Hello and welcome back to the series Other People’s Bookshelves. Every so often here on Savidge Reads we welcome a guest who takes over the blog and feeds into the book lust we all crave by sharing their shelves. This week we are off to Sydney, where we are joining the wonderful, wonderful Anna O’Grady, who is responsible for me hearing about many a wonderful read and even sending me one or two from Australia that she really, really wants people to read. Like Charlotte Wood’s amazing The Natural Way of Things, which if you haven’t read by now you must. Anyway, Anna has kindly invited us to have a gander at her bookshelves with a nice cup of tea or two and some lovely treats, though the Violet Crumbles are all mice. Before we have a peruse of her shelves though let’s let Anna introduce herself a bit more…
I come from a third generation of booksellers – so you might say that books have always been my destiny and they certainly are my passion. My grandfather was a Polish bookseller and collector of rare books before World War II. Sadly his bookstore and most of his collection was destroyed during the final bombing of the city of Poznan. There is only a handful of books that survived, but one of them is an extremely rare hand-printed book of Japanese poetry. My mother carried on the tradition of family bookselling and married a man who was first trained as a printer, but went on to work in a small publishing house. As far back as I can remember our tiny apartment was always full of books and often full of writers having big political discussions around our kitchen table. I always loved reading, but rebelling against ‘following in my parent’s footsteps’ – I vowed not to work in a bookshop. I left Poland at the age of 19. It was really hard to start a new life with limited language skills and no friends and family, but I quickly discovered that bookstores were the best places to cure my homesickness and help me understand new countries. Here I came across old friends – classics and authors that I’d read over the years, but I also discovered a the whole new world of books and authors that I’d never heard of. It was not long before my vows were forgotten and I started working in a bookstore. Although I moved countries a few times, I never left the book world, spending my working hours in bookshops in England, Switzerland, Canada, USA, Australia and New Zealand. I made a move to the publishing side about three years ago and although I do miss bookshops, I also enjoy this different way of ‘making’ books.
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?
There is no way that I could have possibly kept all the books I read, but I did become very creative in finding new ways of stacking books ;-)….. My current library has over 3000 books, and I regularly do some ‘pruning’. I keep books by all my favourite authors (and there are quite a few of them) and I collect books in a couple of specific areas. Although I reinforced the floors under the part of the library that holds most of my hardcovers, I often pray that my little house does not collapse under the weight of all these books. I am also trying to make more use of my local public library to reduce the load on my bookshelves.
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?
Yes, I definitely have a system going. First my books are divided by the three languages in which I read; secondly they are divided by fiction and nonfiction. Nonfiction is divided into subsections: history/politics, arts, nature etc. with two special subsections in which I collect books about history of women and books about books, libraries, reading etc. My fiction section is divided by continents and then by the country of the author’s origin, the two biggest parts being dedicated to Canadian and Australian writing. I also have a special section for classics and poetry … and then there are of course my various stacks, books to be read later, books to be read now, books that I am dipping in and out of etc. etc. Yes, I know it’s all a bit mad.
What was the first book you ever bought with your own money and does it reside on your shelves now?
My first recollection of books I bought with my own money are The Moomins by Tove Jansson. I was probably about 7 or 8 when they started appearing in Poland and I saved money for them in my little piggy bank and yes I still have them. I still love them and have added to the collection over the years.
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?
My guilty pleasures are some of the horror novels (especially Japanese) and lots of mysteries, but I am not embarrassed by them and they live on the shelves in perfect harmony with all other books.
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?
This is the hardest question – I honestly could not name a single book. It would be more like an armful of books. I would definitely want to keep my original Moomins, but I also have an amazing collection of signed books. Most of these carry memories of unforgettable encounters and long conversations with extraordinary writers – these include books by my favourites – Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro, Michael Ondaatje, Gunter Grass, Peter Carey, Richard Flanagan, Jose Saramago, Umberto Eco, Salman Rushdie, Anthony Marra, J.K Rowling and so many more. I also should single out my 1st Canadian edition of Life of Pi. Sorry, I know it sounds like a lot of name dropping, but over the years I have been very privileged as a bookseller to meet some truly remarkable people.
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?
Probably some of the American classics of the 20th century, I distinctively remember being in high school and discovering a whole shelf of them in my parent’s library – books by Joseph Heller, Irvin Shaw, Ernest Hemingway. I had a preference for dark stories and that has not changed.
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?
If I really loved it yes I would go and buy it, but I no longer buy all the books I want to read. I really enjoy using my local library.
What was the last book that you added to your bookshelves?
I bought this week The Mothers by Brit Bennett, on a recommendation of my favourite Australian bookshop: Readings in Melbourne. (I am ¾ into it and I would highly recommend it too) and I borrowed a copy of The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan on the recommendation of another author Aoife Clifford, whose reading tastes I always respect. I do have to add here that both you and Kim from readingmattersblog are very trusted and frequent source of recommendations too.
Are there any books that you wish you had on your bookshelves that you don’t currently?
Nothing that I really would lose my sleep over, but I always have lists of books that I would like to read.
What do you think someone perusing your shelves would think of your reading taste, or what would you like them to think?
Well it is quite a mix of books that I have – so the only thing that I hope people would say is that I have an open and curious mind.
A huge thanks to Anna 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, I am catching up with all the latest volunteers. In the meantime… what do you think of Anna’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that she mentions?