Hello and welcome to the latest Other People’s Bookshelves, a series of posts set to feed into the natural filthy book lust we all feel and give you a fix through other people’s books and shelves. This week we are in the wonderful town of Buxton to join blogger, writer, publisher, all round good guy and complete book addict Thom Cuell. If you don’t have the Workshy Fop bookmarked as a favourite then you should. Before we have a rummage through all of his shelves, lets all settle down on her lovely sofa’s, grab a glass of spa water and find out more about him.
(I hate writing bio’s in the third person, so here goes) – I’m a book reviewer and essay writer, and my writing has appeared on websites including 3am Magazine, The Weeklings and The Literateur, as well as the blog Workshy Fop, the website I began in 2007. I also co-host a literary salon in London, for authors, reviewers and publishers, and my latest venture is the indie press Dodo Ink, which will be publishing exciting and innovative new writing, launching in 2016. I have an MA in English and American Literature from the University of Manchester, and I live in Buxton with my daughter Gaia. My favourite novels include Great Apes by Will Self, American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis and Zone by Mathias Enard, and I’ve recently fallen for Nell Zink in a big way. I am also one of the founders of new imprint Dodo Ink which will be launching in 2016, with three original novels. You can be part of it by donating to The Grand Dodo Ink Kickstarter here.
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’m a terrible hoarder, so yes, most books do end up on my shelves after I’ve read them! My main ambition for old age is to have a study lined with books from floor to ceiling, so I’m making a start already (I wish I had that sense of forward planning when it came to finances – maybe my collection can become my pension. Wishful thinking?). But space is quite limited, and the shelves are constantly overflowing, so I tend to do a monthly sweep where I try to find at least a bagful which can go to charity shops…
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?
Before I give my answer, my favourite ever reply to that question was from someone on Twitter who said that they organised their books ‘in ascending order of threat to national security’. My shelves are colour coded – I think I first sorted them that way about 5 years ago, and have kept it in four different flats now. I’ve tried different things before, like by publisher or subject, but I prefer the look of colour coding. The main thing is that I’ve always been opposed to alphabetical order. Sam (Mills, author and co-director of Dodo Ink) has a habit of wandering off with my books, so I don’t want to make it any easier for her to find what she’s looking for… The downside is that I have found myself thinking ‘I could do with more red books to fill a shelf’. And the ever-expanding TBR pile is currently on the floor, awaiting the arrival of more shelving.
What was the first book you ever bought with your own money and does it reside on your shelves now?
I have no idea! I can tell you my first record (Mis-shapes by Pulp), but no memory of what the first book would have been. However, I do have a huge storage container full of books from when my parents moved house about 10 years ago, so it is almost certainly in there, going mouldy, whatever it was.
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, no shame! At some point I might have to hide some of the Victorian filth away I suppose, for practical reasons. (One disclaimer – the Shirley Conran book is Sam’s!)
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?
The piles of books probably make my flat a massive fire hazard, so this question is quite worrying… I don’t tend to get into big emotional connections with specific books – the words in them, yes, but not the physical entity. There are a few I’d be sad to lose though – a Left Book Club edition of The Road to Wigan Pier, which my dad bought me, and my paperback copy of The Quiddity of Will Self, which is full of crossings out and notes from when Sam used it in a reading. And there are two more, which I’ll talk about in the next question.
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 was always surrounded by books when I was growing up, and I was never told that any of them were off limits. I think the first ‘adult’ books might have been some of Roald Dahl’s horror stories, which I borrowed from my junior school library – I had a bash at A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovic when I was 10 or 11 as well. From my parents’ shelves, there are a few that stick in my mind: American Psycho and Trainspotting, both of which I read, and are now on my shelves (I got both copies signed by the authors too), and also A History of the World in 10 ½ Chapters, which I never read at the time, but have bought and read since.
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 do prefer to have my own copy, yes – just in case I ever have to refer to them for any reason (I’m always dreaming up elaborate research projects). I normally wait to see if I can find them in charity shops though.
What was the last book that you added to your bookshelves?
I was in Southport this weekend, which turned out to be secondhand book heaven – especially Broadhurst Books (note – this was the book shop Granny Savidge used to spend her weekends reading in as a little girl). By the time I got to the third floor there, I was testing the patience of a six year old who had been promised a trip to the beach, so I didn’t get to explore as much as I’d have liked, but I did come away with Murder in the Collective by Barbara Wilson – a 1980s crime novel involving anarcho-feminist communes. I’ve been getting very into The Women’s Press recently – they published some stunning novels which are often out of print now – so I’m really excited about this one.
Are there any books that you wish you had on your bookshelves that you don’t currently?
Ah, there are always more books! One that I’ve always wanted, but which comes with a hefty price tag, is Il Settimo Splendore by Girogio Cortenova, the catalogue from an exhibition I went to see in Verona in 2004. And there are loads which I do own, but are buried in storage when they should be on my shelves – In Search of the Pleasure Palace by Marc Almond is one, and my collection of Attack! books, a short-lived imprint created by sadly deceased NME journalist Steven Wells, which specialised in highly offensive gonzo thrillers.
What do you think someone perusing your shelves would think of your reading taste, or what would you like them to think?
Probably that I am a mad pervert! I’d like to think that it shows a wide-ranging set of interests…
A huge thanks to Thom for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves. Don’t forget if you would like to be part of helping set up an new publishing imprint, you can help kickstart Dodo Ink here – backers can receive rewards including bookmarks, signed books and invitations to launch parties. 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 email@example.com with the subject Other People’s Bookshelves, thanks in advance. In the meantime… what do you think of Thom’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that he mentions?