Hello and welcome to the latest Other People’s Bookshelves, the first of 2015 indeed. If you haven’t seen it before this is a series of posts set to feed into the filthy book lust/porn and either give you a fix of other people’s books and shelves to stave you off going on a buying/borrowing spree, or making you want to run and grab as many more books as you can. Now I have had a few emails about the fact this series has been quiet for a while and people have been wondering where it had gone. Well, the fact is if people don’t participate then it goes quiet. So thank heavens for Rosemary who has kindly shared her shelves with us and invited us for a nosey round her lovely Edinburgh abode. Before we have a good route around let’s settle with a nice cup or glass of something and find out more about her…
I live in Edinburgh, which is one of the best places I have ever lived – it has so much going on and is such a beautiful city. I especially like the fact that almost everything is within walking distance, yet on a Sunday morning, up in the eyrie of our top floor flat, all I can hear is the sound of bells and birdsong. In a previous life I was a solicitor in Cambridge, London and most recently in Aberdeen; I’m very glad to say that is now all behind me. I now write for an online site, The Edinburgh Reporter – mainly arts reviews and listings, but other things creep in from time to time – I’ve done everything from Springer Spaniel Rescue to Edinburgh’s Top Five Scones (my most controversial article to date – feelings run high…) and I enjoy every minute of it. When I’m not writing (and even when I am) I am a slave to two Siamese divas. I also have a husband and three children…somewhere.
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?
My husband would say I keep far too many books, but over the years he’s learned to live with that. In return I don’t throw out all his weird Scandinavian jazz CDs. I do occasionally have a cull, but I have to be in the right mood – and I get in an awful tizzy about making sure the ejected books go to the right places. I can only really get rid of very light novels, disappointing cookery books and old textbooks, I’m afraid. I’ve even got duplicate copies of some of my very favourite novels (Barbara Pym, I’m looking at you…), as if I see one languishing unsold at a book sale I feel obliged to rescue it and give it a home.
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?
I do put my fiction books into a vague alphabetical order – I resisted this for years, but even I realised that I was wasting far too much time looking for particular novels. And yes, I too have my detective stories in one overflowing bookcase and my old children’s books on special shelves. I still can’t find anything…
What was the first book you ever bought with your own money and does it reside on your shelves now?
I imagine it was an Enid Blyton – I was obsessed with the Famous Five (not the Secret Seven, who were as wet as I was) and later with Malory Towers, St Clare’s and The Naughtiest Girl in the School, and used to buy the Dragon paperbacks from WH Smith. It’s interesting to me that my own children, when younger, also loved these books – whereas Malcolm Saville, whose books I used to love, was a complete failure with them – and I could see why. Blyton has many critics but she’s lasted.
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?
No, I am totally unembarrassed by all of my books – even my Debbie Macomber Blossom Street series, which is my guilty pleasure and I’m proud of it. I would also be happy for anyone to see my collection of Jilly Coopers, though they won’t be able to as one of my daughters has appropriated the lot. I’m glad she loves them though.
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?
Oh definitely Josephine, John and the Puppy, by Mrs HC Cradock. I used to borrow the Josephine books from Bromley Library, which my parents took me to every Friday from a very early age. Even in those days the stories were severely dated, but I loved them then as I do now. Josephine lives in a flat in Knightsbridge and has her dolls sent round from Harrods. I lived in Bromley, which was as unfashionable then as it is now, and my dolls were mostly hand-me-downs from my idolised cousin Sally, but it didn’t matter – Josephine, for me, brings back many happy hours of sitting on the little wooden chairs in the Children’s Library, then going to Wilson’s bakery on the way home to get jam doughnuts. I never actually owned a Josephine book until quite recently, when I saw a copy in the Oxfam Bookshop in Stockbridge. I made myself leave it on the shelf, dragged myself up the hill back to where we then lived – then ran all the way down it again in a blind panic in case someone else got there first. I paid £5 for Josephine and she was worth every penny.
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 had left school at a very early age because their families needed their incomes. They were both very keen on self-improvement and as well as the library (and the long-gone Boots version too) they were always going to one evening class or another. My father had bought a second-hand set of Dickens, and I remember very much wanting to read them – but my mother always said ‘You won’t be able to, they’re all written in Old English’. I’m not quite sure why she thought that, as she was and still is an avid reader – presumably someone had said it to her at some point. I didn’t read Dickens until I was in senior school, and the experience of being forced through David Copperfield put me off him for years. It was only when my children were young that I went back to him, reading Great Expectations on the beach at Crail and being amazed at how good it was – and how easy to read! I do have a copy of Great Expectations now, but sadly not my parents’ one.
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?
I used to borrow much more from the library, but I’m so busy with the writing just now that I was ending up with horrendous fines; if I want a book I do buy it and yes, if I’ve borrowed one and really loved it, I do have to buy a copy, much as I try to resist. I recently bought an old copy of James Beard’s ‘Delights and Prejudices’, which is a cookery book of sorts, really more of a memoir; again, I first borrowed this from the library maybe 45 years ago, and was so taken with it that I can still recall many of the stories. Beard grew up in an affluent turn of the century household in Portland, Oregon, and one of the chapters I particularly remember is about making a pudding with TEN eggs ‘and if it goes wrong, throw it away and start again’. My mother grew up in a very poor family, and then experienced rationing during the war – to her, eggs were (and are) a luxury not to be wasted, and even now I can hardly bring myself to make a cake that requires more than three of them. My daughters quite rightly think this is ridiculous, when eggs are now often one of the cheaper ingredients, but it’s a hangover from my childhood that I can’t get rid of.
What was the last book that you added to your bookshelves?
Rosemary at St Anne’s by Joy Francis, of which the first line is ‘”I’m rather looking forward to school” Hazel remarked, dividing the last remnants of simnel cake among the three of us, Stella, Hazel and me.’ How could I not? I also recently bought New York Masjid: The Mosques of New York City; I like finding out about other people’s lives. And I was thrilled to find Richard Holloway’s ‘memoir of faith and doubt’, Leaving Alexandria, during a charity shop trawl; he used to be the Bishop of Edinburgh but now calls himself ‘post-religion’, and he is one of the best speakers I have ever heard – fiercely intelligent, wonderfully humane – and human – and a tireless supporter of the people.
Are there any books that you wish you had on your bookshelves that you don’t currently?
Oh lots! One I am really coveting is Judith Kerr’s biography, Creatures; she wrote The Tiger Who Came To Tea, which was one of the first books I read to my son as a baby. I loved her Mog books too. Last summer I was privileged to see Judith at the Edinburgh Book Festival – what an amazing woman! She’s 90 but you’d never believe it. She was married to Nigel Kneale of Quatermass fame, and her stories about helping him with the special effects for the films, which were all performed live, were priceless; she appeared at the Festival with her son Matthew, who’s also a writer. The patent warmth and happiness of their family life was lovely.
What do you think someone perusing your shelves would think of your reading taste, or what would you like them to think?
Haha – I’d like them to come away with the impression that I was a well-read and open-minded intellectual, but they’d probably think I was a complete airhead.
A huge thanks to Rosemary for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves! If you would like to catch up with the other posts in the series of Other People’s Bookshelves have a gander here. Don’t forget if you would like to participate (and I would love you to – hint, hint, hint as without you volunteering it doesn’t happen) in the 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 Rosemary’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that she mentions?