New-in: Thrifted Books

I mentioned last time that I had found a few hidden treasures in a local thrift store (secondhand shop? what’s the difference?) and today I thought I’d show you what I actually managed to find. I don’t think I’ve mentioned here on this blog before that I have a Booktube channel; but I actually uploaded an entire book haul video there yesterday if you’re curious. Otherwise, let’s get on to the books in the written word.

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The funny thing about secondhand shopping is that, sometimes you come across something you don’t quite know what it is, then go home to discover the hidden gold in the mix. So for example, I bought the Strindberg biography just thinking I wanted to read a biographical account on one of the biggest Swedish names in literary history – only to discover that the author is the father of the Lagercrantz who is now authorized to write the new books in Stieg Larsson’s Lisbeth Salander series. I thought the name was familiar, but I didn’t think much about it until I came home and looked it up. It helps that usually the secondhand shops I go to have crappy reception; so no possibilities in looking up ratings on Goodreads or checking names. It’s just me alone, and whatever memory I have about the millions of books I’ve ever heard about.

Actually in the entire stack of books up there, there were many that felt like destined meetings. The Irene Nemirovsky books for example; the previous (and only) time I’ve been to this particular store I bought one of her books in the Vintage edition. Now, I found two more of her books in the same store – of course it’s possible the books came in with the same person and were separated in storage to end up in the store at different times, but several months had passed between my visit in July and now. One of the books above is also in the matching Vintage edition I got in July, which made it feel all the more like they were a matching set. She’s a famous author though, so while I see destiny others might just think it a natural result of a popular author whose books people love and buy and read in big numbers.

Let’s take another example – The Grass for His Pillow by Lian Hearn, the second book in the Otori clan series. I have been on the look-out for the books in the series in thrift stores (can I make up my mind about the term?) for years, as I wanted to re-read the first two and continue on to read the entire series. I specifically wanted to buy them secondhand since I don’t know how I’ll feel about them now, as I read (and loved) them as a teenager and it’s been a few years. So, in the beginning of September I went to my favorite local thrift store and I found the fourth and last book in the series. As I say – I have been looking for the books for years (and have visited this store along with others many times throughout the years) so I was thrilled! Then, just about a month later the visit of the previous weekend, and I find the second book in the series. Coincidence? Well, a lucky one I should say. Two books in two months, sometimes it’s meant to be?

Okay. Two last examples of the magic in secondhand shops (let’s go with it). First, it’s #Victober now, right? So I have been reading both Victorian lit and nonfiction about the Victorian era. Then I find Victorian Secrets above, which is a book about the corset and from what I gather partly a historical look at the nineteenth century through this garment. Timely, yes. And the memoir of Alice Lyttkens, Leva om sitt liv, is another book that felt like fate although in this case it was probably not as coincidental than the others.

Again, the last time I went to this particular store I found a novel by Alice Lyttkens, an early 20th century Swedish writer (or rather, the book I found of hers was published in the 30s, but she lived until the 1990s and she worked for most of those years ). I had never heard her name before this meeting, in this store, but I was curious. Then as I say, I found her memoir in the same store – several months apart, and it felt like a must-buy. The same writer and a memoir about the 1930s at that? Meaning, about her life around the time she wrote the previously mentioned novel! Of course, the memoir might’ve been there for all I knew but it wouldn’t have meant anything to me before I found the novel and my interest was peaked.

The last example is illustrative of what I like to call the unlocking of knowledge, the fact that things (or books in this case, authors, titles, genres) are invisible to you until you’ve come across them and given them meaning, until an author’s name actually means something to you rather than be another name in a sea of unknown names. For me this ‘unlocking’ of genres, authors, titles, has made the experience of thrifting that much more fun because there’s always something that I am interested in – my interests are endless and my horizons boundless. There’s almost no chance of me going to a thrift store, or a library for that matter, and not find anything that sounds fascinating. Because my ‘strike zone’ as it were, is so widened by these kind of chance-meetings and an openness to them, to change me.

I hope you have a wonderful Friday and a peaceful weekend!

Natalie


Books in the photo:

The Courilof Affair – Irene Nemirovsky
Suite Francaise – Irene Nemirovsky
The Postman Always Rings Twice – James M. Cain
Grass for his Pillow – Lian Hearn
Billy Thunder and the Night Gate – Isobelle Carmody
Shakespeare’s Language – Frank Kermode
Svinalängorna – Susanna Alakoski
Leva om sitt liv – Alice Lyttkens
Victorian Secrets – Sarah A. Chrisman
August Strindberg – Olof Lagercrantz

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One person’s trash, is another person’s gold

The title of this post came to me as I was thinking about the day’s outing, to one of my local secondhand shops. I love second hand shopping – no other type of shopping gets me going quite as much, even book shopping (new books, that is). The main reason for this preference is the element of hunting in thrifting; it’s all about finding hidden treasures in a sea of otherwise useless stuff, whether they be clothes, books, furniture, or porcelain. The object itself is irrelevant, the value of the object is irrelevant (unless you’re part of the antique’s road show). What is important is what you value, the ‘market’ value of a thing is no longer as valid in a second hand shop because the shop’s staff usually don’t care or maybe they don’t know – so the price is not a reflection of the original price. You’re then free to make your own judgement, based on your own tastes and demands. I mean, long story short thrifting is a treasure hunt and there’s loads of things every person in the shop will think of as trash – but you might think of as a gem, a little speck of gold.

I am not much of a shopping person because the whole experience stresses me out; all of the people, the music, the people talking on the phone, the weight of a bag which straps are sliding off the shoulder, sweating in a changing room, endless lines for the cash register, all the while not finding what you’re looking for but always finding stuff you don’t need. I guess second hand shops aren’t necessarily different, it depends on where you’re at but generally speaking people don’t seem as much in a hurry there, there’s no insipid music stimulating spontaneous purchases, and I guess even if everyone is noisy and in the way and the lines are awful – it’s worth it because you just saved money. And possibly supporting charities. And at the same time you’re recycling. Win, win, win.

Is this just a long love letter to thrifting and second hand shops? Yes, probably. I love finding books that have clearly come from someone’s basement, showcasing 70s editions that have probably never been read before, or books that have been given/received as gifts – also probably never been read. Or what about those books that have annotations in them? Aren’t they the best? Books that smell like they’re a decade old, because they are. Books that have broken-in spines. Books that have yellowed pages. Books that have been through war times. Books that have come from other countries, other continents, to this small town in Sweden. It’s magic, in my mind. The idea of someone’s trash being someone’s gold is the idea that for some; the books I bought today are probably trash or at the very least useless things, never been read, never been loved, gifted and forgotten, hidden and aged. For some, a book with a broken spine is a book that has only one destination left to go and it’s not in a reader’s library. For some, writing in books is absolutely a no-no, dog-eared pages induce (internal) screaming. But nonetheless, to me these things are part of the charm.

I love old books. I love new books. I love to read a book for its first time, I love to read a book for its tenth or hundredth time (if it has succeeded in staying in tact for that many readings!). All of the various states and shapes books come in, and the magical ways they find their way to me; is just another reason why I am so happy to be a reader.

I hope you’re having a wonderful day!

Natalie

Buying vs. Collecting Books

Over the last couple of years I’ve kept tabs on all my book acquiring in a personal spreadsheet, initially only logging title of the book, source I got the book from, and which condition I got the book in (the reasoning behind the last being that I wanted to buy more of my books secondhand, and also to separate secondhand from vintage books). Over the years I’ve added more and more categories to track my book purchasing as well as the books I’ve been gifted. But what I wanted to talk about today wasn’t just the acquiring of books, and in particular the books you get for yourself (whether they be free or bought with cash). One thing that has become increasingly clear to me over the last few years is that I am or strive to be a book collector.

With this slightly fancier way of saying purchaser-of-books, I suppose what I really mean is someone who cares not just for the story within the pages – and buys the book to get access to the story – but the book as a physical object. I care about the selection of books I buy, and keep. I want my library not to be just a whole mess of a thing with anything and everything stuck in there; I want my collection of books and really my personal library to show a vision, a cohesive spirit, a purposefulness that shows one personality coming together through individual book spines.

Because of this, lately I have been thinking through all of my additions to my shelves more thoroughly; do they fit here? Can they possibly have a permanent home on my limited shelfspace? Of course, I don’t expect the books I think are worthy of display now will always be the same books, just like I expect some things about my taste, lifestyle, and reading life will change as I change through the years. That’s good, a library should be organic and have a natural flow in and out. But there’s a difference between culling and adding with a purpose and selectiveness, to grabbing every free (or cheap) book that comes my way and keeping every single book I’ve read (even the ones I’ve felt nothing about or hated). For some people, this is the way to go. For me, it’s not.

As I’ve started thinking in the way of a book collector, I have started to look for more specific books and spending the extra money to get those to me – instead of say, buying four easily discarded paperbacks. I bought two A. A. Milne books both in vintage editions (one dated to the 1920s, the other I think from the 1930s) because he has become a favorite author but his books are mostly not in print anymore. I just recently bought a nonfiction tome about Christmas – it’s a lifelong fascination and love of mine, and I am determined to start building a collection of Christmas (history) themed books. All year I’ve been slowly but steadily collecting natural history books, which has become a new-found passion. It’s these things, the odd little interests and what makes me tick, that I have started to allow guide my collecting habits.

That’s not to say all reading or collecting should necessarily be restricted or and planned. I enjoy the spontaneous and serendipitous browsing of books, discovering hidden gems, picking up something I have never heard of and taking a chance on something. I still do this in the way of collecting, but even more so in my visits to the library. Which is sort of the next big part of the change in my acquiring of books; I get more books from the library, I often request books for the library to get too which means even a new release isn’t necessarily off limits. It’s been a freeing experience of getting more of the wild-cards from the library, and focusing my money more on the books I want to physically own and think will be part of a long-term collection.

I still like a messy, slightly asymmetrical, varied sort of personal library. I don’t organize much in my shelves, I don’t buy books in the same line or brand just for the sake of having completely sleek shelves – I don’t even like the idea of having the same height on all my spines, I like them wonky. I like that some of my books have yellowed pages, annotations, and even at times little hidden items like receipts or tickets in them. I like that other books stand with spines not-yet-cracked, white pages, the smell of print or paper fabrics not having been hidden behind layers of dust yet. In some ways, I think it is this mismatch of things; genres, authors, topics, time periods, conditions, size, etc. – that best reflects the many varied sides of me as a reader and as a person.

Do you buy books thinking about its place in your personal library? Do you collect books at all or do you prefer to have a more casual relationship with the books you encounter? I’d love to hear all about it. As you can tell, it’s something I’ve spent some time thinking about.

I hope you have a wonderful day,

Natalie

#Victober Round 1

It’s the start of October. The air has turned crisper, leaves are changing in color or else dropping down on the muddy ground, and the days are getting increasingly shorter. What says October and autumn more than moors and storms? Yes, that’s right – it’s time to reach for those Victorian stories of large mansions, courtship, rapid societal changes, parties and life on the moors. Hosted by four ladies on Booktube (Ange, Kate, Katie, and Lucy), October is #Victober time. Victober is a month long reading challenge in which you read Victorian literature during the month of October. Truthfully, Victorian literature isn’t something I normally read much of, so I thought this was the perfect opportunity to do so.

I made a whole TBR (to-be-read) video talking about the four books I wanted to read for the challenge, two of them actual Victorian books and two contemporary works of nonfiction about the Victorian period. But today I wanted to talk about two of them specifically, which I am currently reading.

Anne_Brontë_by_Patrick_Branwell_Brontë_restoredFirst up in my Victorian fiction is Agnes Grey by Anne Brontë, published in 1846. In many ways Anne seems to have been the forgotten sister – what with Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights gaining a popularity that does not seem to be comparable to neither Agnes Grey nor her other novel, The tenant of Wildfell Hall. Although she seems to have been slightly overlooked because of her sisters, Anne Brotnë of course was an accomplished writer in her own right – after all, she is still being read and studied more than 150 years later. So what is Agnes Grey all about?

Agnes Grey follows the slightly naive and pure of heart Agnes, who after their family faces some economical problems decides to start working as a governess to help support her family financially as well as gain some form of independence. It was not a good idea. Although it’s easy enough to understand her motives for getting out of her family house to try her own wings, leave the nest, see what she can do and all that – it doesn’t quite go the way she had anticipated. The first family she workAgnes_Greys for have horrendous children, one worse than the other. Their parents are impossible, according to Agnes – demanding her have full control of the children without using force (basically any violence in making them do things) nor is she allowed to really deprive them of anything (as threats, to make them do things against their will). That is really unfair, thinks Agnes. Well, it goes to hell with her first job and the family finally decides she has done no progress with their kids and lets her go. Disappointed with her failure, Agnes decides to try again – to be able to hold her head up, and to save her pride. She finally gets a new position, which in truth isn’t that different from the first except the children are older, they end up being fewer (the sons of the house are sent off to school soon after her addition there), and while no one in this house is exactly pleasant to her or understanding in any meaningful way, they are also not as hostile as the previous family were.

That’s about as far as I have gotten into the book, so I can’t say where Agnes finally ends up. One thing that becomes obvious early on as a modern reader is that the discipline of children is seen, through Agnes, to be requiring violence, threat of violence, or threat of deprivation of some sort. The parents themselves use these methods when they have to, mostly it is expressed through our heroine since she is the one given responsibility for the children and the control of them. The idea of discipline and guidance to children through these means is also reflected in the way the characters behave towards animals, only worse. While this way of gaining authority over individuals is less obvious in childcare of the 21st century, you can definitely see remnants of it in the care for dogs and other animals still. Is it just me who sees childcare as a big part of the 19th century illu_217.jpgnovels? A book I read just a few weeks ago, The Scarlet Letter, similarly had interesting constructions of childhood, childcare, and especially in relation to a ‘broken’ home/marriage; the consequences an unstable home situation has on a child. While The Scarlet Letter more indirectly deals with childcare and childhood – in the way the character, Pearl, is written; Agnes Grey clearly focuses on children, childhood, the disciplining and schooling of them as well as the ideal familial situation.Who knows what the remaining 150 pages will bring, but I don’t expect I will feel much fondness for any of the characters under 18 years old. Actually under twenty. Or any of the characters quite possibly, since I’m not sold on either Agnes herself as some pure and well bred Christian girl who only does what’s right, or the parents of the children who can’t be bothered to fix any of the less than charming characteristics in their children but still expect them to excel in society.

29467289The other book I am currently reading is the first of my nonfiction titles about the Victorian era. It’s none other than Therese O’Neill’s Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady’s Guide to Sex, Marriage, and Manner. So far it has been most strongly focused on body related issues. Of all kinds truly, everything from toilets (and more!), how to hide your wrinkles or fix your saggy breast, body image, clothing of the body, etc. I suppose one of the common threads through this book is the horrifying things people did to look ‘beautiful’ or passable in the era, or the horrifyingly dirty reality of the Victorian era, and don’t get me started on the lack of understanding and knowledge of some of the common poisons of the time (and their long-term effects) either. Lead on the face, no problem. Cocaine for weight loss, sure. Actually I’m not going to go into details, it’s a bit stomach turning to read but if you’re interested – pick up the book!

This would probably be a much harder to book to read if O’Neill weren’t such a humorous writer. It’s clear she is here to entertain first and foremost, while at the same time being helpful in guiding you through some of the more significant (dirty) sides of the era. Educational and funny, who thought it could be possible? Of course it’s not the only book of its kind, but it’s one of the fewer in my experience that doesn’t lose out on its educational content for the sake of jokes. You’ll never read a Victorian novel the same way again, trust me. It’s already shaping my reading of Agnes Grey. Being almost halfway into Unmentionable I’ll say that while her humorous writing style can sometimes be a touch on the too-much, and I am never not cringing or wincing when I read this book, because of horrendous Victorian practices and habits, it’s also been a delight and enlightening in more ways than I thought I would ever need or want.


That’s all for round 1 of my #Victober reading.

Are you participating in Victober 2017? What are you reading? Do you have some favorite Victorian novels or nonfiction books about the Victorian era? Or do you perhaps have a favorite historical fiction book set in the Victorian period with a modern take? I’d love to hear all about it.

Until next time, Happy Reading!

Natalie

When the Stars Align • Connections Between Books

A little while ago I made a post talking about some of the books I hoped to get to during the summer months. A few weeks I think has passed since then, and I have noticed something funny in that list. It’s not something I had consciously thought of, making the list, but there are connections between the books I had added on the list. What sort of connections? you might ask. It’s not that the books are in the same genre, written by the same author, published in the same year, nothing that obvious; otherwise it wouldn’t have taken me such a long time to realize it was there at all. Instead there are red threads bounding the books, parallels, a network of ideas and voices.

To go from the abstract to the concrete, let’s take the Tove Jansson biography (Tove Jansson: Work and Love by Tuula Karjalainen) to start. The book that connects to her on the summer TBR list is Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark. Now, the fact that Lewis Carroll was one of the influences for Jansson’s work was something I just recently found out, although I can definitely understand it having heard about it. The nonsense approach of Carroll I think would appeal to the creator of Moomins were the finesse of many other children’s stories is completely lacking, one of the charms I think of the stories and their characters. The connection is stronger however in that Tove Jansson actually illustrated two of Carroll’s books; one of them is Alice in Wonderland, which I knew about, but the other is none other than The Hunting of the Snark. I had never actually heard of this particular Carroll book before reading The Emperor of all Maladies by Siddharta Mukherjee so I don’t feel it’s one of his more known works, rather Alice and some of the poetry seems to be what people usually think of when they hear the name Lewis Carroll. But there you go – a completely unintentional connection in the same list.

I don’t normally do TBRs so the example above is unusual in that respect. But the feeling of reading a book that connects to another book you’ve just read, or even speaking of a topic you’ve just learned about, is such an all-stars-align moment and I find it is one of my favorite moments as a reader. It feels like I’m spinning my own spider web, further and further, connecting dots, and it’s somehow an enriching experience. Sometimes it’s not as unintentional or surprising as that, I have come to actively follow such paths or listen to the whispers of hidden trails more recently. Recently I read a book called Not that it matters by Alan Alexander Milne; it’s a collection of articles or as he himself puts it – essays – published between 1910 and 1912. In one of the essays he writes about a book he goes to lengths to recommend to everyone he can, it just happens to be The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame. He talks of this book fondly, and with much praise. Again, this is one of the books on my summer TBR list – and while there’s an obvious connection between E. H. Shepard and A. A. Milne I had no idea there was a connection between A. A. Milne and Kenneth Grahame when I put the book on the summer list. E. H. Shepard who is well known for his Winnie the Pooh illustrations also did the illustrations for one of the most beloved editions of The Wind in the Willows. The edition of The Wind in the Willows illustrated by E. H. Shepard apparently came out in 1931 for the first time.

In other words, the essay in which Milne praises the book was published long before the Shepard edition came out. So, what can be concluded from this? Obviously it’s all guesswork here, but in my mind there seems to be a possibility that Milne talked fondly of The Wind in the Willows to his companion of the Pooh stories, Shepard, whom he would’ve worked with closely only a few years before 1931. Maybe Shepard already knew of the book, maybe his interest was peaked through Milne. Either way, there’s a connection there whether it was as clear and causal as my guess or not. One could probably find out about such information through a search on the internet, but isn’t this way more fun? To see sudden connected dots and guess the rest, fill in the blanks with theories.

It’s the little things that makes life fun after all, and when the stars align – whether they do of their own accord or by my intervention – I am just so happy to be a reader.

Natural History | Three is a magic number

Since I’ve gotten more into nonfiction over the last few weeks (or months) and have been reading a few interesting natural history nonfiction books in particular, I wanted to recommend a few specific titles that I think would appeal to a few different kinds of readers.


For the reader who is looking first and foremost to be entertained:
Rats by Robert Sullivan

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This book is sort of a mishmash of natural history, history of New York City and urban life in the modern world. Robert Sullivan spends a year observing one alley in NYC, in particular studying the alley’s rat population. He talks with rat experts of all kinds from pet control/exterminators to researchers to people working in restaurants and landlords, trying to capture this smart and ever present species in about 270 pages. It’s written in a chatty style, kind of like an essay collection by a comedian or internet celeb. Therefor I think it would appeal to people who aren’t necessarily reading a lot of nonfiction, or haven’t done so in the past; Sullivan definitely makes an effort to entertain – while also giving the reader something to nibble on (yes, I used nibble on purpose!).


For the reader who is into history/science but less familiar with natural history:
Rainbow Dust by Peter Marren

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Rainbow Dust is just one of many books on butterflies, but while it certainly classifies as a natural history it is also very much a history of scientific research, the connection between butterfly collecting and science, the study of evolution, and the many men and women who have done work within the entomological field. Marren spends a great deal of time going back to yesteryear, talking of both collecting and illustrating of butterflies, of their place in history, and of the remnants left through time. Especially because the collecting of butterflies is a practice linked with its time (and is no longer as common as it once was), large parts of this book could be said to be more focused on history than (contemporary) nature. If you are interested in either science or history, or both, and want to broaden your horizons to natural history – this book might be something for you.


For the reader who wants a solid, passionate natural history:
Foxes Unearthed by Lucy Jones

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It probably doesn’t come as a total surprise to see this book here if you know me, it’s my favorite piece of nonfiction I’ve read this year. Foxes Unearthed is a study of human’s relationship with foxes, specifically in Britain although things could apply to other countries as well. Lucy Jones goes through several aspects of this relationship, as well as observing the foxes on their own – and it’s hard not to fall a little bit in love with the species after reading this book. While Jones talks of things like hunting and animal ‘control’, that are clearly loaded subjects, she takes pains to keep the book balanced and give voice to all sides of the fences. You don’t have to be interested in natural history to enjoy this book in my opinion, it might even turn you into a natural history reader – it’s just that good. One thing I feel this book has going for it over the other two titles is that Jones is also a pretty good prose writer. It helps – especially with a subject this interesting, it makes the book even sharper. If you’re interested in natural history, British nature, or human’s interaction with predators like foxes, or if you’re just on the market for a solid nonfiction title – this is definitely a book worth checking out.


That was all that I had to share today. I hope this might be helpful to someone out there, and that it might create an interest for natural history in books as it has done for me. If you’ve read any of these or have any other natural history recommendations, you’re very welcome to share in the comments.

Happy Reading,

Natalie

Summer Reading: 10 Books of Summer

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While it might be a little late to write this now, the summer technically starts the 21th of June in the Northern Hemisphere so really I am only a few days late.  Today I’m bringing you my Summer TBR, tbr standing for to-be-read although it’s a little more tentative than set in stone. I’m joining in on the 20 Books in Summer challenge hosted by Cathy of 746 Books but I ended up having an odd number, so while I’m using the number of 10 for the challenge – I’m really listing 11 here. I suppose I can see it as options? Or me being typically rebellious to rules? Anyway, here are the books I’m hoping to read during the summer weeks.

  1. Strange Heart Beating – Eli Goldstone
  2. No School To-Morrow – Margaret Ashmun
  3. The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame
  4. The Hunting of the Snark – Lewis Carroll
  5. Fever dream – Samantha Schweblin
  6. Behind Bars – Ty Wenzel
  7. Corvus – Esther Woolfson
  8. Lost Animals – Errol Fuller
  9. The Oxford Illustrated History of English Literature – ed. by Pat Rogers
  10. Tove Jansson: Work and Love – Tuula Karjalainen
  11. A Woman in Arabia – Gertrude Bell

 

That’s all for now, happy summer reading!

Natalie