Friday, 4 June 2010


I wonder how many people read three or four books at a time? I used to be constantly hopping from book to book but don't seem to have the ability anymore. Perhaps you need a young, springy brain to keep all those plots sorted out.

At the moment I have a few books on the go but, as they are all episodic in nature, it feels quite natural. I rarely read a book of short stories all in one go, as I like to give thought to each story after I've finished it and I don't want to taint the next.

I received a wonderful book at Christmas, Vanity Fair's Hollywood Tales: Rebels, Reds and Graduates and the Wild Stories Behind the Making of 13 Iconic Films. I absolutely love reading about behind the scenes on Hollywood films and I particularly like when you hear about how films were originally conceived. Quite often, the main players are the fifth or sixth actors on the directors' lists. In the case of 'All About Eve', Bette Davis' signature film, she was turned to "as a last resort".

Claudette Colbert had signed up to play the queenly stage actress Margot Channing but suffered a ruptured disc. The only actress available and capable enough to fill in the role at short notice was Davis. The last time she and producer Daryl Zanuck had met, he had screamed at her "You'll never work in Hollywood again!" She nailed the role of Margot Channing, and it is one of the classic movie performances in a film which received 14 Oscar nominations, an unbeaten record until Titanic.

Other chapters cover Rebel Without A Cause, The Graduate (which was originally to star Robert Redford), Cleopatra, The Producers and Saturday Night Fever. The book is written with the typical Vanity Fair tone, well researched, respectable reportage which is deliciously gossipy at the same time. The best bits in the 'All About Eve' chapter are when you get to hear what everyone thought of each other and how George Sanders got on flying to San Franciso with his wife Zsa Zsa Gabor on one side of him and a flirty young Marilyn Monroe on the other.

I have already told of this lovely book's unexpected arrival and it was worth it for the first story alone. I have never read any Katherine Mansfield but have heard many good things about her. Her First Ball is about country girl Leila attending her first formal dance with her four cousins. Leila's girlish excitement and the assaults upon her senses are incredibly vivid and, although there is little traditional 'plot' to this tale, its waters run deep. The story is a polished pearl, light, sparkling and precious.

"Meg's tuberoses, Jose's long loop of amber, Laura's little dark head, pushing above her white fur like a flower through snow. She would remember forever."

A couple of years ago I bought the Christmas Stories in this series and it is actually one of the few short story collections which I have read all in one go. The quality and range is magnificent and I enjoyed it so much.

Love Stories contains works by Collete, Dorothy Parker, D. H. Lawrence,Vladimir Nabokov and F. Scott Fitzgerald to name a few. Yeah the standard's pretty high! My favourite so far has been 'Blood Sea' by Italo Calvino which ostensibly takes place in a car containing four people but the real story is in the blood, under the fingertips of two lovers on the back seat.

"The underwater depths were red like the colour we see now only inside our eyelids, and the sun's rays penetrated to brighten them in flashes or else in sprays. We undulated with no sense of direction, drawn by an obscure current so light that it seemed downright impalpable and yet strong enough to drag us up in very high waves and down in their troughs. Zylphia would plunge headlong beneath me in a violet, almost black whirlpool, then soar over me rising toward the more scarlet stripes that ran beneath the luminous vault."

My new edition of Slightly Foxed arrived today! I've not started it yet, but I'm certainly not going to finish the above three books before I do. This quarterly is beautifully produced on cream paper with a new watercolour illustration on the cover each month. The publishers also make a point of mentioning that the size of the editions means that it can be slipped easily into a handbag or a coat pocket, which makes me want to hug them.

There is a Slightly Foxed book shop(selling their own editions as well as second hand books) and look at the map they provide to it, it is the perfect illustration of the feeling of this publication, sweet, whimsical and a little eccentric.

They also produce stocking fillers!


  1. I think I would love the Vanity Fair book. Those are my favourite articles in the magazine so to have a whole book devoted to the best ones....what fun!

  2. As an owner of a young brain I can also vouch for the impossibility of reading many books at once! I don't think it's an inability to, I just think it takes away from a book if you've got another two on the go. I like to be completely involved in one book at a time!

  3. Mrs B, It is a very enjoyable read and highly recommended. You get the sugar rush of reading a glossy mag with the high-brow cover of reading a book.

    Lila, thank you for easing my mind! I agree that it can really ruin the mood of some books if you dither about between others.

  4. Currently I'm in a many-books-at-once phase, but I tend to alternate, depending on the nature of the Rest of Life and how focussed I am (or am not)!

    There are clear advantages to sticking to one-book-at-a-time but I also see advantages to having many on the go. I might end up just turning out the light at night rather than reading along in something exceptionally disturbing, whereas now I just choose a more amiable read and enjoy a few chapters all the same. Also on days when I have more to cart to work, I can choose a smaller book amongst the stack of many shapes and sizes.

    But I do like the feeling of being wholly immersed in Just One Read too.

  5. I like your capitalisations of Rest of Life and Just One Read!

    It's true that there are certain books that you read in bed and others that you can only handle during the day. There's also sick-bed books, holiday books, comfort books....hmmm...there's a post in this!