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 off to lovely Norfolk to meet author and bookseller Sally Craythorne, or SE Craythorne as she is otherwise known. So let’s grab a nice cuppa and some of those lovely biscuits that Sally’s put out for us and get to know a little more about her.
I live in Norfolk with my husband and my twin girls. We have a small-holding, with goats, two rescue donkeys, and a field full of rabbits that eat our carefully grown vegetables. We also have a dog, called Daisy, a mutt of such mixed breeding that people actually stop us in the street to ask ‘what is that?’ She’s gorgeous. I work as a bookseller at The Book Hive in Norwich. My debut novel, How You See Me, was published by Myriad Editions on 20th August, and I’m working on my second.
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 buy books all the time, but mostly don’t read them straight away. I’d be a terrible reviewer. It often takes me years to get round to something, even if everyone has told me it’s brilliant – or because everyone has told me it’s brilliant. I think that timing is paramount when it comes to enjoying a book. I don’t keep a diary, because so many of my memories are wrapped up in what I was reading at the time. When my grandfather was dying I read Under the Net by Iris Murdoch; travelling through Africa on a particularly terrifying bus will always be remembered for trying to read Women in Love. My read books are my diary, in a way. So I keep them. That said, if I think a book’s terrible, it goes. And if I’m having a particularly horrid time, I often blame the book I’m reading, and abandon it in favour of something that I hope will change my mood.
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?
Chaos reigns on most of my bookshelves, but occasionally I throw a small fit and try and introduce some order. Crime – only polite murders, none of your gruesome – lives downstairs in the living room, and poetry – for unknown reasons – is heaped up in the bathroom. It’s heaped because I panic about the covers curling, but I like looking at their spines, and sometimes their contents, when I’m in the bath. Everything else is everywhere else. It’s mostly fiction, but it’s not in any order. I find the book I’m after through a kind of divining process, without the rod. It rarely works for locating what I have in mind, but usually turns up a book I want to read. When we moved out to the wilds and decided to have babies, I was forced to into a book cull. My husband had the idea that we should be able to move through the rooms without negotiating piles of novels. Years working as a bookseller meant that I’d collected a lot I was never actually going to read, no matter what the timing. And books that had been tried more than once and never completed went too. It was rather a relief.
What was the first book you ever bought with your own money and does it reside on your shelves now?
Hounds of the Morrigan by Pat O’Shea (this is one of Simon’s childhood favourites). I bought it at Diss Publishing Bookshop when I was eight. It was my own choice and paid for with my own money. It’s a quest story with beautifully drawn characters set in Ireland against a background of Irish mythology. It’s probably the book I have read and re-read most often. The book I turn to in times of trauma. The reading equivalent of sucking your thumb. I love it. My original copy was lost, but it does turn up second-hand and I always buy it. I only buy the same edition I had as a child, with the epic 80s illustrative cover, which was what first attracted me to it. This was the book that made me a reader. It also made me want to be Irish, but I’m mostly over that now. Mostly.
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?
I don’t believe in guilt for my pleasures. I’m quite happy for Marian Keyes to sit alongside Sartre and Freud, I think they all get along famously. If a book really irritates me, I have a habit of throwing it across the room, so there is a small pile of books with battered spines residing by the wall. But they should be ashamed of themselves!
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?
It’s a small paperback poetry collection called Love Songs of Asia, translated by Edward Powys Mathers. Its spine is broken and it was long ago fixed with tape, now yellowing with age. It was given to me by the poet – and my greatest friend – Oliver Bernard. He carried it around with him for over sixty years and read me many of the poems from it whilst we sat in his living room, smoking and drinking blackberry tea. Oliver gave me his copy when I presented him with a fine edition I found second-hand, and inscribed it to me. Oliver died two years ago. That small volume and the memory of his voice reading, in particular, ‘Ghazal of Iza Akhun Zada’, are amongst my greatest treasures.
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’ve always envied those who can claim a precocious childhood of reading the classics. I was the most age-appropriate of readers, until I reached adulthood and realised I could read whatever I liked. The ‘grown-up’ books looked terribly boring to me. I do remember my despair that one day I would too have to grow up and read books without pictures. I do remember resolving to read War and Peace when very small. My mum read it twice during each of her pregnancies, or so she told us. I have multiple editions on my shelves, the full range of translations, in soft and hardback, I’ve bought it new and secondhand. It’s my husband’s favourite book. I’ve never read 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?
I use the library regularly now, in the vain effort to keep down the quantities of books that I buy. But, if I love a book I have to own it. And I get rather irritated when I go looking for something I know I’ve read, only to remember it was a library loan. I am not a gentle reader – I’m a page folder and spine breaker – so I rarely borrow books from friends. At least, not more than once. But I do press books onto people to borrow and read, whilst repeating the mantra that my friend taught me: ‘never loan a book you don’t expect to be dropped in the bath, or covered in coffee’. (Once a friend of my mother’s borrowed a John Irving signed first edition from me and gave it back with the casual aside that her daughter’s puppy had been visiting. When I opened the cover, half the pages had been chewed out). I buy them again if they are amongst my beloveds.
What was the last book that you added to your bookshelves?
Can I have two? I bought two. I’m having two. One: Letters to Anyone and Everyone by Toon Tellegen. Now I have children, I’m allowed to buy more children’s books. Yes, they are only babies, but they will grow! This is an eccentric masterpiece of epistolary fiction. And it’s very funny. And it has one letter that goes:
for a whole page. I bought his book of stunning poetry about his father, Raptors, a couple of years ago when it was part of Writers Centre Norwich’s ‘Brave New Reads’ scheme and am now desperately trying to track down everything he ever wrote. Two: All Trivia by Logan Pearsall Smith. This was a second-hand find, and one I’d been after for a while. It’s a book of aphorisms (or what he terms ‘moral prose’) and it’s just beautiful. Everyone should have a copy. I told you I’d be a terrible reviewer.
Are there any books that you wish you had on your bookshelves that you don’t currently?
After Me Comes the Flood by Sarah Perry. It’s the strange and compulsive tale of a man that, to his own astonishment, lies his way into a household and becomes embroiled in the lives of all that reside there. I keep buying it and then giving it to people, and – quite rightly, it is that good – they never give it back. I’ve bought it more than five times, and I intend to buy it again.
What do you think someone perusing your shelves would think of your reading taste, or what would you like them to think?
This woman reads too many novels. They’d be right. My general knowledge is completely founded on the reading of fiction. I buy non-fiction, but more often than not, trail off after a story from the shelves before I’ve reached the halfway point. It’s an illness, and it means I’m highly unreliable when it comes to facts.
A huge thanks to Sally 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 Sally’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that she mentions?