Monday, 11 February 2019

Book Piles

Last year nearly rocked me off my axis, for a time.  Two joyful weddings outweighed all else, and for a time, even books could not compete for my attention.

A particularly shocking experience occurred when I visited Blickling National Trust, in Norfolk.

The exhibition was intended to focus on differing attitudes to books, and boy, did it jolt my perspective.
Inside Blickling Library (original volumes safely behind cases)

The curators had collected from pulping depots thousands of unwanted books.  People like me were bending down to examine individual items more closely, to give them the attention we thought was due.  Some visitors tried to rescue one or two, offering to take them home, disorientated and disgusted by the symbolism,  books that were not valued.  Most of the books were glued or fixed in the display, which meant that rescue was impossible.

My attitude hitherto has always been that if a book exists, it should be given respect.  Copyright libraries, like the British Library and the great university libraries of Oxford and Cambridge, perpetuate and reinforce this view, since they demand of all publishers a copy of each new book to store for posterity.  In some cases this means building miles of underground tunnels, such is the pace of new book production.

The idea that not all of these books are of equal value is self-evident, but to just toss them to a pulping plant was visceral.

One book I managed to pick up had been someone's Sunday School prize for attendance and good behaviour, inscribed as such.  It contained wholesome and instructive nature watercolours. I recognized the genre from my 50's childhood.

For a time, I reviewed the contents of my bookshelves with different eyes.  I have piles and piles of unread items, acquired from book sales and charity shops because they chime with interests old and new, or complete a collection on a particular theme or by a particular author.

Suddenly I thought -"Why am I hoarding these books that I may never read, that no-one else wanted?  Will I ever get around to reading them, and what is the purpose of all this time spent ticking items off my to-read list?"

For a time, my existence seemed purposeless.

Then, a new year began, a new cycle of aims and lists.  With two daughters married, and waiting for the longed for next step, I mark time by going back to my old habits.


  1. I do hope this year continues to see you in good health. We couldn't possibly rescue all the books that we'd like and that lovely little Japanese lady who is taking the 'de-cluttering' world by storm advocates that we should only really keep 30 books at any one time, to simplify things. She's obviously not as old as us with our decades of collecting books!!I hope the longed-for next step isn't too long-a-coming for you. Grandkids really are the ultimate impetus for keeping on going (though I fear for their futures when I hear a top military bloke on radio this morning warning of Russia's increasing anger and aggressiveness and giving no hope that as a small island, we could ever defend ourselves from their military might). Sometimes feel like digging an underground tunnel just for my family, never mind the books! Anyhoot, I was gifted the new Barbara Kingsolver 'Unsheltered' for my birthday and it's deliciously rivetting, Kingsolver doing what she does best. Have a good week my friend.

  2. Thank you so much, Nana. Yes, Barbara Kingsolver excellent, and new book "Unsheltered" particularly full of apt things for our times.