Virginia Barton

6 June 2014: Books again


6 June 2014


It’s been a “nose in a book” week. Several weeks actually. Books on proper paper; not ebooks which can wait till Kingdom come or the next visit to the dentist. The pile of “yet to be finished” titles by the bed and on the table by the sofa was a reproach that had to be tackled: some had been started so long ago the beginning was forgotten. I never mastered speed reading, and am a slow reader, if not quite mouthing the words; and at 77 it takes considerably longer to finish a book, let alone retaining the contents. Oh if only I could remember everything I have ever read!

“What a fount of knowledge! How witty and clever she is,” they would say admiringly. Exasperating to have forgotten so much.


300_9780168The books lent by friends must be finished first and returned before you forget who lent them. Top of the pile, and one from which to wring every last drop, is A Late Beginner by Priscilla Napier (1966).  This is an hilarious, wistful, insightful view of life in Cairo particularly, but also Home, before and during the first War. Nanny, dusting the French railway carriage before allowing her little charges to sit in it, is one of many unforgettable incidents even my crumpled brain will retain. Feel the heat, see the landscape and revel in the extended family – a rich assortment of aunts, uncles and numerous cousins.

We try not to buy books due to lack of space. One hard-liner I know gives a book away every time anybody gives her one, but I’ve broken this rule because A Late Beginner is a classic, will take years to appear as an ebook, and there are least six people I’d like to lend it to.


51j1sTA9KALWhat’s your policy on lending books, DVD’s and the like? A Sultry Month by Alethea Hayter (1965) is a case in point. I have hunted it down and bought it at least three times. It’s a book you lend with enthusiasm because you want people to share in it, and then find it goes walkabout. Subtitled Scenes of London Literary Life in 1846, the author spreads before the reader an absorbing and intimate glimpse into the lives of the likes of Keats, Carlyle and other literary lions, during one particular month. The background and central figure of the book is the tragic figure of the painter Benjamin Haydon.

(A Silly Thought: should our favorite books, nay objects, be micro-chipped?)


$(KGrHqZ,!pIFJVMeLW(mBSfi!wGMh!~~60_35A tear was shed over Groundsel and Necklaces by Cicely Mary Barker (1943) which has come home, as it were. A niece found it in my late sister’s library. My round hand declares my name, address & telephone number, very formally, with the date 1948. Two pages are torn out in the middle — why I no longer remember, sheer naughtiness probably.

This little book with its gorgeous illustrations and wartime paper was given to me as a sop, I suspect, for having to live in beastly London after the freedom of the country.

Where, I wonder, are Cicely Mary Barker’s Flower Fairy series, and Lord of the Rushie River? Gone to book heaven…







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