It’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.
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.
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.
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!