Saturday, March 23, 2013

A Bevy Of Books

It's summer and a bevy of books has come a visitin'.  They entered without asking and piled themselves up in all the nooks and crannies they could find, waiting for me to pick them up, dust off their travelly cloaks and find suitable places for them! Darn cheek, if you ask me.

The strange thing about books is how they worm themselves into your life and once there, sit and silently multiply.  They don't hesitate to locate the comfiest spot on your bed, they are seen sloppily snoozling in your best chair when guests drop in and horror of horrors- there they are, sloshing about amongst your pots and pans, getting thoroughly splashed and dishevelled when they think you are not looking.

It's stealth they use - one book muttering names of others under its breath (making sure you're around when it does so), another sighing wistfully and saying, "How nice it would be if I had my companion volume next to me," and so on.  They don't care if their sizes and shapes drive you up the wall (literally).  There they lie, looking expectantly, asking to be opened up ("Just a little stretch for my spine, dearie," the older ones cackle).

This summer's stack arrives as a motley collection - associates of old and loved books and some strangers that have drifted in by way of bookstores.  (March brings an excessive number of birthdays and while selecting books for others, I end up buying many more for myself).

By way of Amazon, I have received huge colour cookbooks - China The Beautiful Cookbook (lyrical and truly beautiful) and Mediterranean The Beautiful Cookbook (erudite though very approachable).

I have also received 'The 13 Clocks' (an old fairy tale by James Thurber - about an aggressive Duke who was always cold.  "He wore gloves when he was asleep, and he wore gloves when he was awake, which made it difficult for him to pick up pins or coins or tear the wings from nightingales.  He was six feet four and forty-six, and even colder than he thought he was.  One eye wore a velvet patch; the other glittered through a monocle, which made half his body seem closer to you than the other half."

Finally, and best of all, I have received through Amazon, 'The Midnight Folk' by John Masefield.  This is a magical way to learn about treasures and cats, owls and witches (and other midnight folk), adventurous great grandfathers - and also to brush up on your French:

..."You learn your lessons," she said.  "Never mind about what I think it was."

She left him with "pouvoir".  Kay had a special prejudice against "pouvoir".  It wasn't a good, straightforward word like "aimer."  It was a mean and ugly word, which went into "peux" and "pu."  It didn't seem to have any sense in it.  He wrestled with it with each boot twisted round a leg of his chair, scraping up and down.  Then, looking up, he saw great-grandpapa Harker looking down at him from his portrait over the mantelpiece.

The portrait was one that he had looked at during lessons ever since lessons began.  It was just "great-grandpapa Harker's portrait," though it was labelled Baxter.  When people were shown the schoolroom, the governess always said "That is a Baxter," and then people said, "Really" or "Fancy that" or "How interesting".  It was the full length of a man in old fashioned clothes.  There was a sort of shrubbery behind him and a sort of blueness behind the shrubbery.  It was said to be the only full length Baxter as Baxter only did down to the knees.  But now, as Kay looked, great-grandpapa Harker took a step forward, and as he did so, the wind ruffled the skirt of his coat and shook the shrubs behind him.  A couple of blue butterflies which had been upon the shrubs for seventy odd years, flew out into the room.  Great-grandpapa Harker  took another step forward and smiled.  Now Kay could see into the shrubbery: it was just where Kay's fort now was, but the box trees had grown enormously since then although the bull finches were already there.  Great-grandpapa Harker held out his hand and smiled again.  His face, which had seemed such an old-portrait kind of a face, became alive and full of welcome.  He seemed a fine fellow, not at all old, and very kind and good.

"Well, great-grandson Kay," he said, "ne pouvez vous pas come into the jardin avec moi?"

Kay thought it odd, but it was a perfect excuse for not doing "pouvoir" : "I would have learned it, but great-grandpapa Harker asked me to come into the jardin avec him, so of course I thought you wouldn't mind."  He smiled back at great-grandpapa Harker and said, "Oui, grand-grand pere, thank you; je serai very glad."

Great-grandpapa held out both hands, and Kay jumped onto the table; from there, with a step of run, he leaped onto the top of the fender and caught the mantelpiece.  Great-grandpapa Harker caught him and helped him up into the picture.  Instantly the schoolroom disappeared.  Kay was out of doors, standing beside his great-grandfather, looking at the house as it was in the pencil drawing in the study, with cows in the field close to the house on what was now the lawn, the church, unchanged, beyond, and nearby some standard yellow roses, long since vanished, but now seemingly in full bloom...

Getting back to those books of the present, the ones I bought while searching for gifts are: 'I dreamed of Africa' by Kuki Gallmann (a memoir of bringing up a family in Kenya), 'The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society' by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows (a story set in the Channel Isles just after the second world war) and 'Ten Thousand Miles Without A Cloud' by Sun Shuyun (a travelogue and more, of the author's journey from China to India, in search of her beliefs).  Some not complete strangers are 'The Uncommon Appeal of Clouds' by Alexander McCall Smith (a gentle Scottish story about life - and detection) and 'The Winter Queen' by Boris Akunin (beckoning me with its spirited though slightly sad smile, in the way that these Russian tomes do, and featuring the extraordinary detective, Fandorin).

This is my summer reading (and I have already gone through some of it).  Please don't think I am writing out these long lists of my own volition - it's these critters that are askin' me, in fact nudging me to do so, in the hope that they may slip into your rooms as well.  All I can say is - good luck with your summer visitors, they will come a knockin' soon...

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