Here’s another round of books that keep memories of the places I’ve traveled safe and sound. To catch up on Part 1 (Books from Ireland), click here.
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England and I have met four times now, but we never seem to grow tired of one another. Aside from the beauty of the country itself, I am absolutely fascinated by how books covers compare to those in the States. The covers are bold with bright colors that seem to laugh despite London’s almost constant gray sky. The rain may be a friend that sometimes over stays its welcome, but a good read dares the rain to stay.
On this particular trip, it struck me that just about everyone traveling on the London Tube has a book in their hands and those books are usually battered used editions. I can’t help but wonder how many times a book has changed hands or how many kilometers it has traveled underneath London streets. I like to think the titles I brought home have made more than a few trips before joining me on a journey across the Atlantic.
The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
This book came from used bookstore called The Book Warehouse. I was on my way to the British Museum, when the smell of used books wafted directly in my path. Within two seconds I was inside and hungrily scanning the shelves. It was a dreary rainy day outside and Collins book seemed to fit the mood. I’d never heard of him and was intrigued by the story of a man enraptured by a mysterious woman in white. For three measly pounds, I was willing to take a risk on an unknown.
I ended up reading the book during my entire stay in London. While not the most exciting read, each chapter serves as a record of my experiences. When I page through and read any passage, the words conjure memories of the weather and where I went on a given day. On some occasions, I tread ground in the very same locations mentioned in the story and in that sense it reminded me that I’m part of a much bigger picture. When I walked through Regent’s Park, I was literally retracing thousands of footsteps that came before me both real and imagined.
The Woman in Black by Susan Hill
I still find it ironic that I bought two books about women wearing a particular color, but I couldn’t resist The Woman in Black. It was hiding on a table at the South Bank Book Market, which is easily one of my favorite places in London. Each day under Waterloo Bridge, several tables are set up and lined with rows of used books, unframed art, and vinyl records. A bargain hunter’s delight and a slice of heaven for a traveling reader. I have yet to read The Woman in Black, but every time I see it on my bookshelf, I can hear the Thames lapping against the embankment.
Of Love and Hunger by Julian Maclaren-Ross
The Waterproof Bible by Andrew Kaufman
These two came from Waterstone’s, a large chain store in London. One day, it was raining so hard my umbrella was soaked through so I darted into the big W to catch my breath and wait out the downpour. Of Love and Hunger was on an end cap as a recommendation by one of the employees, so I picked it up and started to read. The language was so raw and so beautiful, I knew it was something special, (my book vibe shot off the charts). However, I didn’t buy it until a few days later after doing some research on the writer. It turns out Maclaren-Ross is a well-known British writer whose claim to fame is his masterful use of realistic cadences spoken by the working man.
Kaufman is a writer I discovered in Ireland, but had yet to find him anywhere at home. I figured it was worth a shot to look for him while I waited for my feet to dry. Sure enough, I spotted one last copy of his latest book of short stories. I sat and read the first story, eagerly absorbing every pun and beautifully created metaphor.
While both are genius writers, I will never shake the shiver of cold, wet feet when I touch the cover of either book or turn the pages. As the summer heat of home continues to beat down, Ross and Kaufman take me back to the damp chill of London, a feeling I miss so much.
Blackeyes by Dennis Potter
It’s no secret I’m a big Potter fan after my little adventure in Ireland, (See Part 1). While in London, I hoped to find the last novel I needed to complete my collection of his work. Luck was on my side again when I visited a little shop along Charring Cross Road. After some careful scanning, I found Blackeyes amid the bestsellers everyone else is after. However, finding the book was only half the fun, for the bookshop was filled with fascinating people. The shoppers were regulars who joked with the owners about prices. The employees were a joyous lot who obviously love books and couldn’t imagine spending their day doing anything else. Potter’s book keeps that feeling alive every time I touch it. I can smell the musty books and hear the laughter.