Thursday, 10 December 2009

In which our narrator spends rather a lot of time in bookshops

It's now a fortnight (three weeks?) since Borders went into administration, and the Oxford branch is rapidly losing stock. It was always a bit bright and brash to be a British bookshop, but I'm going to miss it all the same. I used to love it particularly as an undergraduate, when at about half past nine I could think 'oh dear, I don't have anything to read in bed', nip out and spend a happy twenty minutes browsing the shelves. It lost some charm over the course of the last decade, as the closing time reduced to nine, then to eight. Although, of course, until two years ago I was living in a little rural town, rather than a massive city, so had no access to it whatever the time of night.

The thing is, bookshops make me happy. Whenever I'm feeling a bit down, I go bookshopping. I don't even have to buy anything, although often I do. I just feel at home there.

Today I have been to practically every bookshop in Oxford. I went to Borders, but felt that it was virtually impossible to find anything except by complete chance, and also that strangely many things were more expensive than previously... I went to Waterstones, in a passing through kind of a way, and to Blackwell's where I bought one book as a Christmas present but it was in a three for two so I bought two more that I wanted, restrained myself from buying another couple that I thought looked good, and which turned out to be the same price on Amazon, so I may have to go back. I dropped into Oxfam Books on Turl Street, where I didn't buy anything, but then I did buy three books from Oxfam Books on St Giles on Tuesday.

Then I came home and went by car into Headington, one of Oxford's satellite residential areas, home of the Headington Shark, and also home to about a hundred charity shops, including not one but two Cancer Research shops, one on each side of the road... From various places here I acquired a handful of Christopher Isherwood books, some PG Wodehouse, and a couple of other things. I came home to find an Amazon delivery (Christmas presents) had been chucked over the back fence, but since it hadn't rained, the books were undamaged despite their dissolved packaging. I may have rather gone overboard on the book buying today. But, to paraphrase, if it makes me happy, it can't be that ba-a-aa-ad. And between the three for two and the charity shops, it wasn't that expensive either. So here's to time in bookshops, and the calming whispers of a million books :)

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Kings of Style

So, you may have noticed very little action on this blog recently: my other life seems to have been crammed to bursting with work, work and more work. And very recently, some rugby as some people have noticed. But things are beginning to calm down a little, and an incident yesterday made me think 'if only I had a blog vaguely related to reading and writing where I could talk about this. Oh!' So here I am.

One of the things I have been doing over the past couple of months is 'digitising' core readings for the Masters courses at the department where I study. This involves photocopying chapters of books, scanning them in and putting them through text recognition software and then proofreading them, for the highly amusing bloopers it can create. It has taught me a great deal about how many mistakes are actually in place in the printed texts! As well as exposing me to many, many examples of sociological research related to sex, because they pick the salacious ones to get your attention.

But this is all in the way of introduction: one of the best things about this job is in fact getting to hang out on the main library/ reception desk - for many reasons. One of them is the banter of the two male librarians, who are both quite snappy dressers - and one of whom considers himself to be 'the most stylish man in Oxford' (I'm not disagreeing, or reporting this sarcastically - I'm just quoting). Yesterday they were discussing style icons: the most stylish men about. They had me in hysterics. As far as I'm concerned, there's only ever been one male style icon: Beau Brummel (and if you don't know whom I'm talking about, go read some Georgette Heyer!).

And then they challenged me. 'Go on then Velda,' they said. 'Whose style do you admire?'

And there, they had me. As far as I ever think about my 'style', I tend to aim for 'inoffensive, with a bit of emphasis on exciting boots.' I couldn't think of a single person. But then, I went off to the photocopier, which is good for mindnumbing activity freeing the mind to think, and some names started to float in on the aether.

Neil Gaiman
A.S. Byatt
Diana Wynne Jones
Simon Armitage

But I wasn't thinking about their dress sense (to be fair, they all do look smart in person (Byatt and Armitage) or in photos (Gaiman (stylish rather than smart - his hair is famous in its own right!) and Jones). I was thinking about their writing. For me, style is in the turn of a phrase, the mot juste, or the patterning of language. This leads me into delightful digressory thoughts about what exactly a winklepicker would look like in the form of literary device, or what the equivalent of a red leather glove is (a yellow suede one would be Byronic excess).

I didn't go back and tell them that. I stuck with my first answer 'I've really never thought about it'. I did try to think of people whose fashion sense I admired, but I really can't bring anyone to mind. There's good outfits and poor outfits and that's about it. But writing style, now that's something that sticks with you. And for that 'inoffensive, but with occasionally exciting boots' doesn't really kick it.