A New Home for Old Books

Starting next week, I shall be working out of town Monday to Friday, and I suspect that my Saturdays will be divided between my mother’s nursing home, my two libraries and doggy time. That’s not going to leave me much time for trawling through charity shops and second-hand bookshops for lost gems, so it was particularly lovely to find two caches of bookish treasure today.

The first was a short line of green Penguins.


I spotted Murder Included by Joanna Cannan first, instantly registering the name of a Persephone author. Murder at a family run country house hotel and stables sounded a fine prospect.

Then I noticed two titles by J C Masterman: An Oxford Tragedy and The Case of Four Friends. Two murder mysteries set in Oxford colleges, and  notice that Karen thought very highly of the one she read.

And the last one I picked up was The Follower by Patrick Quentin, the story of one man’s search for his missing wife. It’s a collaboration between two authors, and that’s something that always intrigued me.

I also spotted The Haunted House by Virginia Woolf, a 1944 collection of short stories. It was 1970s edition, not numbered bit very pretty, and when I realised I had none of Mrs Woolf’s short stories on my shelves I had to bring it home.

I left a few books behind; one that I already had and a couple by crime writers still in print. Much as I like early Penguins I’m not really collecting them, I’m just picking up the out of print titles and authors that look interesting. Though I would like to arrange my numbered Penguins in numerical order one day …

I noticed with these four that the title on the spine read from bottom to top on the earlier numbers and from top to bottom on the later numbers. When did that change I wonder?

Those finds alone would have made my day, but I found more. There was a table-top sale in another charity shop. somebody had left a large collection of poetry, literary criticism, and sprinkling of good quality fiction and non fiction from the early to mid 20th century. All at £1 per book! So of course I had a very thorough look, and I picked up a few more books to bring home.


I hadn’t heard of Beatrice Chase or of her novel Lady Avis Trewithen, but I picked the book up because it sounded like a local name. The subtitle ‘A Romance of Dartmoor’, a signature from the author, and a nicely written first page said to me that it was worth taking a chance.

Then there was The Indomitable Mrs Trollope by Eileen Biglund. I’ve been meaning to find out a little about Fanny Trollope (mother of Anthony) for ages and this looks lovely. It’s a biography, but it reads like fiction. And it’s a Tauchnitz Edition. Tauchnitz is a name with a wonderful history in publishing, and had authors including Elizabeth Goudge, Daphne Du Maurier, Elizabeth Taylor, and Margery Sharp in the same series. Which has to be a good sign, doesn’t it?!

Then there were a couple of blue Penguins. Edward Lear by Angus Davidson, because I realised I knew nothing of the man beyond his verse, and the chapter headings suggest that he travelled widely and mixed in some very interesting literary and artistic circles. And I had to pick up As We Were by E F Benson too.

A pretty hardback edition of Rhoda Fleming by George Meredith came home, because I have heard much praise for the author but I had never heard of this book.

And I pounced on Orphan Island by Rose Macaulay. It’s the story of a governess shipwrecked with a boat-load of orphans, and of their descendants who are found by travellers seven years later, and I’m anticipating a fine story, much humour, and quite probably some satire too.

My last pick was a biography of Wilkie Collins by Kenneth Robinson. I’ve never found a good biography of Collins, though I must admit I haven’t looked that hard.  This one dates from the early fifties, it once belonged to the library of Kings College London, and it looks solid, though maybe not spectacular.

And that was it. All old, most out of print, but those are the books that I tend to buy. The ones that probably won’t be in the library, and that I may not see again.

Usually they turn up her and there in ones and twos. Days like this are rare.

Do you know any of these books I wonder?

Just one more thing That I must mention: there was a side-effect to this burst of book buying. It confirmed my feeling that I want to rein in my library borrowing and read more of my own books. And I know now how I’m going to do it. But this post is probably long enough already, so I shall set out my plan on a day or two …

21 responses

  1. I don’t know any of your lovely new books – but there is something so attractive about the green Penguins isn’t there.

    • There is. There were so many great crime writers around in that period as well as the famous few, so I always pick up a Green Penguin I don’t know and a lot of them have found their way home.

  2. I think that the change in the direction of the wording on the Penguins spines must have occurred during 1957. It occurs at exactly the same point in the series that the Abram Games-commissioned coloured covers begin, and they have both the reversed direction of wording, and the book number printed near the top.

  3. As We Were by E.F. Benson is the first of 3 books which he wrote about his family (2nd = As We Are; 3rd = Final Edition). I think you’ll really enjoy it. What an excellent haul!

    • I was very lucky. The first shop usually only has current populr fiction, and I only looked in while I was waiting for my fiance to emerger from the post office next door. And the second was an exceptional collection of books.

  4. I was already envying you the Bensons before I read Tui’s comment,and now it’s doubled. I bought George Meredith’s The Egoist at a library sale last year – knowing almost nothing about him, except that he was writing in the 19th century – and I still don’t know much more.

    • I don’t know much about Meredith, but I have his Diana of the Crossways in a VMC edition and I recall characters reading him in a Frances Brett Young novel, so my hopes are high.

    • There are some great, lesser known authors in green Penguins. I know one or two specalist presses have reissued a few of them, but they tend to be print on demand and I fear I’d spend too much if I looked to carefully at what’s out there.

  5. What a glorious collection! I did try Beatrice Chase at one time, and didn’t get very far, it felt a little too “Precious Bane” for me but if you find you love her maybe I’ll give her another go.
    Happy new year!

  6. I have a different biography of Fanny Trollope but it’s interesting to know there’s another out there! The spine titles changed (I think) when we started shipping more books in and out of America rather than Europe. American titles ran the opposite way to European ones and we basically switched to stop confusing US booksellers. Or at least that’s what I remember being told years ago. 🙂

    • This Fanny Trollope book dates from the thirties, and I’m not sure how comprehensive it is, but it does look readable.

      That makes sense on the spine thing – thank you!

  7. I love Virginia Woolf’s short stories – well, I love everything she does, but she does bring a lovely touch to the short story.

    I love your reasoning with the Trollope book – I agree! If those great authors are in the series, how could you go wrong?

    And Orphan Island – very jealous of you finding that so cheaply. I started it once, but didn’t get very far before I had to return it to the library. Rose Macaulay is quite variable in quality, I find, so fingers crossed it’s one of her great books (and at her best, she is fantastic!)

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