The act of reading ... begins on a flat surface, counter or page, and then gets stirred and chopped and blended until what we make, in the end, is a dish, or story, all our own.
— Adam Gopnik

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June 28, 2020

Read while safe at home

In terms of treasures lost, damage done, and deaths inflicted, the raid was the worst of the war. ,,, It left some 12,000 people without homes, among them the novelist Rose Macaulay, who returned to her flat on Sunday morning to learn that it had been destroyed by fire, along with everything she had accumulated in the course of her lifetime, including letters from her terminally ill lover, a novel in progress, all her clothes, and all her books. It was the loss of the books that she grieved above all. 'I kept thinking of one thing I loved after another with a fresh stab,' she wrote to a friend. 'I wish I could go abroad and stay there, then I shouldn't miss my things so much, but it can't be. I love my books so much, and can never replace them.' Among the loss was a collection of volumes published in the 17th century ... She also lost her collection of rare Baedekers, 'and anyhow, travel is over, like one's books and the rest of civilization.'  But the single loss that cost her the greatest sorrow was her Oxford English Dictionary. As she probed the ruins of her home, she found a charred page from the Hs. She also exhumed a page from her edition of the famed 17th-century diary kept by Samuel Pepys. She made an inventory of the books, at least those she could remember. It was, she wrote in a later essay, 'the saddest list...perhaps one should not make it.'

from The Splendid and the Vile:  a saga of Churchill, family and defiance
during the Blitz
, by Erik Larson 

There was much more that was horrible, and that I didn't know, in this book, but I found myself listening to this particular passage several times. {If only audiobooks had footnotes, but since we have Google, I only have to wait until November. } She would have been my age {or a year or so younger}when this happened. I've never read Rose Macaulay, although I first heard of her decades ago in the Common Reader catalog {I know Frances remembers it ... does anyone else?}. I will now.


JoAnn said...

I'm hoping to do a read/listen combo of this book soon(ish). How are you liking The Way We Eat Now? I noticed the cover in your sidebar.

Audrey said...

Hi, JoAnn,
I'm enjoying The Way We Eat Now, and it's definitely informative and thought provoking, but not especially cheery. :) Absolutely well worth reading though.

Nicola said...

Very moving. I've read quite a lot about the blitz and it was devastating.

JaneGS said...

I loved this book, and I particularly remember the section you quoted. I have an over-sized copy of Rose Macaulay's Pleasure of Ruins, which is one of my prized possessions, so reading about her loss and exhuming of pages was so poignant.

I lost most of my childhood, teen, and college books when my basement flooded shortly after college. It was horrific to go down the stairs and see boxes of my precious books floating after a pipe burst during a super cold freeze.

And yes, I remember the Common Reader. I loved reading the blurbs almost as much as reading the books featured. I remember loving his description of Middlemarch, and I read it every time I got the catalog and it was featured (which was most issues, actually).

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