Slightly Foxed - The Real Reader's Quarterly has crept up on me again, v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y i-n-d-e-e-d but something funny happened yesterday...I just had to go out and buy the latest edition.
I'm a bit hand to mouth with Slightly Foxed. Sometimes they send me a free copy for which I am always grateful, sometimes they don't, probably because I haven't written about my complimentary copies when everyone else has. But I have been biding my time in order to see exactly how Slightly Foxed might make an impression on me and inform my reading over the year, rather than waxing lyrical just because I have had a free copy.
I've been happily and willingly reeled in by the wily fox before but the thorny problem is that in these cash-strapped times £36 feels like quite a large layout for the annual subscription to what on first appearances seems like a modestly-sized quarterly magazine. I was in like a shot when it first set up, subbed for a year and then went peicemeal, and though ninety-six pages and 'modestly-sized' is to unfairly belie the contents of this vibrant and stimulating literary diamond I wanted to see whether it still had real staying power with me.
I blame two people for yesterday's dash.
Firstly Carol who sent me such a wonderfully enthusiastic account of the Slightly Foxed Literary Day held at the Art Worker's Guild in Queen's Square a few weeks ago. Penelope Lively talking to Sue Gee about their writing lives, Daisy Hay on her book Young Romantics, Maggie Fergusson on Orkney writer George Mackay Brown, Juliet Gardiner on the Blitz, Ysenda Maxtone Graham on her grandmother Jan Struther of Mrs Miniver fame and more, plus this session which sounded wonderful...
Frances Donnelly (who made the cakes) and Jeremy Lewis on Graham Greene. JL was a real raconteur who told lots of funny little stories about the various famous and not so famous Greenes, and probably got the biggest round of applause of the day for his sort of elderly-schoolboy enthusiasm.
In Carol's words 'terrific value at £45 for the day plus tea and cakes' so it's in my diary to look out for the next one too. Not to be missed, and I have had the Slightly Foxed book shop on my list of places to visit when in London for ever too, so that will be next time.
So with Slightly Foxed bleeping away quietly on my radar screen, a determined little glow, I happened to fly across to Will Rycroft's blog yesterday morning where there was a discussion in progress about Austerlitz by W.G.Sebald.
I love Sebald's writing and there's always a danger that I get overly effusive about it all and wrongly come across as 'trying to be an expert' when in fact I am nothing of the sort. But I had read about Sebald and Austerlitz recently and I was sure it was Diana Athill writing in Slightly Foxed and much more of an expert.
So anyway I turned the house upsidedown looking for the right edition with the Diana Athill piece in it (Winter 2010, p61 Uncomfortable Truths) found a really great quote from Diana to assist those in comments at Just William's Luck who were procrastinating over whether to read Sebald or not, or had perhaps retired defeated from their own personal battle of Austerlitz. I wanted to be encouraging because I think perhaps once you 'get' Max Sebald you keep him close to your heart, and so I brought in Diana Athill who I think cracks it gently and enticingly with this..
'It is necessary to make an act of trust - to put yourself in his hands; and this may be a problem for anyone who has not yet learned to trust him by reading his wonderful The Emigrants, The Rings of Saturn and Vertigo. I doubt whether I would have persisted beyond the first thirty-odd pages of Austerlitz if I hadn't already learned that wherever Sebald led, I must follow him.'
So I left what I hoped was an encouraging rather than a 'who does she think she is' type of comment before settling back to read the rest of the article, and this is for at least the third time, may be even the fourth. By now I'm supposed to have started work (from home) and I'm still idling away the day reading an edition of Slightly Foxed I almost know by heart, when it dawned on me that I absolutely had to have the latest edition yesterday. I was suddenly overcome by the urge to see and hold the thing, browse through it, read a few articles and spot what else was in it to look forward to and what it might prompt me to read. Worse, I couldn't bear the thought that it was out there and not here with me. Pitiful I know, covetousness in its worst manifestation.
The little pulsating thought of this purchase kept me going through a morning of everyone's saddest losses, bereavements, serious illnesses et al until eventually, online work hours (four) done and remembering to change out of my slippers, I hopped in the car, drove into town, parked in the nearest available spot and strode purposefully into the local indie bookshop,
'Have you got the newest edition of Slightly Foxed?' I asked.
The shop owner pointed, I fell upon it, paid, walked back to my car and drove home.
Simples, only twelve miles, but I mean it all smacks of desperation and addiction doesn't it.
Does this happen to anyone else, perhaps about a book and the craving that can't be resisted??
In my defence I am using up all available willpower to lose weight at the moment (18lbs gone, 3lbs to go) and a book coming from Penguin in February Willpower - Rediscovering Our Greatest Strength, which I have been reading, suggests that you may only have sufficient willpower to focus on one project of deprivation at a time. I have now added to that evidence-base.
I knew it. I knew I was meant to go and buy this edition...
Louisa M. Alcott, J.L.Carr (A Month in the Country) , Jaroslav Hasek (The Good Soldier Sveck) Winifred Holtby, Dorothy L.Sayers, Paul Scott's Raj Quartet, Dodie Smith, Thackeray, Laura Ingalls Wilder and more, all the choices of authors and contributors various to this quarter's selection of books that deserve to be read and better known. Best so far a wonderful piece about the poet Charles Causley, born and lived all his life in nearby Launceston and to my shame a poet I know so little about and just waiting to be discovered by me.
And finally, the beautifully comic piece by Sarah Crowden on Bizarre Books, and Sarah's alter ego Dame Smut, and how she keeps that shop window we all love to stare at stocked with titles like Scouting for Boys and Indoor Games for Awkward Moments. For anyone who may not know it this is Jarndyce Antiquarian Booksellers in Great Russell Street, opposite the British Museum.
Meanwhile, though I am now firmly reeled in again, I can't decide whether a subscription is the answer or not. It probably is in terms of supporting the publishers financially with what, over the last eight years, has become an invaluable fix addition and resource for booklovers like me and thee, and one it would be a tragedy to lose. But then there's the complete pleasure (I don't get out much) to be gained from that impulse must-have-must-buy-now moment, or happening upon the latest edition unexpectedly in a bookshop. Mind you, I doubt any booklover would turn their nose up at the gift of a Slightly Foxed subscription and you could drop hints with your nearest and dearest accordingly.
And even better, there's a really must-have Slightly Foxed tea/coffee mug...and a bag...and special limited run numbered book editions...and slip cases to keep the quarterlies safely homed... and postcards and things. I'm sorry but if I have been tempted (and I have, one back issue, one bag this time round) it is imperative I share.
My only quibble would be this from the Editors...
So, Christmas is nearly here and we do hope you'll enjoy this winter issue, which comes to you with our very best wishes. Slipped into it you'll find another of our literary crosswords, designed for those inevitable moments during the festive season when you really can't think what else to do, and if you can, you're too exhausted to get up and do it.'
Entries in the hat by January 14th, free subscription to the first one drawn out. Oh brilliant. I love a good crossword me.
Turned every page... shook the thing by the spine ... looked again... no flippin' crossword.