Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Stuck into books

So in response to Simon at Stuck-In-A-Books ‘'tag' here are my ten books – it’s a sort of random choice – as random as loosely thematic bookshelves allow. The instructions were as follows;

1.) Go to your bookshelves...

2.) Close your eyes. If you're feeling really committed, blindfold yourself.

3.) Select ten books at random. Use more than one bookcase, if you have them, or piles by the bed, or... basically, wherever you keep books.

4.) Use these books to tell us about yourself - where and when you got them, who got them for you, what the book says about you, etc. etc.....

5.) Have fun! Be imaginative. Doesn't matter if you've read them or not - be creative. It might not seem easy to start off with, and the links might be a little tenuous, but I think this is a fun way to do this sort of meme.

6.) Feel free to cheat a bit, if you need to...

Now in all honesty even with my eyes closed I have a reasonable idea of what books are where but this is at least a broadly representative selection from across the shelves and piles

1.) L. Sandy Maisel ‘American Political Parties and Elections’. This one came straight off the top of the birthday/Christmas pile of books yet to be read/to find a home. It came from my friend Ruth who was once my boss when I worked in her bookshop quite a long time ago. I’ve wanted exactly such a book ever since I started watching the West Wing – also quite a long time ago, and have probably ruined several joint book buying expedition’s by complaining about not finding just this very thing so I’m very pleased with it and fully intend to read it now I’ve got it. Some time very soon. Honestly.

2.) Jane Grigson’s ‘Vegetable Book’ from easy hand grabbing reach on the kitchen bookshelf. My mother has a huge collection of cookbooks, as does my stepmother (though she has the excuse of being a professional cook). As a teenager I was dismissive about the need for all those books and swore I would do with Delia Smith’s ‘Complete Cookery Course’. I now have well over 100 cookbooks (this Christmas I’ve run out of shelf space for them – some serious reorganising will have to be done) The slide started with Claire Macdonald’s ‘Seasonal Cookery’, followed by ‘More Seasonal Cookery’ followed by more and more books. The Grigson’s where fairly early additions to the collection and are books I wouldn’t be without. I love everything about this book which is showing serious signs of wear, it used to live in my bag for reading on the bus, not just for the recipe’s but also for the food history and anacdote’s. It’s Jane Grigson more than any other writer who’s given me a passion for cooking.

3.) Daphne Du Maurier ‘Frenchman’s Creek’ from the virago shelves. I’m a little bit ashamed of this one, it’s one of several Du Maurier’s on the shelf none of which I’ve read beyond 50 pages, Somehow I can never click with her try as I might, every book has been started with high expectations and got nowhere. ‘Frenchman’s Creek’ I really wanted to love – it has Pirates for heaven’s sake, and was bought on the recommendation of my sister’s godmother after we spent the day walking and painting around some spectacular coastline. Even if I never read the book it does at least remind me of a really good summer day.

4.) Angela Carter ‘Nights at the Circus’ from the women’s-shelf-that’s-not-virago. This was also a present. It sat around for ages before becoming the first Angela Carter I read – a real flash of lightening clap of thunder experience. If I ever made a list of best things I’ve ever been given this would certainly be on it; It’s a book that made me fall in love with reading all over again. I think it’s by far Carter’s best book, and it set me off after all sorts of things – fairy tales and myths especially- which I’ve loved.

5.) Gavin Maxwell ‘Harpoon at a Venture’ from a shelf dedicated to books that don’t seem to fit anywhere else. I bought this book in 1987 in the middle of England when I was 13 and feeling very homesick for Islands. Its “The story of an idyll that went sour” and is a book I must have read a dozen or more times, but not for years and looking at it now it’s definitely due another read. It’s Maxwell’s account of trying to start a life after the war – by shark fishing on the west coast of Scotland. Predictably for Maxwell the enterprise failed, but there’s something grand about his failure’s (and from the sharks point of view welcome). I think of this as nature writing, but nothing like the stuff people do today it’s far less sentimental coming from a time when you shot something if you wanted to identify it rather than photograph it, and for better or worse that much closer to the Scottish Island life I knew as a child. For a while I wanted to be (a later day female and slightly less ill fated) Gavin Maxwell so I’m delighted one of his books got on this list.

6.) P. G. Wodehouse ‘Jeeves in the Offing’ I discovered Wodehouse on my mother’s bookshelves when I was about 14, looking back I’m not sure what he was doing there as she’s not really a fiction reader and I’m not even convinced that this is her kind of humour. I think about half my Wodehouse’s are one’s I shamelessly appropriated but I can’t remember if this one was legitimately come by or not. I went through a phase of reading all the Wodehouse I could find in my mid teens which must have had a shocking effect on my vocabulary (happily I can’t remember that either). By the time I graduated I was about Wodehoused out but looking at this I want to read him again. Even better it looks like there are plenty I don’t have so I can read ones new to me.

7.) Evelyn Waugh ‘Decline and Fall’. I think my Waugh collection is fairly complete but I’m always hopeful of finding an unread one. Really I would like to have pulled out ‘The Loved One’ which changed the way I looked at ‘classics’ and set me off on an entirely new sort of reading (again pinched from my mother, sorry mum I’ll make it up to you somehow) or ‘The Sword of Honour Trilogy’ which is probably my favourite, but ‘Decline and Fall’ is as good an example as any really. I fell in love with an idea of the 1920’s through Waugh and Wodehouse when I was about 15 and have never recovered from it. I love Waugh for his particular brand of black humour – something I’m coming to associate with Catholic writers – it’s also just occurred to me that he was the first in an ongoing if minor obsession with Catholic writers as well.

8.) Dornford Yates ‘Cost Price’ – which lives on the shelves devoted to crime and thrillers. I had hoped that something a little bit cooler and infinitely harder boiled would have come to hand, but Yates certainly underscores my preference for period books and for high adventure and even higher camp. Yates was a House of Stratus discovery from the beginning of my pick a publisher not an author approach to book shopping, I started reading him in a fairly tongue in cheek fashion, but ended up hooked in a very unsophisticated way.

9.) David Thomson ‘The People of the Sea’ which inhabits a mini bookshelf dedicated to island books (but not including Gavin Maxwell because he wouldn’t fit) it was a Guardian recommendation from the days when ordering online wasn’t automatic and it took weeks to get hold of whilst I got more and more impatient at being fobbed off by the bookshop. Fortunately I still wanted to read it by the time it turned up (most of my to be read pile is made up of books that took so long to arrive that by the time I got them the moment had passed). Thomson travelled from Shetland down to the south west coast of Ireland collecting seal myths and seals have always fascinated me, as does writing about the sea.

10.) Simon Schama ‘An Embarrassment of Riches’. This is a relic of student days (History of Art degree) I kept all my books partly from sentimentality, partly because most of them look so pretty, and partly because they look interesting and a lot of them still haven’t been read properly. ‘An Embarrassment of Riches’ is in the latter category. The bit’s I did read (and the reading itself) were in the heavy demand section of the university library, when I found this copy in a discount bookshop I’d already sat the exam. This is one of those (many) books to be read ‘when I have time’ which probably means retirement when I hope I’m still interested.

Looking at this list I’m really surprised at how male dominated it is as the majority of the books I read are by women which isn’t really reflected, but at the same time it’s a fairly accurate picture of my shelves, and probably of me. I’m not entirely sure what it says about me though – I think that’s probably for anyone who gets all the way through this epic post to decide...


  1. I think yours is my favourite response-post so far, Hayley, what a great selection and even better stories behind them.

    With Daphne du M - have you tried Rebecca? It's one of my favourite books, and set me off buying another 12 or so D du Ms, but none of them have worked for me anywhere near as much. But you're right, you can't go wrong with a PG Wodehouse.

  2. I have tried Rebecca, and failed again, but thats partly because I knew what happened. I don't know what my problem is with her, I enjoy what I read of the book but once I put it down I never pick it up again. One day I'll crack it.

  3. Maybe that's why I liked Rebecca so much - I *thought* I knew what happened, but I was wrong. My Cousin Rachel was ok, Flight of the Falcon not good at all. I've gone off her a bit after reading her letters to Oriel Malet... will return one day, when the hype (in my mind) has died down a bit...!

  4. I also believe that Nights at the Circus is Carter's best work and a wonderful gift. Great insight! I'm still compiling mine and Nights at the Circus will definitely feature (like you, I know where my books are on my shelves).

  5. Look forward to reading your list Paperback Reader. I tried hard not to cheat but some books are hard to miss - I knew from the worn worn spine which one Nights at the Circus was:)