Book Wealth


After doing up a room in our house, I now have a library! Well, the kids call it a media room, to me it's the library. It's got the essentials, a quiet off-corridor location, a big, squishy sofa and reams of shelves. This triggered the reorganisation of our books. Turns out we have about 1,200! Hubby said 'have a sort through, get rid of them'. No way, I thought. How could anyone discard a book?

I've always thought someone's book collection must be very representative of their inner world and taste, but looking at ours, I realise a fair few of them were either given to me or actually belong to my husband. So here's a guided tour of our book "wealth".

The Fairy Tale Collection

This has so many books they take up two bookcases. Myths, folk tales, ballads and fairy tales, sorted roughly by country and county. That might sound a bit nerdy, but bear in mind I work as a traditional oral storyteller, so this is my professional resource, material from which I've developed my repertoire of stories and shows. The thing I love about fairy tales is the way the imagery sticks in your mind, a red cloak, the girl with no hands or the dilemma tale of a wife who has to choose between the body of her husband with her father's head or her brother's body with her husband's head - nice. There's not much I don't know about fairy tales and browsing the second-hand bookshops to uncover something long out of print but "new" is a particular delight. Preferably with a coffee shop...

The Thriller / Fantasy Collection

Lee Child, George RR Martin, Steel Rat, Terry Pratchett - all great stuff, but I confess my husband's. He's an avid reader. In fact, he carried on reading in our early years whilst I was either up all night with the babies or flat out exhausted asleep! I'm not bitter... Also in here is Stephen King, Agatha Christie and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series. I devoured Lord of the Rings one summer at 17. I was off to work in Germany and allowed space in my bag for one book, so I took the biggest one I could find! I'm rather enjoying pilfering from this lot now that I'm 'professionally interested'.

The Gift / Self-bought Collection

My more recent purchases include: Clare MacIntosh, Will Dean, Sarah Waters, Michelle Paver, Susan Hill and I've just finished reading Eleanor Oliphant. Over the years, I've been given loads of books, but the thing about books is taste really is personal and hard to gauge. One of my favourite gifts was Wild Swans by Jung Chang. I'm a slow reader, but always finish a book - to me that's a mark of respect to the author, so choosing to start a book is a commitment. There are some great books in here still unread, psychological thriller, gothic, historic, chic lit, romance, Booker prize winning authors. It's like a secret supply of chocolate, the knowledge of them being there still to read, just as enjoyable as the actual consumption. New or old, these are the treats to plunder on a rainy day with the excuse I really ought to read...

The Literary Collection

We're talking classics here - Shakespeare, DH Lawrence, Thomas Hardy, Bronte, Dickens, and plays, poetry and literary criticism. I studied English Lit for two years as part of a wider degree, and quite a few of these are hand-me-downs from my dad (who taught English). There's a nice pool of 19th century novels here, perfect precursors to the psychological thriller / chiller, as well as all those gothic, ghost and horror stories. All of this is far too precious to give away. I grew up surrounded by thousands of books, many quite esoteric and obscure. Each one of this small selection brings back memories of reading as a child, growing up to the sound of my father on the typewriter in the dining room, my student years, and falling in love with writing. These are the books I pick up and sniff occasionally. Like you do.

The History Collection

My main degree was in Mediaeval History, so I've got books about late Roman emperors and English robber barons. There's Bede, Beowulf and feisty women chroniclers and even an Anglo-Saxon grammar book. I still remember one tale of a mediaeval nun caught in flagrante with her lover - in punishment he was killed before her eyes and she was fed his... I won't elaborate. The modern history stuff are courtesy of hubby again. He's an aero-engineer, so there's the odd aeroplane autopsy, tales of WWII and quirky "freakonomics" - he loves that whole fate / luck / coincidence thing balanced against science, fabulous hunting grounds for a story.

Everything Else?

'Non-fiction' could sound boring, but here are the 'coffee table" books I couldn't resist - art and design, cookery, fitness, family guidance - How to Raise Boys, The Joy of Sex (not mine!), childbirth manuals (oh lord...), gardening, nature (mainly David Attenborough, big childhood hero), reference (I seem to have a copy of Who's Who 1991) and the books the kids (or was it me?) read: Roald Dahl, Beatrix Potter, David Walliams, Horrid Henry and the full set of Harry Potter. Our favourite bedtime picture book was It's the Bear by Jez Alborough - it reads out loud so well. I'd love to be able to write picture books, though it's a particular skill. When I was little I dreamt of being a dance choreographer, not because I was any good at dancing, but because I could see these stories unfolding with gesture and dance. And then there's my small but invaluable selection of technical writing books - if I picked out one it would be Robert McKee's Story.

And travel. The travel subsection is quite extensive. Over the years I've visited South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, USA, most of Europe, flying in mainly for work. I remember my South Korean colleagues being very curious about my single status (then) and sending me home with a box of Ginseng tea to improve my love life. The people I met were incredibly welcoming, and inordinately fascinating, I loved the different languages and music and food and all those big dramatic landscapes. It was life-changing stuff. As I can't afford to travel at all now, this is a rich selection of memories and inspiration and a reminder of how big and wide and joyous the world is and how much we all have in common, despite our differences.

Isn't that just the stuff of books?