One of the many delights travelling in Britain holds for me is that second-hand books are everywhere. My husband and I are compulsive book-buyers, and the purchase of second-hand ones makes us feel less guilty of filling the house with volumes that are quick to buy and slow to read.
We were at a historic mansion, Hughenden Manor, in Buckinghamshire, and after admiring the Elizabethan building, visiting the Victorian interior and exploring part of the vast park we popped into the small bookshop.
I like buying books on holiday, but one needs to consider weight and size, so no picture book on the countryside. I picked a book on Tudor history then saw Maya Angelou’s I know why the caged bird sings and opted for that.
I am not keen on books and authors that carry a label ( or I should say, to the labels attached to writers); I do not care if a writer is a man or a woman, straight or gay, black, white or Martian-green: I want a good, well written work of literature, and that’s that. I prefer Dickens to George Eliot, Walt Whitman to Dickinson, Heart of Darkness to Things fall apart. I liked Toni Morrison Jazz because of how it is written, not because the author is a black woman (she is a fantastic novelist). I have read a bunch of Angelou ‘s poems, and I remember reading about her two years ago, in an article commemorating Shakespeare’s four- hundredth death anniversary. It said that during her deprived childhood she had discovered Shakespeare and she had found hope: poetry had been her beacon in darkness.
(…)it was shakespeare who said, ‘When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes’. It was a state with which I felt myself most familiar.
I opened the book while my husband was paying for our coffees at the manor’s bistrot: a little girl in a taffeta dress, sitting in church on Easter Sunday morning. She is black. She thought the dress would make her look like a fairy, but it’s a disaster. She dreams to wake up one day to wake up white, with sleek blond hair and blue eyes.
It is breath-taking: you are drawn into the little girl’s world, captured by how the first-person narrator switches back and forth between the little girl’s mind and her surroundings. While we were walking round the manor’s walled garden I read on – a few lines at a time, walking slowly and looking up when my husband pointed to some plant. I know I will love this book, I am a sucker for great beginnings.