I had no idea. Clearly he is a man of impeccable tastes. I’m obsessed with this fact almost as much as I’m obsessed with this tumblr, Letters of Note, on which I discovered a cute anecdote and hand-typed letter from the legend himself. The story goes that the folks over at the Nerdist Podcast wanted to secure Hanks as a guest on their show. Knowing he was an ardent typewriter collector, they sent him a 1934 Smith Corona along with their request. This was his response:What a dude.
Traveling is great and all, but when we’re staying in other peoples’ homes I feel a little shy about hogging their bathrooms for a long soak in the tub. Is that just me? I have managed to sneak in a few cheeky soaks, which has been wonderful (English tubs, on average, are longer than the tubs in the States — I’m sure of it), but I’m definitely missing my regular bathtub reading ritual.
Which is why these bathroom libraries are looking especially dreamy this morning.
(More bath time inspiration on Pinterest.)
Luke and I just got back from a long weekend in the Yorkshire Dales, which, happily, lived up to all the hype. (There has been a lot of hype on my end of things for the simple fact that I married into a family of Dalesmen who would say, with complete conviction, that Yorkshire is God’s country. Plain and simple.) I’m happy to report that the scenic countryside, the unpredictable weather, the friendliness of the people, and the history were all just as remarkable as I’d been told to expect.
On our first (and sunniest!) day, we met up with Luke’s newlywed brother and sister-in-law in Richmond. After coffee and paninis, we explored what’s left of the 12th Century castle — surprisingly a lot considering it never saw battle in the 400 years that it was in use. I teased my Bradford-born husband that nobody wanted Yorkshire badly enough to invade. It’s a beautiful part of the world, but after getting soaked walking through fell and bog on one of our days, I can see why an competitor to the throne might decide to establish his empire on friendly terrain. We staged an embarrassing number of these goofy garden pictures, it must be admitted.
Then there was Easby Abbey, a pleasant mile and a bit walk along the river from the castle. For climbing enthusiasts like Luke and his brother, Easby is the best expression of a dilapidated historical monument in England: no admissions fee, no unwelcoming gate or “Private property” signs, not even a single CAUTION sign to keep adventurous children (ahem, or adults) from climbing its crumbling walls. In short, a climber’s heaven. Also, we decided, fresh as we were off of a wedding week, a romantic spot for taking engagement/wedding photos.
Finally, we did a walk to another 12th Century Norman castle in Cumbria, believed by some to be built on the same spot where King Arthur resided five centuries earlier, though sadly there is no evidence of a Saxon stronghold. In any case, Pendragon Castle’s most famous resident was Sir Hugh de Moreville, one of the four knights who murdered St. Thomas Beckett in 1170. Legend has it that Moreville was later haunted by Beckett’s image in the hills surrounding Pendragon. All this history has me wanting to read a good historical fiction set in medieval England. I used to be really into Sharon Kay Penman; loved her Justin de Quincy mysteries as much as her heftier novels based on the lives of Eleanor of Aquitane and Henry II, Llewelyn the Great of Wales, Richard the Lionheart, and the dastardly King John. It may be time for a revisit.
Do you have any recommendations? I’d love to hear!
It strikes me as a bit unbalanced that one city should have such an abundance of independent bookstores, while many are lacking even one. But there you have it. Bath is such a city. The incredible thing is, Bath’s bookstores seem not simply to exist but to thrive, and that phenomenon requires a bit of poking and prodding if we’re to understand it — and recreate it.
Topping and Company Booksellers along with Mr. B’s Book Emporium and the High Street chain Waterstone’s make up the triumvirate of Bath’s book empire. Where one might expect rivalry there seems only to be healthy coexistence. Speaking with Lucinda from Mr. B’s last week, I asked how this could be. There’s simply not that much clientele overlap, she indicated. Not between Mr. B’s and Topping, and not even really with Waterstone’s. Each bookstore’s aesthetic, the variety of their stock, and the atmosphere created by the staff all confirm that they are each catering to a different type of reader. The astounding thing to this bookstore blogger is that Bath has enough committed book lovers to support all three. Indeed it was not uncommon when I was studying in Bath to hear students and faculty discuss where they shopped for books. Everyone fell into a camp — Topping, Mr. B’s or Waterstone’s — and we enjoyed discussing the merits and demerits of each one. Most people still visited all three regularly, but ultimately remained loyal to the one favorite. Topping is a more stretched out version of the traditional English bookstore you might picture tucked into a wall in Covent Garden. It’s wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling books, set into caramel wood flooring with matching oak shelves. It’s a bookstore for the Radio 4 listener, the tweed and Argyle wearer, the Boroughs reading hipster. While other bookstores might be greeted with the bestsellers of the hour, in Topping you are unabashedly greeted by an imposing collection of History and hardback nonfiction. But don’t let this Berlin wall of books intimidate the leisurely fiction reader. Keep on walking and you’ll see they’re just as serious about their Cooking, Humor, Religion/Spirituality, Children’s Literature, Arts, and of course, Literary Fiction as the next bookstore. Keep walking still further, up the stairs now and into the back room, and enter Topping’s attic room full of gorgeous coffee table Art books, music anthologies and extensive Poetry section.
One thing I love about Topping is how they seem to seek out only the most beautiful editions of a book and present it as merchandise that has both intrinsic and real monetary value. It’s a design geek’s heaven, with an entire wall devoted to special artsy editions of classic essays and short stories. There’s a certain luxury feel to the books sold at Topping, wrapped as many of them are in cellophane and bound with a branded paper wrapper. Those hand written staff reviews certainly help add to the feeling that this collection of books has been lovingly hand curated, and I love even better that I get to take one home if I buy the book. Topping is another one that recognizes the sales value of offering customers a free cup of coffee (and in a dainty porcelain cup no less). They understand the importance of making shopping an event, and speaking of which, they, like Mr. B’s, take their author events very seriously. It’s a sweet deal, actually. The price of each event ticket goes toward a reserved copy of the book being discussed on the evening … plus wine and some nibbles and, oh yeah, getting to actually meet and listen to your favorite author. Topping realizes customers aren’t going to come in and support them with their wallets unless they believe they’re being sold a valuable product. Their business model goes completely against the Amazon one that says books are inherently cheap and worthless, and so you must sell them for pennies. At Topping, books of a certain calibre enhance the quality of ones life, much like buying organic and Fair Trade groceries over cheap GMOs. Some might say they’re a luxury, an unnecessary expense, but the fact is, you’re better off for it.
Have you been to any of Bath’s bookstores before? I’d love to know what you thought. And if not, have you visited any stand-out bookstores lately? Fill me in, please!
On Friday my brother-in-law married his best friend in a beautiful travel-themed wedding. It was an exciting and busy week of making final preparations, running errands, entertaining guests, visiting old friends, wine-ing and dinning, dancing and toasting. It was perfect in every way. But sometimes, in the days leading up to such a big event, it’s necessary to break away from the bulletin folding and flower arranging, and get some fresh air. Which is why, when we found a rope swing tied to a tall tree while on our walk, we naturally had to have a go.
As you might expect, I’ve done a fair amount of reading in the past three weeks what with flights, train journeys, and an entire week left to my own devices in Bristol. I’m so far behind on my book reviews I thought I’d do a trio of short ones.
Even though I fell desperately in love with Ishiguro when I read The Remains of the Day a few years back, for some reason Never Let Me Go never made it to the top of my TBR stack. I blame Keira. But boy, was that my loss! It has been too long since a book broke my heart, and this one, set in an eerily familiar futuristic dystopia, did just that. The story follows three young friends who are brought up in an isolated country school, Hailsham, where children are told they are special and have a very important role to play in society. What that role is exactly, is revealed in Ishiguro’s own suspenseful, good time. Ishiguro is the master at creating empathetic narrators, generous with information, reserved in expressing emotion. Somehow this has the effect of transferring the full weight of the characters’ tragedy to the reader. It’s a gorgeous story of missed chances, betrayed friendships, and intense love.
Although the thought of being placed in a privileged New England boarding school in the Yuppie years of the 1980s didn’t appeal to me at the time, I’d read such rave reviews about my former professor’s recent novel that I knew I must give it a shot. I’m very glad I did. The Starboard Sea is a coming of age story reminiscent of A Separate Peace and Catcher in the Rye, and like the authors of these novels, Amber Dermont questions the very paradigm of “privilege.” Addressing contemporary themes of homosexual discovery and the dispensability of women (yes, even heiresses), it is another heartbreaking story told by an unreliable yet sympathetic anti-hero who despite having the world at his fingertips has had the one thing that he ever loved taken from him. We understand early on in the novel that Jason somehow had a part to play in driving his best friend Cal to commit suicide, but the full weight of his culpability is only understood after his doomed attempt at forging a second chance for himself. In this soulless world of yacht clubs, Manhattan pent houses and absent parents, it’s not so simple to start over. Beautifully written, The Starboard Sea is another melancholic read, but well worth it.
Finally a slightly more life-affirming novel from the young Italian novelist who has been compared to Hemingway because of his stripped-down prose that word lovers can’t get enough of. In The Break, Dino is an impassive, unambitious man whose life of laying stone roads by day and playing billiards at night is disrupted with the news that his wife is pregnant. They are older and had long since given up hope of having children. Instead they spent their lives dreaming of the places they’d travel. Now with this news that threatens to offset these theoretical plans, Dino is thrown off balance. He starts taking risks, doing surprising things, and finds he’s less certain about life but is more driven than ever to test its boundaries. Grossi’s writing is a fine wine, meant to be savored, but that goes much too quickly.
There were many noteworthies this week but all of them pale in comparison to Luke’s exciting new…. He passed! He’s now officially Dr. Luke! Congratulations, my dear! You’ve worked hard and I’m so proud of you.
You can’t really beat that, but I’ll mention a few others anyway and then I’m off to help him celebrate. For starters there was our long-awaited climb up Cabot Tower. In all the time that I was either visiting Luke or living in Bristol, the imposing sandstone tower in the center of Brandon Hill park was closed for repairs. It was all the more tragic because Cabot Tower was one of Luke’s favorite spots in Bristol and he’d always dreamed of taking me up to the top. Well, finally, two years later, we made it. The 360 degree views of the city and surrounding countryside were well worth the dizzying spiral climb to the top.
A few more things…
Unputdownable books read in sunny parks and on rooftop patios. Luke may have been, you know, defending five years of hard-slog doctoral research, but the rest of us were on vacation. I finished this sad, beautiful book yesterday and the loss was only bearable because I had two more books waiting for me back at the flat.
Said books courtesy of Mr. B’s.
Also fudge. Lots and lots of Bath fudge. I’d like to say I don’t eat as much of the chilli chocolate since it’s so spicy, but let’s be honest. Which is why…
…these stairs (all 156 of them!) were so crucial. A twice daily hike up these, on top of several miles of hilly walking, and I’m feeling better about the bathing suit portion of our trip to Portugal at the end of the month.
Making new friends. Ever since discovering Maddie, Luke and I have been on the lookout for the perfect dog. An objective criteria, sure, but Tuey here might just fit the bill.
And since it may just be a bubbly kind of night, how to sabre champagne with a spoon. Have a great weekend!
PS, Another classic combination of chillies and booze.