One thing I always make sure to do on a trip to Britain is to get to at least a couple of bookshops to browse through the history sections. Nowadays I don’t usually buy what I find, but rather make a note of the title on the assumption that anything published today in print is also going to be published in e-dition.
(Because it’s a really crap thing to go into a place of business and browse their wares with the intention not of actually paying them any money, but instead ordering whatever you find from the internet, I try to make sure to buy at least the same number of titles as I write down for later. So, for instance, in addition to whatever my mother bought for herself, I did buy in the shop a bunch of stuff to take back as souvenirs. For Boy, Horrid Henry’s Biggest and Best Ever Joke Book, a book of Darth Vader & Son family postcards, and a grow-your-own-crystals science kit; for Girl, a London sticker book, Disney Fairies activity set and book of Peppa Pig stories; and for Lisa a novel I actually think I’m going to end up reading myself, about a woman from a village in Somerset who has to go to the East End in search of her best friend’s daughter, who’s been kidnapped on Coronation Day, 1953. Anyway.)
There were two books that I did in fact buy right there in the shop. I can’t remember exactly why it was that I picked out these two ahead of the others:
They Fought Alone: The True Story of SOE’s Agents in Wartime France is a reprint of the memoir of Maurice Buckmaster, head of the Special Operations Executive’s French Section. SOE was the British organisation that conducted espionage and sabotage in Occupied Europe during the Second World War, and provided aid and supplies to local resistance movements. Buckmaster actually played himself (and did a decent job of it) in the film Odette, about the capture and torture of SOE agents Odette Sansom and Peter Churchill by the Gestapo.
Hotel Florida: Truth, Love and Death in the Spanish Civil War by Amanda Vaill seems destined to be the latest addition to my Spanish Civil War kick. It’s a history of the wartime experiences of three couples (Ernest Hemingway and Martha Gellhorn, Robert Capa and Gerda Taro, and Arturo Barea and Ilsa Kulcsar) who all passed through this Madrid hotel, which was home to so many journalists during the siege of the Spanish capital.
I won’t list all the other titles I made note of (there were about a dozen) but the ones I’m most interested in are:
The Spy Who Loved: The Secrets and Lives of One of Britain’s Bravest Wartime Heroines by Clare Mulley, a biography of Christine Granville, the daughter of a Polish Catholic nobleman and Jewish heiress, who served as an SOE agent in occupied Poland and France and was awarded the Croix de Guerre, only to be stabbed to death after the war by a colleague who had rejected her advances.
Titled Americans: The Real Heiresses’ Guide to Marrying an Aristocrat is a reprint of an actual 1890 guide for American young women who wanted to follow in the footsteps of Consuelo Vanderbilt and Nancy Astor by marrying a member of the British peerage and becoming a real-life Countess of Grantham.
Old World, New World: The Story of Britain and America by Kathleen Burk should, I think, be pretty self-explanatory as to why I’m interested in it.
The Scandalous Lady W by Hallie Rubenhold has, I discovered when I googled it, been turned into a BBC programme starring Natalie Dormer in the title role. This made me pretty pleased, since I’ve got a bit of a thing for Natalie Dormer, but on further googling, I couldn’t seem to find any trace of the book, even though I’d seen it right there on the shelf at the WH Smith in Borehamwood. Turns out that’s because the book’s original title, prior to the TV adaptation, was Lady Worsley’s Whim. Excellent, progress; at least, till it turned out that Lady Worsley’s Whim has no e-dition in the US, and the cheapest price I could find for a print copy on (US) Amazon or Barnes and Noble was $180. Finally, I discovered that the book’s title in US publication is The Lady in Red: An Eighteenth-Century Tale of Sex, Scandal and Divorce, and it is, in fact, much more affordably priced (eight bucks for Kindle or in .epub). So! Looking forward to the book, and also to the TV show.
Last month I was complaining about having too much to read. I come back from six days in Britain with a reading list that’s almost doubled in length. I’m awesome at managing my expectations. Good thing school starts tomorrow.