Second-hand book buys

Sunday 19 January 2014

Having been studying an English Literature degree for the last three years, you'd probably think that I read a lot of books. That's true - but not always books that I like. In fact, aside from reading for my classes I've only read two or three books for fun since starting my course. I was a voracious reader as a kid, often getting through eight or nine young adult books a week, and the local library was probably where I spent most of my time when not at school (I've still not mastered spending less than an hour choosing something to read). I still love reading - and I certainly still have a horrible book-buying habit - but I don't have a lot of time to do any reading for pure enjoyment. 

Since becoming ill a few years ago my concentration, memory and reading speed dramatically reduced and so I've had to get used to taking a lot more time to get through my required reading; even now I still don't always manage. Because of this pressure to keep up (and how much effort I have to put in to do so now) I often find myself thinking of reading as a chore I have to get through in order to keep up, and even books I know I have the potential to really enjoy become far too pressurised for me to do so. 

As the end of my degree approaches and I think about my future, one thing I've really been looking forward to is beginning to be able to see reading as something to enjoy, rather than rushing to finish. Inspired by Bee over at Vivatramp, I've started looking in charity shops for books much more often. Sadly, the town where my mum lives has little in the way of books in the charity shops and the main Barnardos bookshop has unfortunately closed. Where I live in East London has plenty of lovely bookshops but the price is prohibitive for me to buy regularly, and there aren't many charity shops stocking books. Luckily for me, I ventured over to Hampstead last week and wandered into an amazing second-hand bookshop and a well-stocked Oxfam book store. The images above are the results of that trip!

Beatrix Potter
I couldn't let this one go. I grew up with Beatrix Potter, and my family has a collection of all of her books, but seeing this one (my favourite) I thought I'd get a copy for myself, until I manage to sneak out of my mum's house with the rest.

William Langland (translated into Modern English by Professor W. W. Skeat)
I studied this text during my first year course, 'Literatures in Time'. It's an allegorical poem focusing on the quest for the 'true Christian life' originally written in Middle English in the 14th Century, and is considered to be one of the greatest works of English Literature in the Middle Ages. It's a little bit of a niche subject area, but as I'm studying both Old English (the form of English that led into Middle English) and the relationship between literature and translation, I thought it'd be interesting to see how Skeat's translation comes across. The gold embossing on the cover is also really beautiful, and I'm a sucker for old-school bindings.

George Eliot
The Penguin Great Ideas series is one that I'm slowly building a collection of. The books provide a great selection of some of the best writings of the ages, featuring essays by authors from Sophocles and Confucius to Orwell and Darwin, which have shaped ideas about society, humanity, science and philosophy (and much more) over centuries. They're also pretty reasonably priced even new. Here Eliot 'skewers the formulaic yet bestselling works that dominated her time', addresses the silliness of some of the novels written by women and explores the great women writers of France.

Brian & Deborah Charlesworth
The Oxford 'Very Short Introduction' series is another one I'm keeping an eye on. I already own 'Memory' and 'Dreaming' and have a list of a few others. The series gives a short yet not patronising introduction to the basics of many concepts, ranging from Quantum Theory, Art History and Hinduism to some really abstract ones such as 'Nothing' and 'Reality'. Although I've studied science a fair amount, it's always useful to have something like this on hand to make sure I've got my ideas straight!

H. G. Wells
The War of the Worlds is one of those classics I've never quite got round to reading properly.  A timeless alien invasion novel, it has a bit of a reputation: a dramatised radio broadcast of it causing a fair bit of panic when aired, with people mistaking it for a real news broadcast (though just how much panic it caused is debated now). The film also scared the life out of me at the time, so we'll see how this one goes.

Henry Sweet (revised by Dorothy Whitelock)
The man in the shop was fairly taken aback when I came in and asked for texts in Old English! This book is one of the main texts that's been used to teach students the language and literature of this period and it'll be interesting to see a wide variety of texts. This year I'm studying Old English as a language, learning to read and translate texts written in this period. Old 'English' might be a little misleading, as the language we know as English today is very different to this one! This is the language that the Anglo Saxons were speaking (in varying dialects) across Britain after the Roman withdrawal and before the Norman invasion in 1066. It's quite hard to learn, but I'm finding it really interesting and I'm excited to begin to be able to read texts in their original format rather than translations.

Geoffrey Chaucer
A very well known Middle English text which most English Literature students will have to read at some point. A group of pilgrims have a story-telling competition as they make their way to the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket. I was unwell for my Chaucer lectures and so I never really got to grips with it - I thought perhaps I might give myself a little challenge once I graduate.

Irvine Welsh
Trainspotting is a cult novel which I've always wanted to read. Most people I've spoken to have at least seen the film (which I haven't) so it feels like a bit of a mystery to me. I'm very intrigued to see how Welsh uses Scots and Scottish English, and I'm hoping that I'll be able to make sense of most of it given that half my family is Scottish. We'll see! Described as 'the voice of punk, grown up, grown wiser and grown eloquent' by the Sunday Times, it promises to be a bit of a rollercoaster and I'm looking forward to it.

Chuck Palahniuk
A fashion model with a perfect existence is dramatically disfigured and rendered incapable of speech in an accident, going from the 'beautiful centre of attention' to an 'invisible monster'. This novel was intended to be Palahniuk's first, but was rejected by publishers for being 'too disturbing' (sounds like my kind of read). However after Fight Club achieved cult status, they gave him another go. It's also been turned into a graphic novel by comic artist KGZ, also known as Gabor Kiss.

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