Six years ago Karen Howlett thought that starting a blog might be a fun pastime, but little did she know what she was getting into. Cornflower and Cornflower Books have become a large part of her life and a gateway to many other good and previously unimagined things. She lives in Edinburgh, Scotland, with her husband, three children and two dogs, and spends most of her time reading, reviewing and writing about books.
1. Describe your library/bookshelves. Are the books randomly placed or do you have them organized in a special way?
I have always been a keen reader and a buyer of books, and then I married a man of similar habits, so our combined library was of a reasonably large size to start off with, but since I took up blogging the collection has grown at an unbelievable rate (such is the generosity of publishers) and I now fight a losing battle with the organising of my books as I get so many, but most that have been here for any length of time are arranged in sections so that we can find what we want, and within that the majority are sorted alphabetically by author.
2. Do you weed and recycle as you read or do you prefer to hold on to all your books?
I am a hoarder and I find it hard to let books go unless I have more than one copy (without sentimental associations), but I do weed periodically and pass on to the charity shop what I feel no strong urge to keep.
3. Are your books confined to one area or are they spread out over your house?
Our books are in almost every room of the house. We are fortunate in having spacious rooms with high ceilings so - in theory - scope for keeping many books, but we've long since run out of shelf space and there are piles and piles (see pictures above) on the floor. Books loom large from the front door onwards as the entrance hall has two bookcases housing what we call "the light side and the dark side", that is the works of Alexander McCall Smith and P.G. Wodehouse facing all the crime fiction. Purpose-built shelves across one wall of the drawing room hold poetry, plays, lit. crit., law (it used to be my profession), a great deal of fiction, books on nature, travel, art, architecture and music., while elsewhere in that room are smaller bookcases for history, politics and economics.
The study is where I keep biography, my Persephone Books collection, literary periodicals, books on houses and gardens, and my enormous TBR piles. The guest bedroom has children's books on its shelves (we discovered the original Georgian 'press' or wall cupboard when we were doing some building work to the room so we opened it up and now make grateful use of that find), the lower hall has "the very dusty books", that is mostly politics, philosophy, economics and history from my husband's university days, craft books are in our bedroom with more novels, and the kitchen has plenty cookery books to keep us eating well, but still I can't resist acquiring more across the board!
4. How long has your oldest unread book sat on your shelves?
My oldest unread book is probably a very fine 1850 edition of Lockhart's Life of Scott. According to the inscription on the fly-leaf it was originally given to a young man on the occasion of his leaving Eton College, and the giver of the book was Jane Austen's great-nephew. It later belonged to my grandfather - which is how I come to have it - and although it's been in my possession since my teenage years I have never read it and doubt I ever shall, though I have consulted it to check facts.
5. What is your most treasured book?
My most treasured book - that's a very difficult question to answer. So many have special associations or memories attached that I'd find it hard to single out just one. I am glad to still have books from my very early childhood, and given that they started this lifelong love of reading and obsession with books, maybe I'd choose them.
6. If you could pick one "lost in the stacks/on your bookshelves" book to rediscover and share with other readers, which would it be?
One of the lovely parts of having a blog is being able to share good books and it's very gratifying when I've raved about something to learn that people have followed the recommendation and have loved the book, too. There are several very well-known books which are particular favourites of mine - Nancy Mitford's The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate and Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, for instance - but of lesser known ones, two I keep coming back to are Mollie Panter-Downes' novel One Fine Day and a memoir by Christian Miller called A Childhood in Scotland (I know you've read the latter, Danielle, and maybe the Mollie P-D too?)*. Both are elegant and succinct, each has a distinctive 'voice', and in the authors' eye for a telling detail, in pacing and phrasing and tone, they put many much better known writers in the shade.
*I have indeed read both Christian Miller and Mollie Panter-Downes and agree with Cornflower they are elegantly written books and very evocative of a particular time and place yet still have a sense of timelessness about them.
I have to put in a good word, too, for Cornflower's Book Group. I'm a great fan of reading along with other like minded readers not least as it's an excellent way to expand my horizons. The next book up is Iain Pears' An Instance of the Fingerpost, which sits on my night stand right now and will get a nudge up to the top as it is now February. Discussion of the book starts February 23.
A key to the photos (which you can enlarge for a closer look by clicking on them) top to bottom: one wall in drawing room, fiction on the floor in front of that wall of shelves - but all arranged alphabetically by author, just some of the many TBR piles in the study, entrance hall showing"the light side" - McCall Smith & Wodehouse and "the dark side" - crime fiction, Persephone books, biography, houses and gardens, more biography, "the very dusty books"--politics, philosophy, economics and history, some children's books, double-stacked, and last n the kitchen, the cookery books.
Many thanks to Karen for sharing photos of her bookshelves and piles with us. Check back next Friday for a peek inside another reader's library.