Although half a world separates us, Michelle and I share a birthday and a love of books. In her per-blogging days she would often drop by (virtually that is) to leave comments here and when she decided to start blogging, too, I was thrilled. Do please visit her at A Reader's Footprints. She is a book lover who was born and bred in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and is now living just 25km away from the city centre with a mum, a sister and a dog.
She works with figures to make a living, but her real passion lies with words. Other passions: travelling and animals.
1. Describe your library/bookshelves. Are the books randomly placed or do you have them organized in a special way?
I am not a very organized person by nature, and I think my books and shelves do reflect that. Even my reading is usually on whim, unless I happen to be participating in any of the specific reading events on the blogosphere. I do not belong to any reading groups and don't think I ever will because of my need to be able to read on whim and not under compulsion. Besides, I think I am much too slow a reader to be able to follow closely to the datelines/ schedules anyway. But having said that, I think it will be good in helping me become a more disciplined and efficient reader, and curb the bad habit of diving into new books before finishing any of the on-going ones.
My personal library is still fairly young, as I only started to seriously buy books (in more and more alarming numbers and frequency) about 5-6 years ago. My love for books go way back further, though. It's just that when I was young, I grew up feeding on my sister's rather comprehensive collection of Enid Blytons, and I had not much of a need to get books of my own. The source of her impressive loot was the result of my grandfather's lavish display of affection for his then, only grandchild. And so, when I (finally!) arrived onto the scene 8 years later, frugality had probably set in and the excitement of grandkids had probably phased out. Of course there were the occasional books acquired here and there over the years, but it was not until I got myself a proper solid bookshelf about 5 years ago that I started filling it up ( to the point of overdoing it, I think!). It was also a time when books were starting to be made available at much more affordable prices through the various book sales events and online sellers.
The first photo (at top of the page) shows the early days when the shelves were still new and not overrun with books yet. The second photo is the current state of things. Notice how the poor animals are now peeping rather apprehensively from the corner they have been relegated to. By the way, this happens to be the bookshelf that is beside my bed and so it acts as the 'nightstand' as well. Not all the books on it are my on-going/ current reads, in case you might be wondering. I just like to have them close by and just looking at them gives me much pleasure in itself.
Photo no.3 shows the upper half of the shelf as well as the wall shelf that was added later on to help out with the load. But I need to be careful how much I load on it as I don't wish to have it all come crashing down on my head while I sleep!
Photo no.4 shows yet another wall shelf in my room (it's a small room, so I do try to maximize what available space there is!). My books are not really placed in any particular way or system. There are some that are placed together by the same author or subject matter, others may be thrown together by the same publisher or, even by their size perhaps. Generally, I do like to have a mixture of these assortments all thrown together on the shelves (or floor), as they tend to provide a better visual effect on the whole, I think. I also don't think I can quite bear to see whole rows of books that are of uniform colours or sizes all placed neatly together. Too uninteresting, I feel. One rather strange tendency I do have though, is in trying to keep the books that have been acquired together, to stay together as far as possible. A bit weird, I know.
2. Do you like to weed and recycle as you read or do you prefer to hold on to all your books?
I used to be a hoarder, and it's not just with books. I generally find it hard to discard things. But as I grow older, somehow it seems to have gotten easier to do so. I realise that there really is a time and a season for everything. And when the time has come, it just feels right to let it go. Of course space constraint plays a huge part too. Nowadays, I find it easier to part with books I know I no longer have the interest/ time to read anytime in the foreseeable future. Although I have not been doing any aggressive weeding yet, I have in small parts, been trying to free up shelf space by 'sending off' a book or two here and there to friends whom I think might appreciate them. Planning to also look into charitable organisations where I can send them to in the future. As for now, I think there's still a bit of room around the house.
3. Are your books confined to one area or are they spread out over your house?
Although having said that there are still available space in some parts of the house, I still prefer to keep my books as close by to me as possible and that is why I try to keep as many of them as possible, in my bedroom. The ones that can't be squeezed into the room are spread out over the house. You can find books in every room except the kitchen and the bathrooms. Photos 5 - 8 are of the shelves in my bedroom as well. And there's also some that are kept in plastic storage containers under my bed.
Photo no. 9 and its close up are of the bookshelf in the living room, which has more of the coffee table-like books, some travel related books, photography & garden books etc.. There are also some Henry James and a Wilkie Collins in there and the occasional book or two that my mum stuffs in. By the way, those figurines sitting on the top most shelf are my mum's. Me, I prefer furry ones, like the panda on the second lower shelf.
Photo no.10 is the bookshelf located at the dining area. If you look closely, there's actually another set of shorter shelves beside this one (where the bottles of cookies are sitting on now). I got them with the intention of using them to hold books actually (not so much cookie jars) but since I am still trying to stuff my room to the max, my mum had other more practical plans for the shelves in the meantime. But a time will come when they will have to be 'reclaimed' back for their original purpose, I suppose.
4. How long has your oldest unread book sat on your shelves?
I think it's a copy of Richard Bach's Jonathon Livingston Seagull which was given to me by a friend whom I've known since my primary schooldays. It was a birthday gift for my 19th year. Let's see.... so that makes it close to 17 years of sitting unread, yellowing (& collecting dust) on the shelf now. The inscription by my friend on the book's flyleaf says ".... this is the second best gift that I could ever give to you. The first one, of course, was given through our wonderful years together! A Toast to our Friendship!". I think I should be feeling really guilty now.
5. What is your most treasured book?
This is a tough one to answer, as I do treasure many for various reasons. There's the two Folio Society volumes of 'Dickens' London' and 'A Treasury of Mark Twain' that are simply exquisite to hold and behold. There's also the two beautiful Vitalis edition of Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet and Two Prague Stories that were acquired in Prague (and at such an unbelievably good discounted price too!).
But if it's a book that I treasure most in terms of how close I hold it to heart, I think I will pick Alison Smith's memoir Name all the Animals. It was one of those books that I knew nothing about prior to pulling it out from the shelves while browsing in the (then) first ever Borders outlet in Malaysia back in 2005. The title had caught my attention even though the author was new to me. And I have a feeling that both the book and the writer are still relatively unfamiliar to many, today. Maybe this one could qualify as a 'lost in the stacks' as well.
Anyway, I read the blurb on the back cover of the book and decided that it was going home with me. And I am glad it did. The book is a poignant account of the writer's struggle with repressed grief (at the loss of her brother), with the loss of faith in her religion, with the discovery of forbidden love, and ultimately with learning to love life itself. The writing is tender and beautiful, even though the subject matters are difficult and painful. Simply put, Alison's story somehow resonated with me. The book also closely associated with some rather cherished memories of having had the reading experience shared at that time, with someone dear.
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?
I think I would like to pick more than one, if you don't mind (sorry!). I'd like to put a plug in for H.V. Morton's travel writings. My first encounter with Morton was his In Search of England and I have since gone on to acquiring most of his other books as well. I love the tone of his writing and the sense of time and place that they manage to evoke. There's a very romantic 'old world' feel to his travel writings that just adds to the pleasure and appeal of travelling. I feel this is one of those 'lost in the stacks' writers because I have so far only come across one blogger (Alex in Leeds) who has had any mention of Morton at all on their blogs. Or it could be that I don't read enough blogs to make that assumption. Anyway, no harm putting in a plug for him here, I guess. The other writer I would also like to make mention here is Alice Steinbach. Not sure how 'lost in the stacks' she might be, but just wanted to share that her Without Reservations: Travels of an Independent Woman was one of the first travel memoirs that I read, and probably the one that got me in love with the genre, and with travelling. In fact, I made my acquaintance with Steinbach even much earlier than with Morton. I found her book to be truly inspiring and reading it was a rather liberating experience for me. I have since loved to write postcards while on my travels (as did Steinbach).
Many thanks to Michelle for sharing photos of his bookshelves and piles with us. Check back next Friday for a peek into another reader's library.