My Home Library Part 3


I filled my entire house with built-in bookcases

Yesterday’s comments reminded me of something I hadn’t thought about for years.

When I moved into my last house in Kentish Town, it was in a cobbled backstreet mostly still filled with Irish families, and the properties were still council. Opposite me was – I kid you not –  the Beano depot, from which comics were delivered. There was a corner pub used by the police and informants, and all the roads were named after battles and generals in the Crimean war (I wrote about the street in ‘The Water Room’).

As I moved in my new neighbour, a brassy blonde radio cab controller with a voice like a foghorn, was sitting on the front steps (a major pastime in that part of town back then) with her five children squeezed around her. She watched me and the movers lugging in book boxes, and stopped me.

‘What’s in all them boxes?’


‘What, all of ’em?’


‘You gonna keep ’em all in the ‘ouse?’

‘Yes, why?’

She gave me a sour look. ‘You wouldn’t catch me keeping books in the ‘ouse.’

But she herself had boxes delivered regularly, usually around midnight. I caused great consternation next door because at the time I was dating a British Airways cabin purser who would come over straight from work in his uniform, and thinking he was some kind of policeman the family would rush to hide the huge stack of boxes they kept by the front window.

I filled my entire house with built-in bookcases. On hot nights I would climb up onto the roof and read under a booklight, sitting in a valley of slates. I remember watching Halley’s Comet pass by like a great single headlamp in the night sky, and I decided to stay up there until morning. In the middle of the night I heard movement in the street below and, peering over the edge of the roof, I saw boxes being delivered next door. They were filled with video recorders.

One day I gave one of the little girls a Moomin book because she asked about it. My neighbour was around like a shot.

‘Ere, did you give Bunny a book?’

‘Yes, I did. It’s very good.’

‘She don’t wanna book, we got enough shit in there already.’ She handed the book back to me.

Over the years I watched the children grow, wary of any interaction that would get me or them into trouble. One by one, they fell foul of the law and went into the prison system. Detention, probation, home arrest, jail sentences. The corner pub was turned into flats, and the Irish families, most of whom had their parents living a few doors down where they could keep an eye on them, were moved out or sold up as property value spiralled. Without them, the ‘neighbourhood’ vanished.

Most of the books from that house are still with me. They formed the basis of the library I now have.

17 comments on “My Home Library Part 3”

  1. Ian Luck says:

    Your old neighbour sounds just like the kind of loathsome person who deserved to end up under a patio somewhere. Did I just articulate my thoughts? Oh, what a give away.

  2. snowy says:

    If interrupting this nice discussion about libraries might be excused.

    Radio4Extra have a 3 hour Saki programme available for streaming [for those that can access it!]

    To quote from the BBC Website

    “Hector Hugh Munro was a political sketch-writer, foreign correspondent, historian and novelist. But he is best known under the pen name Saki for his short story writing.

    Saki’s dark and twisted tales make delicious radio drama. Many of them centre on childish mischief, small acts of rebellion against pretentious or overbearing authority figures, and supernatural beasts.”

    A biographical account of his life is intermixed with adaptations of his stories, including The Lumber Room, The Toys of Peace, The She-Wolf, The Schartz-Metterklume Method, Mrs Packeltide’s Tiger, The Open Window and Sredni Vashtar.

    Thank you for your time, We now return you to normal, […Who am I kidding!]

  3. Peter Tromans says:

    It’s interesting how people arrange their books. There are the rational ones: alphabetical by author, by author and subject. Size is not unusual and sometimes imposed by fitting into available space. I’ve been in one house where they were organised by colour. LOML is fairly organised, going by subject, language, etc. Me, I am a randomnist mixed with how can I cram them in. It’s nice as I often find a forgotten gem. The downside is that I may buy a second copy of the forgotten gem.

    Italian bookshops tend to organise by publisher, which is horribly confusing. There’s an endependent one I like that has their non-fiction totally randomn: a biography of de Sica can sit between a history of post-war tractors and the collected works of Cicero – wonderful! Sadly, the owner has been forced to downsize and move to a cheaper location thanks to people reading less, buying from Amazon and the economy.

    On a health and safety note, any bookcase of significant height(?) should be attached to the wall or have some means of ensuring its stability. It may be a better way to go than many, but still … .

  4. Jo W says:

    To Snowy,
    Of course you can interupt. Your comments are always interesting and today is no exception. I have to admit that I haven’t read Saki for many years but remember that they were read by someone? on the tv or it might have been the wireless. I enjoyed the stories and went in search of them at the library,only to have to ask my Mum to get them on her tickets,because they were in the adult library room. ( Omg,that is so,so many years ago.) I think the time has come to remind myself of why I liked them.
    P.s. Loved your ” and now we return you to nomal” it made me laugh out loud! I mean,is there anyone ‘normal’ on this site? 😉

  5. Brooke says:

    @ Snowy…fortunately can access BBC 4 extra in US via internet. And it was a very good 3 hours.

  6. Martin Tolley says:

    Jo W.
    Yes. Aren’t WE all normal? The rest however…?

  7. Brooke says:

    Speaking of normal, I’m putting together a list of crime- by-snake books. My list includes Fer-de-Lance (R. Stout); Snake (J. McClure), Antidote to Venon (W-Crofts); Speckled Band (C. Doyle) Worsted Viper (Mitchell)—
    what am I missing?

  8. Jo W says:

    Martin Tolley,
    No, I’m not normal – it’s the only way to (sort of) understand the world and have a laugh these days. 😉

    Brooke, if you’re mentioning the s word, then you’re missing me for sure. Shudders! 🙁

  9. Martin Tolley says:

    The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. Would Cleopatra by old Bill Shakespeare count?

    Jo W,
    Mrs T thinks I could be “normal”, but wouldn’t testify in court to that end. She said I was actually “unusual”. I don’t quite know whether that was a compliment, I suspect not.

  10. snowy says:

    B, I think you might perhaps look at ‘Seventy-Seven Clocks’ by somebody whose name eludes me at the moment.

    As to others, it’s a bit tricky! The boundries between Crime/Horror/Adventure get very blurry.

    It might be worth a peep at some of the authors that worked/lived/wrote in/about the East Asian Colonies, eg. Kipling, Orwell. [Look outside of their best known works; try in their collected stories.]

    For Africa, Burroughs, Haggard neither of whom could leave any cliche unbothered, must have killed somebody with a snake in order to steal land/gold/diamonds/wife.

    The Far East might hold a few, even if one has to resort to the pulp fiction of Sax Rhomer.

    Perhaps my favourite despatch by snake comes not from a book, but one of the least bad Roger Moore, Bond films. ‘Live and Let Die’. [The scene has a ‘callback’ to earlier Bond films in the ‘hat toss’ that was a Connery signature.]

  11. snowy says:

    A postscript

    Does “He Wouldn’t Kill Patience” by Carter Dickson [J D Carr] fit the bill?

  12. Brooke says:

    Snowy, thanks for suggestions and the reminder. I forgot the fabulous viper in first chapter of Seventy-Seven Clocks, perhaps because he/she slithers away, followed by so many interesting forms of death. The tiger is great fun. Will add to my list, along with He Wouldn’t Kill Patience– what’s not to love about a tree snake, a mamba and a cobra.

    Martin, good suggestions for reading but the snakes in Poisonwood and old Bill aren’t actually criminals, just doing their viper thing when a stupid human being got in their way.

    Jo W., my apologies.

  13. Roger says:

    There’s a murder-by-snake (an incidental memory) in Peter Dickinson’s One Foot in the Grave, Brooke.

  14. Helen Martin says:

    Jo W, don’t look.
    Brooke, if you’d like a new one there’s “Cobra Clutch” by A.J. Devlin, a new Canadian writer. I haven’t read it yet but the conversation I had with the author certainly made it sound good. The title is also a wrestling move and the detective in it is a former wrestler turned police officer. Yes, there is a real snake in it and I think it gets up to no good. This is to be a series all titled after wrestling moves.
    Tomorrow I’ll go looking for the Saki readings. We had The Open Window in our grade eight reader and the thing has stuck with me ever since. The teacher put the question about Saki’s real name on three tests in a row and I never could remember it. I’ll never forget it now, though.

  15. Brooke says:

    Roger, great reminder of Dickinson’s Pibble series, Must read OFIG and OEPS to find vipers.
    Helen, Devlin sounds like my kind of writer; there is a snake albeit a pet.

    I hope I haven’t given anyone naughty ideas; remember with today’s forensic science, the snake and its most recent habitat can be identified and traced.

  16. snowy says:


    I’ve not read, Gladys Mitchell’s ‘Come Away Death’ but one of the plot mechanics seems to involve a box of snakes being switched with fatal results.

    [Probably not Crime per se, more of a Mystery short! Ambrose Bierce ‘The Man and the Snake.’]

  17. glasgow1975 says:

    A selling point of my first flat were the floor to ceiling bookshelves in the hall, needless to say I filled them completely and had to buy more for the opposite wall (it was a big square hallway), I was sad to leave them behind and my new flat now has trusty, ubiquitous, Ikea Billy bookcases. I actually miscalculated and bought an extra one, but luckily it fits behind my front door and houses my vampire collection V…V
    My mother keeps kindly offering (threatening) to come ‘and help me get rid of all those books’

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