I swear I am trying to cut down.
These were months where I had no plan to buy anything specific, no premeditated trip to second-hand or independent bookstores. And yet, again, I’ve ended up buying new books and more than I thought I would.
Most were the result of bad days. Being a stay-at-home parent to a toddler is hard work and a little chocolate and a glass of diet coke in the afternoon helps me to get through most days. Maybe a Kit Kat if it is worse than most. Some days are too tough for a Kit Kat to help. I won’t share the details; it is nothing most stay-at-home parents are not familiar with. After those days, Daddy needs to go book shopping.
Witches have been on my mind a lot lately and not because of Halloween which was barely noticed around here. I’d been reading essays by Mark Twain and Carl Sagan on the horrendous history of persecution of women and children accused of witchcraft. At the same time, I was reading The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy where the female protagonist, Eustacia Vye, is suspected of being a witch. And so, when I came across Stacy Schiff’s history of the Salem witch trials, The Witches, it did not take much to intrigue me.
Roger Crowley is the successful author of popular history books and I’ve had my eye on his book of the Portuguese Empire; Conquerors. Especially as I am currently reading a history of my ancestral home, Goa. But, when an online store ran out of stock of Conquerors, I started worrying that I may miss out on a copy if I delay too long, so I grabbed it when I next saw it in a store.
Betrayal is a book I was not even aware of before I first came across it and bought it straight away. It is the findings of the Boston Globe’s Pulitzer Prize winning investigation of the Catholic Church abuse scandal. The Oscar winning film, Spotlight, was more the story behind the investigation; the story of the story if you like. Whereas this book, with the entire Globe investigation team credited as the authors and updated to the release of the film, is about the findings themselves.
I am a big fan of the large, heavily-illustrated, hardcover reference books produced by publisher Dorling Kindersley (DK). I have a bunch of them already and when I saw some on sale for less than half price, I had to get them too. One is a book on the planets and other aspects of the solar system, one is on the history of art, one is a catalogue of the world’s wildlife. But they are not just for me. As a child, I believe I benefited from having an encyclopaedia in the house. But I’m not sure I would buy one now. But Wikipedia and tablets are no substitute for a big book engorged with information and impressive pictures for a young mind.
That was where it was supposed to end. November was far from over, but surely I was not going to buy any more. I took the photo, I started drafting my post. But more sleepless nights, more difficult days, meant more stress release in the form of book shopping. And the need for another photo.
The Sellout by Paul Beatty recently won the 2016 Booker Prize. I was definitely going to buy it sometime, so finding a copy for half the standard price, so soon after it won, meant I was not going to leave without it.
The Silk Roads by Peter Frankopan is a book I’ve been considering buying for a while. Two things finally convinced me to get it. One was the glowing review from a history writer I like; William Dalrymple. The other was an article in The Economist about the billions China is spending on building infrastructure in Central Asian countries, effectively bringing the Silk Roads into the twenty-first century.
One reason why online stores and their algorithm-driven recommendations will never completely replace bookstores is because they are no substitute for a good browse. Every now and then you’ll be in a bookstore and you’ll come across a book you have never heard of before but just can’t leave without. That happened to me when I found Oranges by John McPhee which is, well, a history of the orange.
I had not heard of McPhee before but this seems to be his niche; popular nonfiction books on obscure topics. He has been a staff writer for The New Yorker since 1963, a finalist for the Pulitzer multiple times, winning one, has written over thirty books and teaches nonfiction writing at Princeton. If I enjoy this short book I may look for more of his.
I almost forgot. With embarrassment I must admit I made one other large purchase during these months. A thought I had for the year was to slowly put some money aside so that by the end of the year I might look to get The Complete Wreck; which is the complete set of thirteen books that make up A Series of Unfortunate Events. But when I saw that a TV adaptation is about to begin, I rushed.
One of my biggest pet peeves are books with movie and TV-tie-in covers. I can’t stand them, especially if it is a book I really care about. So rather than risk seeing A Series of Unfortunate Events appear with covers from the new TV series, I bought the set before that could happen. Christmas came early.