Birthday Books

The LuminariesThis is my first post of my third decade… and still I am reading The Luminaries. Will I still be reading it by the time I reach forty, I wonder. It is a good book, but it has made me feel that people who write books that are so unbelievably long are obliged to make them unbelievably good. Indeed The Luminaries should be approximately four times as good as a very good short novel, because it will have demanded that much more of my reading time, and, if I’m brutally honest, while it is undoubtedly enjoyable, I’m not sure The Luminaries is quite good enough to be taking up so many weeks of my life. It’s not quite Proust. I think of all the other books I could have been reading in the meantime and feel a little bit peeved, but there we go, I shall give you a full report, let us hope, next week.

You might remember this time last year I wrote about a very special edition of Bowen’s Court, that my very generous mum bought me from the wondrous Peter Harrington. Well this year, we made a return visit …

Let me say right away that any of you who have not yet been to Peter Harrington should do so immediately. Go into the rather imposing building, look like you know what you’re doing by marching straight up the stairs to the first floor, where you will discover all the twentieth-century literature, a realm presided over by Adam. Talk to Adam. He will give you sweets and make you a cup of tea, while showing you the treasures on the shelves, telling you things about the books and their owners of which you’d never have dreamt.

This year we were in Adam’s realm a little while before him. No doubt he was having lunch, or boiling the kettle or some such. Reluctant to miss a second’s heavenly browsing time, I clambered up a ladder to peruse their collection of EM Forster, where I spotted a small blue hardback – The Writings of EM Forster by Rose Macaulay. I’m ashamed to say I’ve not yet read anything by Macaulay, though I have of course heard of her brilliant opening line to her novel The Towers of Trebizond:

“Take my camel, dear,” said my Aunt Dot, as she climbed down from this animal on her return from High Mass.

How I long to read the rest of it! Perhaps it shall feature in Emily’s Walking Book Club in 2014.

Well, oddly enough, Rose Macaulay has been on my mind over the past couple of weeks as she was a great friend of Elizabeth Bowen’s, and I have been doing a spot of thinking and writing about Elizabeth Bowen and her relationship to Regent’s Park, where she lived. I have been imagining her walking through the park with Rose Macaulay by her side, perhaps joking about the camels in London Zoo just round the corner.

Can you imagine my surprise when I opened up this little book, published by The Hogarth Press, to get an idea of what Macaulay might have to say about Forster, when I saw this?!

The Writings of EM Forster by Rose Macaulay

It’s too extraordinary, especially given the uncanny echo with last year’s purchase of Forster’s copy of Bowen’s Court. This time it’s Bowen’s copy of Rose Macaulay’s thoughts on Forster. I am rendered speechless as my imagination whirrs with overexcitement.

(On the subject of intriguing dedications, have you come across Wayne’s blog? Should you love it quite as much as I do, might I suggest buying the book of his blog, just out now?)

The other lovely books on which we alighted in Adam’s treasure trove, is this lovely set of Virginia Woolf’s essays. See how prettily they sit on my shelf, beside her diaries.

The Collected Essays of Virginia Woolf

Funny that I was just thinking about her essay ‘Mr Bennett and Mrs Brown’ a couple of weeks ago, which I had to squint through on-screen. Now, I can have it in my hand, and can browse through her other essays – I do really think she is a fantastic essayist – and pick one or two to read in a spare half-hour. Leafing through, I see that she too has written some thoughts on Forster. I love this on the change from Howards End to A Passage to India:

The house is still the house of the British middle classes. But there is a change from Howards End. Hitherto Mr Forster has been apt to pervade his books like a careful hostess who is anxious to introduce, to explain, to warn her guests of a step here, of a draught there. But here, perhaps in some disillusionment both with his guests and with his house, he seems to have relaxed these cares. We are allowed to ramble over this extraordinary continent almost alone.

I love the thought of Forster as an anxious hostess, always at his reader’s elbow to point things out. It’s a very apt description for his earlier novels, and reminds me a little of Hitchcock’s pointing things out in his films, closing a scene by zooming in on something significant. It is a relief to feel Forster relax a little in A Passage to India, and I suppose it does make you feel more at home in his work – an aspiration for any good hostess.

(Some Emilybooks Forster trivia for you – Howards End is a highly important codeword between the husband and me. I hope it need never be used in your presence. Those who can guess when it might be used and what it might signify … answers on a postcard, or in the comments section below please, and, if correct, you might just get a prize.)

What wonderful books to own! If only I could binge on them all now in a gloriously decadent Bloomsburyish day.  I must, however, stick with The Luminaries if there’s any hope of getting it finished by next week.

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24 Responses to “Birthday Books”

  1. Emily D Says:

    Could it possibly be ‘only connect’? And possibly used when one or other is in high dudgeon or a sulk?

    • emilybooks Says:

      Ah Emily – if only it were quite so poetic. Alas it is more of a cue for the other one of us to shut up – to Howards END right now! To shut up about one subject in particular…

      • isoldewalters Says:

        Is the subject money?
        Lovely post by the way, looking forward to reading your thoughts on Luminaries.

      • emilybooks Says:

        Thanks – so glad you enjoyed the post. I am looking forward to having some thoughts on the Luminaries. But no, sorry, the subject is not money… good guess though.

  2. JRH Says:

    Oh, I love a quiz. Do you say Howards END at each other when one of you is talking a bit too much about someone else’s lovely house? Or perhaps about ‘class’ matters? Other than that, can’t think. Surely not when one of you is talking too much about themselves? Is Howard a real person? Do you have a plot to ‘END’ Howard, and sometimes talk about it in company when you probably shouldn’t be talking about that sort of thing if you want to get away with it. No, that doesn’t seem right. ‘I hope it need never be used in you presence.’Is ‘Howard’ code for boring conversation and its time to ‘End’ it? Oh, hang on, is it code to ‘END’ the person you’re both talking to. Is that what it is? Are you both serial killers? Oh dear! Howard isn’t me is it? You’re not planning to ‘END’ me, are you? Really, if you are, I don’t think that’s fair. You don’t even know me. Oh dear, oh dear! This isn’t quite the quiz I thought it was. Actually, I don’t think I like this quiz. I don’t think I like it at all.

    • emilybooks Says:

      Oh JRH, I have giggled much over your musings. No we are not planning to Howards END you … although if we were serial killers using such highly sophisticated code words, this might of course be a bluff.

  3. Darlene Says:

    I am beyond green with envy, Emily! You lucky woman. I’ve made a note in my ‘next time in London’ journal to visit the shop but doubt I could ever be so fortunate. Happy belated birthday, by the way!

    • emilybooks Says:

      Thanks Darlene – I am indeed a lucky woman! I loved reading about your lucky day with Ben McNally Books too.

  4. Jina @ tuesday in silhouette Says:

    Oh dear… I’ve just started on The Luminaries. I hope it doesn’t disappoint me too badly! That’s the thing with big books – I don’t think I can say that I’ve ever read an unbelievably long (contemporary) book that was unbelievably good. Where are the Tolstoys and Hugos of the twenty-first century? :/

    • emilybooks Says:

      Jina – I have actually spent all afternoon engrossed in it, so must take back my earlier hesitation … full report to come! Only 100 pages to go…

  5. Katy Stoddard (@katy_bird) Says:

    What a fantastic book dedication! Will have to get myself down to Peter Harrington soon. I once found a note in a copy of Virginia Woolf’s The Years – ‘Cyril Connolly says Bernard was based on Desmond MacCarthy.’ John Wolfers, October 1941 – and was daft enough not to realise its significance at the time. Been kicking myself ever since! (I did get a pic –

    Hope you like The Luminaries in the end, I loved it (although I was dimly aware of the page count all the way through).

    • emilybooks Says:

      Wow – what a wonderful dedication to have happened upon! Yes, I am enjoying The Luminaries, thanks, I suppose I just quite want to have finished it now. But no doubt that is a reflection of my own impatience rather than anything else.

  6. Alex in Leeds Says:

    Happy birthday and congratulations on such a lovely set of the essays, they look very well on your shelf. 🙂

  7. Alice Says:

    Happy birthday, Emily. Your tale of visiting Peter Harrington has given me bookish goosebumps and your new books sound wonderful (and look good on your shelf too). Hope you had a lovely day, did Daphne buy you anything nice? 😉

    Be interested to hear how you found The Luminaries once you’ve finished it.

    • emilybooks Says:

      Thanks Alice! Daphne, alas, was too impecunious to buy me something, but a friend very thoughtfully gave me a beautiful apron on which are drawings of lots of Daphnes frolicking amidst dandelions, so I can only assume that Daphne was channeling her tortoise present thoughts through said friend. She is an exceptionally clever tortoise, after all.

    • emilybooks Says:

      P.S. I see you are currently reading Moon Tiger… isn’t it THE BEST!!!?

      • Alice Says:

        I have finished it in actuality, forgot to change the image on the sidebar. I read it after reading your blog! Loved it more than I ever expected, marvelous piece of literature.

      • emilybooks Says:

        I’m so pleased you loved it, and very touched indeed that you read it after my blog. Wonderful!

  8. juliamharrison Says:

    I have just bought my first christmas present: the beautiful book about Virginia Woolf’s garden at Monk’s House. The photographs on pages 76 and 77 reminded me of your wonderful collection of Woolf’s essays. She learned book binding before her marriage and spent some time rebinding all her Shakespeares. I hope it is on your Christmas list!

  9. James Says:

    I have often wondered who purchased these Bowen association copies from under my nose whilst I ummed and ahhed about whether I could really afford them, so how serendipitous that I should come across your wonderful blog by chance! At least I know that they have a loving home. I have a (rather tatty) copy of Bowen’s Court inscribed by Bowen to the almost-as-brilliant Elizabeth Taylor (with a Christmas card enclosed) so I am more than content with that. I also collect Fitzgerald and Taylor whom I am pleased to see you also appreciate. I am only surprised to see no mention of Marilynne Robinson, Barbara Pym, Anne Tyler or Carol Shields here – all of whom I heartliy recommend to your attention.

    • emilybooks Says:

      James – wonderful to hear from you, and they do indeed have a very loving home. I am envious of your double Elizabeth Bowen’s Court … what a find. And thanks for the reading recommendations – I shall try to fill the gaps.

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