If, like me, you are a fan of early twentieth century literature, and you've not yet had a chance to meet Simon, let me direct your attention to Stuck in a Book now. Simon is a graduate of Oxford where he studied Literature focusing on this era in particular. He's working on his dissertation which is on middlebrow novels and the fantastic between the world wars. On many an occasion I've taken up reading suggestions from Simon, and there is lots to explore on his blog including a list of "fifty books you must read but may not have heard about" (links to the books are on his sidebar). While you're there make sure, too, you check out his series of My Life in Books posts, where he pairs readers and their answers about books. The twist is each reader doesn't know the identity of their opposite pair until the answers have been posted! Simon recently began working for Oxford University Press where he quite fittingly manages their blog, OxfordWords.
Firstly, I should tell you that most (maybe three-quarters?) of my books are at my parents' house in Somerset, while the rest are with me in Oxford. That makes things a wee bit complicated... Ok, noted? On with the show. My books have a sort of order, loosely based around the alphabet... well, they are alphabetical by author (in both Somerset and Oxford), but in Oxford I've divided them into 'old' and 'new', which is very subjective and subject to change. Basically, the bookcases are 'pretty' and 'less pretty', so reprints of old books might go in 'new', depending on how nicely the edition has been produced... scientific, no? And then of course there are lots of exceptions, like all my Persephone books together...
2. Do you like to weed and recycle as you read or do you prefer to hold on to all your books?
I'm definitely a hoarder by nature, but space has been running out... so about once every two years I spend hours in my room in Somerset, being ruthless with myself. And usually it's surprisingly easy, as I realise I don't *really* need two identical copies of Barbara Comyns' Our Spoons Came From Woolworths, however much I love her writing. The books I cull usually go to the church bookstall my Mum runs from our garage on Saturdays, but last time I sold quite a few through my blog - since I knew they'd be even more likely to go to good homes (and I was penniless!).
3. Are your books confined to one area or are they spread out over your house?
Ah, this one we've addressed a little already! Mine are spread across counties... but in both houses, I only really have one room that's mine. I don't think my parents (or, in Oxford, my housemates) would appreciate it if I left piles of books in the living room. Once I have my own house, in the dim and distant future, I can't imagine anywhere being safe from books. As it is, every surface of my bedroom (including the floor - oh, very definitely including the floor) is covered with piles of books.
4. How long has your oldest unread book sat on your shelves.
If we're not counting unread children's books, then it's probably A Name To Conjure With by G.B. Stern, which I bought when I was 16 (just over a decade ago). So, not enormously long, but about as long as it could possibly be with my caveat of discounting children's books! I've still not read any fiction by G.B. Stern, but I have enjoyed her co-authored books on Jane Austen.
5. What is your most treasured book?
Probably Gay Life by E.M. Delafield, because she's one of my very favourite authors and it is signed by her. I did know, when I bought it online, that it was (I've had lovely surprises with books by Dorothy Whipple and Owen Seaman, only discovering they were signed once I got home) but it gives me such a thrill to think she once held it. Oddly, I can't think of any books which have deep personal attachments... my friends and family need to give me more heartfelt books! Having said that, the Alice's Adventures in Wonderland which my parents gave me last Christmas, illustrated by my beloved Tove Jansson, is one of my most precious books - half because it's so beautiful, half because of the givers.
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?
This is my forte, so it's so difficult to pick one! I was so thrilled when Frank Baker's brilliant Miss Hargreaves came back into print - that used to be the one I forced onto everyone. And last year I did manage to spread the word on Guard Your Daughters pretty successfully - causing a rush on copies online. So, which book do I love which *hasn't* caused much of a stir in the blogosphere... I think it might be Economy Must Be Our Watchword by Joyce Dennys. I never blogged about it properly, since it's impossible to find copies of it, but it's a hilarious take on a rich woman who has bizarre ideas about economising (and zero self-awareness) during the Second World War. I treasure my copy, which I was lucky to find on Charing Cross Road.
**Must note that Guard Your Daughters was one of the first books I read this year, and that Simon and I read Gay Life in tandem a couple of years ago (alas I read a library copy, not one I own, but was happy to have found it on my library's shelves). I have grabbed my copy of Miss Hargreaves from my TBR pile (shamefully have owned it for years and have decided this is the year I finally must read it). Oh, and have checked Worldcat for the Joyce Dennys book, but as a mere four libraries own it, my chances are less than slim that I'll be able to borrow a copy. See what I mean by those reading suggestions?
I must also say that like so many other flat dwellers who have limited space for their books, Simon's arrangement is very pleasing (love that top photo).
Many thanks to Simon for sharing photos of his bookshelves and piles with us. Check back next Friday for a peek into another reader's library.