My Home Library Part 2

Books

Sometimes I have a houseguest who fails to remove a book from any of the shelves.

Meanwhile, over in the shelves reserved for serious fiction, Dickens still remains the pack leader, mainly because I believe that characterisation is the single most essential element of fiction writing. My favourite Chucks are ‘Our Mutual Friend’, which adds vivid river descriptions, brilliant society set-pieces and a plot involving recycled waste, and ‘Bleak House’, with its crushing criticism of the legal process and a climactic chase led by Inspector Bucket.

There’s room for a few of his rivals, too; Wilkie Collins, a contemporary whose concerns (crime, social commentary) often intersected with Dickens, but only two novels, ‘The Moonstone’ and ‘The Woman In White’, are easily recalled. Robert Louis Stevenson, only 44 when he died, and still developing his talents. Stodgy, mean-spirited William Thackeray, Dickens’ greatest rival, satirical, sharper-tongued and more appealing to the burgeoning middle classes than Dickens. Most of his novels have completely disappeared from bookshelves. Elizabeth Gaskell, sympathetically depicting the plight of working class women and prostitutes.

Charles Palliser’s ‘The Quincunx’ is my favourite Dickens pastiche, even if its plot takes explaining, and I allow a little room for Sherlock Holmes – the short stories, not the novels, plus all the books of Holmes’s rivals (for those, see the new improved ‘Book of Forgotten Authors’ out now! See what I did there?) I’ve a huge number of English pulp novels and short story collections from the 1930s – 1970s.

From the sixties I’ve also plenty of experimental fiction by the likes of Charles Wood, Joe Orton, Ann Berg, Brigid Brophy, BS Johnson and Ronald Firbank. Beyond this I lurch into the surreal (‘The restraint of Beasts’), the comic (‘Ascent of the Rum Doodle’), the disturbing (Ballard, Condon, St Aubyn) and then the trivial guilty pleasures, from Viz annuals to ‘The Man who was Private Widdle’, a biography of drunken fantasist and deeply peculiar Charles Hawtrey and ‘All the Devils Are Here’ by David Seabrook, a strange study of characters from the Medway Towns.I keep a cupboard for my own books so that they don’t get unbleached

There are shelves reserved for graphic novels, many of which are by minor artists and writers, but prove the most fertile for sparking the imagination. I especially enjoyed ‘La Violeta’, about sex, politics and adolescence in Valencia. ‘Giraffes on Horseback Salad’ is, like many of the books I keep, an interesting failure; it’s a graphic novel version of the movie script planned by Salvador Dali and the Marx Brothers – points for trying to recreate the unimaginable!

I have far too many books on the theatre, including ‘Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About The Theatre (But Were Too Afraid To Ask, Dear)’, and ‘Murder & Mayhem & Music Hall’, a look at the links between the Victorian underworld and the stage, which was of course considered a profession barely above prostitution. There are far too many books on grammar and language tools, and compendia of odd stories including the excellent ‘The Odditorium’ and ‘The Mysterium’ by David Bramwell & Jo Tinsley, one on weird people, the other on weird places. Much of the rest is taken up with the complete works of writers with whom I become obsessed, and this means tracking doing everything they ever wrote.

I have a cupboard set aside for copies of my own books (excess copies go to libraries or charity shops) just to keep them out of the sunlight. I now find I have books that I’ve no recollection of writing. There’s no alphabetical order for the rest but I have a vague sense of where everything is, which is useful when you’re researching and suddenly think, ‘I have a book in which artists discuss France in the 1970s’ and can lay your hands on it. In short, there’s something here for everyone.

But what shocks me is this; sometimes I have a houseguest who fails to look at or god forbid remove a book from any of the shelves, even just to glance at it out of curiosity.Perhaps they’re intimidated by books (not an uncommon sensation) or overwhelmed, or are dyslexic, or simply have no connection to the printed word. I suspect readers here are the other extreme, unable to pass a book without checking the cover.

14 comments on “My Home Library Part 2”

  1. David Ronaldson says:

    Visits to my best friend’s house are a constant delight, as he has books everywhere and similar tastes in reading to my own (I’ve just got him started on Full Dark House). I feel uncomfortable in homes without books (especially if there isn’t even a Kindle on the coffee table) and my view of my host(s) is tainted, probably irreparably. In pubs with bookcases, I have often found myself swapping my current book for an ancient, dusty tome probably purchased by the yard – I’m currently reading Cecil King’s Diaries nabbed from the Wetherspoons in Hemel Hempstead.

  2. Jo W says:

    I also love pubs with bookcases and try to sit as near as possible to them,so that I can at least read the titles.(Any further away can often result in the person by the bookshelves getting the idea that I’m staring at them.)
    Wetherspoon pubs obviously bought books by the yard and I’ve found copies of school text books on their shelves and have opened them,just in case it’s my name inscribed in there. As my schoolbooks were from the early sixties,it’s a wonder they’re still around! I don’t think I’d be brave enough to do a swap though.
    Some other hostelries I’ve visited have had a shelf of books for borrowing,at a small fee in a charity box and a request to return them and maybe donate a few more. On the odd occasion when I have been due to meet someone, a bookshelf is great to pass the time,if I haven’t a book in my bag.
    Yes,I always try to at least read the titles on a bookshelf in someone else’s house. It can tell you a lot about the person.

  3. Wim says:

    P.G.Wodehouse?

  4. Debra Matheney says:

    I, too, feel uncomfortable in a house without books. What do people who don’t read do? I cannot imagine not having books in pride of place in my home, just as I cannot imagine life without cats. My home is my refuge, and books provide a solace that nothing else can. I have been thinking about Samuel Johnson a lot lately as I am reading Michael Bundock’s biography of Samuel Barber. Johnson extended true Christian charity and had such empathy for others, in serious contrast to our idiot president.

  5. Mitch Mirsky says:

    I just p/u my 1st PCU – #10 Invisible Code – and it looks like a good time is in store. A bit surprised by a typo early on and wondered if it has ever been mentioned/corrected. On pg 29 AB is telling Dr. Fenchurch the time of the bowling…
    …Eigth P.M. Inexcusable!

    Not expecting a reply.

  6. Roger says:

    Wetherspoons used to glue their books together and you couldn’t open them, so they’re a bit more civilised now, it seems. though I haven’t been in Wetherspoons – except when I’ve been driven to use their disgusting toilets – since they took their owner’s obsession with leaving the EU into the pubs. Do they still use Brexit beermats?
    Leon Garfield, a children’s writer, wasn’t a Dickens pasticheur, but possessed by Dickens. His completion of Edwin Drood is wonderful.
    As for graphic novels, Martin Rowson’s version of The Waste Land is an improvement on the original: a Marlowesque PI investigating the strange mystery of just what is going on.
    James Agate’s Ego – an autobiography cum diary by a theatre critic featuring his imminent bankruptcy and passion for harness horses too (though not his very odd sex life) – is another wonderful nine volumes about the theatre, though there are shorter versions.

  7. Ian Luck says:

    I feel very uncomfortable if I go into someone’s home, and no books are visible. I can’t imagine not having any, simple as that. My brother had some of his friends over to visit a few weeks ago, and his friend’s girlfriend was fascinated by the fact that there were bookshelves full of books. “Have you read all these?” she asked me, as if they were just for show. I replied that, yes, I had read all of them, some many times. That perplexed her, as she couldn’t see why anyone might want to read something more than once. She then asked again if I had read all of them, to which I replied that there was no point in buying a book unless it was going to be read. I told her that it was perfectly all right to take books off the shelf, if she wanted to look at any of them. She asked me what the most I had ever spent on a book, and I said that I generally spent about £50 a month on books. She looked horrified at this, and we laughed when my brother said that I had cut back recently. I then said that the most I’d ever spent on one book was £100 for a Japanese Star Wars book, way back in 2000. She asked why I read so much, and I said that I don’t really watch TV any more, and I liked shutting everything off by getting stuck into a really good book. I said that I read books about pretty much everything, always having five different ones on the go at the same time, as well as music magazines, etc. I think that I possibly frightened her a bit. The late, great Bill Hicks used to do a routine about reading, which started with him saying about being in a diner in the southern part of the USA after a show. He said that he was drinking coffee, and reading a book, when the waitress came round to fill his cup, and asked him: “What are you reading for?” This puzzled him, as he had been asked the usual question “What are you reading?” before, but never: “What are you reading for?” He said that he would like to have replied to the waitress: “So that I don’t have to be a fucking waitress”, but it looked like the sort of place where the cry of: “Looks like we got ourselves a reader here!” might have gone up, so he drank up and left, quickly.

  8. Ian Luck says:

    Roger – I’m glad you mentioned Leon Garfield – he wrote one of my favourite books that I read at school; ‘Smith’, about the 18th century child criminal. It’s a beautiful book, and full of the horrid details of London in the 1700’s. Imagine Hogarth writing a novel with ‘Gin Lane’ as it’s starting point, and you’re nearly there.

  9. SimonB says:

    I feel lost in houses with no books, which sadly includes relatives. But the most disappointing example was a contestant on Strictly who thought she would try the old “balance a book on your head to improve your posture” trick and then had to admit in front of millions that there were none in her house.

  10. Vivienne says:

    Bleak House and Our Mutual Friend are definitely the best. Have a first edition of the latter thanks to my children.

    There’s an antique shop near me and they had a bookcase with old books filling it. One was a book I’d been trying to track down, but they wouldn’t sell it, in case it put people off the general look. Thought later I should have just taken it. If people don’t think books are to read, they shouldn’t have them.

  11. Helen Martin says:

    “If people don’t think books are to read, they shouldn’t have them.”
    Exactly. Unless you can convince them to try reading. I was at a dinner last week where I found myself trading titles. It seems a number of people are reading books about the American system and how it works (or doesn’t). How else are you to learn things? I have one just now called The Death of the EU. That should be fun and I can read it in spite of its small print because someone turned my reading glasses in to the library.
    Watched “Borgen” tonight (chapter 4). Had been going to skip it because it’s on at 10pm and it cuts into my pre sleep reading but it’s one of those political Scandinavian things that adds to one’s cynicism about politicians. In the original Danish with subtitles. We seem to have accepted sub titles at last.
    Watched Hal Prince on directing and producing on Friday night. Now that was a fun bit of tv. I’ll never get to see a Broadway or West End show but I sure got a taste of it that night.
    It all coexists and cross fertilizes and infuses the one into the other. All good but it starts with books

  12. davem says:

    Your ‘Christopher Fowler’ shelves resemble mine 😉

  13. Peregrine says:

    You have a very well read copy of Spanky!

  14. glasgow1975 says:

    Spanky is missing it’s greaseproof paper modesty flycover!

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