Hello and welcome, after a small sabbatical, to the latest in 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 company of author Joanna Walsh and her wonderful shelves. Joanna has put quite the spread on for us with something for everyone, so let’s all grab a glass and a nibble of something and have a nose through her bookshelves and learn more about her.
Joanna Walsh is the author of Hotel, Vertigo (UK publication 2016), Grow a Pair and Fractals. She writes for The Guardian, The New Statesman, and The National. She is Fiction Editor at 3:AM Magazine, and runs the capping @read_women, which the New York Times described as a “rallying cry for equal treatment for women 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?
I have a holding system. As I review, I am sent quite a few books which go into the ‘to be read immediately’ pile, the ‘to be read later pile’, the ‘to be given away pile’ and any number of intermediate piles. I try not to put things on the shelves that I haven’t read, because it means I might forget to read them.
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 just made myself a new set of shelves so I can have more of my books together. I made them out of scaffolding planks and bricks and I’m not really a pro at this so the whole thing is rather unstable although the planks are bracketed to the wall at a central point. I hope they don’t fall down and kill me someday. I alphabetise – although it’s not very aesthetically pleasing. I found I had to, because I do a lot of work that involves referring to other works. I discovered that I have an affinity for authors at the beginning of the alphabet, especially authors beginning with B*, which is lucky because I often sit right under that section. Art books have their own set of shelves downstairs for reasons of size (‘B’s/’C’s there too! Bourgeois, Carrington, Calle, Blake again…), and then journals/anthologies etc, which are not by one writer, & also things I’ve contributed to/written just because I couldn’t fit all these things on my main set of shelves.
*Beckett, Benjamin, Claire-Louise Bennet, Brooke-Rose, Breton, Blake, Baudriallard, Barthleme, Barthes, Buzzati, Bacon, Baudelaire, Bernhard, Bowles (Jane), Nicholson Baker, Flann O’Brien (should he be under O? Probably, but he obeys no laws of reason).
What was the first book you ever bought with your own money and does it reside on your shelves now?
I used libraries as a child. I think I bought the Penguin complete Sherlock Holmes when I was about 10. It went mouldy when there was a leak in my wall a few years ago so I had to throw it out along with some other books.
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?
The only pile I’m embarrassed about is the pile of books written by acquaintances that I might never get around to reading. (To anyone reading this who’s given me their book: no, OF COURSE I don’t mean YOURS.)
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 really attached to books as objects. Books should be reproducible, that’s the point of them isn’t it? It’s the writing that counts. On the other hand I do love well-designed books (I’ve designed several book covers). There’s no reason the design of electronic books shouldn’t be excellent too. All the same, I don’t like to read e-books, but that’s because because it’s very difficult to weigh how far you are through them, and more or less impossible to take spontaneous notes: and you can’t bend them, or leave them splayed spine-up or fold them to mark a page, or read them in the bath. I do often read pdfs/epubs on my laptop when reviewing.
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 pretty excited when I read Lord of the Rings when I was 9. I thought it was a grown-up book because it had no pictures. I got about 1/3 of the way through before I realised it had a page with some kind of runic diagram or something, and I felt cheated. I did finish it, though. I was very concerned that I should be able to finish such a long book.
My dad was an English and drama teacher, so I read a lot of Beckett as a teenager, especially the plays. I was also really interested by The Pilgrim’s Progress because his edition had an intriguing cover. I did read that. I always anticipated that books long-deferred because they were ‘for grown-ups’ must hold some kind of secret that was so big and important that I couldn’t possibly even conceive of it. But I think there’s too much emphasis on childhood reading, that it’s sometimes sentimentalised, perhaps because for some people who don’t, or hardly ever, read books as adults, this is when they read most. I’m constantly coming across books that are THE BOOK for a while, and have at every period of my life.
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 usually put it on a wish list and don’t buy it unless I need to reference it. Having it on a list must make me feel I if I do possess it in some way. Sometimes I lend out a book, then I don’t want to ask for it back for one reason, or another. I’m more likely to buy it then.
What was the last book that you added to your bookshelves?
After they’ve been through the holding pattern thing, maybe Lucia Berlin’s collected short stories, which I may not reread very soon, and Lispector’s, which I definitely will. Apart from when I’m reviewing, I’m pathologically incapable of finishing a book of short stories. I have no idea why.
I just bought Bolaño’s 2666, and of course that’s gone on the tbr pile, not a shelf, but it’s size is a bit daunting so I’m not sure how quickly it will get to the shelves…
Are there any books that you wish you had on your bookshelves that you don’t currently?
There are books I wish were available – like Leonora Carrington’s short stories, and Down Below, her memoir of incarceration in a Spanish mental asylum. I read this book in a university library. I am sad that such a common-or-garden-looking paperback is available only there, or via a second-hand book dealer for quite unreasonable sums.
What do you think someone perusing your shelves would think of your reading taste, or what would you like them to think?
A huge thanks to Joanna 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 Joanna’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that she mentions?