Wow. We are already in double figures now with ‘Other People’s Bookshelves’, that ten weeks has flown by. Are you still enjoying the series? I do hope so as I have plenty more coming, so it is tough if not. Anyway this week we get to meet the author Claire King and have a nosey through her shelves all the way in France. Claire has been living in southern France for the last ten years – currently inhabiting what she calls ‘quite a shabby stone house in the middle of nowhere’ with her husband and two young daughters. She grew up in Mexborough, South Yorkshire and studied economics at Newnham College, Cambridge and then spent twenty years working in business before finally deciding what she wanted to be when she grew up. Her debut novel, which I have in my TBR, ‘The Night Rainbow’ is out TODAY! She also writes short fiction, which has been published online and in print and has been recognised by fancy places such as BBC Radio 4 Opening Lines, New Scientist, The Bristol Short Story Prize, the Sean O’Faolain Short Story Competition and Metazen. Her website is here. So let’s have a riffle through her shelves and get to know her better…
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?
I don’t have room for all my books. We moved here eleven years ago and I still have boxes and boxes of books in the cellar. Even though building bookshelves ought to take some kind of priority, we went for an indoor bathroom first, and then windows, that kind of thing. So instead I have piles of books distributed about the house in odd corners, a bit like Tetris. But you need to leave room to walk around, and places to put down a cup of tea. One of the great things about doing this piece was that I went down into the cellar to have a look in the boxes. I thought I might find my old copy of The Life of Pi (I didn’t). Mostly down there I keep books that visitors might like to read, but which I never will again, as well as travel books, old economics and business books, the 1996 Writers & Artists Handbook, that kind of thing. I’m obliged to keep a lot of good novels down there too though. Occasionally I make a foray into the cobwebs, and fish out some different ones for the shelves, putting others away for a while, but it happens very rarely.
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?
Not really no, apart from my TBR pile, which grows all sinister and precarious, on my bedstead. I tend to keep books I think might most interest other people in our sitting room, where they can be grabbed easily. Every now and then I move things around. I think you stop seeing things when they stay the same way too long, which is why sometimes you go mooching round other people’s shelves and go “Oooh! Louis de Bernière, I haven’t read that him ages,” despite having several on your own shelves. They look different and more appealing out of context. So I’m a shelf fidgeter.
What was the first book you ever bought with your own money and does it reside on your shelves now?
It was probably one of Walter Farley’s Black Stallion books, if pocket money counts. Otherwise a Jilly Cooper book in my teens with money I earned myself. Probably Riders. Jilly Coopers are boxed. The children’s ones have resurfaced, including a huge stack of faded well-leafed famous five books.
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?
Not really. My books are like me, what you see is what you get. Although now my children are reading, and often help themselves to books off my shelves – they are particularly interested in Nelson Mandela’s autobiography for some reason – I do need to move a few age-inappropriate books off the accessible shelves. I have things that people might want an explanation for, like Mein Kampf. But some books you don’t read for pleasure, but to try and comprehend something incomprehensible.
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?
Do you know, I love having books, and I have so many treasured books. We have a first edition 1927 A.A. Milne NOW WE ARE SIX , which was given to my husband’s granny when she was little, as well as some Rudyard Kipling books from the same era. They’re magical. And books that my husband and I annotated as kids. Books with messages written in from friends many years ago. Collections of poetry I read and re-read and memorised as a student. It’s the personal element that makes them special. But if there was a fire they could burn, to be honest. I’m not desperately attached to things, it’s the stories that go on.
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?
My parents only had on small book shelf, belonging to my father. My mother had no books (since her divorce she has since become a voracious reader). The shelf had Readers Digest hardbacks on it – the entire collection of Charles Dickens and a family health book – and an atlas. That was it. I devoured the health book and the atlas as soon as I was old enough to read, which made me a bit precocious…but I never did read the Dickens. I inherited them though, and they’re now in a box in the cellar.
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?
Normally if I borrow a copy, I’ll only buy it if it’s one I want to read or refer to again. It’s more likely I would buy a copy as a gift for someone else and buy other books by the same author for myself.
What was the last book that you added to your bookshelves?
We’ve just had Christmas and my birthday, so I’ve a big pile of new books off my wish-list. They include Canada, Rook, To the Lighthouse and The Great Gatsby, which I’ve never read. I know I have also been given a copy of Maggie O’Farrell’s new novel Instructions for a Heatwave via pre-order, and even though it’s not in my hands yet, it’s there in spirit.
Are there any books that you wish you had on your bookshelves that you don’t currently?
My hardback of Vanessa Gebbie’s Coward’s Tale, which I loaned to someone and don’t think I’ll ever get back now. Otherwise no, although I do have a big wish-list for the 2013 crop coming up. I’ll buy things when I know I’ll have a chance to read them.
What do you think someone perusing your shelves would think of your reading taste, or what would you like them to think?
It would depend where they look. I’ve kept books for over 30 years, so there’s quite an evolution there. They all mean something to me, they say something about a certain era in my life, I can remember where I was when I read most of them for the first time. I think my oldest friends can see that too. But for others? It probably looks like a confusing and erratic collection. Being in the South of France we do get a lot of visitors, and I hope when people stay and ask to borrow a certain kind of book, I can find them something to their taste. I hope there’s something for everybody.
A big thank you to Claire for letting me grill her and sharing her shelves with us all. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject Other People’s Bookshelves, thanks in advance. In the meantime… what do you think of Claire’s responses and/or any of the books she mentioned?