Hello and welcome to the latest in the series of Other People’s Bookshelves where we get to have a good old nosey through other peoples book collections. Slightly late today due to Christmas shopping – let’s not even talk about it – but I am sure you’ve all been sorting last minute festive preparations. So how better to unwind than by grabbing yourself a cup of tea and settle down, as we are off to the land of Hollywood legends and my favourite Mitford ladies as we join Lyndsy Spence, who has become my new best friend (through her love of Mitfords, which may surpass mine, and Margaret Lockwood who is in my favourite film ever Slipper and the Rose as the truly wicked stepmother as well as being wonderful in The Wicked Lady) who I want to talk all things wondair over cocktails. I will find Lyndsy and make this happen. Anyway, before I get myself arrested for stalking, I will hand over to her to tell us more about herself before we go routing through her shelves…
I run The Mitford Society, an online community dedicated to the Mitford girls. I’m the author of The Mitford Girls’ Guide to Life (published by The History Press). I also have another biography due to come out in 2015. My short film The Flower Girl was shot on location in L.A. and my screenplay on Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier is in development with a production company in London. I love old films and I hope to publish a biography on Margaret Lockwood in time for her 100th birthday in 2016.
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 more books than clothes so space is really becoming an issue. I have a very tall bookshelf which I am always re-arranging to try and fit everything on it! It started off lovely but now it’s all over the place. I try to keep my hardback books together; you know the very tall ones, which are stacked hugger-mugger. Then my paperback ones are together. I used to have a ‘Mitford Shelf’ but sadly it collapsed as my collection grew. I have two shelves above my writing desk dedicated to very pretty books, mostly Mitford, but I have to be careful not to stack anything too heavy on it!
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 suppose I was a bit hasty and answered this question above. I like to have everything on hand…organized chaos…and writing biography I find that I rarely read for pleasure, every book is a sort of cross reference. Since I prefer to have everything together I keep my makeup bag amongst the books, and even a few souvenirs from my travels (How Non-U!) one day when I have more space I will have a proper library and a system in place! I make it a point to try and keep the Mitford books together and anything by Virago and Vintage as they’re very pretty and make a lovely decoration when not being read. The bottom shelf is naturally a bit taller, so I store my coffee table books down there. I don’t have many: Andy Warhol, Edie Sedgwick, the usual Hollywood movie books and my latest addition Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait by my friend Kendra Bean.
What was the first book you ever bought with your own money and does it reside on your shelves now?
I suppose the first books I bought with my own money were second-hand biographies of Vivien Leigh, Elizabeth Taylor and also Gone with the Wind… I actually think I bought them all at once! I try to keep my celeb bios together, only recently I removed the naff 1980s style covers off many of the hardbacks!
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 call them my trashy Hollywood biographies. No, but I recall when I was a teenager someone sent me the vintage parody book Is Sex Necessary and my mother kept glancing at it out of the corner of her eye. I had it on my shelf and wasn’t ashamed of it but I also noticed my grandmother spying it when my room was being decorated and my books were all over the landing. I suppose that would be the only one.
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 have some lovely first editions which I’ve found for next to nothing over the years. Only recently I found a first edition of The Green Hat at Castle Ward’s book shop. Inside it has a cut out of Arlen’s death notice and the owner has scribbled all over the inside pages in Arabic. It’s also in great shape. I have a first edition of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Kitty Foyle, The Lady of the Lake, that, too, is scribbled with a schoolgirl’s notes from the 1930s, and a 2nd edition of Anne Frank’s Diary which my neighbour gave me. I don’t think I’d loan them to anyone even though I’ve clearly read them etc (I don’t see the point in not using them!) but I’m very possessive over a book my parents bought me from a market called The Red Flowers which was privately printed by a minister during WW1, inside it is inscribed to his sister with the date, and it was distributed to the children in his parish whose fathers were serving at the Front. I have a few signed books of old films stars like Maureen O’Hara (I met her ages ago), Dinah Shore, Joan Fontaine…to name a few. Often I buy them only to discover the signature. I love finding things like that. My copy of The Water Beetle arrived with somebody’s shopping list inside!
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?
The first grown up book I read was a biography of Judy Garland by her daughter Lorna Luft. I was about 12 or 13 and it was the first biography I’d ever read. Of course, as we know Judy had a very tragic life, so I guess it was ‘grown up’ in the sense that it was dealing with issues that I’d never read about before.
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 don’t really borrow books only because I hardly ever get around to reading them. And I’m banned from my local library, so borrowing was never an option. (I am banned because the librarian accused me of not returning Mein Kampf- which I needed for my history project- and Patricia Neal’s autobiography which I borrowed when I was 14. I left it on the trolley and never checked it back in. She’s never forgiven me!)
What was the last book that you added to your bookshelves?
Curtains by Victor Olliver, it’s a dazzling satire, a total camp classic! I’ve also just discovered the Cazalet Chronicles and I hope someone will buy me them for Christmas! I’m also going to buy the new biography of P.L Travers.
Are there any books that you wish you had on your bookshelves that you don’t currently?
The Cazalet Chronicles!
What do you think someone perusing your shelves would think of your reading taste, or what would you like them to think?
I’m not too self-conscious of my reading preferences but perhaps that said person would think I am person who adores the inter-war era, injected with a bit of tragedy (my old Hollywood bios) topped off with a bit of frivolous glamour. I can also dust off the old academic books when I need to!
A huge thanks to Lyndsy for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves, and almost making me sick with jealousy at her Mitford Editions – sigh! Don’t forgot if you would like to participate (and I would love you to – hint, hint, hint) in the Other People’s Book Shelves 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 Lyndsy’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that she mentions?