Wednesday, March 14, 2007


The photo above shows a portion of my rather large personal library. It’s messy, I know, but I’ve run out of space and there is nowhere in the house to put another bookshelf.

It is the result of over 40 years book collecting, I love my library and would, like Sepulgrave Groan, go mad if it was taken from me.

Books are my security blanket, my drug of choice. They are the comfort I turn to when life seems cruel and when apprehension on the state of the world gets to me. I always have a book with me. When shopping for handbags, I always judge them on book capacity, so I lug, over my shoulder, heavy, capacious bags, but I bear it because I know I will never have to go bookless.

From early childhood I have loved books. I can remember a time when I couldn’t read, but desperately wanting to, then being able to read. I can’t remember the process by which I learnt to read, but once I did, I never looked back.

During my childhood I never had much opportunity to collect books. I got them for birthday and Christmas presents, but never had the cash to buy them or only very occasionally when my sole grandparent who, in lieu of presents, always sent money. I’d spend my 10 shillings -wealth in those days! – on a book.

My younger brother, also a reader, and I haunted libraries or borrowed from cousins. We read our way through all the popular children’s books of the day.

It wasn’t until I left home and went to university that I started collecting. I’d spend $2.00 on books every week. It was cheap to live in those days and you could get up to four books for $2.00.

By the time I left uni, I had a modest collection of books, mostly paperbacks. I then joined the book trade and with a staff discount as an incentive, started collecting books in earnest.

I discovered many authors, who these days are cult icons of literature, such as Angela Carter and Mervyn Peake, so in the course of my enthusiasm for their books, amassed what is now a very fine collection of modern first editions. I was also fortunate enough to have a friendship with the Penguin sales rep who augmented my collection with boxes of books from the Penguin reject bin. He also gave me proof copies of several books, one of which was The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster.

So my collection grew to the extent that, if I had to move, it would take a great many boxes. No doubt, in the process I would come across literary treasures left long forgotten on the shelves waiting to be rediscovered. I’ve lost count on the extent of my library but imagine it would number several thousand books these days.

Extravagantly time wasting perhaps, the mornings of weekends and holidays; I spend lounging in bed reading. The cats love this habit as much as I do, as there’s nothing quite so appealing to a cat than a mostly prone human to lie on. Cat politics plays a big part in deciding which cat will get the prime lap position. This settled, the successful cat a gets to sleep and I get to read, uninterrupted for several hours. Sheer bliss!

The rest of the time I read commuting to and from work. I don’t tend to read in the evenings as the lighting at home is not conducive to the pastime, and I do prefer reading in natural light.

So, after all these years lost in books, what are my favourite books?

My tastes have always leaned towards fantastic and imaginative novels, though truth to tell I’ll read practically anything as long as it is well written and succeeds in holding my interest. The writers in my profile represent my general favourites, though there are many others, or individual books, that I return to again and again.

Big novels are my preference. I like lingering with a favourite author for as long a time as possible and find myself occasionally briefly addicted to certain writing styles. I am irritated by people who criticise a book for being too long, or make remarks along the lines of “it needs a good editor”. It must have something to do with an attention deficit syndrome when applied to reading the written word. I’ve read all the great long novels, Proust and Powell included. I’ve read Dorothy Dunnet’s Lymond Chronicles and House of Niccolo Series, I’ve spent many enjoyable hours wrapt in Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon and Baroque Trilogy – the list goes on. I can’t imagine anyone criticising Remembrance of Things Past in terms of it being too long, or that it needed a good editor to cut it down to half its size. Certainly, it’s a difficult read, but worth the effort.

For the past few weeks I’ve been re-reading Michael Innes’ intelligent and witty detective stories, collected in two omnibuses and also I have started reading The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters a 700 page+ monster by D W Dahlquist, which I felt compelled to buy after reading a rave review of it on Bookmunch. So far, it has lived up to expectations. It reminds me of a cross between Ronald Firbank’s quaint urbane fantasies and Neal Stephenson’s “Diamond Age”.


chiefbiscuit said...

Wow! I'd love a bookshelf like that - my books are in lots of different spaces and piles. I promise myself one day to get a decent lot of shelves ... but I haven't as many books as you have all the same.

Jan said...

Superb photograph.
My bookshelf, too, is an integral part of my house...the books are always there, like the best of friends, always prepared for you to ruffle their pages, browse with them, add some spice, offer a comfort.
Every so often I am cruel and CHUCK SOME CAncer RElief, usually, or Oxfam...but often, I arrive almost at the shop and decide I really cant part with them after all...

Anne S said...

That photo is of the smaller bookshelf which occupies a wall in what we term the computer room. I have a 9ft x 9ft inbuilt (though it can be taken apart) bookshelf in the living room. It too is crammed.

Last weekend I went through it desultorily, to thin it out a little by removing books I feel I will never look at again or I didn't like on first reading. I managed to fill three boxes. Now, what to do with them?