The Weird Behaviour Of Book Lovers
Intestinal Parasites Volume Two – British Boundary Lines; 1066-1700 – A Guide To The Cumberland Pencil Museum – Greek Rural Postmen And Their Cancellation Numbers – The Pictorial Dictionary Of Barbed Wire
These are some of the volumes to be found in Arthur Bryant’s library; I mention a few titles in every book, and most of them are based on real volumes, slightly exaggerated. There’s a shop in Bloomsbury that has a window filled with such rare titles. But the other day I had the horrible realisation that my own library is not too far removed from Mr Bryant’s.
On the shelf I can see from my desk I have The History of Odeon Cinemas Vols 1 & 2, Victorian Mazes & Labyrinths, The Sewing Guide to English Farming Smocks, A Survivor’s Guide To Post-Apocalypse Movies, Masai Warrior Head-dresses and Heaven knows what else. This is the result of keeping a Living Library, ie. culling books you won’t be likely to reread or even read. I don’t have room to hoard books that I’ll never return to so the volumes that get to stay have to pay their rent by being interesting enough to cry out ‘Open me!’ on winter nights.
It applies to fiction, too. Do I really need The Year of the Angry Rabbit, a satire on Australian politics, or When The Kissing Had To Stop, which according to the cover ‘consigns 1984 to the nursery’? Many collections of stories overlap for all but one story – there’s no definitive collection of Ray Bradbury’s work, for example, whereas John Collier and JG Ballard now have proper archive editions. There are more definitive volumes of comics than there are of 20th century writers, so I can collect every Spirit story by Will Eisner, but not every tale from Dino Buzzati, one of my favourite authors.
And what is it about the collecting gene that says I have to own the whole output of one author anyway? I don’t even own a full set of my own work! Will anyone in the next generation behave as weirdly about books as we do? In the two volumes of Weird Things Customers Say In Bookshops by Jen Campbell there’s an overheard comment from a small child taken into a bookshop who looks around and says; ‘Mummy, have we gone back in time?’
I’m no longer the fanatical collector I used to be, partly because I don’t have children and won’t be passing down my library to future generations, partly because I have become more selective about the books I read. One of the biggest problems I have now is getting interested in modern fiction at all, because I can’t find many writers whose works are as quirky and unusual as those I bought in my twenties. As a child I had to smuggle books into the house because my addiction far outstripped my pocket-money.
However, paperback fairs and musty old secondhand bookshops can set me off on a hunt for everything by own author that I can lay my hands on. And even though I take my Kindle everywhere, you can bet I still have a mass-market paperback hidden about my person just in case the battery should fail.
Having just finished a blog tour for the most recent Bryant & May, I started drawing up a list of all-time favourite novels to answer my most-asked question. When I reach a definitive list I’ll share it with you!
All strange book behaviour stories will be treated in confidence (ie. posted here).