I’m back now from a long weekend in Hay-on-Wye, with my wife, daughter and son-in-law. When a friend of my daughter’s heard where we were all going, he said, “Hay-on-Wye? You lot’ll be like pigs on smack.”
Which is true enough. Hay really is the ideal destination for a family of booklovers with a dog who enjoys leisurely strolls by the river.
I picked up a number of bargains, and will doubtless report on a few of them here in due course. I’ve just whizzed through a most enjoyable book by John Terraine, The Smoke and the Fire, a collection of essays about the myths of war. The essays add up to a thoughtful defence of Haig – essentially on the ground that the war of attrition was an unavoidable strategy if Germany was to be defeated. There are telling comparisons between Haig’s approach to war and Ulysses S. Grant’s in the American Civil War. Both faced the grim truth that victory could only be achieved at the expense of casualties. Terraine is tough on those who will not face that truth, from Lloyd George, with his search for alternative blood-free routes to victory, to Liddell Hart, who gets caught out in some imaginative jiggling with the facts. An engrossing book.
Next on my reading list is Journey’s End, by R.C.Sherriff and Vernon Bartlett, a 1930 novelisation of Sherriff’s play. From a quick flick through, it looks as though the book doesn’t reach the trenches till half-way through, but spends a fair bit of time on Raleigh’s schooldays. Promising thesis-fodder.
Something that disconcerts me at Hay (and second-hand bookshops elsewhere) is the number of books that are ex-library. Once I foolishly thought that libraries were storehouses of knowledge, preserving the past for future generations – but it doesn’t work that way. I can see why reference books get replaced when they are outdated, but why did Shropshire County Libraries get rid of its bound volumes of the Times Literary Supplement? Did nobody in Shropshire ever use this most valuable resource to get an idea of a book’s reception?
Most depressing was that my daughter was able to buy (very reasonably) a thick collection of Rebecca West’s writings that had been chucked out by one of the Sheffield universities. Don’t the librarians of Sheffield realise what a good writer West is? Do none of the feminist students there want to explore the development of probably the most intelligent British feminist of the twentieth century? Do none of the tutors there put her books on the reading list? Shame on you, Sheffield.