I went into a bookshop today. This didn’t use to be a notable thing, but then the world isn’t quite the same as it used to be. Pop asked me a couple of days ago if shops were closed when he was a baby; a year in a four year old’s life is a very long time. This year in most adults’ lives seems to have been rather a long one too though, but I’m not sure that Pop really remembers what it was like before - I probably ought to get them to tell me what they remember from this very strange year before they completely forget. I digress…
I walked past the queue at Primark and in to the place of books. I’m not going to pretend that I haven’t bought any books in the months since the last lockdown was imposed, but it’s quite a different experience typing the name of an author into the search box and picking the book you’d already decided on than it is to wander around looking at the shelves. So many stories crammed into just one place. It smelled just right, it was just the right level of noisy, the man at the till laughed with me as I bounced up to the counter with my birthday gift card in hand. It's nice to have a bit of human interaction alongside my book purchasing, if the chairs had been avaliable I would have curled up to read and soak up the shop some more. Time was I would have found a quiet part behind a bookshelf and just plonked myself on the floor, but I don't think I would have got away with that today.
I’ve been having a bit of an Isherwood binge of late. A Single Man sat on my shelf unread for some reason and then I realised I couldn’t remember any of what happens in Mr Norris Changes Trains, this was certainly not helped by the fact I’d remembered the title as Mrs Norris - a character who could only have any place in the book as Mr Norris’ despairing or deluded mother. From there I went on to Christopher and his Kind which is a really interesting autobiography that somehow isn’t made too awkward by his constant referral to himself in the 3rd person. All the real versions of people from his novels are presented along with all his literary friends - I didn’t even know he and Auden were friends, let alone the kind of friends outlined in the book. Isherwood does muse at one point on the breadth that word has to span, especially when one wants to avoid using the word boyfriend or lover. I’d certainly recommend it if you were in the mood for a gossipy memoir featuring lots of literary gay men and a lot of travelling about.
Waterstones didn’t oblige me with any new Isherwood. But Isherwood did have encounters with Maugham who he greatly esteemed, and On a Chinese Screen was there - what could be more handy for someone about to wait about for a friend and then get on a bus than a book full of short character sketches? I also picked up Truman Capote’s Summer Crossing, not this time because of any Isherwood connection, but because it’s good to have a bit of variety and I did enjoy reading all his short stories a few weeks ago.
If I’m giving off the impression that I’d had time to read books recently its sort of because I have. It took me a month to pick my way through Téa Obreht’s Inland - there was just no brain space left in the evening. Cleo was waking up twice a night, and work and looking after children and cooking dinner left me with only energy for half a chapter before I went to sleep; a book at half a chapter does start to drag, even if the story is interesting. But finally the Easter holidays arrived, I packed the kids off to activities camp and for the first time in a while I sat down with the sun coming through the window and read a book in a peaceful, quiet house.