A hurry-word through the glass

The dead fed you
Amid the slant stones of graveyards.
Pale ghosts who planted you
Came in the nighttime
And let their thin hair blow through your clustered stems.
You are of the green sea,
And of the stone hills which reach a long distance.
You are of elm-shaded streets with little shops where they sell kites and marbles,
You are of great parks where every one walks and nobody is at home.
You cover the blind sides of greenhouses
And lean over the top to say a hurry-word through the glass
To your friends, the grapes, inside.
—from "Lilacs," by Amy Lowell

David and I just got back from our annual trip to Squam Lake in rural New Hampshire, a vacation full of good times with family and friends we haven't seen since last year this time. October showed us no lilacs, of course, but there were old colonial graveyards, and little shops selling kites and marbles, and the green sea and the stone hills which reach a long distance. Unlike Lowell and her lilacs, though, I am not "of" New England, so it's always equally nice to be back home in the gray and evergreen of the Pacific Northwest.

We took an overnight trip up to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and spent a pleasant hour at local indie bookshop River Run Books, where the staff was all abuzz about an upcoming Stephen King book-signing. I imagine it will be VERY much abuzz when the event actually takes place, as the shop is charmingly small and King is hugely famous. It will probably be like the time I and every other Portlander under the age of 25 all showed up to watch Elliott Smith perform at the 900-square-foot Music Millennium record store. Best of luck to them!

I did not pick up anything by King, but my mother-in-law did very sweetly treat me to a couple of new finds:


Amusingly, there is one Oxford World Classic and one NYRB reissue, so I could dip into either end of Sasha's 2011 project.

  • The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, by Laurence Sterne. Which I've been meaning to read for years on the assumption I will love its rambling, pre-postmodern trajectory. A novel in which the hero doesn't manage to get born until Volume Three is my kind of book.
  • Wish Her Safe at Home, by Stephen Benatar, which promises to be an intriguing trip along the thin line separating "happiness" from "mania," with bubbly yet unreliable narrator Rachel Waring.

And then, as if to prove that coming home is just as lovely as starting out, when I arrived back in Portland last night these three goodies were waiting for me:


  • La force de l'age, by Simone de Beauvoir. I bravely resisted for several weeks, but yes I did eventually break down and order the second volume of de Beauvoir's memoirs after falling in love with the first one a month ago.
  • Palace Walk and Palace of Desire, by Naguib Mahfouz. For Richard's readalong of Mahfouz's Cairo Trilogy, scheduled (I believe) to take place during December, January and February. I adore these covers, and plan to order the matching Sugar Street barring any unforeseen disasters like hating the first two books or getting struck by lightning.

So, all in all a productive trip! I also managed to get some actual reading done, but no books finished: I'm chipping away simultaneously at Madame Bovary (in French) and Wolf Hall (in English), which was plenty to keep me occupied over the last week. So far I'm delighted and intrigued by both reads, which made the screaming toddlers across the aisle on both flights that much more bearable.


  • Ace book-gathering, Emily! In the I-like-how-you-think department, I have to tell you that I bought that same OUP edition of Tristram Shandy when it came out last December. Still trying to find time to get it, though. And River Run Books in Portsmouth is indeed a fun little bookstore. I bought a Pamuk there a while back and always stop there and at the record store next door to it whenever I'm in Portsmouth (a couple of times a year). Love those Mahfouz covers (hadn't seen them in real life), glad to see you got another de Beauvoir, and had to laugh when I saw that you're reading Wolf Hall. I'd like to read it one of these days now that it's out in paperback, but I ain't got the time right now. Still didn't stop me from thumbing through it in the bookstore earlier tonight! Anyway, welcome back and enjoy your post-vac reading!!! P.S. Your Mahfouz readalong timeline is right on the money, by the way.

  • I love Beauvoir's diaries, and indeed most of the novels that she wrote. Fantastic if you can read them in French, though, as they are much better that way. I keep wondering about reading Mahfouz but have yet to succumb - I suspect it's a matter of time...

  • Oh it sounds like a lovely trip you had. But any trip that has books in it can't be all bad. I've been wanting to read Tristram Shandy for ages too. I don't remember what edition I have. A Penguin maybe? I've also been considering reading Mahfouz so I look forward to your reading of his books. You might finally push me one way or the other.

  • I hope you love Tristram Shandy. It cracks me up every time I open it. :D And I love the matchy copies of the Palace Walk books!

  • I'm so excited because Hobgoblin and I have tickets to see Stephen King at River Run Bookstore! I'm not much of a King fan, but Hobgoblin is, and I've become one kind of by default :) It will be cool to see him anyway. And I've been wanting to see the bookstore for quite a while.

    Yay for Tristram Shandy! It's one of my favorite books ever.

  • Richard is having a readalong of these? Hm.. I'm tempted. I read the first installment and would love to read the second and third together!

    And Sasha's project was the first thing that came to mind when I opened this post. I want to read "Wish Her Safe at Home" especially.

  • Oooo, many times over. First, YAY you were in New England, how fun! I have a friend who recently moved to Portsmouth, so perhaps when I visit him I'll get a chance to also visit the bookstore you mention since it sounds lovely. Second, ooo, those Mahfouz editions look fabulous. My library has the books, but I'm so tempted to purchase them now! Third, Tristam Shandy is such an interested movie - I can only imagine that the book is infinitely better. I'll be very curious to see what you think. :)

  • Richard: That's so funny that you went for the same edition of Sterne. Maybe another shared read is in the offing! That record store next door is quite appealing - we probably would have stopped there if we didn't have to get back to the house to walk the dog. And Wolf Hall is very enjoyable thus far - I think Mantel pulls off the period and the specific characters remarkably.

    Litlove: I agree about de Beauvoir, and I've been pleased to find her French so clear and easy to read (especially compared to, say, Flaubert, who I'm reading right now). Probably because she writes about so many abstract concepts, which use words that eventually made it into English.

  • Stefanie: I'll take my Mahfouz-related powers very seriously, then. :-) We did have a lovely time, and the books were an added bonus.

    Jenny: Oh yay, that's exactly the relationship I'm hoping to have with Tristram Shandy!

    Dorothy: Wow, you're going to that signing! That's so cool. You could have been one of the people the staff was calling on the phone while I browsed the shelves. And hooray for another Sterne enthusiast. :-)

  • Iris: Yes indeed, I think the non-structured/Wolves in Winter people (Frances, Sarah, EL Fay & Claire) are participating too. You should read volumes 2 and 3 with us! We'd love to have you. :-)

    Sarah: I know, aren't those Mahfouz covers pretty? To tempt you further, the editions are appealing in other ways, too - they have a matte finish and an appealing heft to them. And I heard they did interesting things with the Tristram Shandy movie - I'll have to watch it after I get around to the book.

  • Loving those Mahfouz covers too.. although I'm leaning more towards the other cover.. don't know why.. they feel nostalgic. Hm.. I have stopped ordering books due to our move but have Old School here so I will be reading your posts then! xo

  • Seems like you had a great overnight trip. I love the poem you chose to introduce your blog post.

    I'm so tempted to join the Mahfouz read-a-long! yes, I probably will. I read Mahfouz years and years ago in college, although not this trilogy. This would be a great incentive to re-visit him.

  • I love the photos of the books. Nice to be catching up on your posts!

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    link to Wolves 2011 reading list
    link to more disgust bibliography