On Finding A Forgotten Book

Image 1In an attempt to engage more fully with what I’m reading I’ve started to explore both the short story form and the essay.  I’ve never really got on with short stories, although I’ve always appreciated how useful they can be for teaching purposes precisely because they enable you to consider a particular narrative feature without asking the students to read a full length book every other day.  The essay, on the other hand, is a form that has always fascinated me but not one I’ve ever had a reason to investigate.  I suppose you could argue that reading blogs every day is a bit like immersing yourself in short essays but I was thinking about something more substantial, in length at least.

Not being quite certain where to start I looked on my shelves to see if by any chance I had a volume that would fit the bill and came across a collection I had completely forgotten I possessed, Ursula Le Guin’s The Language of the Night.  Picking this book up sent me straight down memory lane because, while I might have forgotten I owned it, once it was in my hands I certainly remembered where I bought it.

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about having problems with the massive bookshops that you can find in Hay-on-Wye.  I feel just the same about large chain bookstores as well.  I get lost in them.  I can never find anything that looks enticing or original.  I inevitably walk out empty handed.  What I like are pokey little bookshops with unforeseen shelves hidden around unexpected corners.  Those are the places where you find the books you go on to cherish, the books that you didn’t even know you were looking for until the precise moment your eyes happened to light on them.  One such shop was The Silver Moon on London’s Charing Cross Road.

In years gone by when both my finances and my health were in better shape I used to go down to London regularly to go to the theatre.  I would get off the train at Euston and, not being a great fan of the Underground, walk down Tottenham Court Road and onto Charing Cross on my way to whichever theatre I was visiting on that particular occasion.  Halfway down on the eastern side of the road was The Silver Moon.

It started out in just one small building with books on the ground floor and a café in the basement.  Opening just as the feminist movement was beginning to take off in the UK, initially all the books were by women and while men were allowed on the ground floor they were not permitted to go downstairs.  Later, as its success grew, the shop expanded into the premises next door.  Somehow it was never quite the same after that, it lost that pokiness that had given it so much character.  And, today it isn’t there at all, which is a tremendous shame because thirty years on there is still room for a bookseller that specialises in bring the unexpected to the inquisitive browser.

It was here that I first encountered Margaret Atwood, Amanda Cross and May Sarton.  Three completely different writers, working in entirely different genres, all women whose books I had never even heard of and, Atwood apart, would probably not have come across anywhere else at that time.  And it was here that I stumbled across this book of Le Guin’s essays.  I already knew her work for children having read the Earthsea Trilogy (as it was then) to successive classes of ten and eleven year olds eager for original and intelligent fantasy. The notion that she might pen academic essays about her writing had never crossed my mind and I remember quite clearly looking at the collection of books I already had in my hands and wondering if I could manage to afford just another one.

Well, apparently I did and yet somehow it has lain on my shelves for all those years without my ever having opened it.  This week I am going to put that right.

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19 thoughts on “On Finding A Forgotten Book

    1. I’m hoping that there will be individual essays that prompt ideas for posts. I’m not going to try and read more than one a week though. I need to break myself in slowly and what I don’t want is for it to become a chore.

  1. Ah – I loved Silver Moon, too. I’m pretty sure that Foyles took them in in the early 2000s when they closed, but I’m not finding anything on the Foyles website. I’ve gone off Foyles a bit myself since they got rid of their gloriously arcane system of actually letting you buy a book from them and gone all sleek …

    1. I think you’re right about Foyles, Liz, but last time I was in London I searched high and low through the store and couldn’t find anything that so much as looked as if it could have drawn its inspiration from the Silver Moon. And anyway, the whole ethos of the original shop denied everything a company like Foyles is about. How can we persuade someone to open a Silver Moon in Birmingham?

      1. Oh, that’s a shame! Last time I was in Foyles I had a coffee and used the loo then scampered off to Any Amount of Books and the Persephone bookshop … didn’t get a chance to look for SM. I did sometimes find it a little daunting in there as a teenage fledgling feminist in the 80s …

  2. I love discovering books that I’ve forgotten on my own shelves – but like the Wodehouse I just read, then I wonder why I waited so long.

    1. Yes, Lisa, why do we put the books we expect to love to the bottom of the pile. I do it all the time, wanting, I suppose to postpone the pleasure. Am I an idiot, or what?

        1. Now that would sound like a good idea if it wasn’t for the fact that my TBR pile goes back several decades and I couldn’t even begin to put them in any sort of chronological order. Perhaps I could alphabetise them and start like that.

      1. well, I have to admit it’s also that I’m so easily distracted by the next new book to come along. I need more of Liz’s discipline, but that’s probably past praying for. I’m glad to find another kindred soul with decades’ worth of TBR books.

    1. Well, that’s a relief, Sarah. I shan’t feel so bad about not going now. I love Sarton’s journals, especially ‘Journal of a Solitude’.

  3. I love bookshops like that, too. I’m also going to be reading a lot of essays in the near future (working through my creative non-fiction list), so I’ll be intrigued to know what Ursula le Guin’s are like. I have to confess I’ve never read anything by her, not even the Earthsea trilogy, but that was not intentional – just haven’t got around to her yet!

    1. I think you’d find the Earthsea Quintet (as it now is) interesting especially in respect of the way in which her priorities change over the twenty-five years of writing. She writes the very best sort of Science Fiction and Fantasy – the sort that makes you take a long hard look at yourself and the society in which you live. As far as I can see her essays are often about the way in which reading shapes the reader, in other words, the sort I like best.

  4. Isn’t it fun to discover books on your shelves you forgot you even own? If you ever visit Minneapolis I will take you to a shop near my house that I have never been to. It’s part secondhand bookshop part junk store and currently has a taxidermied wart hog and two antelope in the window. Once there was a bison head. I’ve never been in because it is open limited hours and I am terrified it is a dust allergy trap but for you I would dose up on allergy medicine and see what adventure hides inside 🙂

    1. Oh Stefanie, I feel like going out right this minute and booking my ticket. I am just itching (in both senses of the expression) at the thought of that book shop. And the examples of taxidermy remind me of a story about a stuffed three legged badger that I really must tell you one day😊.

  5. Oh, I’m sorry that Silver Moon closed! But looking forward to reading what you have to say about Ursula Le Guin’s essays.

    Now you really must tell us the story of the stuffed three-legged badger!

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