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, for the (fanfare) 70th post in the series we are going through the shelves of a very special guest, Thomas Otto. Thomas is not only my co-host on The Readers but he is also one of my best bookish buddies and someone I have known since my blogging began, or at least it feels like that. So we head to Washington D.C where he doesn’t just have shelves but an entire library, one which I will be having a gander at in four weeks when I spend a few days in DC after Thomas and I go on a road trip around America to Booktopia MI. So let’s all grab on of John’s pina colada’s, give Lucy a pat and find out more about Thomas and his books.
A puppeteer and demolitions expert by day, Thomas Otto has been blogging since 2006. Okay part of that first sentence is true, I will leave it up to Simon’s readers to figure out which part. But seriously, I live in Washington, DC with my husband John and our dog Lucy. I blog about bookish stuff at Hogglestock.com (formerly My Porch), and I co-host a bookish podcast with some guy in England.
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?
My reasons for keeping books aren’t very straight forward. The only thing that is a constant is I don’t keep books I don’t like and I keep books I like. I know that sounds straight forward but there is a middle ground of books I am somewhat ambivalent about that fall under other criteria that aren’t always the same. At some point, if I need to start getting rid of books, I will probably keep stuff that is harder to find because they have been long out of fashion. I hate the thought of those books disappearing. Lately I’ve been thinking of my will. My collection may not fetch much money but I want it to go to someone who will appreciate some of the oddities I have rather than having my next of kin pulping them when they find out they aren’t worth anything.
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?
With a few exceptions, all of my fiction is organized alphabetically by author and then chronologically by title. I used to have my TBR on separate shelves, but since we moved back into the house after the renovations I have mixed them with everything else. I can’t bring myself to break up my Persephones into alpha order, so they are all together as are my collection of Melville House novellas and those little old Oxford World Classics that can fit in your pocket. My nonfiction is roughly divided into memoirs/letters, books on books and literature, books on music, books on England, etc. One day I will organize John’s collection of garden books, but for now they are grouped rather higgedly-piggedly.
I also ‘face’ my shelves. That is, I make sure all the spines are lined up at, or near, the edge of the shelf. It drives me bananas when they are pushed to the back of the shelf and the spines of the various sized books are uneven. I should also note that I got to customize the dimensions of my shelves and I made them shallower than the typical bookshelf which I find far deeper than what I need for fiction.
What was the first book you ever bought with your own money and does it reside on your shelves now?
One of Helen Cresswell’s Bagthorpe books, but I don’t remember which one. It may have been Ordinary Jack which is the first in that series. My copy of it disappeared over 30 years ago, but oddly enough I just bought it on my recent trip to Powell’s Books in Portland. There was a small, very short-lived bookshop in my hometown when I was a kid. For some reason I bought the Cresswell and was wildly confused by all of the Britishisms in it that I didn’t even realize were Britishisms at the time. I guess even then I was an Anglophile.
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?
Although I don’t feel any guilt about them, I think that the non-Buncle D.E. Stevenson novels probably fit this category. They are overly twee, chaste romances that are not very well written, and some of the 1970s paperback versions are definitely embarrassing to be seen reading in public. I also have most of Nevil Shute’s novels. He tells great stories but his prose can be a little embarrassing. Still, I never feel guilt when I read them, only pleasure, and they both hold pride of place with the rest of my fiction collection.
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?
Many of the books on my shelves are not expensive but they are hard to come by, so it is hard to think of which one I would save in a fire. There is a whole class of books on my shelves that fit that category. However, if I had to choose just one I would have to go with a limited edition of Sinclair Lewis’s Main Street. Not only is Lewis one of my favourite authors but this edition has colour illustrations by Grant Wood and is numbered and signed by the artist. It was also an insanely thoughtful gift from my husband.
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?
Although my parent’s read quite a bit, there really wasn’t a bookshelf, it was more of a library existence for us in those days. The first adult book I read was Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews. I was far too young to read it but that didn’t seem to bother anyone even though my mother and older sister read it first.
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 haven’t borrowed a book in many years, but if I did and loved the book, I would definitely buy my own copy.
What was the last book that you added to your bookshelves?
I just bought 61 books at Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon, but they are being shipped so I haven’t added them to my shelves yet. I did, however, recently add Sybille Bedford’s Jigsaw. I have never read her so I hope I like it.
Are there any books that you wish you had on your bookshelves that you don’t currently?
I still need to find about 20 D.E. Stevenson novels as well as more R.C. Sheriff and Richmal Crompton.
What do you think someone perusing your shelves would think of your reading taste, or what would you like them to think?
Unless they have tastes similar to mine I think their eyes would cross as they tried to find books or authors they recognized.
A huge thanks to Thomas for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves. I am beyond excited about heading over to the US to see him and go on our road trip, I am counting down the days. 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 Thomas’ responses and/or any of the books and authors that he mentions?