Hello and welcome to the latest in the series of Other People’s Bookshelves where we are all probably feeling a little full after the festive food and so thankfully we can have a wander along the seafront and down the pier as we are in Brighton! This week we join Mike, and his cat LouLou – who came with the name, as he makes some room for us in his study (with alcoves for books and everything like a gentleman’s club) which of course I am rather jealous of. Anyway, before I get myself arrested for stalking, I will hand over to Mike to tell us more about himself before we go routing through his shelves…
I grew up in a house full of books, so was always a keen reader as child when I used to devour books, mainly Enid Blyton, and I used to dream of being orphaned or packed off to boarding school and thereby being exposed to smugglers and wicked relatives – sadly (or perhaps thankfully) this never happened. As I got older I sort of fell out with reading, only picking up books when on holiday, then three years ago I moved from London to Brighton and found myself with a hour long commute each way and started reading again. I also joined the local book group – an enormous but friendly group where often 25 or more people will turn up on the allotted first Wednesday of the month for lively debate and a few pints. I had always viewed reading as a solitary activity and the book group really opened my eyes to the pleasure of talking about books. Last autumn (at Simon’s suggestion) I set up my own book review blog 0651frombrighton.blogspot.co.uk, which has become a bit of an obsession. I started off trying to blog a book a day, drawing on a back catalogue of books that I had read previously, this has now settled down to three a week – Wednesday (non-fiction), Saturday (fiction) and Sunday (glossy coffee table books) – which I can comfortably keep supplied by reading 2-3 fiction and 2-3 others a week. I decided to take a concise approach to my reviews, so some of my reviews are little more than a few lines, though recently I have allowed myself to write some slightly longer reviews. Recently I have started to read more non-fiction including autobiographies, which regular readers of my blog will know are a source of constant frustration for me on account of the dreadful writing style of the ghost writers.
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?
Occasionally I have a purge of books, relegating ones that I didn’t enjoy to the charity shop, but generally I keep most of them on the shelves. Recently I have started to buy more e-books to feed the dreaded Kindle, but as a Times subscriber I also picked up their paperback of the week most weeks over the last year so the shelves are still receiving regular new additions. If I don’t manage to finish a book (100 page rule) then it generally gets sent to the charity shop.
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?
My shelves are in two alcoves – one for fiction and one for non fiction. The fiction shelves are alphabetical by author and my Agatha Christie’s are further split into detective series in order of publication. I also make sure that any unread books protrude about an inch in a futile attempt to shame me into not buying new books until I have read all the ones I own. My mission this year has been to read all of the unread ones, so that in future whenever I but a book I will read it straightaway – I’m almost there with the fiction shelves with only about 10 books left to read.
The non-fiction shelves were loosely themed into biography, history, philosophy and by country – though it got a bit random – for example all of my George Orwell’s sat on the Spain shelf because of Homage to Catalonia. More recently I’ve moved all the really big books to the top shelf to free up space lower down, so the theming has got even more random – every now and then I have an enjoyable Sunday morning re-organising the shelves with the Archers omnibus on in the background. I’m a sucker for glossy coffee table books so the TBRs in non-fiction number over 100, so still some way to go with my target.
What was the first book you ever bought with your own money and does it reside on your shelves now?
I have no idea, but I would guess that it was an Enid Blyton as I was an avid fan – I always secretly wanted to be orphaned as it seemed to open up a world of adventures! I did randomly buy a load of Enid Blytons on ebay recently, so whilst I don’t have my original copies I may have a replacement….
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?
Everything is on show – I trust that any embarrassing ones will simply merge into the background…
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?
I’m not terribly sentimental so this is a difficult question, I do have quite a few signed copies though they are all merged into the shelves so in a fire I would probably struggle to grab them all. My favourite book ever is Notes from an Exhibition by Patrick Gale and I do have a signed copy so I would probably grab that. I met Patrick at the event Simon hosted last year (or was it the year before?) in Manchester – I’m looking forward to his next book which is partly set in Canada I believe and must be due out soon.
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?
I remember being introduced to Agatha Christie by my Gran when I was about 11 years old, it was quite exciting to realise that I wasn’t just restricted to children’s book anymore. I have the whole collection now – as a result of another slightly obsessive ebay binge. My favourites are the standalone stories and the Miss Marples, I’m not so keen on the Poirots, which is a shame because they are by far the largest group. I think that I’ve read all of the Christies at some point over the years, but occasionally I will pick one up and find that I either haven’t read it or don’t remember it.
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?
No – I hardly ever borrow books, so generally I always buy my own copy. I also rarely buy secondhand, not for any reason other than I tend to buy based on review, recommendation or previous work by the author, so charity shops are a bit too hit and miss for me to bother with; I will buy second hand from online sites though.
What was the last book that you added to your bookshelves?
I attended a brilliant and intimate Times+ event a couple of weeks ago and left with a goodie bag containing Hugo Rifkind’s My Week*, Sathnam Sangara’s Marriage Material and Kevin Maher’s The Fields. I love an author event and book signing so always look out for them. I did go through a phase of always getting a cheesy photo with the authors but then I met Lionel Shriver and was too scared to ask her – she is one intimidating lady! I also can get a bit starstruck – when I met David Sedaris, I was so conscious that his anecdotes include people he has met at book signings that I clammed up a bit.
Are there any books that you wish you had on your bookshelves that you don’t currently?
I would love to have my Agatha Christie’s in the re-released facsimile copies of the first editions – the cover artwork is awesome, obviously owning the originals would be even better!
What do you think someone perusing your shelves would think of your reading taste, or what would you like them to think?
I think at first glance they would probably think I was well read – simply based on quantity. If they looked deeper they would probably notice that I am very light on the classics and may change their view! What would I like them to think? I don’t know… hopefully that I have interesting taste?
A huge thanks to Mike for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves, and almost making me sick with jealousy his study, the levels of jealousy that these posts evoke in me is unhealthy! Don’t forgot if you would like to participate (and I would love you to – hint, hint, hint) in the 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 Mike’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that he mentions?