Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Lure of British Books

The Lure of British Books

Barring one rather over-enthusiastic pat down at Boston’s Logan airport last year, I have never had an incident going through the security line before flying.  I take off my shoes.  I open my laptop. I make certain not to wear any jewelry that will anger the bells and whistles and, usually, everything is fine.  But leaving Heathrow a couple of weeks ago proved a mark on my previously unblemished record.  The problem?  Books.  My suitcase, which I always carry on to avoid those irritating lines at baggage claim, was incredibly heavier than it looked.  The security fellow lifted it up and his expression changed from helpful to suspicious in a twinkling.
“It’s books”, I admitted, feeling unpleasantly conspicuous.
“Really?  A walking book mobile, are you?”, he replied, narrowing his eyes.
  In an instant I was being moved to one side where I watched in abject horror as he opened my case and began the hideous process of going through every item inside. Incredibly relieved that I’d patronized bookshops instead of Agent Provoctateur, I stared as he lifted the contents of my case up in the air, one by one, till he reached the double layer of hardbacks, neatly arranged beneath the pajamas and pashminas.  He looked up in amazement and I swallowed a strong urge to say I told you so.  He opened each book, rifling the pages.  People were staring.  The Songwriter was shaking his head.  An elderly lady standing next to me exploded in outrage on my behalf shouting, “Look at her!  Do you honestly think this is necessary?  Fascism!  That’s what this is!  Fascism!”  I smiled weakly and quickly sidled away from her so as not to make matters worse for myself by association.
But really, what is one to do?  Is there any city in the whole of the world with more enticing bookshops than London?  John Sandoe’s.  Hatchard’sDauntPersephone.  Not to mention the literary treasures to be found in every single National Trust Gift Shop and art gallery in the land.  For anyone to expect a reader to leave Heathrow airport after ten days in the UK without books in their suitcase is ludicrous.  Of course, I did have fifteen in there.  But, well... you know.
Here are some of my recent finds.
 Resist them if you can.
(Just click on the photos to see more.)

Plus, from the wonderland known as Persephone Books,
I picked up this one and couldn't say no to this one.
Or this one.
Or this one.  Or this.

Caught in the act in Kent.


  1. I can barely hold myself back from being most un-ladylike and drooling. Did you really need those PJ's? There would have been space for at least another slim volume. Our copy of The Little White Horse is falling apart and it was replaced only 20 years ago for the grandchildren?? Hmm . . .
    I rather like rummaging around in the Cambridge book shops as well.
    I do feel for you being singled out like that by a pompous illiterate.

  2. i am chartreuse with not really, my life is so full of books I can no longer read (until the cataract removal is affordable) that I do not need one more gorgeous text. That doesn't stop me though in the local thrifts when something wonderful is only a dollar! As to your scrutinizing (and rude-what's with the comment?) security checker, well, if there can be shoe bombs, there can be book bombs, and many an illicit drug has been found in hollowed out tests being carried by the least suspicious persons. What a world we inhabit...oh my. Well, happy for you that your Summer is now mapped out reading wise. Worth the inconvenience I'd say.

  3. oh oh oh! Pamela!
    i want every one of them.
    i have book envy!
    and our tastes are as one!
    thank you. i will find a way to get a copy of them. and alas...
    i won't be bringing them back from my beloved england. the most exciting part will be taking them from the hands of a ups driver. but still... what treasure awaits!
    love. xo

  4. Great book selections, particularly All Passion Spent and Portrait of a Marriage, which I have already read. What I really want to own is some of the art books about Charleston. Afraid I could spend weeks in the book shops of London. Next time, box up the nighties and ship them home; then you can fill up your entire luggage with books! :-)

  5. I should have guessed that you were a Vita Sackville West fan Pamela - I adore her books too (and her garden)

  6. Yes, I can see the allure of several of those books! I did much the same with my Aunt Rita's costume jewellery collection that she left me (and a fair amount not costume). It didn't somehow trigger customs, but I did find myself re-distributing swag to my three male travel companions, all shaking their heads at me. One does what one must...

  7. AAhhhh I want to read a few of those, starting with the Nicky Haslam. It's terrible that they weigh your hand luggage now; mine used to be full of books and wine. And on return from Italy once I got the same treatment; "flour" I said, as they inspected my bag to find...Italian 00 flour. Wasn't it great though once you are home with all those fantastic books!!

  8. Oh, I couldn't agree with you more! I trip to Britain has to involve some serious book shopping. I love that British editions of books always seem to have such lovely dust jackets. The one for All Passion Spent is so much better than the American edition I own. So glad you had a good trip!

  9. Mary Lou in Central NYJune 17, 2013 at 3:44 PM

    Yep, you can't trust a traveler with books. They're always the ones. Profiling if I ever saw it!

    Thank you for some wonderful book ideas!

  10. Every one of these books would be welcome on my shelves. I love the cover of the At Home with Daphne du Maurier book.
    Books are irresistible souvenirs.

  11. I can just imagine this scene at Heathrow Pamela... I love that you were lugging back a caseload of books... and I thought I was the only one who amused the security people!
    Should see my carry on from France back to London! xv

  12. My very first design book purchase was from the Westminster Abbey store - a book on classic British design by Henrietta Spencer Churchill.

    I was not aware of these bookstores, I will need to visit them on my next trip to London!


  13. I laughed at the young man accusing you of being "A Book Mobile" how witty. I think he must have found you fascinating and used the excuse to search your bag to retain you in his sight. Were you wearing that beautiful green coat?

    Helen xx

  14. Joanna Lumley AND Vita Sackville-West!!!! What a wonderful collection you have here, Pamela.
    How are you going to choose which one first, or will you read bits and pieces all at once?

  15. Of course you had to have every single one of those wonderful books!
    So glad you discovered the wonderful Persephone shop.
    Did you know you can send for every single one of them to be shipped to you ALL AT ONCE!
    Imagine the bliss of it.
    Horrid, horrid customs people are so unimaginative.

  16. Hi Pamela - and thanks for sharing the beautiful photo of our Queen, as a girl, reading in that lovely silk embroidered chair!

    Yes, books from England are hard to resist - I always bring back several packed away in checked bags, and then, when through dratted security at Heathrow, start over again gathering paperbacks at W.H.Smith - for some reason the covers are always amazing and the stories not always available over here until much later.

    I was thrilled to read about your visit - sounds like you and the Songwriter had a wonderful time. Love the green coat BTW - and that must be Sissinghurst in the background!

    Where are you off to next time? I'll come along and carry your fabulous books, haha!

    Thanks for stopping by to read of my latest adventure - lots more to share - I think you'll enjoy what I saw in those amazing remote places.
    Hugs - Mary

  17. Pamela,

    My husband and I bring the barest essentials each time we travel to Europe, in addition to the numerous books and periodicals, we are laden like pack mules with mustards, olive oils, spices and chocolate chaud.

    I am looking forward to hearing more bout your beautiful new treasures.

  18. Dear Pamela I adore any woman who still buys wonderful books, when so many Like myself who has a ton in books, also reads from Kindle.

    You have a story to retell many times of your Airport adventure!

    Art by Karena
    NOVICA Giveaway

  19. Your collection of books is so tempting. I love books about the Bloomsbury group.

  20. ... trying to recompose myself after an impromptu session of green-coat-envy. sigh.

    I'd say it was all worth the bother (you probably think so, too?) for that is one incredible stash of reads you have there! How fun to have an intrusive travel tale to round out your story of acquisition. Must dash now, as I want to click on your other links - can't wait to find out what treasures you'll lead me to! Many thanks for this lovely post.


  21. I might be late for the party but Heathrow has a reputation of sorts. My experience from Heathrow is from early 90´s. I had a bag full of cherry cola ( we didn´t have cherry cola in Finland back in the days! ) and I was taken in for questioning for hours. I was then escorted ( after they found nothing on my luggage nor and my stories proved true) to first class after it had been cleared out- naturally people who actually paid for 1st class tickets were not pleased, since they were asked to take a seat in coach. I was travelling then with my then- boyfriend ( half- Brit ) and his half- Brit niece. The plane was checked by men in black sweaters ( literally, it was like from some sordid movie going on and I nearly questioned my sanity at that point. However, I still drink my cherry colas). For the entire time we sat in 1st class and staff, while wearing black leather gloves, were lined up on the other side of plane. One of them was close to tears and was physically shaking, sweat was dribbling down her face. I asked if she was fine and I was told not to approach her. We got back on land after this... most curious flight and in the late night news I found out that a terrorist group had made a bomb- threat to Heathrow airport, to our flight, and apparently they connected the dots and decided that I was a pearl- wearing hooligan.
    Next day I went to work, fuming and gave my passport picture to my boss ( his brother worked on airport security, on customs ) and next day I learned that it is us mutts with 37548564 races that get usually picked up. I know I don´t look Finnish but this was somewhat thick.

    Other than that, I do have an acute case of book envy. Congratulations on such fine choices.

  22. Pam, what a funny story.
    I love Du Maurier, Never read Don't look now. I never knew about Birds.
    The Bloomsbury and Fairy books sound great. You look great in the green coat. Hope the flight went well.

  23. Great post...great books..(.and I hate flying...)

  24. I'd like one of each please.

  25. We are quite alike! I restricted myself to only 3 new books from my friend's bookstore only because I was traveling with only a carry on bag. I love that picture of you reading in Kent.

  26. Why? Why did you discovered Persephone to me? Sigh, sigh and sigh.


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