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Hidden Gems

‘They must have one,’ I said to my daughter, ‘all good hotels have one . . .’ and this was an lovely little hotel on the shores of Lake Garda. In the end I did discover it on a window sill along a little-used corridor: a small collection of books left behind by earlier visitors. It was something of a disappointment: the only thing in English that really fitted the bill was Michael Connolly’s latest – and I’d read it.

I thought fondly of the collection in the hotel we stayed in last year: the excellent Hotel du Lac in Bellagio on Lake Como. It’s a long-established hotel and they had clearly reached the admirable decision that they wouldn’t throw out anything. There were hundreds of books, forming a kind of snapshot of popular reading stretching right back to the 1960s: James Herbert’s The Rats, Arthur Hailey’s Airport, even The F-Plan Diet(remember that?), to name only a few. I picked out Betty MacDonald’s Onions in the Stew, a book I have never actually seen anywhere else and read it during my stay. And before I left, I made my own contribution, Jane Harper’s The Dry.

There’s something very enjoyable about discovering a gem in a hotel library of generally rather dog-eared paperbacks. One of the most memorable for me was around twenty years ago in a hotel in Greece, picking up Michael Connolly’s The Concrete Blonde, and being so gripped that I read it all in one gulp. I’ve been reading Michael Connolly ever since.

I would love to hear of other serendipitous discoveries . . .

18 Comments

  1. Margot Kinberg
    September 22, 2018

    I know just what you mean, Christine, about finding hidden ‘book gems’ in hotels or in other places. I discovered Edward Rutherfurd’s work when I was in London at a conference, and I’ve loved his historical novels since then. I’ve often thought that it’d be lovely if boarding gates at airports had a ‘borrow bin,’ where you choose a book for the flight, and then leave it in a bin at your destination. Of course, that’d only work for long flights, and I’m sure the airport book concessions wouldn’t like it. But I think it’d be an intriguing idea.

    Reply
    • Christine Poulson
      September 22, 2018

      That is a marvellous idea, Margot! The airport book concessions certainly wouldn’t like it. But what fun it would be . . .

      Reply
  2. Bill Selnes
    September 23, 2018

    I have enjoyed the libraries on the larger ships of the Oceania Cruise Line. There are probably 1,500 to 2,000 books in the libraries of Riviera and Marina.

    Reply
    • Christine Poulson
      September 23, 2018

      I have never been on a cruise, Bill. But this does make the idea tempting, especially the thought of having days at sea to read.

      Reply
  3. moira @ Clothes in Books
    October 7, 2018

    What cheers me up most is to see the spines of green Penguins on a shelf of randoms – always exciting. I have found some pretty obscure books that way. I will read just about anything in a green-and-white…
    And isn’t Margot’s idea brilliant?

    Reply
    • Christine Poulson
      October 8, 2018

      Yes, quite brilliant! I too dearly love to see a row of green Penguins.

      Reply
  4. Michael Guarino
    October 18, 2018

    Once, when visiting a bed & breakfast in Mendocino, I came across a shelf of beaten up paperbacks—the most beaten up [by far] of which was entitled “The Quest for the Grail: Arthurian Legend in British Art.” In spite of myself, I spent much of the rest of the day marveling over one very engaging author’s attempts to resolve how much Burne Jones’ and Rossetti’s extra marital affairs had influenced their renderings of Lancelot, Guinevere and Galahad. Between phone calls from clients, I downed roughly 100 pages of sacred and profane love by 6pm. Determined to read the whole damn book before I left the next morning, I wound up skipping the legal ethics conference I had come to attend, enjoying a delightful evening with someone named Christine Poulson instead.

    Reply
    • Christine Poulson
      October 19, 2018

      Wow! Thank you so much, Michael. I am very flattered. Having a book published is like launching messages in bottles: you never know where they are going to end up or who will read them. I am delighted to learn that we spent such a pleasant evening together and how nice of you to take the time to tell me about it. I have just taken The Quest for the Grail down from the shelf and read a few pages. It’s so long since I wrote it, that it is almost as if it was written by someone else – and yes, it’s not bad!

      Reply
      • Michael Guarino
        October 19, 2018

        Allow me to bother you one, last time, Christine. “The Quest for the Grail” is a deal more than “not bad.” A long time ago —in a different life, really— I got roped into prosecuting a punk rock band, Jello Biafra & The Dead Kennedys , for distribution of ‘obscene matter’ in the form of an H. R. Giger poster —-the description of which I’ll mercifully leave to the imagination. I spent the entire trial watching various degrees of hatred (for me) registering on the face of each of the jurors. Years later, while reading your deeply heartfelt “Quest”, I came to the bright conclusion that it would have been awfully helpful if I had a friend like you to counsel me on the vagaries of ‘redeeming qualities’ in art before I filed the case [or, being ever the competitor, at least before I gave Closing Argument]…..

        Reply
        • Christine Poulson
          October 21, 2018

          Thank you, Michael. What an interesting career you have had! What was the verdict? Though, probably, from your description of the jurors faces, I don’t need to ask . . .

          Reply
          • Michael Guarino
            October 21, 2018

            Answer: Hung jury (whereupon the judge saved me the trouble of retrying the case by dismissing it —preserving my pristine record). Speaking of pristine —- how exactly did Percival wind up in the presence of the Sacred Grail? I’m fairly certain he was magically tricked into spending a night with some princess along the way. Apparently, he ‘re-virginized.’ This gives me the idea for an irreverent 21st century story (of the kind that would make J.P. Donleavy proud), requiring only a few minor adjustments to the old romantic formula of boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl. How’s ’bout –boy enjoys virginity, boy accidentally loses virginity, boy miraculously regains virginity? I hope I can rely on you for pointers when I, inevitably, write myself into a corner.

          • Christine Poulson
            October 29, 2018

            Apologies for not replying sooner, Michael. My memory of the Percival story is rather fuzzy – it is after all 18 years since the book came out. The Victorian versions had Percival remain a virgin all the way through and I’m not so familiar with the other ones, so I wouldn’t be able to help you out with this story – though I am intrigued by the idea of regaining one’s virginity . . .

      • moira @ Clothes in Books
        October 21, 2018

        What a lovely story!

        Reply
        • Christine Poulson
          October 21, 2018

          Yes, isn’t it!

          Reply
          • Michael Guarino
            October 31, 2018

            Crap. You’re right, Christine! Sir Percival remains pure to the end. It’s Sir Bors that has the ‘adventure’ with the she-devil. I seem to remember a passage wherein 3 bulls are spied in a field, one of whom has a little bitty black spot on his otherwise white hide. Yep. He represented Sir Bors. The other two friends from the animal kingdom represented Galahad and Percival.
            Somehow Bors winds up at the Chapel of the Sacred Grail anyway. So Malory subscribed to the possibility of “re-virginization.” I do, too. It’s worked for me. Several times.
            Take care. And keep up the splendid work!

          • Christine Poulson
            November 3, 2018

            I had forgotten about Sir Bors! But it is only Galahad who actually sees the Grail, isn’t it? So re-virginization can only take you so far . . . Thanks for reminding me about all this. I am thinking I’ll refer to the Grail legend in the novel I am currently working on.

  5. Michael Guarino
    November 3, 2018

    Very cool, Christine! You’re certainly the right person to graft Galahad, Percival and Bors into a mystical, sexy murder mystery! [From the night you turned me on to the Grail legend, I’ve enjoyed pretty much every screwy permutation of The Quest I could get my hands on. Apparently, Alma Mahler told Gustav Klimt she was more or less sure the blood in the Sacred Cup was only shed for the knights of the Round Table—-all of whom were German. Chretien De Troyes fudged on whether or not Lancelot truly lost his virginity —-“they made love differently in those days.” It kinda looks like Burne Jones has shrewdly painted Lancelot illuminating the Grail Angel, not vice versa. And a certain knight displays varying amounts of ‘virginity’ —depending on whether or not he shows up under the name Parsifal or Parzival or Percival. Bottom line: Christine Poulson can have a LOT of fun with this group of guys].

    Reply
    • Christine Poulson
      November 7, 2018

      It sounds as though you are far more au fait with it all this than I am now! The legends won’t play a major part in the novel, but I do sometimes like to have something archetypal or mythical as a strand.

      Reply

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