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Desert Wisdom

Desert Wisdom

I first came across Ahmed Hassanein Bey when bumping across the Libyan Sahara by camel with a friend. This was long before Kindles and iPads helped the bibliophile traveller lighten his load. Between us we had a slightly hodgepodge library consisting of a Koran, a New Testament (a Christmas present from my mother, inscribed with Deuteronomy 2:7: ‘The Lord your God has blessed you in all the work of your hands. He has watched over your journey through this vast desert’), some Oscar Wilde short stories, P. G. Wodehouse, Trollope, the complete works of Shakespeare, a volume of poetry, Homer’s Odyssey and an Arabic language book. Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom and Hassanein Bey’s The Lost Oases completed the collection to be borne across the desert by our diminutive caravan of five camels: Asfar, Gobber, The Big White, Bobbles and Lebead.
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Return to Arcadia

Return to Arcadia

Several times, during a long life of reading, I’ve been tempted to write an autobiography based solely on the books that have counted for me. Someone once told me that it was customary for a Spanish nobleman to have his coat of arms engraved on his bedhead so that visitors might know who it was who lay in a sleep that might always be his last. Why then not be identified by my bedside favourites, which define and represent me better than any symbolic shield? If I ever indulged in such a vainglorious undertaking, a chapter, an early chapter, would be given over to The Wind in the Willows.
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Taking a Hint

Taking a Hint

I already had something of a habit of collecting old home-making manuals – 1950s ‘Pins and Needles’ books with instructions for making a rag rug or knocking up a stylish telephone table for instance, or Constance Spry’s Flowers in House and Garden; and I’m very attached to a 1930s DIY book on how to lay lino, not least for its demonstration photographs of a man in a home-knitted V-necked sweater who looks very like my father. Nevertheless, I’d managed to restrict my collection to just a few bookshelves until I was commissioned to write a book about Victorian and Edwardian eating and drinking.
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Such Devoted Sisters

Such Devoted Sisters

Edith Olivier, born in 1872, was one of ten children whose father was for nearly fifty years Rector of Wilton, on the estate of the Earls of Pembroke, outside Salisbury. After the death of their parents, Edith and her beloved sister Mildred were invited by the Earl of Pembroke to live, at a peppercorn rent, in the old Dairy House (which Edith renamed as the Daye House) in Wilton Park. When, in 1924, Mildred died of cancer, Edith was desolate. She wrote in her journal, ‘I cannot realize that I am going to be lonely always.’ Being a devout Anglican – each day of her life she went to an early Eucharist – she considered entering a convent, but at 52 she was told by the Mother Superior not only that she was too old but also that she was ‘too rebellious of mind’.
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Finding Gold

Those 150 pages were very timely, I now remember, because in just a few escapist hours they cleared my head of the months of swotting for university finals. The weekend before my exams started, a friend who’d left the college sent me a small package containing a paperback which he’d inscribed with a line from Wordsworth, ‘Up up my friend and quit your books’, and his own suggestion that I take his gift and a bottle into a field somewhere, and indulge myself in a sunlit afternoon of plain pleasure. Two weeks later, exams over, lying not in a field but on a sofa, I opened the book without great expectations, but from the gripping first chapter I was hooked. I read it through in one go. With or without a bottle, I can’t say, but definitely it would have been with cigarettes.
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Lion-hunting with the Colonel

Lion-hunting with the Colonel

I expect that most of us, particularly in the current economic climate, have experienced trying times in our working lives, whether dealing with uncooperative colleagues, rude customers or overbearing management. However, next time you feel inclined to grumble, spare a thought for Lieutenant-Colonel J. H. Patterson, the author of The Man-eaters of Tsavo. His account of the extreme difficulties he endured while employed as an engineer on the construction of the Uganda Railway at the end of the nineteenth century is a sure way of keeping one’s own problems in perspective – all the more so since Patterson bore it all without a hint of complaint.
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Right Reverend

Right Reverend

George MacDonald is a man who changes lives. The friend who first handed me MacDonald’s Annals of a Quiet Neighbourhood, the fictional memoir of the Reverend Henry Walton, Vicar of Marshmallows, discovered it decades ago, in its delicious three-volume 1867 first edition (ah, for those halcyon days!) when he was a graduate student in Germany. His newly-wed wife was also a graduate student who had recently given birth to their first child. Their financial resources were perilously strained and, as neither of them had read Erasmus on the merits of books versus food, were deemed insufficient for three-volume, leather-bound novels, however enchanting. There was nothing for it but to sit on the floor of the bookshop and read the book there. When he turned the final page several weeks later, he rose stiffly to his feet, went home, and announced his intention to become a minister. MacDonald had shown him the allure of devotion.
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Drama in Dulcimer Street

London Belongs to Me is Norman Collins’s best-known book, first published in 1945, regularly reprinted throughout the fifties and sixties, once in 1977 and most recently by Penguin in 2008. The hardback edition I own is a 1949 copy, and runs to over 700 pages of small type. In 1948 it was made into a film with a cast of iconic British character actors, among them Alastair Sim, Joyce Carey, Fay Compton and Richard Attenborough. There was also a six-part television series in 1977, again with a roster of the best of British, including a young Trevor Eve.
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End of a Baltic Summer

End of a Baltic Summer

‘That is the only church built in Russia during the Soviet era,’ the guide said, pointing at a bleak white building near the shoreline. A few more yards and we could see the full sweep of the Baltic from one promontory of Tallinn Bay to the other. The water had a steely look to it. This was the venue for the sailing events in the Moscow Olympics in 1980, and the grudging attempt at church-building was meant for those athletes who valued prayer. The skyline was a profile of what history has done to this Estonian city: blocks of soulless high-rise flats from the Stalinist era, a clutch of small-scale skyscrapers and docked cruise liners dwarfing the old part of the city.
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Perfectly Pocketable | Slightly Foxed Paperbacks

Perfectly Pocketable | Slightly Foxed Paperbacks

Our popular Slightly Foxed Paperbacks are perfect for slotting into a coat pocket or bag, and make charming presents. Delightful to look at, pocket-sized and elegantly produced on good cream paper (complete with French flaps), these reissues of classic memoirs are wonderful reads – all of them absorbing and highly individual. So whether you’re in need of a good book or a present for someone you’re fond of, do seize the chance to stock up now.
Episode 14: The Vital Spark

Episode 14: The Vital Spark

What sparks a lifelong love of reading? Francis Spufford, author of The Child that Books Built, and Emily Drabble of the children’s reading charity BookTrust, delve into bookshelves past and present with the Slightly Foxed Editors to understand the alchemy that ignites the spark. From books as seductive objects, the haphazardness of alphabetical organization and disappearing libraries to the joys of cover-to-cover reading and books being doorways to new worlds, the conversation reveals what a passion for reading can bring to our lives. In this month’s dip into the magazine’s archives Ysenda Maxtone Graham gives tried and tested tips for reading aloud, grappling with Tolkien pronunciations along the way, and there’s the usual round-up of recommendations for reading off the beaten track.
37 minutes
Playing it for Laughs

Playing it for Laughs

You read a book, laugh a lot, recommend it to your friends. Some laugh, others don’t. Why is a sense of humour so individual and at the same time so culturally specific? We are mostly moved to the same emotional responses by tragedy, but we don’t laugh at the same things and I’ve always wondered why. There are many kinds of humour and life would be intolerable without it, but as society changes, so humour changes too. We still weep at old Greek tragedies – but laugh at old Greek comedies? Not so much.
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