Thursday, September 21, 2006

The naked booklover

Some time ago my friend Jenny made her first visit to my home. As we conversed in the living room, her eyes kept straying to my twin seven-foot bookcases, and at one point she got up and walked over to them. Full of questions and comments, she pulled out several books, and for the first time ever, I caught myself wondering what a fellow reader thought of my taste in literature.

To say I was embarrassed by some of the books Jenny remarked on would be overstating the case; but I do recall defending myself by pointing out that I did not consider every book on the shelves to be a great friend. The collection is not just mine, but my husband's, and was begun more than thirty years ago. Some books were gifts, and those are always difficult to part with. Some are relics from our college days. And that set of Tom Swift books? It's a valuable old collection that belonged to my husband's younger brother, now deceased.

The idea for this post was triggered by an article I came across this morning in The Chronicle of Higher Education. Here's what jumped out at me:

My books remind me of where I've been, intellectually, physically — and emotionally. They are like a photograph album, only with more dimensions.

Exactly. And some of the "photographs" on those shelves don't flatter me, but I think I'm okay with that. Want to test me? Leave a comment and tell me to go look in Bookcase 1 or Bookcase 2. Choose a shelf (from 1 to 7), and then tell me whether to begin counting from the left or the right side. I will tell you about the first five books on that shelf--unless you order me to skip a certain number before I begin counting.

Who knows? Maybe you will make me squirm a little.

Just in case anyone's wondering, all of my romance novels are kept here in my office. The books in the living room are mostly hardcovers, and roughly two-thirds of them are fiction.

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Chris said...

Bookshelf 2, the fourth book from the right on shelves 2, 3, 5, 6, and 7 (counting down). Book title, author and significance to you or HoBL.

cantnever said...

Ha! I love this: Bookcase 2 / top shelf (is that shelf #1 ?) skip 5 books and tell us about the next ones. Thanks for a peek into your bookshelf. (I love books and collect them myself.)

By the way, ever heard of the book: USED and RARE, Travels in the Book World? It's by Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone. A fascinating read my daughter found at the library. I know, it sounds dry but book lovers understand each other.

Waiting to hear about your books...

Brenda Coulter said...

Oh, I'm relieved. Nothing embarrassing to report in this survey of Fouth Books from the Right:

1. Holy Bible. This large, ragged, cloth-bound Bible was presented to my Great Great Grandfather in 1914. Many family births and deaths are recorded therein, and inside is another births-and-deaths page taken from a much older (and now lost) Bible that includes family births as far back as 1791. Why is this precious heriloom fourth from the right on my bookshelf? Because three smaller Bibles owned by my beloved grandparents are stacked on top of it.

2. The Best of James Herriott, James Herriott. My hunk o' burnin' love has been a huge Herriott fan for almost three decades. In fact, if you ask him, our Number One Son, Tristan, is named after a James Heriott character. (The truth, of course, is that I named Tristan after a knight in the Authurian legends who showed up in a very catchy Wagnerian opera.)

3. Legacy, James A. Michener. When he was younger, my HBL was big on Michener. I have never read this book.

4. The Complete Histories and Poems of Shakespeare. Mine, purchased 31 years ago this autumn as part of a collection of classic literature. Gets heavy use and is often seen on a table in my office.

5. Science Observed, Jeremy Bernstein. Mine. Clever essays on big thinkers from Einstein to Oppenheimer, published in 1982. It's been years since I've read it, so I just pulled it from the shelf and brought it into my office to see if it's as good as I remember.

I think you should work this little exercise up as a meme and post it on your own blog.

Brenda Coulter said...

Here you go, Cantnever--books six through ten on the top shelf (counting from the left):

6. Giants in the Earth, O. E. Rolvaag. One of my husband's books. I don't believe it's one I've read.

7. Gulliver's Travels, Jonathan Swift. I'll get slammed for this, but I never thought much of this novel. I can't remember where this beautiful leather-bound copy came from--we've had it for years.

8. Henry James. A collection of five stories: Daisy Miller, The Aspern Papers, The Turn of the Screw, and The Beast in the Jungle. (Okay, that's only four, but never mind, I'm back in my office now and the book's in the other room.) I recently reread The Turn of the Screw and, yep, it's still good.

9. Tom Jones, Henry Fielding. Leather-bound, gold-embossed, with lovely silk bookmarks. This is actually two volumes, so I'll go ahead and tell you about the next book on the shelf....

10. Lorna Doone, R. D. Blackmore. A truly great novel. I picked up this very nice old clothbound copy years ago at an estate sale. (Hey, the cookies were good, I reasoned; the novel couldn't be too bad.)

Sorry, but I haven't heard of the book you mentioned.

cantnever said...

Thanks so much for your reply even though I failed to mention from the left side (which you did anyway). I should read more carefully so I can respond more accurately ... :o)

Chris said...

Meme's away! link

Brenda Coulter said...

Nice work. (I wonder if he reacts that quickly when his wife asks him to take out the trash.)

Katie Hart said...

All right - I'll do this very scientifically. ;) Bookshelf one, since I'm the firstborn child. Shelf 7, since my b-day's in July. From the left, since I'm lefthanded. And start with book 17, since I was born on that day.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I can't resist this Brenda. Bookshelf 1, third shelf down, count 5 books in from the left, and then give me the next five.

I love looking at other people's book (and music, as it happens) collections: it can be the start of so many fascinating conversations. And I love it when people have a nose around mine. (Sadly, the majority of my fiction books are in our bedroom for space reasons).

Neal Dench

Brenda Coulter said...

For Katie:

1. The Citadel, A.J. Cronin. I was so excited about this book when I first read it that I begged several friends to borrow it from me. One didn't care for it, but kept it for the better part of a year. It's a wonder we're still friends. ;-)

2. The Green Years, A.J. Cronin. Another winner.

3. Far From The Madding Crowd, Thomas Hardy. Great story.

4. Islands in the Stream, Ernest Hemingway. My husband's book. I've never cared for Hemingway.

5. The Enormous Room, e.e. cummings. I think this one is from my husband's college days. I've never been never much of a cummings fan, so I'm not eager to sample this, which I understand was his only foray into prose. Unless somebody out there wants to recommend the book?

Neal, you've hit a pocket of gardening books:

1. New Complete Guide to Gardening, Better Homes and Gardens. Gets heavy use.

2. The Hillier Gardener's Guide to Trees & Shrubs, edited by John Kelly. Gets moderate use. I opened it just now and was charmed to find dirt smudged on a page about maple trees.

3. The Tranquil Garden: Creating Peaceful Spaces Outdoors, Country Living Gardener. Contains lots of beautiful pics that have stimulated my gardener's imagination.

4. Gardening in the Shade, Better Homes and Gardens. This book annoys me because it's all hostas and astilbe. BH&G could have done better.

5. The Small Garden, Sue&Roger Norman, Polly Bolton, Lallie Cox. I actually have plenty of room to garden, but I love the photos in this book and have used many of the tips.

TrudyJ said...

Are we still playing? If so ... Bookshelf #1, top shelf, first five books on the left.

I'm so pleased someone else likes Cronin's The Citadel, BTW ... one of my favourite sad books.

Brenda Coulter said...

Are we still playing?

Yeah, but let's make this the last time. As much as I love telling you people about some of my favorite books, I've got work to do this weekend. (Note that I'm burning the midnight oil right now.)

1. The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Edward Gibbon. This book has often been called the best history ever written. I find it absolutely riveting.

2. The Boy in the Bush, D.H. Lawrence. This is my husband's book, and although I've read it, I don't remember much about it. I'm guessing I didn't love it.

3. The Idiot, Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Another one I read years ago but don't remember.

4. The Gulag Archipelago, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Wow. What a book.

5. The Innocents Abroad, Mark Twain. This is an old, well-thumbed softcover. The "innocent" doctor cracks me up. ("Is--is he dead?")

tristan coulter said...

Don't forget about my "Happy Hollisters" collection.

Brenda Coulter said...

Oh, I haven't forgotten them. I'm holding that set hostage until you return my prized copies of The Journal of Irreproducible Results: Selected Papers and The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

Mirtika said...

I have more than two dozen bookcases (and could use about a dozen more, given the piles and piles around the house). But some would be embarrassing. I'd say number one would be the "Greek Homosexuality" book from when I took some courses on Greek literature and culture. I wrote a paper for which I bought that one. It has lots of photos of erotic Greek vase art. Ahem. No, that's not one I'd want some guests to pick up and browse hahahahha.

I pick: bookshelf 2, 4th shelf, and start smack in the middle of its length: start with that book, then pick the two books to the left and the two books to the right of the middle book. That makes five. :D


Brenda Coulter said...

Mir, you've hit the shelf of books I'm saving for my old age. I want to have read these before I die, even though I'm not very interested in them right now.

1. Pensees, Blaise Pascal. I just found an old bookmark on page 34. I remember nothing at all about this book.

2. Life of Dr. Johnson, James Boswell. Interesting, but hardly riveting. I got only about halfway through it. One of these days I'll give it another try.

3. The Prince, Niccolo Machivelli. I sort of skimmed this one years ago, just to see if I'd like it. I didn't. But that isn't to say I won't get something out of it ten years from now, so it stays on the shelf.

4. The Republic, Plato. I read it twenty years ago but remember almost nothing about it. I plan to give it another go one of these days.

5. Lives of Ten Noble Greeks and Romans, Plutarch. I've read this one and was very interested, but my mind began wandering near the end. I mean to finish it someday.

Mirtika said...

I've read three of those five (haven't done Life of Dr. Johnson or Lives of 10 Noble Gr & Rms). I did read Suetonius and Satyricon and many Greek tragedies and comedies, so I've got some of that covered. Plus, The Iliad and The Odyssey. Life of Dr. Johnson doesnt' call to me, honestly.