Hello and welcome back to the series Other People’s Bookshelves. If you haven’t seen them before these are a series where a guest takes over the blog and feeds into the book lust we all feel by sharing their shelves. This week we are off to lovely Wales, the land of cwtchs and witches, to join Robert Davies and have a nosey through hisshelves. Before we do Robert has kindly put on a welsh spread of utter delight for us all and is going to introduce himself before we rampage through his bookshelves…
I was born and grew up in South Wales and was encouraged by my parents at a young age to read as much as possible. I studied English Literature at Aberystwyth University which, despite being an excellent degree programme, shattered my interest in reading for pleasure for a long time. I now work in a large South Wales university, and I make use of the local public and academic libraries as much as possible. I’d love to eventually move into the library department, hopefully one day gaining the qualifications necessary to become a librarian. Outside of work I’ve spent time writing, recording and releasing music, and I like to use my free time visiting interesting places like local castles, ruins, forests and museums with my girlfriend. I write reviews of what I’ve been reading on my blog, Book Mongrel.
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 try to keep everything on my shelves but I’m reaching the storage limit in my small house. I’ve just started to transfer a few shelves’ worth of “read” books over to another bookcase but I think I’ll hit the space limit on that pretty soon too. I’m not concerned with what’s on display – even books I didn’t enjoy or never got round to reading stay on the shelves until I decide to sell or donate them. At the moment the shelves are in disarray (just how I like it), with piles of books put on the shelves in front of the other books which are stacked upright. I quite like how the contents of the shelf are always shifting – I’m either pulling out a new book to read or going back to an older reference book to check some details, so the main bookshelf never stays the same for long.
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?
My shelves are mostly organised by “read” and “to be read”, but individual shelves aren’t organised in any meaningful way other that trying to keep similar-sized books together. Generally I’ll try to keep genres together, but it’s not something I’ll painstakingly work on as it never seems to look any neater. I have a lot of graphic novels, comics, coffee table books and textbooks that are generally too large to just stuff in amongst a bunch of paperbacks, so I try to make them fit in where I can. I’m also enjoying the recent Penguin 80 Little Black Classics series, and they are pocked-sized, so it’s sometimes difficult to make the best use of the limited space. I haven’t culled my bookshelf yet but I’m starting to identify which books should really be passed on – I’m planning to donate them to charity shops or give them to friends but I don’t think that will actually free up that much space anyway.
What was the first book you ever bought with your own money and does it reside on your shelves now?
I had to think hard about the answer to this question as my parents were always very encouraging with my reading and would usually buy me something from bookshops when I was a kid, even before I was old enough to have a job of my own. I’d also make frequent use of the local library and read as much as possible, so it’s hard to pin down the first book I actually bought for myself. I think it was either a Penguin edition of George Orwell’s Complete Novels, or Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting, bought when I was around fourteen or fifteen. I still have both of these on my shelves. They’re nice, well-read, thumbed-through copies, and I think 1984 is full of notes from my English GCSE classes.
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 really buy into the idea of guilty pleasures any more – I don’t think I would be embarrassed by anything on my bookshelf. I’m interested in grisly stuff and horror/crime/occult books so I have a few items that probably don’t look that great, and may put a few people off based on the subject matter, but they’re part of my collection, and they belong on the bookshelf.
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?
My grandmother gave me a very old copy of Edgar Allan Poe’s Tales of Mystery and Imagination when I was younger, which I still have to this day. I’m guessing it belonged to her mother or another relative but I don’t have that much information I’m afraid. I found some publication information recently – it’s a Collins Illustrated edition from around 1920. There are some lovely illustrations that accompany the stories, but the pages are very delicate so I try not to handle it too much. I now have a cheap edition of The Complete Poe that I can use for day-to day reading.
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?
My parents weren’t big readers so I never really saw many books around the family home. My mother used to read a lot of celebrity biographes and what I believe are called “tragic life stories”, things like “A Boy Called It” and the like. The only book I ever remember my father reading was a London gangster autobiography called The Guv’nor. I’m just not interested in that kind of stuff, so I always tried to seek out books that I was interested in myself. The first real “grown up” book I ever remember taking from the library was Nietzsche’s Ecce Homo. I took it home and tried my best to read it but obviously for a fourteen year old it was way over my head. I liked the cover design and the sense of extreme mystery within the book, and the fact that there was all this knowledge within the pages that my young mind just couldn’t decipher at the time. I still haven’t read it! I also remember my grandmother having a hardback collection of Great Ghost Stories by various writers that I never seemed old enough to read at the time. I now have this book on my shelf.
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?
It depends on the book. I generally only borrow books that I’ve read about beforehand, so it’s likely that I’ll enjoy the book anyway. In the last few years, I’ve read some great books that I’ve borrowed from libraries and friends, and then gone ahead and gotten my own copy. Some of the books available in the university’s academic libraries are very rare or out of print, so it’ll give me a chance to do some detective work to find a decent, relatively inexpensive copy in good condition if I want to buy it for myself. I try to make use of the libraries as much as possible but I certaintly do have a bit of a buying addiction!
What was the last book that you added to your bookshelves?
The last books were 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke (I found the sequel, 2010, in a local charity shop so now I’d like to read the whole series), Under the Skin by Michel Faber (based on the film and a friend’s recommendation) and The House on the Borderland by William Hope Hodgson (another recommendation from a friend).
Are there any books that you wish you had on your bookshelves that you don’t currently?
Yes, quite a few! The ones I’d like to get ahold of next are: Rub Out The Words, the second volume of letters by William S. Burroughs, The Violent Bear it Away by Flannery O’ Connor and You Can’t Win by Jack Black. I usually have a pretty substantial list of books to be read/bought on my phone or in my notebook.
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 sure what they would think… my friends and I have very similar tastes but I guess someone who didn’t know me might think that I have a wide range of interests, ranging from classic literary fiction to very low pulp fare. They may notice that I have a big selection of non-fiction, and not very much modern fiction. I don’t think I currently have any major prize winners on my shelves, so this might be something they notice. I think anyone would definitely realise that I’m a horror fan!
And a huge thanks to Robert 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 Robert’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that he mentions?