The Thrifty Fictionista Takes to Her Bed…

TF Adventure

I would MUCH rather be on an adventure than have the flu.

So, it finally happened.  I thought, when I got laryngitis a couple of weeks ago (much to the eternal — or perhaps infernal — amusement of my children), that I had done my time with lurgies great and small this Winter.  Or Spring.  Or whatever the damn season is, given that the temperature rocketed up to 34°C two days ago before plunging back to a wild and windswept 12°C.

Unfortunately, my own temperature has been vacillating just as unpredictably: influenza has me in its evil grip, and the Thrifty Fictionista has taken to her bed.  Still, rather than railing against the indignity of barely having the energy to get out of said bed, or boring you with my symptoms, I have managed to haul myself upright for a minute or two so I can tell you what has been keeping me sane for the past three days.

Books.

Books, books and more books.  And even though recently I have been reading things like Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (which I freely admit I could not read in bed as I found that a bit too disturbing), and Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own (which I highly recommend — both as a read and a concept), and Jane Harper’s The Dry (which is as fine a debut novel as you’ll ever read as well as providing an unflinchingly accurate depiction of life in small outback Australian towns), I have — as usual — a confession.

TF Kell

I do wish I had a coat like Kell’s…

The Thrifty Fictionista can’t read such things when she is sick.

No, when I am sick, I need magic.

And so, the past few days have I reached for my Kindle (which, with its amazing capacity to deliver whole books into my waiting hands without leaving my bed, seems like magic itself) and buried myself in V E Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic trilogy.

On Wednesday, I re-read A Darker Shade of Magic, because it had been quite some time since I had dipped into the world of Red London.  Or Grey London or White London, for that matter.  And given the flu made me feel like I was already well on my way to Black London, I found myself wishing for a coat like Kell’s — you know, the one that you can turn inside out and every time it’s a different coat — and for the ability to wield Antari blood magic.

As Hasari…I wanted to whisper.

Heal…

TF Spells

Oh, for a working spell, not days stuck malingering in bed.

But the flu had other ideas, so I kept on reading and followed the thief, Lila Bard (you just have to love a girl who would like to be a pirate, don’t you?), and the magician Kell on their adventures through the various Londons, saving cities and rescuing (or was it resurrecting?) princes.

On Thursday, I started reading A Gathering of Shadows, and was gratified to discover that it was considerably longer than the first book, as the damn flu showed no signs of abating even when hit with hard core antibiotics and a decent-sized helping of The Bloke’s best Spaghetti Bolognese. I love that Lila did wind up becoming a pirate — ahem, I mean a Privateer — and thoroughly enjoyed meeting her Captain, Alucard Emery, and I relished the magic and mayhem of the Essen Tasch tournament.

And now it is Friday, and I have just downloaded the third book, A Conjuring of Light, hoping that it will bring me just that: light relief from being stuck in this bed.  Still.

So, without further ado, I am going to get on with it, not least because I need to lie down again…but also because I am grateful for the escape.  For the distraction.  For the adventure.

And — mostly definitely — for the magic.

 

 

 

The Thrifty Fictionista Strikes Again!

 

WP Cover

Tolstoy’s great tale, beautifully translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volkhonsky.

I was heading out the door to collect Marvel Girl and Miss Malaprop from school this afternoon when I casually slung my handbag over my shoulder and nearly put my back out. Now, I will admit that this particular accessory is known in our household as “The Bottomless Bag”, not only because it holds a great deal of stuff, but also because it seems to possess an uncanny propensity to cause said stuff (most commonly keys) to evade my grasp whenever I am scrabbling around the bottom of said bag.

Today, however, I already had those elusive keys in my hand — my handbag was just heavy, and perplexingly so. What on earth could I possibly have stowed in my tote?

It was at this point that I remembered that I, quite literally, had a copy of War and Peace in The Bottomless Bag.

Having a book in my handbag is not an uncommon state of affairs for me — in fact, I suspect that not having a book in my handbag, not to mention a notepad and several pens, would be much more unusual. But today, I had completely forgotten that sometime this morning I had waltzed happily (though perhaps a little lopsidedly) out of the local bookstore with a copy of Tolstoy’s classic tale in my bag. Yes, the Thrifty Fictionista had struck again…

For those of you as yet unacquainted with my alter-ego, the Thrifty Fictionista is prone to prowling through bookstores, aiming to get as much book for her buck as possible. At one point last year, the Thrifty Fictionista staked out Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 trilogy.  Earlier this year, she successfully ensnared Hilary Mantel’s A Place of Greater Safety. And today, obviously, she tracked down War and Peace, which being out of copyright and running to well over 1,200 pages definitely meets the Thrifty Fictionista’s usual criteria for her prey: lots of book for not so many bucks.

WP Cover 2

War and Peace: the Laughing Squid edit.

To be completely honest, I — having given up referring to myself in the third person a lá Jaqen H’ghar in the last paragraph — did not actually track the book down all by myself this morning. I engaged the assistance of an obliging young bookshop employee who was all too happy to point me in the direction of the hallowed shelves where the classics reside and then, to my delight, knew exactly which translation I was referring to — the Richard Pevear and Larissa Volkhonsky one, of course — when I asked specifically for War and Peace. Could it be that the Thrifty Fictionista had found a kindred spirit, a fellow hunter of bargain-priced quality books? A simple flip of the volume to check the price tag (watch your wrist, there, it’s a hefty tome) and I was rewarded with a knowing smile. Yes. A kindred spirit, indeed.

As it turned out, my new best friend was also in the process of reading War and Peace. I didn’t ask him where he was up to — the book took Tolstoy six years to write (and, some would say, takes just about as long to read), but his slightly bleary eyes revealed that he had been at it for some time, while the determined jut of his jaw indicated his intention to finish. It was my turn, it seemed, for a knowing smile.

The first time I read War and Peace I borrowed my father’s copy, which was conveniently housed in three battered blue volumes he had bought as a boy. I’ve always enjoyed Tolstoy’s work, particularly after studying Russian history at university, and still count Anna Karenina among my favourite novels of all time. But having just watched the sparkling new BBC adaptation of War and Peace, which was written by Andrew Davies (who was also responsible for that TV version of Pride and Prejudice, not to mention House of Cards and Vanity Fair, among many others), I wanted to read the book again — particularly now that the screen production has provided me with faces to associate with the many (hard to remember and harder to pronounce) names in the book.

WP Dolokhov

Tom Burke stealing every scene he’s in as Fedya Dolokhov, the soldier who takes exactly what he wants…

Davies’ adaptation shrinks Tolstoy’s story down to just over six hours of television, but I don’t believe that the end result to be at all reductive. The screen is filled with the broad sweep of the novel and of Russia itself, and is populated by an impeccably costumed cast. Paul Dano is admirable as Count Pierre Bezukov, James Norton suitably haughty as Prince Andrei Bolkonsky, and Lily James utterly exquisite as the young Countess, Natalya Rostova.

For my money, however, it is in the supporting cast that the stars really begin to shine. Brian Cox is superb as gruff old General Kutuzov, who has seen it all before (with his one remaining eye) and knows his best ally against Napoleon is Russia’s winter rather than her troops. But the stand out, in my view, is Tom Burke’s brilliant take on the career soldier, Fedya Dolokhov, a man who makes his own luck and takes exactly what he wants — this man’s wife, that man’s money, even the food off his friend’s plate. He’s a troublemaker (to put it mildly), a dangerous and destructive force played with impulsive energy, passion and panache by Burke.

I’ve already started re-reading Tolstoy’s epic tale of love and loss, of War and Peace — I couldn’t stop myself — and I am thoroughly enjoying placing the characters in the sets and contexts so beautifully supplied by the BBC adaptation. I love that the book itself is as big as a house brick, and that I might well have put my back out had I not taken it out of The Bottomless Bag before school pick up, but that within its pages and in between the battles and bombardments there are subtleties and nuances and snippets of conversation conveying the overriding delicacy of thought that is so characteristic of Tolstoy. There is an insistence that we look at ourselves, and at our choices throughout life, and that we recognise within ourselves the power to forgive, to love, and to be happy.

WP Tolstoy quote

Well, that’s the one thing we are interested in here — until the Thrifty Fictionista strikes again…

The Literary Apothecary

Heart bookNot so long ago, I bared my evidently somewhat miserly soul and wrote the Confession of the Thrifty Fictionista. Those of you who have read it will know that allowing myself to wander into a bookstore is a dangerous business, particularly if I am in possession of a credit card (not necessarily mine), cash (even the most trifling amount), or anything that could be used (appropriately or otherwise) to barter for new books.

Even to say that I “wander” in bookstores is not entirely accurate. In truth, it’s a lot more like stalking. I don’t prowl around suburban bookstores disguised in a ghillie suit fashioned from torn out pages of old paperbacks and the occasionally well-placed bookmark, but I do take the mission of tracking down exactly the right book very seriously. It requires rigorous discipline, a keen eye and excellent aim to capture such a book, and this pursuit gives me nearly as much pleasure as devouring the whole volume when I return to my lair…er…my home.

But every now and then, a book creeps up on me, instead — in the best possible way.

Such books do not stalk me the way I stalk them. No. they’re far more flirtatious. Enticing. Alluring. They call me with their covers and beckon with their blurbs until I am sufficiently charmed to forget my usual thrift and self-restraint, and submit to purchasing them, no matter the price. Paris Bookshop

The most recent tome whose wiles proved utterly irresistible to me was Nina George’s beautiful novel The Little Paris Bookshop, the tale of a man named Jean Perdu who runs a bookshop from a barge on the River Seine. Instead of being just a bookseller, however, the main character is a “literary apothecary” whose gift is matching his customers with books that ease their minds and soothe their souls. Rather than allowing them to purchase the books they want, he sells them the books they need. As it says in the novel:

Whenever Monsieur Perdu looked at a book, he did not see it purely in terms of a story, retail price and an essential balm for the soul; he saw freedom on wings of paper.

But Jean Perdu — his name, of course, translates as John Lost — is unable to heal his own wounds, inflicted more than two decades before, until he has the courage to cast off the book barge, Lulu, from the Champs-Élysées harbour and journey south towards Avignon and beyond in search of his long lost Provençal love.

George’s novel is, quite simply, a lovely read: amusing, heartfelt, and poignant.  Rather than being nosebleeingly highbrow literature, it is what I think of as the best sort of book — the kind that you can’t wait to keep reading, but that you don’t want to finish either. It’s well written but eminently accessible, and Simon Pare’s translation from George’s original German is so elegant and lyrical that I was completely unaware that I was not reading the book in its original form.

I was, and remain, grateful that The Little Paris Bookshop crept up on me, and I’m looking forward to the next book that tempts me and works its wondrous magic.  Because reading, as Jean Perdu says, is “an endless journey; a long, indeed never-ending journey that [makes] one more temperate as well as more loving and kind.”

Ahhh….books.  Long may they seduce us.

Confession of a Thrifty Fictionista

SolaceI allowed myself a guilty pleasure yesterday afternoon.

That said, ‘guilty pleasure’ is a complete misnomer because I don’t feel a shred of remorse about it.  Rather, I felt an overwhelming sense of adulation: roaming around a bookshop, on my own, having given myself permission to leave the shop with one — just one — newly purchased tome.

I have said before that music is as necessary as oxygen to me.  Similarly, on my list of life’s necessities, books are akin to food: they are my nourishment and my sustenance. Even The Bloke often refers to me as the hungriest bookworm he has ever met.  And, as with what I eat, there are times when I am not at all fussy about what I am reading, times when I am very strict with myself about what I may or may not read, and times when only a certain book will do.

So, as you may well imagine, my trip to the bookshop yesterday was like visiting a literary smoragasbord: picking up a book here and a book there, flicking through the first couple of pages, sampling this author’s words and that publisher’s blurb, feasting on the myriad covers, on the handwritten staff recommendations, on the glory of the printed word.  And it was there, standing among all those shelves of shining volumes, my nostrils full of the unmistakable scent of new books, that I realised something.  Yes — here it is, the confession of a Thrifty Fictionista: I want as much book for my buck as possible.

Banal as it is, it’s true.  Even when I’m in the process of being swept up and away by the sight and smell of so many glorious books, I’ve got one eye firmly fixed on the price tag.  If I’m going to buy a book — one that will hold its own on my already overloaded shelves — it needs to be worth it.  In a world where my library space is also being inexorably usurped by my children’s expanding collection of Lego bricks and other toys, I need to feel confident that I will be willing to defend my literary purchase against the onslaught of small plastic figures, minuscule puzzle pieces and apparently self-multiplying coloured pencils and pens.  It doesn’t need to be a book that has won a major award, topped the best-seller lists or even received critical acclaim, but it does need to be a work of quality.  Perhaps it’s a snippet of dialogue that attracts me, or an impression of a particular place or historical time, or a particularly well-crafted description or turn of phrase.  But it does need to get me in.

And my book of choice not only has to be a quality tome, it has to last.  It needs to keep me occupied for days, not hours — and being a notoriously fast reader, this sometimes poses a problem for me.  That said, yesterday it proved to be instructive: I seriously considered purchasing a riot of a read by an Australian author whose work I love, but whose trademark fast-paced narratives and twisting plots take me only a few hours to devour.  They’re fantastic escapes, but ones that I am far more likely to borrow from the library.  Let’s face it, you can only be surprised by an ending once, and quite apart from that, this Thrifty Fictionista had a reasonably good inkling that she could pick up a brand new copy far cheaper online than she could in store…

Dec 2014 Jan 2015 021So just what did I emerge from the bookstore with?  Which volume managed to reel me in, and satisfy both the frugal and decadent sides of my nature — the one that doesn’t want to pay too much as well as the one that wants to wallow in a good book for hours?  Well, I ended up with three books in one: Haruki Murakam’s 1Q84 trilogy.  I’m 250 pages into it already and it has me hooked, and I went to bed feeling almost smug last night, knowing that I still have over 1,000 pages and many happy hours reading ahead of me.  And, if you must know, the Murakami omnibus was five dollars cheaper than the other book I was tempted by, so this Thrifty Fictionista is counting that as a win!