I hope you are enjoying reading these Lost in the Stacks posts as much as I am, though I feel a bit of a fraud since my 'work' only consists of putting the posts together. How sad is it that I've taken to organizing these the Q&As and photos with pen and paper in hand. I scan bookshelves looking for interesting titles to jot down for later perusal. Photos are (almost) the next best thing to actually visiting and being able to browse bookshelves in person! If you've not yet met Vicki who blogs at Bibliolathas, please do click through! I've been following her almost since she began Bibliolathas, and she has wonderfully eclectic tastes and yet another case of having an enviable reading space. It's lovely matching library to book blogger, as it rounds out my mental picture. Now over to Vicki:
My name is Vicki and I live in Adelaide, South Australia. I've been blogging since 2008 about my other interests retro cook-books and random pretty stuff I like, but only started book-blogging in 2010. I started off anonymously and in hindsight I wish I'd not been so darned clever with my unspellable pseudonyms. They both relate to a huge love in my life, the ancient world. I studied classical studies at uni here, then did a PhD in ancient Greek literature in the U.K. Nowadays my day job is in health administration and the classics are a hobby, though I have edited a book and published a few bits and pieces to keep my hand in.
Bibliolathas? This was the nickname ('book-forgetting') given to Didymus, a scholar at Alexandria in the first century BC. Allegedly he'd written so many books (3500 to 4000!) that he couldn't remember what he'd written, and contradicted his own writings. He was also, less happily for him, nicknamed 'brazen-bowels' for his, um, massive industry. I liked the 'book-forgetter' nickname because I see my book blog as a way to keep track of what I'm reading and thinking. And 'skiourophile'? This is an invented word based on Greek skiouros (squirrel) and philos (loved) - so, squirrel-lover. I LOVE squirrels. Woe is me: we don't have any in South Australia. The name also suits me since I am a squirrel in my hoarding habits, as we will see.
Danielle's blog was one of the very first I started following, and I've always thought it a model of its kind, with her diverse reading tastes and gorgeous needlework. I would give a kidney to be able to sew, knit and crochet. Or I'd even give up eating French cakes. Actually, that's stretching my willpower. Anyway, it was a total delight to be invited to show off my shelves, and here goes…
1. Describe your library/bookshelves. Are the books randomly placed or do you have them organized in a special way?
Here is a picture to blight a book-lover's day.
Yes, books. In boxes. Books no longer free to roam about the house, no more to be randomly picked-up and lovingly re-read. When I go out to the shed and look inside these boxes, it feels akin to keeping cute piglets in inhumane cages.
How did this happen? There I was, a few years ago, in a room entirely walled in by books. Windowed in, even. Hell, doorwayed in. What was natural light? It invited death to swing a cat.
(George: not into swinging, but his literary instincts are good).
Then, I started to think about moving. I packed. I dismantled bookshelves. I put them all in the shed. I discovered I had windows. I left myself a couple of categories of books: (1) books I was reading; (2) books I wanted to read; (3) books I couldn't live without ('friends'); (4) books on my research; and (5) books so heavy I couldn't face shifting them. That left about 1000. At that point I gave up on ever moving. But I never put those 2000 boxed books back. And you know what? Sometimes it's nice to see out the windows. But they creep in, books. It sometimes seems like a territorial war with one's best friends. I now have a strict policy of using my Kindle for 'disposable' books and only buying physical books if I can't resist. OK, that's not very strict. The physical presence of a book is a wonderful, seductive, intoxicating thing. (And, yes, if I can't find a book I own, I buy another copy on the Kindle. Shoot me.)
To answer Danielle's question, these are not organized books, but they are not wholly random. The glass cabinet has the big heavy stuff - art, archaeology, classics, dictionaries. The open shelves are dynamic. Organization depends primarily on whether something fits.
Thematically, there is a lot of cultural theory buried at the bottom. A row of stuff on my research topic. Some poetry (most is elsewhere). A goodly collection of books on and from the 1900s-1940s. Higher up we hit bits of the TBR. Far up top, some ancient texts, an emergency grammar or two. A few shelves of favourite books that I can't put into boxes. The thin bookshelf in the middle holds vintage cook-books. We then turn anti-clockwise. On top of the filing cabinets: a disorder of TBRs; a sprinkling of library books. Keep turning… the mantelpiece holds cookbooks and a mini-mountain of Persephones.
Well, I think we've answered that. HOARDER!
3. Are your books confined to one area or are they spread out over your house?
And now we come to the crux. I live with a book-collector, my father, and an avid reader, my mother. They've had a combined 140 years to collect books. Almost every wall in the house is covered in the results of their bibliomania. We have a bookshelf in the loo. I never read in bed, but my bedroom has shelves. On those I have three shelves of poetry books and nine shelves of… Oh dear, this may be a deal-breaker… OK, it's my collection of Biggles books (see below). Confession time: my wardrobe is full of Enid Blytons. I can't own many clothes.
4. How long has your oldest unread book sat on your shelves?
The honest answer is that I have absolutely no idea. I'm totally cool with unread books. Someone who gets this is Walter Benjamin (1892-1940):
"Suffice it to quote the answer which Anatole France gave to a philistine who admired his library and then finished with the standard question, 'And you have read all these books, Monsieur France?'
'Not one-tenth of them. I don't suppose you use your Sèvres china every day?'"
Obviously, 'philistine' is harsh! But I like the attitude. Many of my books are treasuries and treasures, things that a humanist has to possess. I have no expectation of ever reading everything I own now, let alone what I might obtain in the next 40 years. (The quotation is from Benjamin's 'Unpacking My Library: A Talk About Book Collecting' (1931), published in the collected volume Illuminations .)5. What is your most treasured book?
My father gave me his Biggles' books when I was about 10 years old. Each book had been lovingly covered in brown paper by him as a child (as a child!) to protect the dust-wrappers. They were in perfect condition. When I was young we would go to book-shops almost every weekend and I could pick a book or two (or three or four) that I wanted. The love of books runs deep in my veins because my reading was nourished as a child. So, those ordinary-looking brown paper-covered books are among my most treasured possessions. I've put another unwrapped one in, as it is interesting to consider what sort of child would wrap a glorious technicolour cover.
If you don't know Biggles, he is the creation of 'Captain' W. E. Johns (1893-1968). Biggles was a pioneer aviator and WW1 flying ace, then inter-war adventurer, then WW2 squadron leader, then post-war Scotland Yard detective. He upholds all the great manly British values of the time, such as honour, closeted homosexuality, and racism. I started collecting when I was about 12 (early 1980s). I finished about a decade later when they became absurdly expensive. I don't know how many I have stashed about the place.
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?
Well, you're all now racing off to read Biggles... However, I don't see this one mentioned very much, yet it is wonderfully witty, screw-ball funny and gorgeously written: Auntie Mame by Patrick Dennis (1955).
This is my lovely copy, circa 1958. Auntie Mame is the story of the best aunt ever for a poor little orphan boy to inherit. She is irreverent, amoral, flighty, and quite crackers, and exposes the young Patrick to such indignities as a nudist private school, her entirely successful endeavours to marry a millionaire, and a multitude of crazy adventures in which it is by the slenderest margin that aunt and nephew emerge unscathed. Auntie Mame is a gorgeous character. And who doesn't love an orphan novel?
I have to mention that I loved Auntie Mame when I read it a number of years ago, too. She is all that Vicki says--it's a delightful book, as is the sequel, Around the World with Auntie Mame. Both are definite reread material!
Many thanks to Vicki for sharing photos of his bookshelves and piles with us. Check back next Friday for a peek into another reader's library.