Events: My Kate Spade Book Salon in Covent Garden

by Sasha Wilkins on November 8, 2013 · 32 comments

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When Kate Spade called and asked me if I’d like to host a book evening at the Covent Garden store, as part of their Happy Thursdays strand, they originally thought it might be called a book club but I prevaricated, and suggested calling it a book salon instead.

That’s because I didn’t want people to feel excluded: sometimes ‘club’ can make people feel like they’re on the outside looking in, and neither did I want people to think they had to read a book in order to turn up,  so ‘salon’ seemed a little bit more relaxed.

I also thought it might be more interesting if I  talked about several books rather than just one in detail: after all, we had an hour to fill and you never know if anybody is going to turn up…but they did, thank goodness, and we had a full house.

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I picked comfort reading as a theme for the evening because, for me, books are the ultimate solace when I want to escape from the world around me,  on the top of the bus on the way to a meeting, or in the comfort of my bedroom, for when I’m tired, miserable, lonely, or maybe just when I am wanting to relax after a long day.

I own over 3000 books but unfortunately London space does not allow me to keep them here, and I have stashed most of them in my father’s garage in the country, until the day I can actually shelve them myself.

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The books I do have in London are the books I absolutely need to have around me, the books, I can’t manage without reading several times year. Sure, I have duplicates on my Kindle, but nothing beats the pleasure of an original’s foxed, yellow pages, and the musty smell of the paper.

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I spoke for a while about the books I had brought along (the list is at the bottom of this post), and then hopefully paused for contributions. The other variable at a book evening is not knowing if anyone else will speak up. But, to my absolute joy, a lovely lady stepped up who had brought along her favourite comfort read – The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern and, after she spoke passionately about what it meant to her, and with a bit of encouragement from me, other women raised their hands and admitted to bringing along their favourite books too.

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That broke the ice, and random droppers in started to contribute to the conversation and, before we knew it, our hour had flown by, with a whole extra list of books to think about.

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We also discussed what actually makes a comfort read because one girl mentioned  A Million Little Pieces by James Frey, which sparked a discussion about how sometimes a book that makes you examine yourself and re-examine the world around you can be a comfort read, partly because it reassures that we  are not along in having have deep seated worries, traumas, and concerns.

Because of the controversy about Frey’s background, we also discussed how experiences which we read about don’t necessarily have to have actually happened in reality to resonate with you

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So here is the list of comfort reads I brought along to discuss,  some of which of course I have already mentioned here on the blog.

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Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (Persephone Classics) by Winifred Watson
I Capture The Castle by Dodie Smith
Ian Fleming’s James Bond books  (The Spy Who Loved Me)
The Provincial Lady in London by E.M. Delafield
The Tales Of The City series by Armistead Maupin (Babycakes: Tales of the City Series, Vol. 4 & More Tales of the City Series, Vol.2)
Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
A Civil Contract by Georgette Heyer
Friday’s Child by Georgette Heyer

(I’m wearing my favourite Whistles Granite Print Silk Dress, which is in the sale for £75 here, and these gorgeous (gifted) Kate Spade Park Floral Chandelier Earrings here)

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{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

Maidy November 8, 2013 at 04:09

How I read and read and read I Capture the Castle when I was 14 and then again and again. Love it to pieces. Now it’s the go to book whenever I see a 14-year-old or thereabouts languishing by the fiction shelves in our library… most of the time they love it too. Thanks for this post LLG.

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Sasha Wilkins November 8, 2013 at 11:22

@Maidy: A pleasure! And I absolutely agree, it really is the perfect book for young teenagers. I actually didn’t discover it until I was in my mid 20s(hence the Virago copy) and WAS SO CROSS at having missed a book which I think would have been really formative in a Very Good way. LLGxx

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Jo November 8, 2013 at 07:07

I love Armistead Maupin so very much. I know it’s a cliche, but it’s the humanity of his writing that I love. I think of his books as the literary equivalent of drinking a delicious cappuccino in a velvet armchair.

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Sasha Wilkins November 8, 2013 at 11:25

@Jo: What a beautiful description! And yes, I agree with the humanity. He turns a mirror on us all, I think.

I know San Francisco very, very well, as I have lived and stayed there on and off for years, and I still see the city through his eyes. It is one of my favourite places in the world: I love how you don;t even have to do anything specific: you can wander the streetson the hoof, or even just drive around, and there is something to gaze at on every block. And, if you have read Maupin, you can join all the literary dots! LLGxx

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Catherine November 8, 2013 at 11:04

Toast by Nigel Slater is my ultimate comfort read – I re-read it countless times a year because it is just so lovely and warm. It’s essentially a short memoir, but each passage is remembered through the food memory that accompanies it. It makes for a delightfully nostalgic read.

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Sasha Wilkins November 8, 2013 at 11:25

@Catherine: oh yes! I adore books that tells stories about food too. LLGxx

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Sasha Wilkins November 8, 2013 at 11:19

A reader just emailed me the following suggestions after she read The Daily Email:

I am frankly amazed that you have time to read with your hectic schedule, but share your enthusiasm for a great book. I’m almost certain you will have read it, but if not you must try William Boyd’s Any Human Heart – so well written and very moving. Also just enjoyed Amanda Caplin’s The Orchardist, which is not as epic, but again very well written and has a lot to say about ‘la condition humaine’.

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Anna Maria November 8, 2013 at 11:23

I wish I could’ve been there. I mentioned Dodie Smith in my comment under your previous post about this event, but let me also strongly recommend Katherine by Anya Seton, which you’ve not mentioned so far (at least I don’t remember you recommending it) – I know of women, who re-read it every year, and it is fantastic, I’m pretty sure you’d like it.

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Sasha Wilkins November 8, 2013 at 11:28

@Anna Maria: I LOVE Katherine! I know it back to front. The story of Katherine de Roet and how she became the most important woman in the kingdom is *quite* extraordinary. Every time I visit the Savoy, or stand on the South Bank I think if the descriptions of the Savoy Palace from the book! I don;t have a copy here, which is why I haven’t been hoilking it out. Must buy one! LLGxx

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Sasha Wilkins November 8, 2013 at 11:29

@Anna Maria: PS a few years ago I’m pretty sure that Katherine was voted one of the nation’s favourite books in one of those bookshop promotions! LLGxx

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Anna Maria November 11, 2013 at 10:31

@Sasha Wilkins: I knew you’d love it:-) I only discovered it at the ripe old age of 39, and was so happy I did.

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Emily November 8, 2013 at 11:33

Oh, I Capture the Castle, The Provincial Lady (all, though Russia is quite different), Georgette Heyer (which everyone laughs at as a Granny read but I love), Miss Pettigrew… I grew up on Laura Ingalls Wilder and my favourite was always the Long Winter. I so wanted to come along but work got in the way so couldn’t. I love Dorothy L Sayers with a passion (particularly the Harriet Vane ones), and The Making of a Marchioness too, as another Emily who isn’t small and married quite late, Love in a Cold Climate and the Pursuit of Love, Riders and Rivals, Excellent Women and actually a lot of Barbara Pym, The Irish RM, Molly Keane as MJ Farrell. In fact I’m not sure I read much that isn’t for comfort; time to break out the Dostoyevsky!

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Sasha Wilkins November 11, 2013 at 11:14

@Emily: Oh I’m the same, but that list is hardly pulp fiction, so I think we are okay! LLGcc

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Lauren Proctor November 8, 2013 at 11:39

Such a lovely evening – thank you for hosting us. I mentioned ‘Belle’ by Lesley Pearse on the night and would v much recommend it as a read. It was also wonderful to meet Susannah and I hope she managed to get much needed rest after her hectic week! Hopefully meet you again soon Sasha xx

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Sasha Wilkins November 8, 2013 at 11:42

@Lauren Proctor: Hello Lauren! Thank you so much for coming, and THANK YOU for reminding me about your book choice, because I was wracking my brains trying to remember its name! LLGxx

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KSalty November 8, 2013 at 11:44

This is such a fun and clever collaboration – love Kate Spade’s happy, cheery branding and that goes so well with the idea of comforting reads, and your diverse selection. One I’m pretty sure you’ve mentioned on here before, very much in the vein of I Capture the Castle, is The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets by Eva Rice. That, and her new book, are my hibernate under the quilt reads x

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Sasha Wilkins November 11, 2013 at 11:13

@KSalty: yes! It came up in one of my Wedgwood teas last year
http://www.libertylondongirl.com/2012/10/09/llg-literature-the-books-that-built-us/
- I didn’t realise she had a new one out so that is def going on my list LLGxx

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Annie November 8, 2013 at 21:41

Currently staying at Fleming’s home in Jamaica and all the rooms come equipped with all the Bond books. We are reading our way through them, having never read one before. They are perfect holiday reading and great escapism, total page turners – I can see why you like them. Misogyny and rapey-ness aside anyway!

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Sasha Wilkins November 11, 2013 at 11:09

@Annie: Yup, there are some rather unsettling elements to say the least. But I still love them for their period evocation: every time I re-read them I am astonished at the level of detail Fleming gives to the clothes esp the women’s and the food that they eat. LLGxx

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didyoumakethat November 8, 2013 at 22:15

Devastated that I missed this evening as it sounds like my idea of heaven. I absolutely concur with I Capture The Castle, Armistead Maupin, The Provincial Lady, Little House on the Prairie. The reader suggestion of Any Human Heart is spot on. If you haven’t already ready it, you will adore it. From recent children’s novels, can I also suggest Patrick Ness’s A Monster Calls. I wouldn’t call it comfort reading exactly, but it is something quite superb. I really hope you repeat this and love your thoughts of a salon over a book club. Ooh, also – Rebecca! Again, comfort reading maybe not, but what a novel. Thanks for this gorgeous piece.

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Sasha Wilkins November 11, 2013 at 11:10

@didyoumakethat: ooh I haven’t read Patrick Ness’s A Monster Calls, so thank you for that. I do hope we get to do something similar again, as I loved it – it was also great to meet so many lovely blog readers. LLGxx

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