I had intended to post a picture of some of my recent acquisitions today, but have been foiled: the camera is out of battery charge, and my limited technical competence means I can’t fix this. You should know that the pile contains Winifred Holtby’s West Riding, some more Willa Cather, The Hare with the Amber Eyes and much else that is good and tempting (including biographies of Fanny Trollope and Patricia Highsmith). But this will have to be a project postponed for another day. (And it means a rather shorter post in consequence!)
In the meantime, I have been extremely fortunate with my reading so far this year. Everything has been a hit. I’ve just finished Ross Macdonald’s The Galton Case, and loved it. When a rich, elderly lady decides she wants to track down her son, missing for twenty years, for an overdue reconciliation, private investigator, Lew Archer, is given to understand that the case is probably hopeless. However, in no time at all, he has a skeleton on his hands and a young man claiming to be the missing man’s son. This novel was full of sharp lines and wisecracks and brilliant observations, and the plot was a delight. I’ll definitely be reading more of Ross Macdonald. And then I’ve just started Margaret Oliphant’s Miss Marjoriebanks and it is a JOY. I am having a complete ball with the nineteenth century at present. I don’t know why I thought it was all Dickens and Hardy. Oliphant’s eponymous heroine is described on the back cover as a cross between Mary Poppins and Boadicea (how I wish I had thought of that myself!) and this is a most apt description. She has returned home to be a ‘comfort’ to her widower father, whether he likes it or not, and is at present conquering society in the small town of Carlingford.Then I’ve also been listening to John Mortimer’s tales of Rumpole of the Bailey on audio book. I don’t know whether these have ever made it to more far-flung shores, but Rumpole is a bit of a British institution. A curmudgeonly but effective criminal barrister, with a formidable wife (familiarly known as She Who Must Be Obeyed), Rumpole’s cases have made for perfect audio pleasure. I love it when lawyers write – their own field requires such dazzling precision of language, so their skills transfer very naturally to the fictional domain. I had never read Rumpole before, but I am currently appreciating him no end.
So all this, the new books, and the recently discovered delights, has got me thinking about the ways in which I want my library, and my reading to grow. As you know, I am stockpiling shamelessly before the ebook takes over the world, and it occurs to me that I should have a think about my erratic book buying habits. Up until now I have simply followed my whim and acquired the books that looked most tempting. But I ought to be giving some serious thought to what I would like a proper collection of books to contain. Graham Greene, for instance, whom I’ve only recently read and enjoyed, really ought to be represented on the shelves. The nineteenth century authors Mary Elizabeth Braddon and Margaret Oliphant are authors whose works and biographies I’m really interested in. Who else am I missing who ought to be there? Of course the field of literature is vast, and I suppose I shouldn’t hope to cover it all (a French friend of mine once said to me, on seeing my recent purchases ‘You don’t have to read everything that’s ever been published, you know!’ I didn’t like to argue, but…) So I’m wondering whether the rereading test would prove to be the most useful for discrimination. Which authors would you reread most readily? Because of their beautiful writing, or vibrant characters, or richness of theme, or just because the story never fails to enchant? I’ve never been much of a one for rereading, but I can feel it’s draw lately. I do reread favourite Golden Age crime, and I’ve often had to reread European classics for work. But rereading for pleasure – which writers and novels would you reread most willingly? And I’ll consider them for my shelves.