Birthdays are lovely days if you make them so and I decided, after a particularly arduous day at work on our wedding anniversary a few weeks ago, that in future I would definitely treat family feast days as special occasions and book the time off midweek.
This can be a trauma in itself, planning who will do your phone cover, who will do the clinic which is bound to fall on that day.The stress rises the day before too, every time the phone rings you just know it's a pending social services disaster or the midwife discharging quadruplets.I was never so relieved to get to 5pm and change the voice mail (I love this moment, very satisfying) I will be on annual leave on...if you need to speak to a health visitor urgently on these days please contact... lock the filing cabinets and I'm out of there.
So we set off into the wild blue yonder and a mooch around Topsham, which is one of our favourite mooching places down on the River Exe.There is a second -hand bookshop which is room after room of heaven and it was our fault really.
We'd gone on a diversion to the Dart's Farm Coffee Shop which is a totally legitimate diversion and I had the white chocolate and strawberry cake and some of Bookhound's chocolate pecan cake because I couldn't decide whether I should have had that instead.By the time we reached the bookshop they were already gearing up to close for lunch. Lunch was thirty minutes away but you could tell they weren't pleased to see us.
I raced up to find some Bernard Malamud's because the new Philip Davis biography is challenging me to read them and there were rich pickings to be had on the Penguin shelves.I left a big gap as I scooped The Natural, The Fixer, The Tenants, The Assistant and Pictures of Fidelman.
But then I glanced at the floor.Stacks of books, about twelve high and four deep lining one wall and obviously a house clearance from a very discerning reader.It was only when I'd sat on the floor and sifted and sorted and slid and shoved the piles around that I realised all the books I had selected, including the Malamuds, were by Jewish writers.
Rummaging through I spotted a nice Grace Paley book, Later the Same Day. Grace Paley, I suspect, a writer I shall come to for the first time now that she has died and wonder where I've been all the years that she's been alive.
Then one of those lucky chance glances, the final dig into the depths of the books at the bottom of the pile in the most inaccessible corner and I caught sight of a new name on the spine of several books, an author I'd never heard of, Aharon Appelfeld. Holocaust survivor and winner of many literary awards and lauded in fulsome tones
"No one surpasses Aharon Appelfeld in portraying the crisis of European civilisation both before and after the Second World War. He's one of the best novelists alive"
"A small masterpiece...the vision of a remarkable poet"
"Controlled fiction, compresses large themes into small spaces"
I picked up The Iron Tracks, Katerina, The Retreat, Tzili and For Every Sin but with some trepidation.
I don't find holocaust reading easy, but I also feel that for me it's an essential and ongoing foreground to any other Jewish reading I may do, and so I tend to read it at a slant. I was pleased to find this about Aharon Appelfeld in the New York Times
"Aharon Appelfeld's habitual strategy as a writer haunted by the Holocaust is to concentrate on its historical margins, either prelude or aftermath. The horrors to come or just done are a baleful flickering on the horizon of his fictions, while the forlorn figures of the foreground, rendered in muted style, repeatedly intimate that which defies all moral understanding."
I can learn as much if not more from that baleful flickering on the horizon as I can from reading about exact and actual horrors.
Laden with my booty you'd have thought the bookseller might have been delighted with a sale on a very quiet wet Devon day.
Not a bit of it.
We took a broadside for dripping rain onto the counter and were assured that we would have to leave as the shop had to close for an hour so that they could "practice their stage show".
But there's so much else I want to look at I bleated.
To no avail, clearly they are not in it for the money, what a lovely life, except I left the floor upstairs in a terrible muddle so that would have kept them busy all afternoon.