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In Praise of the Bookmark

In Praise of the Bookmark

Bookmarks make antiquarians anxious: will acid in their paper eat into precious pages? Will colour bleed? The oldest survivor, made of leather, lies within the sixth-century vellum of a Coptic codex. In the nineteenth century, leather, silk or ribbon were largely used for bibles and prayer books: images arise of the solemnity of Sundays, servants and family gathered after breakfast to hear the Word. Now, in W. H. Smith, you can buy a faux-wood shark, moose or flying saucer, yours for £6.99 and guaranteed to ruin a book in no time.
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George Orwell | The Nightmare of Room 101 | From the Slightly Foxed archives

George Orwell | The Nightmare of Room 101 | From the Slightly Foxed archives

Greetings from Hoxton Square. It’s Banned Books Week and censored writers have been very much on our minds: Simone de Beauvoir, D. H. Lawrence, Voltaire, Edna O’Brien, Kurt Vonnegut, Antal Szerb, James Joyce and Radclyffe Hall, to name but a few of our favourites. We have been astonished to discover quite how many books have been banned and the myriad reasons for which they were removed from libraries and bookshops around the world.
A Modest Proposal

A Modest Proposal

Two Puffins are in front of me, picked almost at random from my bookcase. And by Puffins I mean Puffin books, represented by that cheerful little bird on the spine which was for my formative reading years pretty well a guarantee of a good read. Eusebius the Phoenician by Christopher Webb was published in Britain by Puffin in 1973, The Dancing Bear by Peter Dickinson in 1974. Both captivated me; both satisfied the story-craving in the way a good dinner settles a hungry stomach.
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Expressing the Inexpressible

Expressing the Inexpressible

I’m sure it is not my worst shortcoming, but it may be the one that grieves me most: I simply cannot draw. Something in this business of squinting at the world and making appropriate marks on paper eludes me. At school, I was mortified by art classes in the way that others shuddered at the thought of Games. And when I came to have my own children, their touching faith that I would be able to draw a cat or a pig or a cow could induce an almost tearful sense of inadequacy.
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Bore-Hunting in Dublin

Bore-Hunting in Dublin

Most fiction writers of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries know the form and understand that they will meet the same fate: good reviews for a first novel, a larger advance for the second, severely reduced advances for any subsequent volumes, poor sales, the casting adrift by their publishers, full-time jobs in cardboard box factories or part-time jobs in academia, then oblivion. My own fantasy, as an ageing cuckoo nesting in various universities in the early part of this century, was to find a beautiful and energetic student to front my works so that I could enjoy a new career by proxy. Perhaps not: he (or she) might have been praised for their ability to satirize the politically regrettable thought patterns of men and women of previous generations, but surely the trick would only work once. Perhaps the answer would be to dream up a suitable pen name and start afresh.
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The Loss of Innocence

The Loss of Innocence

I had been reading Philip Larkin’s poetry for years before, quite recently, I decided to have a look at his novels. I knew he had written a couple in his early years: Jill (1946) and A Girl in Winter (1947). I knew too that, in their Oxford days and for some while after, Larkin saw himself as primarily a novelist, while his friend Kingsley Amis regarded himself as primarily a poet (how wrong they both were). What I did not know was that, of Larkin’s novels, the second, A Girl in Winter , far from being an early misfire, is, well, a bit of a masterpiece.
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Frivolity, Filth and Fortitude

Frivolity, Filth and Fortitude

Among the excesses marking the dying days of the Bourbon ancien régime before it was swept away by the French Revolution was a craze for ridiculous hats. These structures elevated already flamboyant society coiffures to a level bordering on lunacy. Constructed from materials such as papier-mâché́, feathers and silk, they were worn to mark con- temporary events, from the death of a fêted individual to innovations such as ballooning. However, in a crowded field of eccentricity none could match the Duchesse de Lauzun who entered Mme du Deffand’s salon sporting an ‘entire tableau consisting of a stormy sea, ducks swimming near the shore and a man with a gun sprouting from her head. Above, on the crown, stood a mill with the miller’s wife being seduced by a priest, while over one ear the miller could be seen leading his donkey.’
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No Nylon Singlets

No Nylon Singlets

The first time I went to France, I was 9 years old, and we drove all the way there in my mother’s tiny Datsun. The second time, I was a teenager, and sans parents, and I kissed a boy called Sylvain who wore snow-washed jeans and a horrible white nylon vest. Ah, Sylvain. Chéri. To my knowledge, there is only one extant photograph of the two of us together. We’re sitting on a low wall somewhere in the countryside just east of Montélimar, and my face wears a rapturous expression.
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A New Angle on Life

A New Angle on Life

To save a little money for travelling before university, I took a job in the stockroom of a women’s fashion store in the nearest town. I had to be on site to receive deliveries before the store opened, which meant catching the bus that glided, spectre-like, past my rural home just before 5 a.m. most mornings. I kept watch, fully dressed for work under a quilted dressing-gown, by the window at the top of the stairs, so that I could spot the headlights between the trees and so have enough time to dash outside and flag it down with vigorous torch and arm-waving.
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