The Great and the Good (Books) by Pauline Chandler

 In last month’s blog, I said I was spring cleaning my office and, specifically, tidying my book shelves, which meant I had to throw some books away to make room for new ones.  As other bookworms will know, what this really means is to make enough room to stand all my books upright with spines to attention, instead of slotting them in higgledy-piggledly, to lounge languidly about, horizontally, on top of the others.

Ha! I’ve tried this before and I know exactly what happens. I pick up a lounging book and it infects and entrances me, so that a while later I come to and find myself lounging about too, in my armchair, half way through its pages..  You know it’s true.

To be fair, you have to give a book on death row a chance. In order to find those I can safely discard, I’ve decided that a book worth keeping has to have taught me something, ie it’s one of the ‘great’, or it has entertained me, in which case it’s one of the ‘good’. All keepers have to be something I shall read again some day.  

Some people collect books and keep them all, until every room in the house has bulging book shelves. Some lucky ones have a designated room called the library. Wow and gosh. I'd love that. In my blue sky moments, I can see myself in my own library. I'd sit there all day every day reading, with the odd writing stint thrown in, and I'd have a slave robot to make me tea and bring cake. 

It’s not going to happen. My space for books in our house is limited. Each book has to pay its way on to my shelves, though it is hard to restrain myself. I buy books every week (mainly from markets and charity shops) and consequently, the few shelves being full, there are piles of books in almost every room, awaiting judgement day. I'd just love to get them all on to the shelves, just once, all neatly arrayed, if only to facilitate safe hoovering.

Well, I’ve spring cleaned the shelves and this is what I’ve kept.

v     The Dictionaries. The best used of these is the Compact OED, a gift from a friend (thank you, Michael), which you may know comprises two weighty volumes with minute print. It comes in a neat box with a little drawer, in which is a magnifying glass.

v     Books about language.  There’s Fowler’s ‘Modern English Usage’, Gowers’ Plain Words, Partidge on ‘Usage and Abusage’, as well as ‘Eats Shoots and Leaves’ by Lynne Truss and Keith Waterhouse’s ‘English, Our English’. All are wonderful to browse through at odd moments.

v     Historical: These books on British history from the Celts to the Victorians are my treasures and since I’ve used them to write my books, they’re all part of my history too, so I’m not parting with any of them! Also Hobbies and Interests.

Hobbies and Interests
       v Bibles and Theological. I’m a bit on and off as far as official Christian  doctrine is concerned. There’s a sign outside our local church announcing that God’s family meets there on Sundays and I’m welcome to join them.  Why is God's family only in that church? Isn't God's family everybody everywhere? That poster is really off-putting. I am a Christian though, I think. I still adore the words of the liturgy and the music it’s inspired over the centuries. And, for me, no one else has come near to suggesting the best way to live. The Good Samaritan, the Sermon on the Mount, ‘Love one another’, and the hope of an afterlife, ‘my Father’s house has many mansions’.  What can it mean except that there’s good in everybody and a place for everybody in life and afterwards. As you can see, I stumble a bit on this subject, but I can’t deny the certainty inside me that there is more than we know or can know.

v     Humour. I’m certainly not getting rid of anything that’s ever made me laugh.  Alan Bennett’s Diaries, Thelwell’s ‘Three Sheets in the Wind’, Heath Robinson’s cartoons, ‘Just William’, ‘Jeeves and Wooster,’ ‘Blandings’. All wonderful!  

            Books about writing.  For instance, there's  ‘Writing Down the Bones’ by Natalie Goldberg, ‘The Artist’s Way’ by Julia Cameron and Alan Garner’s magnificent ‘The   Voice that Thunders’.  I read these obsessively when I started writing  for publication, thinking there must be some trick , that somewhere in their pages, was the secret of how to be a writer.  Ha!  

      Ah, yes! Look, there’s ‘Mind Readings’ too, an amazing book, a collection of essays, 'Writer’s Journeys Through Mental States', edited by Sara Dunn, Blake Morrison and Michele Roberts. Love that book! 
      None of these books got me published, but they did soothe my troubled mind, so they’re staying!  

v     What else survived the cull? Shakespeare, of course.  I never get tired of his plays. I’m always ready to read them again or see the next performance.

v     POETRY!! That’s writ large because poetry, above all, is for keeps, isn’t it?   

I have all my college Oxford Standard Authors editions of the Romantics, and many more poetry books, from the first one, John Betjeman’s ‘Summoned by Bells’, a 16th birthday present from my parents, to the most recent from Andrew Motion and UA Fanthorpe. Mm, not so recent. Haven’t bought any poetry for a while. Must remedy that as soon as.

v     And so to the fiction shelves, but I’ll tell you about those next time.

Happy spring cleaning and good luck throwing books away!

Pauline Chandler




Wendy H. Jones said…
I admire your courage and fortitude. One day I will emulate you
madwippitt said…
I want one of those slave robots that bring cake. Karen, who I'm staying with - there is a whippet curled beside me as I type - adds that the robot should have a dusting programme, please.
Dennis Hamley said…
As I was reading this, my eyes flicked round my shelves performing a parallel activity, all the more urgent because I'm now doing a necessary cull to take to the Oxfam shop. I find choosing the books to be condemned is really quite upsetting. Do I still need Critical Approaches to Literature by David Daiches (1956) complete with my own faded and bemused pencil annotations?
Well, I may do one day. How should I know?
Karen's right, MW, a dusting robot would be awfully useful. Dennis, you have to keep anything you've annotated. That's essential.
JO said…
Brave woman, able to go further than talking about sorting out the bookshelves and actually does it!
Thanks,Jo. It's a long tough job...:)
Lydia Bennet said…
sometimes the best way to do this is to move to a much smaller house! Drastic I know...

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