Wednesday, January 24, 2018

A Dream Comes True, With Books

A Dream Comes True, With Books

Some experiences, even - or perhaps most especially - ones long-awaited and anticipated, fail to live up to expectation.  For instance, I once had a friend whose parents, like a lot of older people it seems, longed to see the Grand Canyon before, as they put it, “it got too late”.  New York Italians, they were demonstrative in their enthusiasm for this trip, renting a large motor home for the journey westward and setting out with maps on their laps.
I myself have never traveled cross county by car, much less by motor home, but I have a sneaking suspicion that after the third or fourth roadside food establishment, or perhaps after the first or second night without a hot bath, the charm of the road might just become a bit frayed around the edges for me.  Perhaps that’s what happened to my friend’s mother for when they finally pulled up beside all the grandeur that is indeed the Grand Canyon, her husband hopped out and stood before it, entranced and amazed, only to find she’d remained in the motor home.  
“Come see, Sophia!”, he cried.
“I can see it from here,  Joe”, she snapped.
She didn’t get out of the car.  

I learned to read early,  along about the time I learned to appreciate the magic that is Christmas.  The first books I read were British.  Mary Poppins, Wind in the Willows, Peter Rabbit.  Soon came A Christmas Carol and in my heart Christmas became forever intertwined with London and snow, books and stories.  Christmas shopping in London was a fantasy I often indulged.  Making my way beneath the twinkling lights of tiny circuitous streets with the fragrance of hot chocolate and roasting chestnuts hanging in the air, snow collecting on the hood of my coat.  I could hear the old bells hanging on the door of each bookshop I entered, see the Christmas trees and wreaths glimmering amongst the brightly colored spines of all the books lining the shelves.  I could imagine myself having my selections wrapped up in brown paper and tied with ribbons.  Oh it was a delicious fantasy, far more potent for me than any trip to the Grand Canyon, grand though that may be. 

Well, in December, on rather the spur of the moment, The Songwriter and I decided to see if that fantasy could be realized.  Edward was always the one who pined for me whenever I went away; I could never leave him at Christmas.  However, Apple is happy as a clam with her friend who moves in whenever we move out, so this was the year to go.  And I am delighted to say that sometimes long-held fantasies can indeed become realities, even in a pretty messed-up world.

It was cold in London, the kind of cold one expects at Christmas, the kind of cold that promises snow.  There were Christmas trees everywhere, on every corner, in every window.  The air smelled like fir.  A mile of magnificent angels flew above Regent Street, resplendent creatures of light that made me stop in the sea of shoppers to stare up, utterly transfixed.  Every pub was warm and welcoming, every face wore a smile.  And yes, of course, it snowed.  Great fat flakes fell all the day we wandered the old city, icing a cake of pure joy.  We slept with smiles on our faces each night we were there. 

But of course, the best shops were the bookshops and I’m happy to say I went to as many as I could.  John Sandoe, Hatchard’s.  Heywood Hill, Daunt.  It was sublime.  Sometimes fantasy pales in the face of reality.  I can empirically say that London at Christmas, for me, far exceeded every dream I'd ever had.

Because I know my readers love books at least as much as I do, here are the ones I gathered up in London, as well as a couple of Christmas presents I received, and a few of the ones I’ve found since returning.  As always, click on the covers to find out more. 
 I do hope you enjoy browsing around.

(Also, on a side note…. I have been receiving notes and letters about my recent lack of postings.  I have the kindest readers in the world, by the way.  It’s true, I have been struggling a bit without Edward.  Losing him so suddenly, and in the midst of one of the most distressing periods in our history here, has been more difficult that I could have imagined.  But I’m learning that if you can’t “get over it”, you can at least get on with it.  I am writing.  I am hoping.  I am hoping for more hope.  And I am thankful for you all.)

1.  The Secret Life of the Owl
John Lewis-Stempel
This was a Christmas present from The Songwriter, 
squirreled away from John Sandoe Books whilst we were in London.
It’s a lovely book.

2.  Autumn
by Ali Smith
This was pushed into my hands by one
 of the knowledgeable people who work at John Sandoe's.
 It’s the first in what is to be a quartet of books.
  The latest, Winter, has just been released
 and it’s beside my bed now.

3.  Manhattan Beach
by Jennifer Egan
This is a big, engrossing tale, almost old-fashioned in scope and tone, with the most gorgeous prose you can imagine.  I was so gobsmacked by it that I immediately dove headfirst into every book by Ms. Egan that I could get my paws on.  Therefore, I can heartily recommend, in addition to Manhattan Beach, 

4.  The Diary of a Bookseller
by Shaun Bythell
The Songwriter managed to spirit this gem of a book away from Watermill Books,  a magical bookshop in Aberfeldy, Scotland that we were fortunate to visit when we were there in October.  
Really, he gives the best presents.

5.  The Crown
by Robert Lacey
This was a gift from a good friend, the same good friend who looks after Apple while we’re gone.  See why we never worry about her when we leave?  We know home watching The Crown.  
If you’re a fan of the show, and who isn’t, this is a must have.
  A bonus?  It’s chock full of marvelous photographs. 

6.  The Illustrated Letters of Virginia Woolf
Selected and Introduced by Frances Spalding
I found this on a table in the back of Hatchard’s 
on one of those above mentioned snowy days. 
My arms were laden with gifts for others, 
but this one was just for me.
Pure joy.

7.  A Note of Explanation: 
A Little Tale of Secrets and Enchantment
from Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House
by Vita Sackville-West
A previously unknown story by Sackville-West that was originally written in 1924 for the famous dollhouse of Queen Mary at Windsor Castle (which, incidentally, I visited for the first time this trip, on the very day of the Queen’s staff Christmas party no less.  Her Majesty was there, along with Harry and Meghan, but unfortunately neglected to come down and say hello.  Such is life. ) and remained there in its teeny-tiny form until last year when it was published in this beautifully illustrated volume.  I discovered it in the equally teeny-tiny splendor that is Benjamin Pollock’s Toy Shoppe in Covent Garden, one of my favourite shops on the planet.  Given its provenance, this book is every bit as wonderful as it should be.

8.  Christmas Pudding
by Nancy Mitford
During the Second World War, the novelist and famous sister, Nancy Mitford, worked at Heywood Hill Books, the tiny, well-curated bookshop in the Mayfair area of London.  With its mix of old, new and antiquarian books, the shop has lost none of its unique brand of charm, the same charm that earned it the reputation as one of the best bookshops in the old city.  As one would expect, Heywood Hill has a stellar collection of Mitford Books, and I could not resist this one.  And yes, they wrapped it up in brown paper and tied it with a ribbon.
Also, if you haven’t, do read these:

Wilmont, comfortably ensconced at The Draycott, 
with my treasures.


  1. Ah, there you are, dear Pamela! So good to have you back, and with a bounty of beautiful books to start the new year off on just the right reading note! Thank you!

  2. So happy you're back; made my day and the book suggestions are perfect - best wishes Laura

  3. A London Christmas is definitely on my bucket list. What a marvelous trip! And a wonderful collection of books. Books are my retreat in these difficult times.

  4. Hooray your back! I was thrilled to see a post when I checked this morning! Thank you for that delicious trip to London at Christmas...a lovely present for us all. I can't wait to go book shopping today armed with your new list! Happy New Year dear's to a better one than last!

  5. So many wonderful books! I can't wait to read them.

  6. I always squeal with delight when your book posts pop up. The added appeal of your holiday abroad only adds to charm. Welcome back and take care, Pamela.

  7. London Christmas sounds wonderful. I am always intrigued by your book lists. Thank you for sharing. I love dogs and after reading your books with Edward
    my heart hurts thinking about him. You have my sympathy for I know the pain is hard to bare. My Bailey has been gone over 2 years and my heart still aches.

  8. Thank you for the list of books. I think I'm in trouble...more books!

  9. A post for the heart! I take your recommendations very seriously and have a page in my diary set aside for 'Pamela's Books'! I think I shall be reading all of these .... I love the story of the Italian mama sitting in the car in the face of a magnificent view. My family and I were visiting a natural wonder one holiday in South Australia. It involved a clamber over rocks and a bit of a walk. I met a lady on my way back and she stopped me and asked 'is it worth seeing?' I have never forgotten that and have tried to apply it to my life .... anything worth 'seeing' takes effort! With that I'll say thank you again Pamela I am now trying to decide which one to read first.

  10. "Sometimes, fantasy pales in the face of reality" - oh my god - I love these sweet, sweet sentences you drop along...pearls of wisdom in a winding path for us to follow. Thank you.

  11. Oh, no! I'm so sorry to hear Edward has died. Losing a dog is like losing a family member. It is a comfort to see him remembered in your blog. The holiday trip must have helped too. England is magical at Christmas. We occasionally celebrate over there with my husband's family. Jennifer Egan came to Bowdoin College to talk about her book and all the work she did researching it. She speaks so well.

  12. How absolutely lovely to see this post! Your visit to London at Christmas seems a dream come true. And thank you, as always, for the wonderful book lists!

  13. So glad that London was kind to you at Christmas - cold and some snow. That makes it a very magical place. And friends have told me how wonderful the Regent Street lights have been. I love your choice of books, especially "the most gorgeous prose you can imagine". I find so many modern writers impoverished in their language, so this sounds special. Thank you.

  14. I love your book posts! A trip to London in December does sound like a delightful fantasy.

  15. How lovely to spend Christmas in London and to visit those book shops which are treasures that contain treasures. Your selection is delightful. I was sad to hear about handsome Edward, so went back to the post where you explained about his diagnosis and left a comment there too.

  16. lad you enjoyed that wintry trip. A friend bought me the owl book for Christmas - it is a delight and perfect for dipping into isn't it? Hope things are on the up for you now. The trouble with our darling dogs is that they have such short lives compared with ours so that we always have to end up mourning them. With the dogs I have lost I try to concentrate on the happy times we had together. Hard I know, but do remember you gave Edward the perfect life while he was here.

  17. What a lovely post. I grew up reading books by English (and Irish) authors and always thought of London as a magical place. When I and my husband first visited it years ago, I was just as captivated, and we hung out at book stores, too.
    Thanks for sharing all the wonderful titles above.

  18. The Secret Life of the Owl is unavailable in the US so my wonderful local indie bookstore was able to order it from UK for me. The author also wrote Meadowland which is very lovely nature writing, highly recommended and Pamela I think you featured Meadowland in one of your wonderful booklists.

    Thank you for writing again in your blog. My long-ago English Honors professor was fond of saying that "great writing is painful to read" - her meaning was that beautifully crafted writing always wrings the heart. As does yours. Always.

  19. What memories your post brings! Some 34 years ago my husband and I went to London at Thanksgiving. I too was transfixed by the angel lights on Regent Street! There were roasted chestnuts being sold on the street and it was cold but we didn't care. It was magical. And then we got to meet Penelope Leach after one of her plays in Soho. I was such a fan.

    And on another note, that Perry Como Christmas album is my favorite. I wonder if it's available on CD. His Ave Maria is so beautiful.

  20. Thank you dearest..take your


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