A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
We are absolutely delighted to welcome Simon Thomas to Vulpes Libris. Simon has been book-blogging over at Stuck in a Book for many years now, and he has kindly agreed to join Vulpes Libris as a guest Bookfox, writing a monthly column for us.
Whoever said you should never trust a fox had obviously never come across the lovely literary foxes at Vulpes Libris! Aesop, you fool, you never predicted the sort of lovely welcome that these fine people would offer me. They have allowed – nay, encouraged – me to have a spot on their wonderful blog once a month, and I am delighted to accept. Thank you! For those who don’t know me, my name is Simon Thomas and I have been blogging at Stuck-in-a-Book for nearly six years. I love books, y’all, and I’m not afraid to shout about it. (By ‘shout’, I mean mention, over a cup of tea, in the intervals of eating a piece of sponge cake, obviously.
It’s been left up to my whim and fancy, to decide what I’m going to write about. I’ll be revisiting books I’ve feted on my own blog, discussing newly discovered reads, and writing general literary chatter. Comments and questions will always be very welcome, as will book recommendations.
Perhaps it is best, since this is my first post, to give a sort of introduction to my literary leanings and tastes. And since there’s nobody in my room except me and my teddy bear (dog, actually: Patch), and he’s asleep, I’d better conduct the interview myself.
Myself: Look, Simon, let’s cut to the chase. What are your favourite books?
Me: This used to be such an easy question to answer when I was 18 years old, and had just started to discover books that I really loved! I used to make top ten lists, from the hundred or so proper, grown-up books that I’d read, and marvel that other readers didn’t have my striking talent for decisiveness. Now I’ve reached the grand old age of 27, everything already seems much more difficult. I’ve read about a thousand books in the intervening years, I’d estimate. But there are three that would definitely remain on top – and, in fact, I read all of them in the year or two before I turned 18.
Myself: Gosh, you take a while to get to the point, don’t you? Just tell me your favourite.
Me: Shan’t. You’re getting three or nothing.
Myself: In that case, it’s been a pleasure speaking with—
Me: IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER BY AUTHOR –
Myself: (oh, for pity’s sake)
Me: – I shall start with Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen. I actually read all of her novels in quick succession, preparing for my university interviews, and this one fought its way to the top of my affections. That’s not a popular view among Janeites, but I love her when she is being outlandishly funny and a little over the top – nowhere does she do that better than with Mr. and Mrs. Palmer, summed up for me in the delectable line: “Mr. Palmer will be so happy to see you,” said she; “What do you think he said when he heard of your coming with Mama? I forget what it was now, but it was something so droll!” Austen grew older and wiser – and perhaps, when I do the same, I shall grow to love Mansfield Park or Persuasion best – but, for now at least, she is at her best is this heightened, slightly melodramatic, funny and lovable tale.
Myself: Have you finished yet? You’ve hardly set the world alight, Si, with the news that you like Jane Austen. The woman’s blinkin’ everywhere. It would be rather more interesting if you’d said that we hated her.
Me: Hmm, true. Well, my next choice is a little more unusual – it’s Miss Hargreaves by Frank Baker!
Me: I expected that response. Anybody who has read Stuck-in-a-Book has probably come across Miss Hargreaves, since I don’t shut up about her. It’s a 1940 novel about a young man (Norman) who, to get out of a boring conversation, invents an old lady called Miss Constance Hargreaves. He and his friend Henry embellish her character with a harp, pencil on a string, hip bath… not to mention a cockatoo and dog. Mirthfully, they send off an invitation, asking her to stay with them in Cornford. Imagine their surprise when she turns up… The novel wittily follows the madcap chaos she causes, but it’s also an incredibly moving story, and a tiny bit sinister.
Myself: Don’t tell me, it made you laugh and made you cry?
Me: Sorry, but it did!
Myself: Well, it does sound worth reading, I’ll give you that.
Me: Er, you have read it, many times – we’re the same person, right?
Myself: What IS it with you and breaking the fourth wall? Don’t you have any sense of artistry?
Me: That brings me neatly onto my third book…
Myself: Does it? Really?
Me: Not in the slightest, but that’s the sort of thing you can write to make a non-sequitur seem like a segue. My third choice is a total cheat – it’s Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield, which is actually four books in one. Confusingly enough, the first one is called The Diary of a Provincial Lady. Published in the 1930s and ‘40s, these are the wryly funny, self-deprecating fictional diaries of the average middle-class wife and mother of the period. It could scarcely be less high-octane, but it’s endlessly endearing and amusing. Delafield has a turn of phrase in these books which is somehow always fresh and delightful. An example, you ask?
February 28th — Notice, and am gratified by, appearance of large clump of crocuses near the front gate. Should like to make whimsical and charming reference to these, and try to fancy myself as “Elizabeth of the German Garden”, but am interrupted by Cook, saying that the Fish is here, but he’s only brought cod and haddock, and the haddock doesn’t smell any too fresh, so what about cod?
Have often noticed that Life is like that.
Myself: That makes three, right? Sorry, I dropped off for a bit a while ago. I think it was when you started talking a book being ‘endearing’.
Me: Yup, Myself, that’s all three – Austen, Baker, and Delafield. Most regular readers of Stuck-in-a-Book will remain entirely unsurprised by those suggestions, but that’s why they serve as an excellent introduction to my taste for the lovely readers of Vulpes Libris. I look forward to sharing more reading adventures with you!
Myself: Do you think they’ll have us back?
Me: Oh, I do hope so. I think it’s going to be awfully fun!