. Unlike the Pan Am girls who fly in and out of New York looking immaculate, Ann works in the thick London fogs and is busy off-duty fixing the boiler instead of being wooed by handsome politicians. Ann is one of a series of 'career novels for girls' that flourished in the 1950s and 1960s. Many are collected and prices tend to be on the high side, but Ann is reassuringly affordable. I also found another oddity I'd picked up from somewhere on my shelves set slightly earlier and published slightly later, so in the post-1945 chaos when small airlines went from boom to bust in a terrifyingly short time. Head in the Clouds (1958) is by Muriel Hanning-Lee and a rattling collection of memories of flying with celebrities, animals, students and how to cope with flights around the world that took weeks to complete with endless stops to refuel. Both Ann and Muriel earn their wings being kind, capable and good at their jobs, so not quite as dramatic as Pan Am's reliance on spies, scandal and perfect costumes.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

You are what you read

Most of my buyers are already keen readers or serious collectors of vintage fiction or Noel Streatfeild fans who have discovered the 'almost forgotten' novel The Whicharts. Some are both. I suspect many also would enjoy a modern novel that reminds you of the pleasure of revisiting childhood favourites. Then it might remind you of the number of books you've got rid of, replaced and purchased again over the years. I've just spent most of the afternoon reading the second half of The Secret of Happy Ever After. I've enjoyed it hugely and recommend it. Lucy Dillon's a new author to me and I'll search out her other books in a browse of Waterstone's next week. No, I'm not omitting the apostrophe from Waterstone's - it doesn't look right. Lucy's book is a lovely gentle read that fitted in well with a week full of train journeys and an afternoon enjoying the white light reflecting off the snow and wondering if the thaw was beginning or whether we'll have another deluge of snowflakes as soon as it gets dark tonight. To return to the book, it's a great page-turner with plenty of references to childhood reading and returning to old book friends for comfort once you're grown-up. The author's obviously a Dodie Smith fan and elements of Elinor M. Brent-Dyer and Judy Blume feature in a story of developing business and families and the occasional incompatibility of the two. It's an interesting take on the step-family that Gwendoline Courtney did so well in Elizabeth of the Garret Theatre, though Lucy Dillon's heroine is understandably frustrated by her selfish step-daughters who don't behave in the way she, rather idealistically, hopes. You do feel so sorry for her and her three step-daughters who don't appreciate the Christmas present of vintage editions (some signed) of children's books that any book-collector would love, but that three teenagers who don't read much for pleasure simply don't understand.