Posted by: Corri van de Stege | March 3, 2009

Books I bought on a whim – or retail theraphy


I  needed a ‘reward’, let’s be honest.  After such a long and arduous week when I had little time for reading (or posting blogs) apart from being engrossed in reading and writing work reports and presentations, I felt as if I had slowly lost touch with myself.  I’d lost my identity somewhere along all those roads and in those meeting rooms and hotels, in the traffic queues, waiting for red traffic lights, when trying to keep up in the falling darkness with the receding red backlight ahead of me, when being guided along by the map on my sat nav and the steely female voice telling me urgently ‘right turn ahead’ and then ‘stay in the left hand lane’ or ‘take the motorway.’ 

On Saturday I buried all that, I forgot the hotel rooms, the questions that had been asked, the answers I needed to know about policies and strategies and possible outcomes, and then I pulled out books from the shelves in the bookshop, like someone starving, as if I did not already have a pile of books that are waiting to be read.   Nothing could stop this gnawing feeling that I needed different worlds, other authors, poetry, essays, novels that I did not yet have.  I needed authors and old companions that I had not read for such a long time, because only they could give me back a sense of who I am and what I am about. 

Who am I kidding?  It worked though.

I came back with a strange collection that nevertheless made sense to me: had I not promised a while back now that I needed to read Mahfouz and had I not been pondering Philip Larkin when I was driving, but could not remember the poem?  I needed to get hold of these books, so that they would be near next time I was in need of them.

Here then is the list of books that are now piled up with all the others, only I am reading Larkin and Mahfouz:

Naquib Mahfouz – Palace Walk (yes, I’m halfway through already) – the first of the Cairo Trilogy by the Nobel Prize winning author.

Hilary Mantel – a Change of Climate (first published in 1994) – HM has a regular piece in the Guardian Book Review on Saturdays under the heading ‘Author, Author’.  In addition she came up a few times in my creative writing course (now abandoned) and I have never actually read any of her books.  I must read at least one, so there it is.  Any thoughts?

Melissa Benn – One of Us.  This book had mixed reviews but the story sounds interesting, one of political intrigue (she is related to Tony Benn) and disillusionment.  It’s there now, on my shelf and I can pick it up whenever I want to…

Sebastian Barry – The Secret Scripture.  This book shouts at you from every bookshop and window as you come in, it’s there, very visible.  It was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and was Costa Book of the Year in 2008.  I am intrigued by the story about a 100-year old woman who was committed to a mental hospital as a young woman.  How do these things happen?

Melvyn Bragg – Remember me.   How many books are there with the title ‘Remember me’?  This is a story based on Bragg’s own life and has excellent reviews.  In addition, I listened to an interview podcast with MB (whilst on the road of course, I save these podcasts on my iPod), and I made a mental note that I wanted to read this book.  Also because MB is such a good writer.

Iris Murdoch – Under the Net.  At one point in my life I had all of Murdoch’s books (and had read them all as well).  Oh how long ago is that now?  I was in my (early) twenties.  I left bookcases full of books behind when moving countries and when leaving Iran just after the revolution and only just before the war with Iraq.  How long ago is that now?  I cannot remember much of this particular novel (which is her very first one, I think) and that’s why on an impulse I bought it and decided I wanted to reread it, partly to try and remind myself why I was such an addict to Murdoch’s novels.  I used to wait for the next one to come out, and the next one, and the next….

Terry Eagleton – How to read a poem.  I enjoy dipping into and out of essays and literary criticism.  This looked like a book that might just satisfy this love of ‘skinny dipping’ into books.  I have little time and tell myself that even if I don’t get around to reading this book fully, I will, once I decide to retire from the day job or go part time or something like that, I can spend long luxurious hours just reading books like these and do some writing…

Sylvia Plath – Poems selected by Ted Hughes.  For picking up and putting down when the mood takes me.

The Ruba’iyat of Omar Khayyam – ditto.

And of course:

Philip Larkin – Collected Poems.  I used to have a collection; again, it must have been lost during one of my several moves from country to country.  This is a replacement for one I’ve lost – for cherishing, love and hold for the rest of my life.

Meanwhile, I am still trying to find spaces for the never ending piles of books tbr.  But what joy!  And there are so many more, it beats buying shoes!  Retail therapy suddenly does not have such a bad connotation…

 Wikipedia: on retail therapy:

 Retail therapy is shopping with the primary purpose of improving the buyer’s mood or disposition. (1) Often seen in people during periods of depression or transition, it is normally a short-lived habit. Items purchased during periods of retail therapy are sometimes referred to as “comfort buys.”



  1. Sounds like you got a bit of stress relief and some great books! I know I must read Mantel and Murdoch at some point, but they’re two more authors I’ve not gotten around to…where does the time go?

  2. This kind of retail therapy always works for me! Looks like you got yourself a great ‘harvest’! There are several books in your list that I’d love to read your thoughts on.

    And of course I hope you’ll blog about Palace Walk! I finished Sugar Street, the third in the trilogy two days ago. Mahfouz is the latest addition to my list of favorite authors (and I don’t add that many to the list). I was bowled over by the Cairo Trilogy, I loved the books.

  3. Oh I love this list. I feel better just by looking at it. I read Under the Net a long time ago and would like to revisit it (but my books are in storage so hard to find right now). And then the Larkin, Mahfouz, Barry, Mantel. I can see I’ll be visiting here often in the next few months to see how the reading is progressing. Also just wondering about all that travelling. I guess it’s all necessary but it sounds exhausting!

  4. Priscilla – yes, indeed, where does the time go – there are too many books (but I don’t mind) and so we will never be able to read everything we want to. In a way, that’s quite soothing: so much to look forward to 🙂
    Myrthe – I got the reminder about Mahfouz from your blog – I am enjoying this first one of the trilogy but not sure whether I will read all three one after the other… I’ll pop back to your review!
    Pete – good question, why all that travelling? Somehow in this crazy world of ours there are (consultancy) jobs to be done that require people to step in to do the job and then step out again when it’s finished. I’m just unlucky in that I seem to hit on the projects that are furtherst away from where I live… 🙂 Well, this week is a quiet one and I only have to go to London twice… Bliss! Time to catch up with the blog and the reading and the writing and …. etc. But you’re right – it’s madness and exhausting.

  5. I haven’t read ANY of these books, but I did discover a Philip Larkin poem called “Church Going” last week and I loved it.

    And…just last night I put a query out on my Facebook page (yes, I’m there too…Friend me!) asking which Iris Murdoch novel(s) I should try. I’ve never read her, but I want to.

    Sounds like you’re the person to ask. Any recommendations for me?

  6. Oh, my goodness! I’d love your book budget! I think you’ll be quite busy for a long while — we’ll look forward to hearing your reactions!

  7. Lisa – I remember enjoying The Sea The Sea, I think it is the one that eventually got her the Booker Prize. It’s quite wild and strange but then all Murdoch’s books are full of weird but believable characters! Apologies for being so late responding, but the last few days have been quite busy again!
    Jeanie – What budget? It’s impulse buying…. but it keeps me busy and it is my therapy, as I said 🙂

  8. Thank you! That title comes up often, so when the time comes, I think I’ll start there.

  9. And let me know what you think once you’ve read it!

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