Hello and welcome to the latest Other People’s Bookshelves, 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. This week we are in the North of England (the north is the best lets us be honest, yes I went there) and the city of Sheffield to join the lovely Naomi. Before we have a nosey through her shelves, and steal some of those lovely biscuits and a Bailey’s or two, let’s find out more about her…
I live in Sheffield with my husband and stepson. Until last summer, I was a secondary school English teacher, a job I did for twelve years. I left the profession to embark on a PhD in Creative Writing at Sheffield Hallam University. My thesis is on representations of the female gender in circus and sideshow literature, so I’m looking at bearded ladies, human mermaids, conjoined twins and intersex characters, amongst others. I run the blog The Writes of Woman which I set up in 2013. It’s a one-woman attempt to do something about the gender imbalance in books reviewed in the mainstream media.
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 keep almost all of them; I’m a nightmare for it. The first thing my dad said when I told him I was moving in with the man who became my husband was, ‘Does he know how many books you’ve got?’ I’m not a hoarder generally but I can’t seem to help myself when it comes to books. The only ones that don’t end up on the shelves are duplicates which I give to a friend or the occasional one I really dislike. I used teaching as an excuse for years, you never know when you might be teaching a particular book or you’ll want an extract either to show students how something’s done or how not to do it. I need a new excuse now!
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 split into fiction and non-fiction. The fiction section has separate sections for children’s/young adult, poetry and plays. The non-fiction section is divided into memoir, music, television, feminism, history, travel and so on. All sections are then in alphabetical order and in the case of writers with more than one book in my collection, by date of publication. (Unless it’s a hardback as they only fit on the middle and bottom shelves. Although I have exactly the same system for them.) That sounds very anal, doesn’t it? I get frustrated when I can’t find things I want quickly! The exceptions to this are the books I’m reading for my PhD and review copies from publishers. The PhD books have two shelves roughly arranged into those I’ve read and want to use in my thesis; those I want to read next because they look most useful, and those I’m planning to read later on. Review copies are stacked up on top of the shelves in the kitchen; I’ve run out of shelves for those. I’ve only culled once when I moved from Sheffield to London from a house to a flat. My dad was helping with the move and took the boxes of books to donate to a charity shop, a couple of years later I discovered they were in my parents’ garage. Most of them are still there; my dad’s been working his way through them!
What was the first book you ever bought with your own money and does it reside on your shelves now?
I’m not entirely sure what it was. It was probably an Enid Blyton or a Roald Dahl bought with birthday or Christmas money. If I was going to guess, I’d say Enid Blyton’s The Naughtiest Girl Is a Monitor but that might be because the cover’s bright pink so it stands out in my memory. I’ve still got all my books from childhood, some are on my shelves, some are on my stepson’s.
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’ve stopped believing in feeling guilty about books I enjoy reading. The ones people would be surprised at, I think, are the ‘women’s fiction’/so-called ‘chick-lit’ novels (I dislike both of those terms) but the Jilly Cooper, Freya North, Miranda Dickinson, Marion Keyes, Jojo Moyes, Ruth Saberton novels are on the fiction shelves like everything else.
Which book on the shelves is your most prized, mine would bea 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?
At the risk of sounding like an arse, it’s a signed manuscript of Carys Bray’s novel A Song for Issy Bradley. I was due to cover an event at Cheltenham Literary Festival for Hutchinson Books where they introduced forthcoming books from Helen Dunmore and Dea Brøvig. A few weeks before it happened, Bray was signed by Hutchinson and added to the bill. So I could read the book before the event, I was sent the manuscript. It has a different title to the finished novel and it’s pre-final edit, so not only is it exciting that I have it from a book geek point of view but from a writing point of view, it’s interesting to compare it with the published version and see what changes an editor at a publishing house decided to make.
As for saving in a fire, I’ve become less precious about my books. I also have an online database in case I ever do need to replace any (also to stop me buying duplicates which was happening with alarming frequency). However, the Carys Bray manuscript would definitely need saving and I have a few favourite novels that are signed – Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh (with the original black and silver cover) and Trumpet by Jackie Kay are two that come immediately to mind – which I’d be gutted to lose. Now you’ve got me wondering whether I should put them all together somewhere in case I ever need to grab them!
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 didn’t have many fiction books when I was growing up but of the selection they did own, it was Wuthering Heights that attracted me the most. There were two reasons for that: one, no one else had managed to get past the first few chapters and I was determined I would! Two, we lived on the border between South and West Yorkshire so I was aware of the landscape where it was set. I did read it. I wrote my undergraduate dissertation on it (alongside Jane Eyre and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall) and I’ve taught it to secondary school students. I have my own copy on my shelf – it’s heavily annotated!
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 went through a stage of buying every book but I’ve begun to borrow more recently, partly because I’ve a group of bookish friends that I met through Twitter so we’ve quite a library between us and I was acquiring too many unread hardbacks on the shelves long after the paperbacks had been published. If I love something though, I do have to own it. This also applies to books I’ve read on Kindle (which I do quite frequently); if I really love it, I have to have a physical copy to keep on the shelf.
What was the last book that you added to your bookshelves?
Because I’m not working at the moment, I’m on a book-buying ban so I haven’t bought anything since early December and they were all PhD related. The last review copies to arrive were Unravelling Oliver by Liz Nugent and Mailbox by Nancy Freund and for Christmas, I got Fun Home by Alison Bechdel and an anthology of short stories Sideshow: Ten Original Tales of Freaks, Illusionists, and Other Matters Odd and Magical from my husband and Storm by Tim Minchin, DC Turner and Tracy King from a friend. I’ve started to get into graphic novels lately.
Are there any books that you wish you had on your bookshelves that you don’t currently?
I have a ridiculously long wishlist of books I’d like but nothing particular like a series or a first edition. I did read Sandra Newman’s The Country of Ice Cream Star recently and it went straight onto my ‘best books I’ve ever read’ list but I read it on Kindle, so I definitely need that on my bookshelves, it’ll need to go on the newly created ‘In case of fire, rescue these first’ shelf!
What do you think someone perusing your shelves would think of your reading taste, or what would you like them to think?
I think they’d probably think I was up my own arse! My collection’s mostly literary fiction so it probably does look pretentious. I suppose I’d like them to think I was intelligent; I might have a Barnsley accent but…what’s that phrase? Don’t judge a working class book by its cover.
A huge thanks to Naomi 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 Naomi’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that she mentions?