So for the seventh, yes seventh and still plenty more to come, we have our first male reader and their shelves from the delightful, and oh so wry, regular commenter here Dark Puss, aka Peter. Peter is a particle physicist and professor at a University in SE England. He is an avid reader though he has given up buying books because of a lack of shelf space. He was brought up by two academic parents who surrounded themselves with books and thus he rarely had to buy any himself as a child or teenager. He has inherited a love of modern European and Japanese literature from his late father and a fascination with Proust from his mother, though he has yet to read further than the end of Swann’s Way. He reviews books for the Journal of Contemporary Physics and puts his paw marks on a number of literary weblogs under the pseudonym “Dark Puss”. He runs the weblog “Morgana’s Cat” http://morganas-cat.tumblr.com/ which is an outlet for his photography and occasional comments on novels, plays, music etc. A number of steampunkish pictures from other sources are also to be found there.
Do you keep all the books you read on your shelves or only your favourites, does a book have to be REALLY good to end up on your shelves or is there a system like one in one out, etc?
There are all sorts of books on my shelves but as they are all full (as you can see!) I do not buy books for myself anymore. I do still go into many bookshops and if I saw something I just had to get then I would indeed be looking for a book, or books, to remove to make space.
Do you organise your shelves in a certain way? For example do you have them in alphabetical order of author, or colour coded? Do you have different bookshelves for different books (for example, I have all my read books on one shelf, crime on another and my TBR on even more shelves) or systems of separating them/spreading them out? Do you cull your bookshelves ever?
In my office at work the books are ordered by subject; quantum mechanics, optics, particle & nuclear physics for example. At home there is some order, photography & typography go together and most of my cookery books occupy a single shelf, but mainly books are placed according to size.
What was the first book you ever bought with your own money and does it reside on your shelves now?
The honest answer is “I do not know”. My parents were avid buyers of books both for themselves and for me so I very rarely had to buy any myself. One book that I do remember buying from an Oxfam shop in Taunton when I was about 11 and which does still reside on my shelves is “Water Power Practice” by Johnstone-Taylor (1931).
Are there any guilty pleasures on your bookshelves you would be embarrassed people might see, or like me do you have a hidden shelf for those somewhere else in the house?
I don’t have pleasures that I’m guilty about!
Which book on the shelves is your most prized, mine would be a collection of Conan Doyle stories my Great Uncle Derrick memorised and retold me on long walks and then gave me when I was older? Which books would you try and save if (heaven forbid) there was a fire?
That’s a tricky question. I’ll answer the last part first and say that I would rescue as much of my art collection as I could in preference to the easily replaceable books. Books that I would be very sad to lose in a fire would include “Lettere di XIII Huomini Illustri” which was printed in Venice in 1561 and is my oldest book, “Sisters Under the Skin” by Norman Parkinson (a literary lady who inscribed something very lovely in it knows why this is important to me) and “The Romance of Engineering” by Henry Frith, 1895 which was given to me by my late father and, coincidentally, was awarded as a prize at my old school in Edinburgh in 1898. You can see a photograph of this book on Cornflower’s famous weblog here: http://cornflower.typepad.com/domestic_arts_blog/2008/07/knitting-but-not-as-we-know-it.html
What is the first ‘grown up’, and I don’t mean in a ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ way, that you remember on your parent’s shelves or at the library, you really wanted to read? Did you ever get around to it and are they on your shelves now?
It’s four decades ago so I cannot vouch for accuracy, but probably it was “The Second Sex” by Simone de Beauvoir which I read when I was thirteen or fourteen. I found it profoundly influential but I didn’t own it then and I don’t own it now.
If you love a book but have borrowed the copy do you find you have to then buy the book and have it on your bookshelves or do you just buy every book you want to read?
In the past probably yes, but nowadays almost certainly no. I’ve run out of space! I make very good use of public and university libraries.
What was the last book that you added to your bookshelves?
The two volumes of Murakami’s 1Q84 which I received last Christmas as a present from my family.
Are there any books that you wish you had on your bookshelves that you don’t currently?
Hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands! I’d love some of the large “picture” books by photographers whose work I admire (e.g. Cartier-Bresson, Brandt, Man Ray, Mapelthorpe, Miller, Rankin) there are certainly many cookery books I’d love to add and, given my desire to read it completely one day, the latest translation of Proust’s “In Search of Lost Time”.
What do you think someone perusing your shelves would think of your reading taste, or what would you like them to think?
I really don’t know! They would spot my love of Colette, some Murakami, a number of technical works (at home) on astronomy, typography, botany and ornithology. They might, if eagle-eyed and very curious, locate a fairly large collection of music for the flute which I am currently re-learning under the expert eyes and ears of my fantastic teacher Katie Morgan. They would note the number of books on London and some of its quirkier aspects such as the lost rivers and abandoned tube stations. They would note my enthusiasm for cooking and wine, noting the preponderance of books by Nigella Lawson, Nigel Slater and Rick Stein. What would I like them to think? “We could get a good meal, a glass of interesting wine and some diverse conversation here. Maybe we can ask him about the Higgs boson too!”
A big thank you to Peter/Dark Puss for letting me grill him. Don’t forgot if you would like to participate (and I would love you to) in Other People’s Book Shelves series then drop me an email to email@example.com with the subject Other People’s Bookshelves, thanks in advance. In the meantime… what do you think of Peter’s responses and/or any of the books he mentioned?