Although we’ve only been back a week and a half, the holiday seems a long time ago now. It was a great time for browsing and buying books as we started off by camping in Hay-on-Wye, ‘the world’s greatest book town’. Here I managed to pick up two haiku pamphlets/ magazines from 1980 and 2003, containing poems by writers I’m starting to become more familiar with. In this sense, both pamphlets felt like a real ‘find’, Lit from Within contains haiku by Cor van den Heuvel:
watching the rain
from a small town hotel
in the detective novel
Isn’t that wonderful? And HIGH/COO contains this by Chuck Brickley (whose haiku were recommended to me by Matthew Paul):
somewhere in America
this Autumn night
I love the backstory implied in this poem, the way it conveys mood through the seasonal reference, the way it feels contemporary in its subject matter of (possible) estrangement and the questions about masculinity that arise from that.
I’d recently bought Chuck Brickley’s Earthshine from Snapshot Press, and it’s worth mentioning here that they have an August offer on their books for mailing list members. I reckon there’s still time to sign up to the mailing list and get an order in before the end of the month. Like all small presses, they need people to buy books in order to keep publishing.
As I love walking, another holiday read was Simon Armitage’s Walking Away. I’d had it a while and had been meaning to read it but just never found the time.
Hay-on-Wye is on the Offa’s Dyke path and there are a fair amount of walkers passing through. So, when I’d finished the book, I did my bit for the book town by donating it to the book swap under the bridge, in the hope that some weary traveller might pick it up and get as much pleasure out of it as I did.
Whilst in Hay, I also bought Albert Camus’ The Plague. I’d heard a dramatised version on Radio 4, recorded during lockdown, so I knew the main story, but reading it was so much more enriching. It’s a terrifying but redemptive story about an outbreak of plague in an Algerian coastal town, and life during the subsequent quarantine. The book reflected so much of what we have already been through, and are likely to continue to experience, putting human behaviour, both good and bad, right at the centre of the story (although mainly through male characters, I have to say, but that’s a minor quibble and no doubt reflects the time it was written). It might sound like a morbid read, but in the current situation, I found it oddly reassuring. It had the feeling of being important, of being necessary. That’s not always the case when you read a book. It made me question my own novel, and how ‘necessary’ it is. It remains as a second draft, which is to say there’s a fair amount of editing still required!
After Hay-on-Wye we had a short drive up to Bishop’s Castle, a small Shropshire market town where we spent the second week of our trip in the blazing heat, admiring the amazing bursts of lightning flickering away over the hills at night (fortunately we managed to avoid most of the heavy downpours which seemed to hit just over the border in Wales).
Bishop’s Castle has two excellent bookshops, Yarborough House, famous for its classical music CD stock as well as its books, and the more recent Poetry Pharmacy, which is the most beautifully curated bookshop any poet could wish for.
No doubt I won’t get around to reading all the books I bought this side of Christmas, and I’m keen to get an order into Snapshot Press before the end of the month too. I don’t like to have too many books on the book pile, but neither do I like it to be empty. I love the sense of anticipation that an unopened book offers.
So, whatever book you’ve got on the go at the moment, happy reading!