A Rainy Weekend – Book Barmy Style

I set aside a couple of books for a rainy day.  That rainy day turned into this past weekend of pouring rain ~~ and yes, as you can imagine, I had a very nice time.

Nabokov’s Butterfly

By Rick Gekoski

A gift from my sister several years ago.  Nobokov’s Butterfly is a special book, only a true Bibliophile could appreciate.

Rick Gekoski abandoned his career in academia after only a few years of collecting and dealing in rare books.  Why?  He doubled his salary in the first year.

This little volume is packed with memorable stories about his life as a rare book dealer, and some of the rare books themselves. He covers twenty rare books.  Each chapter details the publishing history of a classic including, The Catcher in the Rye, Lord of the Flies, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, On the Road and The Hobbit. 

The author delves into tales about each author, the writing of the book and the acclaim (or lack thereof) when first published.  He then dishes about the politics, frustrations, and joys in acquiring and eventually selling their rare editions.

Gekoski’s first meeting with Graham Greene was over the purchase of Greene’s rare first edition copy of Lolita which was inscribed by Nobokov to Greene and included an author sketch of a butterfly under the inscription.  (Nabokov was a keen butterfly collector.)  Greene and Mr. Gegoski become friends and bond over books and literature.  The author later sold this incredible find for a great deal more money to, none other than, Bernie Taupin — the famous lyricist for of Sir Elton John. See what I mean about dishing?

Mr. Gekoski tells of Ulysses and how James Joyce followed the advice of Ezra Pound who suggested Joyce send each  newly completed chapters to various magazines to earn money as he wrote. He also interviews a famous collector of rare editions of James Joyce who was unable to get through Ulysses:

[No] one has ever wished it longer than it is.  Ulysses is universally admired but rarely loved.

Mr. Gegoski is a skilled storyteller and each chapter of Nabokov’s Butterfly  is a delight for any book nerd lover.  And, just look at these wonderful flyleaves!


Don’t worry, in case you’re falling asleep, our next book has lots of pictures.

Bibliophile: An Illustrated Miscellany

Illustrated and written by Jane Mount


Someone gave me this book, and while it’s beautiful, expensive, and filled with colorful illustrations, I’ve avoided opening it.  I wasn’t sure I was on board with the concept of a hand illustrated picture book for book lovers – maybe it was this publicity blurb:

The perfect gift for book lovers, writers and your book club.  Book lovers rejoice! In this love letter to all things bookish, Jane Mount brings literary people, places, and things to life through her signature and vibrant illustrations.

When I finally did open it this rainy weekend, I found myself entertained and was happily turning the pages for an hour or so.  There are plenty of illustrations, many truly charming, and some interesting tidbits.  (Just click on images to make larger.)


There are sections on beloved bookstores

Pages of recommended books

Bookstore cats are lovingly rendered.

Books made into television series

Some award-winning covers

Special editions, collections by genre, and even more bookstores

In the end, I really enjoyed going through this illustrated devotional to books, learned some interesting things and naturally wrote down a few books I want to read.  I especially liked the section on Types of Fiction wherein Bildungsroman, Metafiction, and Magical Realism were defined in a most understandable manner (see decoding below)

And, as an added bonus, Bibliophile was perfect with tea on a rainy day.

The author, Jane Mount is an illustrator, designer, and founder of Ideal Bookshelf, a company that makes all sorts of bibliophile tchotchkes. She, of course, lives happily on Maui, in Hawaii.


Bildungsroman:  A young person gets an education of some sort and comes of age. A Portrait of the Artist as  Young Man, by James Joyce; The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Metafiction:  These stories remind you with a nod and a wink that they are stories, not real life, often by nestling other stories within themselves. Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut; The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

Magical Realism:  Originating in Latin America in the early 20th century, these are stories set in the real world but with a little magic thrown in without fanfare.  One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez; Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie

Holiday Reading

Despite a busy, happy, jam-packed holiday season, I was able to get in a few books. Nothing high brow, nothing earth shattering. A few lightweight holiday reads.    Just the right ending for what turned out to be a super couple of weeks.


Immoveable Feast

A Paris Christmas

by John Baxter

In this novel, John Baxter writes of preparing his first Christmas feast in France.  Australian by birth, living in Los Angeles.  He falls in love with a French woman:

“Struck down by that helpless love which the French call un coup de foudre – a thunderclap — I’d abandoned a comfortable life in Los Angeles and, on the spur of the moment moved to Paris to be with this woman I loved.  I knew no more French than one can pick up from movie subtitles.”

It is now several years later and he has married Marie.  This year he has the dubious honor to host the annual Christmas meal for friends and family.  Each chapter takes the reader through his search for the perfect ingredients for his menu. There’s a whole chapter on sourcing fine French cheeses, and I swear you can smell and taste each cheese.

From traveling to India for spices, to discovering the perfect wine at a bargain price in a small village grocery — the pressure is on for our poor author.   Mr. Baxter is funnily self deprecating, in awe of French style, and intimidated by their insistence on food perfection.  As a frequent dinner host, I loved watching his meal plan come together and the last chapter, culminating in the meal itself, is guaranteed to make your mouth water.

I even cheered along with his guests as they erupted in very un-French-like applause over his flaming fruit dessert.

A Rumpole Christmas

by John Mortimer

One of my great pleasures of the holiday season is to bring out and cozy-up with my favorite Christmas books.   This collection of Rumpole stories is one such delight.

Back in the 1980’s Husband and I were fans of the BBC/PBS series Rumpole of the Bailey starring the inimitable Leo McKern.  The series was based on the books and stories written by John Mortimer.   (You can currently see many of the television episodes on YouTube.)

These stories feature cantankerous lawyer Horace Rumpole, his hapless colleagues at the Old Bailey and his formidable wife, Hilda (aka She Who Must Be Obeyed).  These pieces variously appeared between 1997 and 2006 in various British publications, and I’ve since learned, are the only ones with a Christmas setting.

In Rumpole and Father Christmas, our barrister meets an old friend (of sorts) playing Father Christmas at the office holiday party. Meets him, that is, as he’s returning things he stole during the party.

One of the best of these stories is  Rumpole’s Slimmed-Down Christmas. Rumpole’s wife, Hilda has booked them at a health farm during the holidays. Enduring yak-milk and a no alcohol policy, Rumpole finds distraction by defending the owner of the health farm against a charge of murder.

In the one story that always has me chuckling out loud, Hilda and Rumpole spend Christmas at Cherry Picker’s Hall. To Rumpole’s horror, Justice Graves (Rumpole calls him the old Gravestone) is also in attendance.  

“His usually lugubrious features wore the sort of smile only previously stimulated by a long succession of guilty verdicts”

The Old Gravestone appears to find Hilda all too charming. Rumpole must endure not only dancing with Hilda, but the Old Gravestone’s attempts at flirting.

But, above all we have Rumpole himself, smoking his cheroots, swilling his cheap red wine, and always standing up for the defense.  He quotes Worsdworth and Shakespeare — he is our favorite Curmudgeon Extraordinaire.

Mr Mortimer*, who died in 2009, made his career with the Rumpole series which are based on actual courtroom trials in England.  He writes with great wit and, most admirably, injects subtle sarcasm into his writings.  (Book Barmy note:   I think many authors have difficulty writing sarcasm without seeming cruel. Mr. Mortimer is a writer who deftly crafts this fine balance.)

Rumpole’s Christmas stories never fail to delight.

* John Mortimer was a playwright, novelist, and former practicing barrister who wrote film scripts as well as stage, radio, and the Rumpole television series for which he received the British Academy Writer of the Year Award, along with his adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited. He is the author of twelve collections of Rumpole stories and three acclaimed volumes of autobiography. John Mortimer also wrote one of my favorite novels Summer’s Lease

One Day in December

by Josie Silver

I was in the throes of a busy, yet fun, holiday and needed a lightweight read that didn’t require major brain cells.

One Day in December was a pure romantic Christmas delight.  I don’t often read what is coined as “Chick-Lit” or “Rom-Com” but I was taken in by the publisher’s letter in my advanced reading copy.  The letter claimed this new novel was a cross between Love Actually and When Harry Met Sally – and that it left a smile on her face for days after she finished.  Okay, perfect, I decided.

It’s December and Laurel is packed on the upper deck of a London city bus and musing on her fellow passengers coughing and sneezing~~

“It’s a wonder everyone who uses public transport in winter doesn’t keel over and die of germ overload.”

Then Laurel catches the eye of a man waiting at a bus stop and their eyes lock in tandem and the world seems to disappear around them.  Yes, corny, but seems it’s love at first sight.  Neither can move fast enough to either get off the bus (Laurel) or the guy to run to get on the bus…so life goes on.

Eventually, their paths cross, but he (Jack) is dating her room mate and best friend, Sarah…awkward.  Although Jack vividly remembers their bus sighting, and instantly feels the same connection — he decides not to acknowledge this to Laurel.  And so the years go by.

Ms. Silver has constructed her novel into chapters which delve into each character’s point of view and then into yearly sections –each year ending with a wrenching December holiday plot twist.  I can see a film adaptation in Ms. Silver’s future.

Far more complex and thankfully, not a typical romantic comedy, One Day in December was very nicely written and compelling.   The British characters are lovably flawed — the author has them stumble through friendships, breakups, dreams, jobs and finally love. They drink too much, love too much, mess up their relationships — and I found it all quite endearing.

Great literature? No.

A cheerful and heartwarming romantic comedy? Yes.

Me. Hopeless romantic?  Definitely.


Now I’ve got to go.  It’s New Years Day evening.  Husband has had enough football and has relinquished the television.  I’m off to watch Love Actually one last time. Back to real life tomorrow Okay?

Happy New Year. 






A digital advance readers copy of One Day in December was kindly provided by Broadway Books via NetGalley.

Everybody’s Doing It

Everybody’s doing it.

Doing what you say?

Buying Books!

There’s been an unprecedented surge in book sales.

And we’re talking full price, hardback, printed books.

Just before the holiday week, readers demand for some hardback bestsellers has caused printing shortages and titles to be unavailable.

You can read all about it HERE in an article from the New York Times.

Now that’s some good news!


It wouldn’t be Christmas Eve here at Book Barmy unless I posted this:

In Iceland, it is a Christmas Eve tradition to give a book as a gift.

This is called Jólabókaflóð, or the Christmas Book Flood.

This time of year the sun doesn’t rise until 11 AM & it’s dark by 3 PM.

So after a brisk (and chilly!) afternoon walk around town with the rest of their neighbors, familes snuggle into their homes with a hot drink and to read their new books.

Wishing all my fellow book lovers a traditional Jólabókaflóð

Merry Christmas and happy reading, from Book Barmy headquarters

This image from Deborah DeWitt – check out her book themed art HERE


Dear Santa,

I actually gasped when I saw this on the internet.

This historic bookshop and its contents are for sale.

So Santa if you’re checking your list, I’ve always dreamed of owning a bookshop, nothing too big, nothing too fancy.  It would have a resident cat, comfortable chairs, coffee and tea for customers, the occasional author reading with wine, and a little children’s corner. No soaps, mugs or stuffed animals for sale–just books.

And, in my head, my little bookshop (aptly named Book Barmy) looks just like this.

But, it’s well known the second best way to throw money away is to own a  bookshop (the first is owning a sail boat).  And while this little place is only three hours from New York City, I can’t imagine hoards of customers.  I remind myself of the weather (snow, ice) and bugs (mosquitoes, black flies) and go sit out on my deck for a great sunset here in California.

The full story is HERE and yes, I’m still sighing over the photos.

So if you’re stuck for a Christmas gift idea for that bibliophile on your list ~~ here you go.  Hint hint hint.

Or, if you know a nicely wealthy book lover — pass this on.

This needs to stay a bookshop.

Baby, Just One More Page…

This is me right now…so much to do and yet I have some great reading taunting me…