Book Serendipity

Yesterday I was shopping in Tunbridge Wells, and there are two very good bookshops nestled away in the Pantiles area of town, which is essentially a pretty cobbled Victorian shopping arcade. One is an Oxfam Books, which I know is the death of the high street second hand bookseller, but they do have a very good selection and as much as my principles burden me with guilt whenever I step inside, the tradeoff of what is technically just giving to charity and receiving a gift in return does somewhat lessen the additional guilt of buying books I really don’t need.  The other bookshop is a wonderfully crowded, Dickensian labyrinth of poky shelves and piles of dusty hardcovers that usually doesn’t fail to offer up a gem or two. It has Viragos and Orange Penguins aplenty, and it’s also a goldmine of original hardcovers of my favourite mid century authors.

I was on the hunt for the next in the Palliser series of Trollopes, and I was certain one of these two would be able to offer up the goods. Sadly neither had the title I wanted at a price I was prepared to pay, but Oxfam had another little treasure up its sleeve for me. As I mentioned a few days ago, I am planning on re-reading the much maligned Mansfield Park in the New Year. I do already have a nice little hardcover copy, but it’s nothing special and I’m not overly attached to it. So, imagine my delight when I spotted an absolutely stunning turn of the century, elaborately decorated and beautifully illustrated copy of Mansfield Park sitting waiting for me on a dusty top shelf at the back of the shop! And for only £2.50! I gathered it up, paid my money and skipped off home with it.

Later that evening I was attempting to settle my baby nephew down to sleep, and I thought a bit of soothing reading would do the trick. So, I opened Mansfield Park and began to read out loud. As little Albert’s eyes began to get heavier and heavier, mine lit up. The irony! The wit! The odiousness of Mrs Norris! The Lord Grantham-esque-ness of Sir Thomas! It is all far more wonderful and brilliantly written than I remember. I am not allowing myself to go any further than I did last night, as I am in the midst of another book at the moment, but I am eager to get stuck in as soon as I can in January. Would anyone like to join me?

54 comments

  1. I had some old book luck yesterday too. I picked up a first edition of Edith Wharton’s “The Custom of the Country”(1913) and a 1925 printing (seventh printing in its published year) of Willa Cather’s “The Professor’s House” and another compilation of de Maupassant’s works that was 1937 printing at a small, now defunct press in my hometown.

    Two goals this coming year: All of Dickens and all of Austen, so I’ll join you with Mansfield Park for January:)

    Happy New Year!

    1. Those books sound wonderful, Tina! What book serendipity indeed!

      Wow, that is quite the collection of reading ambitions! Good luck with those!!

      Look forward to having you reading along and happy new year to you too!

  2. What a lucky find for you, Rachel. Doesn’t it just make your heart go pitty-pat when such a treasure rises up to meet you in a bookshop or other bookish place. I make an absolute fool of myself when these “finds” come my way, Little Albert and his auntie and Mansfield Park – such a lovely and loving scene.

    1. Thanks Penny – it’s always so exciting when you see something as wonderful as this, and for a song, too! Oh thank you – I’m not sure that Albert really understood but maybe some of it went in!

  3. I have fond early memories of my older sister reading ‘Pride and Prejudice’ to me…I think it’s why I love reading so much now. Your nephew will thank you when he’s older!

    1. Isn’t it just?! Brilliant – I hope you will love it! You are welcome – Helen Hull is such a magnificent writer and I very much hope that she will become better known.

      Happy New Year to you too!

  4. What a find! I love book store serendipity. And I’ve been meaning to reread Mansfield Park so count me in for January, please.

  5. That is a beautiful book.

    I would love to join you as I have you to thank for getting me into reading Persuasion! Ironically enough I have Mansfield Park ready to go on my kindle, and I have only ever read passages from it as I used it in my dissertation to quote about Portsmouth so I think it would only be right and proper if I actually read it.

    I have been thinking about challenges for 2012 in reading, fitness and other areas and I had come up with one of the reading ones being to read 1 Jane Austen book – I think I might be able to achieve that now.

  6. Yey, T. Wiz! What a thrilling place. Also, yey Oxfam books where I am currently volunteering (not that branch). I do sometimes feel a bit guilty but ultimately the combination of charity and books has to be a good one. I’m planning to give Mansfield Park a proper try in the new year too. Just need to finish the current book and pick up a decent copy. Hope you have a great NYE. x

    1. I love Tunbridge Wells! I am jealous of you volunteering in Oxfam – if only I had time! I’d be able to cream off the best for myself! I hope you’ll get around to Mansfield Park in due course and that you have a wonderful New Year’s Eve! x

  7. What a beautiful edition! I’ve only read two Austen’s (Pride and Prejuidice and Sense and Senseability) and was a bit underwealmed. However, all the Austen adaptations that have been shown over Christmas are making me think that I should revisit Austen.

      1. I think that I will defintely read an Austen this year – I’m not sure which one. Maybe Emma as I watched a film adaptation of it over the Christmas break, as well as Clueless which was a 90s modern day version of Emma.

      2. Good news! I love Emma – it’s my second favourite behind Persuasion. Such a funny book – though I personally think you do need to read it twice to get the real benefit, as it’s so subtle.

  8. Rachel, this edition of Austen is quite valuable. I have an entire set, slightly different than yours, but published by Dent and illustrated by Brock and the set is worth a few thousand $ according to ABE. Does your book have ribbon book marks?
    Check it out!!!

  9. What a beautiful book and a great find – nothing like that ever happens to me! I have been planning to re-read Dickens this year (inspired by Great Expectations on TV this week), I had quite forgotten what a wonderful storyteller he is. However, as I have only ever read (gasp) Emma I think it is high time I ventured further and so I too will be joining you in reading Mansfield Park – now to find a beautiful book too.

    1. Thank you Jennifer! So glad to hear you’ll be reading along – Emma is wonderful but you must branch out into the rest of Austen’s titles! I hope Mansfield Park will convince you to go further, too!🙂

  10. Well, I have just picked up Emma to reread, but I think I should give Mansfield Park another go instead. Like you, it was far from my favourite on first reading. I’m reading a little biography/criticism of Austen by Margaret Kennedy, and she claims MP is Austen’s best novel – so I want to see if I might possibly agree!

  11. I was planning to do some Austen re-reads in 2012 so I’m thinking about joining you for Mansfield Park in January. My edition isn’t as beautiful as yours, though!

  12. I do envy you your Oxfam bookshops. We have nothing like it here. Still, I don’t need any more books & have 3 copies of MP already – though none as pretty as yours. Happy New Year!

  13. I love finding illustrated copies of the classics! I wish more books today came with illustrations because (not to be Gaston from Beauty and the Beast) but I frantically adore books with illustrations. Stylized pen and ink illustrations, watercolor illustrations, woodcuts — I always love them.

  14. Hurrah for the ‘Mansfield Park’ enthusiasm! I think it IS a brilliant book, and if you find yourself a bit at odds with Fanny Price it helps to remember she’s a bullied, shy teenaged girl who doesn’t quite fit either at MP or at home. Mrs Norris is splendidly horrible.

    1. I’m going to bear that in mind, thank you Helen – I remember finding Fanny a wet blanket when I read it before but I am going to be open minded this time!

  15. Such a pretty edition and a wonderful find, especially at that price.

    I’d love to re-read Mansfield Park with you when you’re ready to go.

    About charity shops (book or other kinds) I remember taking some quite valuable things to one of the many in our town (before I came here) and the manageress begged me to take them back. She said that, although council rates were waived for such outlets, the money they got from sales only covered the enormously high rents (from private landlords). She was unable to send anything to headquarters and the whole operation served only to keep the shops occupied. I was horrified and have had mixed feelings about donating or buying from charities ever since. Such a pity as the ladies working there were so generous and anxious to help the dispossessed and the starving.

    1. I know, I am just thrilled with it!

      Fantastic – I’ll be delighted to have you reading along!

      That’s really interesting. I know a lot of the larger charities make a good income from their charity shops but I’m sure a lot of the charities just about break even. It’s tough I suppose, but at the same time, it’s good to have shops on the high street rather than empty spaces.

  16. I have a very similar edition of Sense and Sensibility which I also could not resist buying. I am more than happy to read MP along with you. Each time I read it there is more and more to understand. As I am also reading Dickens I think this willprovide a nice balance. I love Fanny Price though I know a lot of people don’t.

    Happy New Year!

    1. Fantastic Elaine! It will be wonderful to have your thoughts to mull on as I read! I’m interested to hear how many people like Fanny…I always think of her as being universally hated!!

      Happy New Year to you too!

  17. Delighted you’re giving Mansfield Park a go – I finally read it last year and think it’s become my favourite JA, (controversial I know!). The opening bit about there being ‘not as many rich men as there are pretty girls to deserve them’ is as sharp and funny as the better known start of P&P and I’m very fond of Fanny. I think of her as very similar to Jane Bennet (whose feelings, we’re told, were fervent if little displayed and who could be firm when she knew herself to be right – hardly a meek nonenity), but showing the results of having been brought up in a far less loving environment. And don’t let’s forget that Fanny has to put up with a similar situation to Anne Elliott for much longer… Roll on the read-a-long

    1. That IS controversial! Yes, I have already noticed that the wit is very much there but it’s going to take quite a lot to make me soften towards Fanny I think! That’s a really interesting thought about her being similar to Jane Bennett though…I’m going to bear that in mind. She does have to cope with a lot! Look forward to hearing more of your thoughts during the Readalong!

  18. That is a GORGEOUS edition of Mansfield Park! And to think you got it for such a bargain! I have a lovely Folio Society box set of Austen’s novels that I love dearly, but I don’t think I could resist that copy of Mansfield Park. I think the novel itself gets a bum rap, since the first time I read it I thought it was a lesser Austen, but upon re-reading I think it really gets to shine and charm its readers. I hope you enjoy it!

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