I love books. No surprises there. It would be an odd kind of writer who didn’t love books. My problem? The age old one of the bibliophile – where do you put them all?
My answer is to every so often have a clear out and take books I no longer require to a charity shop such as Marie Curie at Fryern.
This is where I love the Kindle. No clear out really ever necessary and it is so easy to transport 10, 20, 100 books on it! Still, some things don’t change regardless of technology. You can still only read one book at a time!
One thing I had my eye on for a long time (and which has now come to me) was my late mother’s collection of leather bound Dickens (lovely!) but I was surprised to discover, equally in leather bound hardback, a copy of Joseph Heller’s Catch 22. Now this has been on my To Read list for a while so I was glad to come across this. But it wasn’t the kind of book I was expecting to find in my late mother’s collection despite knowing she had very wide reading tastes. I’m looking forward to other surprises like this. I inherit my love of reading and books from her and there’s a lot to go through. Still I can think of worse tasks…
Some of the other hardback book collections include Daphne du Maurier, whose Jamaica Inn has also been on my To Read list for ages, a collection of H.G. Wells novels (which I think I’m going to bump up to the top of my To Read pile) and Chekov’s Short Stories. Chekov is generally considered to be one of the all time masters of the short story format so I am looking forward to finally reading some of his tales myself.
My introduction to Dickens was thanks to the film starring Alec Guinness as Fagin. A real masterclass in evil there. I was so mesmerised by it I had to read the book (which I knew mum had) to see if the film had departed from it in any way. It hadn’t. (I am convinced if Dickens were with us now, he would be writing for the screen. He could).
Dickens’ ability to write a corking tale hit home back then though, word to the wise, I would avoid his Child’s History of England at all costs as it is easily the worst he wrote. It manages the twin horrors of being dreadful and annoying.
Why? He condemns Elizabeth I for putting her cousin to death. He moans at Mary Queen of Scots for her wicked ways, basically. So okay, Charles, what was Elizabeth meant to do then? She had already imprisoned Mary for 19 years and spared her life from Parliament’s wrath several times. Elizabeth was bound to get somewhat annoyed at yet another plot against her own life by someone she’d been trying to shield!
Oh and no surprises either in that he did a very brief sketch of each monarch’s reign including his own, Victoria’s. He had nothing but praise for her! Was he after a knighthood I wonder? He deserved one but not for this book.
Reading widely and well also means accepting that every so often you are going to find a volume that, for whatever reason, does not “float your boat”. Thankfully I find this doesn’t happen that often and it does make you appreciate a really good book again.
Writing all that brought back happy memories of how annoyed I was at Dickens after I first read his Child’s History. It was a real let down after the wonderful Oliver Twist, Pickwick Papers etc.
I also see the Child’s History as proof most writers, at some point, write a dud book and this is Charles’s. (What you hope is the dud book is the one that never gets published and only you know about it. You also hope you can recycle at least some of the book into a better, stronger story and publish that instead and keep quiet about ever having written a dud. In my view Charles was unlucky here. No chance of keeping anything of his quiet).
In many ways I don’t just collect books, I collect stories. All writers are inspired by those who have gone before (sometimes in what not to write. The Lord of the Rings for example has inspired many fantasy novels both directly but also to those who hated it who were determined to create their own fantasy worlds in a way nothing like TLOTR!).
One of my favourite writing books is The Seven Basic Plots by Christopher Booker. I’m not sure I entirely agree there are only seven plots in the world (though it is clear so many stories overlap and his broad category definitions I find make sense), but this is a detailed look at what is behind the stories we know and love. For instance what is behind the classic rags to riches tale. What is also fascinating about this book is it also shares what other cultures have in common for the seven plots too and you find out just how old some of these plots are).
I’m always pleased to hear of initiatives that encourage reading (which is why I was so pleased to write about the Story Shuffle Project and Blood and Valour as part of the Road to Agincourt Project, both of which I really hope encourage people, especially kids, to find out more about the medieval era and our local links to Agincourt).
I’m also pleased about things like Book Aid International.
Book Aid International help African libraries by sending selected books to them and helping to extend what their librarians can do via training. They want to change lives for the better by encouraging reading. All of these wonderful objectives should be supported, I feel. I can’t imagine a life without literacy, though sadly so many people do know precisely what this is and anything that can help improve the situation here I think is to be welcomed.
Reading does broaden the mind (as does travel, of course, but if you can’t do the latter, at least the former should be an option!). And the great thing? You read where you want to in your own time and in comfort. What’s not to like about that?
Read blog posts by Allison Symes published on Chandler’s Ford Today.
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