A Quiet Obsession

Rain in AixIt’s Saturday in Provence and my elderly neighbour in the apartment downstairs is leaning over her balcony telling me she is depressed and waving her hand skywards. It is spring and it has been raining for a couple of days every week consistently since the end of February.

With a smile I can’t suppress, I tell her it feels like home to me, the home I knew as a child anyway, that country down under where it rains every week but where there is sun every week too, and everything looks clean and green and grows constantly. But our residents in Aix-en-Provence aren’t used to it and the grey skies reflect their mood.

Aix sous la pluie by the artist Barbarion

Aix sous la pluie by the artist Barbarion

But not me.

Today is the English Book Sale, a rare event that I have missed on the last two occasions and I know I don’t need any more books, but I have to go just to see what is on offer and to hang about in the presence of other souls quietly obsessed with books.  You know, that old-fashioned kind, hardcover, softcover, some with post it notes and book marks, one with an attractive business card inside, I left that mystery for the next person to find. And the rain is not keeping people away here; I find the last space left in the car park and join the growing crowd of ex-pats and Anglophones scouting for book treasure.

One of the first books I find is a Virginia Woolf biography by Quentin Bell, and so soon after reading Susan Hill’s Howard’s End is on the Landing, and remembering Valerie’s comment about regretting having released all her Bloomsbury books to a sale, I rescue this volume from its fate and bring it home in readiness for its mate, the diary I will be picking up from Persephone Books on my next London visit.

The next book I purchase for my Dad, whom I will be seeing in exactly one month, in Istanbul. My father is a retired farmer who had a love of horses all his life, they were the main mode of transport around the farm and at the weekends, we would pile into his converted furniture removals truck, horses in the back, to watch him play an unsophisticated, remote countryside, farming people’s style polo. He will enjoy this true story of an equine beauty by Laura Hillenbrand I am sure.

My Booksale Haul

My Booksale Haul

I am detecting a bit of a theme here, I buy this Rose Tremain novel The Colour, because it is set in New Zealand and it has been recommended numerous times and though I have picked it up and even taken it from the library once, I have never read it – and there is something about the cover on this version that makes me want to own it.

Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go I pick up without hesitation, I loved his recent collection of short stories and this one has slipped by unread thus far.

I see a fellow book loving friend who thrusts Lisa Scottoline’s book Look Again into my hands and tells me she stayed up all night last night reading it. It’s disturbing but unputdownable she says. Ok, always room on the shelf for a book that grips one from the first page and perfect holiday reading material, though perhaps not the upcoming Turkish holiday, I don’t want to read about lost children before taking mine to a large unknown city.

The cute little Julie Otsuka novel When the Emperor was Divine, I can’t resist. I want to read The Buddha in the Attic, but this is the book that presents itself first, it’s more of a novella and the seductive testimonial on the front cover is enough to tempt me, one who rarely buys into contrived book cover descriptions, but mesmerising, lyric gifts, narrative poise, a heat-seeking eye for detail, there are enough enticing adjectives in that one blurb for me to appreciate, living in an era of twitter fiction, so I take it.

A Political Tragedy in Six Acts

A Political Tragedy in Six Acts

And the pièce de résistance, a hardback, first edition of John Keane’s biography of Václav Havel A Political Tragedy in Six Acts. I don’t know a lot about Havel, he was a renowned playwright turned President of the Czech Republic and a daring dissident in his youth, yet the little I do know of him, makes we want to know a lot more. He died in Dec 2011 but I believe that there are lessons to be learned from the life he lived.

And so, with my arms straining under the load of seven books, I look up to the balcony of my neighbour and tell her to do what I would do if I felt that way about the day, find a good book and escape into it for the afternoon, and don’t worry, the forecast is for sun tomorrow.

At last she smiles, ‘Yes, that I can do’, she says and ‘Bon Livre’ as I disappear inside with my stash of books, a hot roasted chicken, 2 fresh baguettes and 3 chocolate éclairs. Life is good!

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34 thoughts on “A Quiet Obsession

  1. Good selection of english books in Southern France book fair. My local dutch “bouquinistes” don’t offer what I’m looking for. You are so lucky….and I mean b/c of the books, and not the choc éclairs!

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    • This is an annual sale run by the ex-pat community, and with the number of people passing through this town, and getting rid of books before they leave, it’s always got a few gems on offer. There’s another event sometimes in April/May in a small but very cute village about 40 minutes from here, another group organise an English book exchange in their local French library. So the number of books you contribute is the same number you can take away. You only pay for the coffee and cake 🙂 Love it! They’re not sure if they’re having it this year, I’m hoping they will, or I may have to organise one myself.

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  2. I reviewed the Buddha in the Attic on my blog recently – it was a fabulous little book. I haven’t read When the Emperor was Divine yet and would love to know what you think of it.

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    • I’ll be sure to post a review Naomi and thanks for reminding me of your review, I missed seeing it sorry. I hadn’t even heard of this other novella, so looking forward to reading it and following up eventually with The Buddha in the Attic.

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  3. What a lovely sounding day. Never let me go is a brilliant book – one you will want to talk to other people anbout afterwards, it’s a while since I read it but I remember enjoying it more than I had expected to. I’ve also read When the Emperor was Divine,that was also several years ago, but I remember it being really very powerful.

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  4. My son mentioned that it has been raining again. We forget that we need the contrasts to appreciate the good times. I hope to see you in May or June!
    Judy

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    • I would love to have discovered a copy of Unforgiven, in fact I was just reading reviews of it yesterday, intrigued after seeing that it’s been the longest time on NPR’s top 10 hardcover nonfiction, an impressive 113 weeks.

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  5. These are wonderful picks! Glad you can find so many good books at the sale. Also, Never Let Me Go should be accompanied by the film. They’re both very good. I’m glad you live in Aix-en-Provence. I visited there a few years ago. We stayed in Avignon and took day trips around there. It was a short visit but most impressive I must say.

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    • Yes, I had heard the film is very good, so was pleased to find the book, as I prefer to read first.

      Aix is wonderful, even in the rain 🙂 and accessible to many other wonderful places to visit. It is growing and improving its amenities all the time, a small town with a big city attitude.

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  6. You always whet my appetite with your reviews. But a special thank you for the photo of the fountain. It’s almost 50 years since I left Aix, but any photo of the Cours Mirabeau makes my heart sing, even sous la pluie!

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  7. Sounds like the most perfect way to spend a rainy day, hope the treasures live up to your expectations.

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  8. It sounds like an absolutely blissful day – good books and good food…
    I meant to answer you comment about the Bloomsbury collection… I sold them to a second hand book dealer when we were down- sizing into our little cottage and I really had to (slightly !) shrink the book collection too… but the wretch would only give me a dollar for each book – and she took five hundred !!!! Much gnashing of teeth since, as I hunt for a book I disposed of !!!

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  9. I have Buddha in the Attic, but haven’t gotten around to reading it yet. I’m trying to get through Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love, but it’s been taking me a while. I like it, but I don’t feel drawn back to read it like I feel I should, so I’m having to force myself to read it. I only have less than 100 pages to go, though. I think you will love Never Let Me Go. I read that in college, but didn’t realize how much I liked it until a few years later. It has a quiet, sad beauty about it.

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  10. What a great haul! Well done.
    I missed it, currently in the UK, but I am enjoying Honour. I found it a bit tricky to get into, because of the different characters at different times on the story line, but I am a bit distracted at the moment which is why I found it difficult at first. But now I am loving it and find the writing beautiful. Plus I too am off to Istanbul next month with my middle daughter…..can’t wait!

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    • Glad you are enjoying Honour and how fabulous that you too are off to Istanbul, I have Orhan Pamuk’s nonfiction book Istanbul waiting for me to start reading in anticipation! I hope you share a little Istanbul on your blog too 🙂 Bon voyage!

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  11. Ha! Having spent Brittany holidays under the rain, I laughed at the cartoon. LOVED ‘Never Let Me Go’ – will be curious to see your review. Do read some of Havel’s own works, too. I’m sure you’ll enjoy them. He’s a beautiful writer and his works are thought-provoking and timeless. I lived in Prague many years ago and, at an event, a friend had Havel (then President) wish me a happy twenty-second (gulp! so long ago) birthday.

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  12. What bibliophile doesn’t suffer from that condition known as — ‘I don’t need another book . . . and, yet, I can’t help myself’? Sounds like you came away with a few gems.

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    • One book a week, that’s all and in the main I read at night because of work, although I always take a book with me and being self-employed, I do sometimes find myself in between teaching lessons, at two different locations, with an hour or so in between, so find a cafe, read or write in my mini notebook thoughts on a book; the joys of unconventional employment away from the home 🙂 The one place I rarely read is on the couch, never time to sit around at home, it’s all those little stolen moments out there in the glorious day, when it’s easier to keep one’s eyes open.

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