Travelling by Book to Paris, Meeting Fascinating People, Finding a Terribly Strange Bed, and then Moving On …

I have been visiting the twenties:

I am delighting in reading Flappers by Judith Mackrell. I have met Diana Cooper, Nancy Cunard, Tallulah Bankhead, Tamara de Lempicka, Zelda Fitzgerald, and Josephine Baker. Six fascinating women who between them spent many year in, and made a huge impact on, the City of Paris.

The only sad thing is that one book isn’t nearly enough space to tell me all I want to know about their lives, and so I’ll be searching out more books. I have the first volume of Diana Cooper’s autobiography, I have Laura Claridge’s biography of Tamara de Lempicka, and I have a library catalogue to search.

But before any of that I will be meeting Zelda and Scott again, because Careless People: Murder, Mayhem and the Invention of The Great Gatsby by Sarah Churchwell.

And I’ve been reminded of others I must read more about who crossed their paths. Natalie and Romaine: The Lives and Loves of Natalie Barney and Romaine Brooks by Diana Souhami is already on my bedside table.


And I have been back to the previous century:

When I noticed that Wilkie Collins had set a story in Paris I set my heart on tracking down a copy of A Terribly Strange Bed. It wasn’t at all difficult to find, you can find the full text here, and my only disappointment was that it was a short story rather than the novella I had been led to expect.

I met a young man with a tale to tell. He was in Paris with a friend, and they set out to one evening in search of excitement.

“For Heaven’s sake,” said I to my friend, “let us go somewhere where we can see a little genuine, blackguard, poverty-stricken gaming with no false gingerbread glitter thrown over it all. Let us get away from fashionable Frascati’s, to a house where they don’t mind letting in a man with a ragged coat, or a man with no coat, ragged or otherwise.” “Very well,” said my friend, “we needn’t go out of the Palais Royal to find the sort of company you want. Here’s the place just before us; as blackguard a place, by all report, as you could possibly wish to see.”

Our young man won. And then he won again. And again. His friend suggested that he had won enough, that they should move on, but he wouldn’t listen. He was, in his own words ‘ gambling drunk.’

He broke the bank, and then he celebrated until he really was drunk.

It was fortunate that there was a good man, and old soldier, present to offer wise counsel.

“Listen, my dear sir,” said he, in mysteriously confidential tones–“listen to an old soldier’s advice. I have been to the mistress of the house (a very charming woman, with a genius for cookery!) to impress on her the necessity of making us some particularly strong and good coffee. You must drink this coffee in order to get rid of your little amiable exaltation of spirits before you think of going home–you must, my good and gracious friend! With all that money to take home to-night, it is a sacred duty to yourself to have your wits about you. You are known to be a winner to an enormous extent by several gentlemen present to-night, who, in a certain point of view, are very worthy and excellent fellows; but they are mortal men, my dear sir, and they have their amiable weaknesses. Need I say more? Ah, no, no! you understand me! Now, this is what you must do–send for a cabriolet when you feel quite well again–draw up all the windows when you get into it–and tell the driver to take you home only through the large and well-lighted thoroughfares. Do this; and you and your money will be safe. Do this; and to-morrow you will thank an old soldier for giving you a word of honest advice.”

He took his advice, but he found himself in a terribly strange bed and terribly strange things began to happen ….

I shall say no more.

It’s a simple story, the way it unfolds is not entirely surprising, but it’s told very effectively by a masterful storyteller.

And it left me wanted to read something else from the nineteenth century. And so I’ve just begun to read Père Goriot by Honoré de Balzac, and after just a few pages I was hooked.

So my Paris in July is going rather well …

Library Loot

A couple of years ago I worked within walking distance of home, and my route took me past the library in opening hours. that meant that I could pop in any day of the week, to return books, to pick up reservations, to check for new arrivals …

Now though I drive to work and with earlier closing times I can only get to the library on Saturdays.

Which is not to say that between reservations and books found on the shelves that my ticket isn’t stretched.

This week four books came home:


I spotted an NYRB Classics edition of Stoner by John Williams a few years ago, I read some very positive reports, and I added it to my wishlist. A few weeks ago I noticed that there was a UK edition too – published by Vintage. I checked the library catalogue and I found that there was one copy, further up the county. I placed an order, and it’s going to fill one of the vavant slots in my century of books.

I’ve been meaning to read more about suffragettes ever since I read No Surrender by Constance Maud, and I think that March Women March by Lucinda Hawksley might be exactly the book I wanted. A broad history of the women’s movement in the UK from 1792 to 1928, full of extracts from letters and diaries.

I’ve been looking out for Lesley Thomson‘s first book, but her second book turned up first.  The Detective’s Daughter is a mystery, and with comparisons drawn with both Kate Atkinson and Ian Rankin it looks very, very promising.

And then there’s Flappers by Judith Mackrell. I’ve been stalking this one – a collective biography of six fascinating women: Diana Cooper, Nancy Cunard, Tallulah Bankhead, Zelda Fitzgerald, Josephine Baker and Tamara de Lempicka – and I was ready to place an order the very moment it was added to stock.

An excellent return on just one visit …

What did you find in the library this week?

Ten Library Books and Ten Very Good Reasons for Placing a Reservation.

A few weeks ago I ditched the idea of restricting library reservations and changed my project into one to celebrate the magic of library reservations.

The Library Reservations Project1

There are so many things that can spark a search, and it’s wonderful what you can find, in reserve stock or in other libraries, just by running a simple search.

So here’s a list of ten books – a couple that have come home, a couple that are waiting at the library, a few that I have on order and a few more that I plan to order very soon.

What Not by Rose Macaulay

‘The Love-Charm of Bombs’ made me want to read more of Rose Macaulay’s books. Most of all I wanted to read ‘What Not’ –  a book she wrote during the Great War, inspired by her work at the Ministry of Information and her new love affair with Gerald O’Donovan. That relationship would continue until his death, in 1942. The book is out of print and I’ve never come across a copy, but I found one in the library’s fiction reserve.

Nancy: The Story of Lady Astor by Adrian Fort

When this appeared as a group read for the GoodReads Bright Young Things I realised that I new very little about Nancy Astor. Save that she was American, that she was the first woman MP to take her seat, and that her constituency was in Plymouth. I’m curious but I can’t justify buying a book only available in hardback that I’ll probably read only once. The library has a few copies scattered around the county, so I placed an order.

Yew Hall by Lucy M Boston

A mention of Lucy M Boston’s memoirs in the comments that followed Hayley’s lovely post  about Rumer Godden’s ‘A Fugue in Time’ sent me scurrying to the library catalogue. The book was there. And I spotted Lucy M Boston’s first novel, a story of a house with a long history, written for ‘new adults’ and thought it might sit well on the 1954 slot in my Century of Books.

Jambusters: The Story of the Women’s Institute in the Second World War by Julie Summers

One book caught my eye in the window of The End of the World Bookshop with Briar one evening last week. It wasn’t in the library catalogue when I looked for it later that evening, but I put it on to my ‘please add it to stock’ list and a few days later it appeared.

At this point I must say that I do visit bookshops in opening hours and I do buy new books, but I lack both the budget for hardbacks and the patience to wait for more affordable paperback editions.

The Carrier by Sophie Hannah

This is a simple case of knowing a ‘must read’ author had a new book coming out, watching for it to come into stock and then getting my order in. I’ll probably add a copy to my collection when out in paperback but I couldn’t wait that long and I could see copies going on to library shelves up and down the county ….

Carnival by Compton Mackenzie

I’d never thought to find out what Compton Mackenzie had written beyond
Whisky Galore, Monarch of the Glen, and diaries. But Hayley’s post about The Adventures of Sylvia Scarlett intrigued me. Now I’ve looked I’ve found a far more interesting author than I’d ever  realised, and I’ve ordered Carnival, from 1912, a story of theatrical folk with a Cornish connection to fill a gap in my Century of Books.

Underground, Overground: A Passenger’s History of the Tube by Andrew Martin

Last year’s new edition of ‘Poems from the Undergound’ made me nostalgic for my commuting days and so when I spotted Karen buying this book I added it to my wishlist. And when she mentioned a reference to Dorothy Whipple I placed my order.

The Lovely Ship by Storm Jameson

When I saw mention of a trilogy by Storm Jameson in ‘We Write as Women,’ I thought it would be ‘The Mirror in Darkness’ trilogy that I read years ago. But it wasn’t, it was another trilogy telling the story, beginning in the 1840s, of a woman who was heir to a great shipbuilding company. I was intrigued, the first book came from a year still to be filled in my century of books, and so I placed an order.

Bloomsbury Ballerina: Lydia Lopokova, Imperial Dancer and Mrs John Maynard Keynes by Judith Mackrell

I spotted ‘Flappers’ when Cate pinned the oh so striking cover, and I immediately went to add it to my wishlist. It was then that I spotted and other intriguing title by Judith Mackrell. I’d already bought two books that day and I couldn’t justify another so I checked the library catalogue. There are two copies further up the county.

Summer Visits by Margery Sharp

If only somebody would reissue Margery Sharp’s novels I would rush out and buy them all. But as nobody has – yet – I pick up used copies where I can and I order others that the library has and I haven’t found when the mood strikes. ‘Summer Visits’ sounded so appealing on a cool, grey day …

And that’s ten!