Books Keep The Best Memories, Part 2

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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.

South Bank Book Market, London

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.

Waterstone's, Trafalgar Square

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.

c.b. 2011

Books Keep the Best Memories, Part 1

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The Best Souvenirs Are Free, but books come in a very close second.  This is especially true if they are used and include inscriptions from previous owners.  While I wander through my travels, I always keep my eyes peeled for a bookstore where I can peruse local authors or maybe find a new treasure to put on my bookshelf.

Books are a favorite souvenir for they not only tell stories, but they keep them as well. New books pique my curiosity because the authors are unknown to me and I want to know how they reflect the place I’m visiting.  Used books connect me to people I’ll never meet and have a history that reaches beyond bent covers and cracked bindings.  I get goosebumps just thinking about it.

This is the first in a series of posts about books that hold special memories for me.  Much like stones and shells, books give me more than a tacky magnet or keychain ever could.

Books From Ireland:

UTZ by Bruce Chatwin 
Winter Garden by Beryl Bainbridge 
All My Friends Are Superheroes by Andrew Kaufman

On a walk through Killarney, I found a charming store called The Dungeon Bookshop. On the upper floor is a mess of used books stacked on shelves, the floor and wherever else there’s room. And none of them are organized beyond genre.  It’s a good thing I had an entire afternoon free and had on a good pair of walking shoes.  I’ve never been to a bookstore where climbing over piles of books was required in order to get from one shelf to another!  In the midst of the chaos, I found three thin novels by quirky authors, the likes of whom I’ve never encountered.  Chatwin has a unique voice he uses to create amazing metaphors, while Bainbridge proves she’s a legend with her elegant prose.  Then there’s Kaufman, a Canadian writer who deserves a far wider readership as he makes the allegory into an art form all his own.

The Dungeon Bookshop, Killarney Ireland

All three reads continue to be at the top of my list for original writing. It’s quite fitting they came from such a strange shop that defies all the rules.  Although, I realized some time later I may have broke a little rule, too.  The man at the counter seemed surprised to see a tourist in the shop, no less one who was actually buying something.  He was more surprised still that I was American . . . and then he smiled.  All I could think was how this bookshop appeared to be a safe house for misfits.  Whenever my fingers run over the bindings I feel the marvelous chaos that surrounded my feet that day and I hope quirky books and people continue to find their way to the friendly haven on The Dungeon’s second floor.

Ticket to Ride by Dennis Potter

I’ll be honest and admit this book was not an accidental find.  After reading Potter’s Hide and Seek,  I was on a mission to get my hands on more of his work.  In particular, I was after Ticket to Ride.  The only problem is the book is out of print and virtually unavailable in the States.  Seeing as I was on my way to Ireland, I decided my best hope of finding it resided in my trip, despite such slim odds.  Throughout my journey on the Emerald Isle I stopped at every bookstore I could find and came up empty until the last day.  In Dublin, I visited The Winding Stair, an incredibly cute and cozy used bookshop that literally has a winding staircase.   I scanned the fiction shelves and found nothing, so I headed towards the back corner where the bargain books were shelved.  I had to get on my knees in order to go through every book on the bottom shelf, but it was worth it the moment I spotted the magic words:  Ticket to Ride.  I found it!!  I’m pretty sure I gasped and did a little dance.  At the bargain price of €4, victory became even sweeter.  Although, Potter’s book was as good as gold to me no matter the price.

When I opened the cover I found the added bonus of an inscription from a previous owner:

It doesn’t get any better than this!  My curiosity continues to wonder who wrote it and why. What does the phrase mean? What colorful story inspired this person to pull out a pen?  I will never know, but with these few words I am connected to a total stranger.  I’ve always found that small connection to be a powerful thing as my memories are forever intertwined with memories of another.  For that simple reason, Ticket To Ride will always be priceless and meaningful on a deeply personal level.

The book still evokes a strong sense of exhilaration whenever I pull it off my shelf.  One touch instantly brings back the memories of every bookstore I visited as well as the rolling green hills that separated one shop from the next.  This is a book that triggered my book vibe before I even saw it and has proven to be a reader’s delight.  Potter’s writing may be dark, but it’s beautiful and bold in ways I can only hope to achieve as a writer.  I will always be thankful that somehow Ticket to Ride ended up on a dusty shelf in Dublin and I was lucky enough to find it.  It’s battered and worn from a life I can only imagine, but it now keeps the adventure of my treasure hunt safely between its pages.

c.b. 2011