Bookstores are my weakness, and quite unfortunately, I was recently subjected to several tempting multi-level, well-stocked London bookstores. Reader, it was terrible. As I threw more and more books into my arms (and eventually into shopping baskets), I tried to think of some constraints to narrow down which books I would allow myself to buy. I decided upon a few rules to guide my British book buying:
- I could buy books that weren’t available in the United States yet.
- I could buy books that had sucky U.S. editions but fabulous U.K. editions.
- I could buy books that were significantly cheaper in the United Kingdom than the American Amazon prices.
- I was required to buy the complete volumes of Roald Dahl’s short stories, because gah.
Of course, as I sat down to write this blog post, I discovered that I could order almost all of these book editions on Book Depository for the same prices and have them shipped to me for free instead of shoving them all into a Hatchard’s bag and dragging them around three airports. But hey, there’s nothing quite like the instant gratification of buying books in London bookstores. Besides, books serve as souvenirs for me. I didn’t buy postcards or magnets or even go clothes shopping in London, but I did find some books that I’m excited to have on my bookshelves. Here they are:
In Search of Mary Shelley by Fiona Sampson
In Search of Mary Shelley caught my eye not because I’m a big Mary Shelley fan, but because I wrote a paper about the textual history of Frankenstein for my English capstone without ever reading Frankenstein or anything by Mary Shelley. I feel that I’m a Mary Shelley fan waiting to bloom, however; I did enjoy exploring her writing and revising process through my research into editions of Frankenstein. Plus, this book doesn’t come out in the United States until June, and the U.K. cover is much, much better than the U.S. version. I’m eager to read this book about her life—although I should probably read Frankenstein first.
Such Small Hands by Andres Barba
I first noticed Such Small Hands on Instagram in the summer and was intrigued by the creepy cover and the intriguing title. I saw this displayed in a few London bookstores, and I had to welcome this book into my life even though there really was no benefit to buying it in the U.K. I’m excited (and scared) to read it.
Ice by Anna Kavan
Honestly, I hadn’t heard of this novel or author until I saw that pretty minty U.K. Penguin Classics cover sitting on a table. But hey, Ice‘s back cover copy teases: “No one knows why the ice has come, and no one can stop it.” That’s compelling—it makes me think of The Birds, or Frozen. If that’s not reason enough, a blurb on it proclaims the author to be “Kafka’s sister,” which is both flattering and maybe a little sexist (??).
To be honest, I think I bought The Mezzanine because I’d like to read more work published by Granta. I tried reading Strange Heart Beating (also published by Granta) last summer and didn’t finish it, so I’m hoping this book will be a better fit. Other than that, I know nothing about this book or author other than the fact that the cover is cool and weird.
The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami
This edition of The Strange Library caught my eye because I have a paperback version with pop-out pages, while this is a hardcover with glossy pages and no pop-outs. I haven’t read the novel itself yet, so I can’t speak to how integral the art and design of the book is to its interpretation, but it should be fun to spend a few days reading the novel and examining the differences in art in each edition.
The White Book by Han Kang
I loved The Vegetarian, and although I haven’t read Human Acts yet, I’m eager to dive into more Han Kang. The White Book was published in November 2017 and isn’t published in the United States yet, to my knowledge.
Lullaby / The Perfect Nanny by Leïla Slimani
I had seen The Perfect Nanny on a 2018 to-read list, so it was a bit confusing when I saw the same cover with a different title in London. Apparently the U.K. edition’s title is Lullaby. True, I could have gotten the U.S. version cheaper, but this was definitely worth buying in London because I read most of it on the flight back. And it wasn’t just a satisfying plane read; I fear this story will stick with me for years, especially when I have children of my own.
A Room with a View by E.M. Forster
I first read A Room with a View in my British Literature 3 course freshman year of college and read it again in Rome while I studied abroad in 2016. Needless to say, this novel has a special place in my heart, but the cover of my Barnes & Noble Classics edition saddens me. It doesn’t capture the book well, visually, so I knew that I’d be looking for a new edition in Europe. Luckily, I found a much better cover thanks to the Penguin English Library series.
The Complete Short Stories Volume One 1944–1953 and The Complete Short Stories Volume 2 1954–1988 by Roald Dahl
Roald Dahl’s short stories are probably the reason that half of my short stories end with deaths. His stories are so marvelously dark and twisty and delightful; I read them as a high schooler after graduating from all of his children’s books, and I was enthralled. I saw these volumes in a bookstore in Rome when I was studying abroad and regretted not buying them. Why? Because for some reason, it looks like these volumes are only published in Europe; the United States has to put up with random collections of Dahl’s stories that all have mismatching covers. I wanted to have all his stories in one place so I could read them whenever I wanted to; I also want to be able to pull these volumes off my shelf and share them with a friend who has yet to discover Dahl’s adult fiction.
Investing in these volumes has already paid off: Within two days of returning home, I shared one of Dahl’s stories, “William and Mary,” with my best friend, Mary.
Roald Dahl’s Book of Ghost Stories edited by Roald Dahl
I remember this short story collection giving me nightmares (or at least very unwelcome thoughts) when I first read it in high school, but I have never owned a copy of it. I had forgotten it existed until I saw it on the shelves, but once I was reminded that Dahl had collected creepy ghost stories into a volume, I felt obligated to buy it to round out my Dahl collection.
Against Interpretation and Other Essays by Susan Sontag
I figure I should read some Sontag, and the Penguin U.K. cover of Against Interpretation and Other Essays is better than the American edition’s cover. That’s about it.
Books, Baguettes, & Bedbugs: The Left Bank World of Shakespeare & Co. by Jeremy Mercer
I would love to visit Paris someday, and Shakespeare & Co. is on the top of my list for bookstores to visit there. Before I go, I might as well build up the anticipation by reading about the world-famous Parisian bookstore.
The Island of Doctor Moreau by H.G. Wells
I love The Island of Doctor Moreau so much that I lent it to a friend and never got it back. The Penguin English Library cover is a bit friendlier than the previous edition I had, so I picked this up to add to my collection.
The Third Policeman by Flann O’Brien
The marketing copy comparison to Alice in Wonderland got me: “The Third Policeman is comparable only to Alice in Wonderland as an allegory of the absurd.” That worked. I really want to know how a book about a village police force is like Alice in Wonderland. Also, the line about a love affair between a man and his bicycle makes me hope that in some way it’s like Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, although I realize that’s probably reaching a bit.
The Alarming Palsy of James Orr by Tom Lee
The Lifted Veil by George Eliot (Penguin Little Black Classics)
I know I should probably read Middlemarch because nearly everyone says it’s amazing, but I’m intimidated by big books right now. The Lifted Veil, on the other hand, is so small and unintimidating that I happily added it to my shopping basket. And it’s only £2! I’m hoping this smaller taste of Eliot will entice me to reaching for Middlemarch in the future.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – Slytherin Edition by J.K. Rowling
My husband and I are both Slytherins, and this gorgeous green hardcover edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – Slytherin Edition was a necessary addition to our library. Plus, isn’t it cool to have a U.K. edition of the first Harry Potter book, considering it’s a different title and all? (Yes, yes it is cool.)
Peach by Emma Glass
1) It was on sale, and 2) I think I’ll either love this or hate Peach. It’s about rape, which is…tough to read about, but the prose style looks interesting enough to pique my interest. (And it was not released in the United States until Jan. 23, so if I had somehow had the time and motivation to read it and write a review of it within a week, that would have been fun. But alas.)