Thursday, May 24, 2007

A trip up to London yesterday meant the opportunity to browse at the Oxfam bookshop on Marylebone High Street. A decade or so ago I worked nearby on Harley Street and would pop in to this very shop on lunch breaks. I found treasures here, but it was tiny, chaotic, had a stained and grungy carpet with an equally stained and grungy person behind the counter. Much to my surprise, yesterday I discovered a charming light and airy shop: it has been extended into space at the back, the wooden floor stripped and gleaming and the entire effect is one of light and airiness. There were several staff in evidence, and none of them had a whiff of grunginess about them.

Naturally, there were umpteen books I could have picked up, but lately I try getting general titles at my local library or on bookmooch. Instead, I am specifically trying to expand my African collection when I buy. The idea is to make me feel less guilty when I have a splurging book shopping spree - after all I can buy general titles any time (so if I restrain myself that's excellent), but I can't always buy African books (having restrained myself on the general titles, I am then free to indulge), if this makes sense.

With this in mind I was fairly restrained. I found Segun Afolabi's A LIFE ELSEWHERE:
For the characters in Segun Afolabi's debut collection, 'elsewhere' is a place they must transform into home. The Far East, Europe, the Americas, Africa - the stories are as varied as their geographical settings. In the award-winning 'Monday Morning' a refugee boy puzzles out his place in a new land. A bereaved father in 'Arithmetic' thinks back to a confusing, youthful sexual encounter that has left him emotionally scarred; Jacinta faces a long retirement with a husband she is not sure she likes in 'Jumbo and Jacinta' and 'The Wine Guitar' tells the story of an aging musician who pays a prostitute for the gift of her youth.

These are tales of Diaspora, of people making their lives in new lands, some for the first time, others in the second or third generations. Often moving, sometimes funny and occasionally shocking, Afolabi's stories reflect the way we live now; exploring the universal need to establish family and identity in a world where the boundaries of geography, culture and language are increasingly fluid.
Afolabi won the Caine Prize for African Fiction in 2005. His winning entry, Monday Morning, is included in this selection of short stories; it was also included in THE OBITUARY TANGO. His second book, GOODBYE LUCILLE, was published last month and he will appear at the Hay Festival next week in conversation with AL Kennedy.

I was also surprised to find Cyprian Ekwensi's JAGUA NANA:
Jagua Nana, late of Onitsha market, is now well-established in Lagos, with its high life, its night clubs and its political intrigue. Jagua, a warm and magnificent prostitute, yearns for security among the elite. She must marry education and falls in love with a young teacher, Freddie. He wants to study law in England and she funds him on the understanding that he will marry her on his return.
Here Jagua is a corruption of the car, Jaguar, and all it symbolises. Originally published in 1961, the book is still frequently assigned on university reading lists and yet is no longer in print. Secondhand copies are available at online sites like abebooks, but it was satisfying to find my own 1979 edition in good nick at £2 and not have to pay postage!

Just a few steps up Marylebone High Street is the exquisite Daunt Books (have a look at the photos in the link if you don't believe me). Their African selection is really rather good for a general, admittedly independent, bookshop. Bookshops like Daunt remind one what a real bookshop should be. There are no discounted titles, but an amazing range. Surprise selections for even the most rabid bibliophile. Quite delicious. Here I found the rare and long out of print SNARES WITHOUT END by Olympe Bhely-Quenum, published originally in French in 1960 as Un Piege Sans Fin; this is a 1981 English version:
'Anatou, Anatou, what have you done to me? Why did you keep telling me that there was another expression, another heart, behind my gentle expression and my soft heart? This was the monster that lies hidden in each one of us. You woke the monster in me.'

The monster that Anatou wakes within Ahouna traps him into a motiveless murder. There is no escape from his tragic destiny...everything is a snare and a delusion.
Hmmm. Not sure about this being my kind of read, but I'll give it a go.

You have to admit, definitely restrained shopping.

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Anonymous litlove said...

Such restrained shopping! And I think it is a wise idea to concentrate your buying on one specific area of your collection. I wish I could do the same but I tend to hold back entirely and then suddenly find I've had a splurge. Not pretty!

7:22 am  
Blogger Karen said...

I admire your book-buying philosophy!

9:42 am  
Anonymous Ann said...

Equiano, we all have our own way of rationalising the book buying we do when we know we really ought not to be spending any more money. If your philosphy works for you, stick with it. There are worse things to be racked by guilt about!

8:57 am  
Anonymous BookTraveller said...

I'm headed up to London for my annual dose of Shakespeare later this week - I'm going to include a trip to the Oxfam bookshop on Marylebone I think!

5:42 pm  
Blogger equiano said...

Thank you, litlove, karen and ann, let's see how long it lasts!

booktraveller, do go! Visit Daunt too, and make a detour into Eat and Two Veg for a good bistro lunch, and last (but not least) the yummy Rococo Chocolates. They are all within spitting distance of each other. And the Rose Garden in Regent's Park, just a hop, skip, and a jump away, is probably in bloom.

8:29 am  
Blogger Brad said...

I love London; it is my kind of town. Contrary to popular belief this is not some feeble attempt at plagiarizing advertising copy from other major cities in the world.
Bad times and good, I have lived and worked in London through them all.
London is full of History. History that it would appear that most Londoners take for granted.
Everything in London seems to be clustered: All the antique bookshops are on the same street. All rich people who are owners of huge Limo London vehicles. All companies that make CG effects for movies are within few blocks of each other. The big web companies (except for Google, who have moved into a 'palace' near Victoria station) and web ad agencies are also within a small radius of each other. London will always be special for me as I met my lovely wife here.

12:11 pm  

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