Books Taking Over The House

I’ve just inserted a tall narrow bookcase by the fire, the only place I could find to put another bookcase. When the sweep next comes, I expect he’ll tell me it’s a fire hazard, but it’s a risk I have to take.

 The books are taking over the house. Sometimes I do a clean out, and manage to sort out a small pile I think I won’t read again, and then a few months or even a year later, I go to find one, to look something up, or check a fact, and realise it ‘s gone with the wind and kick myself.

It’s such a little cottage that we haven’t got a special room for books. There’s nothing I love more than a room wall to wall with books. But here I have to slip them in between windows, the odd mirror and tall bits of furniture. I can’t bear to let go my collection of green and white china in the white dresser, so that’s book space gone, and we need the two big French armoires for storage, so that’s another two blocks of wall gone. There are windows everywhere to let in the views of the sea and the surrounding trees, so I have no quarrel with them. But there’s less room for bookcases.

 So we have books in the sitting room, books in the bedroom, books in the hall, books in my husband’s study, and books in the garage, books in piles on the round table in the middle of the room, books in piles on the bottom shelf of side tables and the coffee table. The new one inserted by the fireplace has absorbed all the piles of books heaped by the fire, and on the old grey painted bench, and on the stool by the French doors. There’s no more room for expansion, and we face the grim choice of buying no more books – unthinkable – or having piles all over the place again.

Other people manage to have tidy homes, and I sometimes wonder what it would be like to have clear empty surfaces, and no clutter of books, magazines, articles torn out from the newspaper, recipes, things to keep for the grand-children, jars of posies,  collections of tiny treasures, boxes, bits of silver, magnifying glass, candle snuffer, photo frames and the rest.

But books rule. Some I’ve carted round the world for years, like the old leather-bound Complete Works of Shakespeare, with an introduction by famous Victorian actor Henry Irving. The end papers are marbled in black and gold and it’s printed on rice paper with an unfaded gilt edging. I picked it up at the Petersfield market in 1958. A Prayer Book printed in 1745, the year of Bonnie Prince Charlie’ s rising, found on the book stall at Salisbury market in 1963, sits next to Shakespeare. One of the most awe-inspiring things about this book is that at the back of it some mathematical genius calculated back in 1745, all the dates of Easter up to the year 2000, which must have seemed like an impossible date to people in those times. Easter is calculated from what are known as the golden numbers, and involve various other arcane computations to do with the full moon on or after various dates, and taking into account the Gregorian calendar. None of which makes any sense to this mathematically challenged person, whose top mark in most exams was eight out of a hundred.

Lined up with these two venerable treasures is the Oxford Book of English Prose, given to me in 1954 as a prize for reading the lessons at school assembly – my only prize, so rather treasured! With these grand old men of my library I keep all my favourite books, which include the poetry of TS Eliot and John Betjeman, Alan Garner’s exquisite children’s book ‘Tom Fobble’s Day,’ The Oxford Book of Mystical Poetry, seven year old Daisy Ashford’s hilarious classic, ‘The Young Visitors’, Michelangelo’s Sonnets and of course, the Blessed Jane!

Other shelves house my collection of American Civil War books, all the books on Wellington and Waterloo, Arctic and Antarctic books, all Captain Cook’s journeys, including his diaries and the diaries of Captain Bligh of ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’s’. Diaries are one of my favourite things, and I have shelves of them, men and women’s, some famous people, others interesting because they live like you and me. I love savouring their lives and the most mundane details that add up to each day lived. ‘Breakfast at eight, then went for a walk,’ sort of thing, gives me such pleasure, experiencing the routines and blessed ordinariness of such daily programmes.

 There’s innocent Dorothy Wordsworth’s journals of her country walks, dyspeptic James Lees-Milne’s quirky portraits of the owners of stately homes he had to inspect for the National Trust, poor old Victor Klemperer worrying about his cat as the Nazis closed in, swashbuckling Samuel Pepys and British MP Alan Clark revelling in their philandering, honest John Evelyn, back in 1654, getting a hammer out of his carriage to bash the boulders at Stonehenge and failing to make a dent… and dear Sam Grant’s memoirs written as he was dying of throat cancer and trying to make provision for his family. Samuel Clemens, known as Mark Twain, was his publisher.

Christopher Morley, American writer, wrote that when you get a new book, you get a new life –“love and friendship and humour and ships at sea at night -… all heaven and earth in a book.” So the piles of books will have to grow, because like the ones I’ve mentioned, they are precious companions, old friends, indispensable comforters and utterly irreplaceable.  Beds R Us, says the ad for the furniture shop on TV. Books R Us in this house, and as an anonymous wit once said, book lovers never go to bed alone!

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

Seasonal vegetables are the best way to live cheaply, and in winter, leeks are one of my favourites. This fragrant dish is simply hardboiled eggs and leeks. For each person allow one to two eggs, and a couple of leeks depending on size.

Trim and clean the leeks and steam them while you boil the eggs. Make a vinaigrette sauce, two thirds good olive oil to one third lemon juice or white wine vinegar. Whisk them together with a little Dijon mustard, salt and freshly ground black pepper. Add capers and black olives to the vinaigrette.  If you don’t have any olives, you can manage without, but capers are a must. Peel and halve the eggs, place them on top of the leeks and pour the vinaigrette over them. Eat with good, hot crusty rolls. Quick, cheap and easy.

Food for Thought

A prayer written by Jane Austen, 1775 – 1817, peerless writer and daughter, sister and aunt of Anglican clergymen :

Incline us O God! to think humbly of ourselves, to be saved only in the examination of our own conduct, to consider our fellow creatures with kindness, and to judge of all they say and do with the charity which we would desire from them ourselves.

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34 Comments

Filed under books, cookery/recipes, food, great days, history, jane austen, life/style, literature, philosophy, shakespeare, spiritual, The Sound of Water, Thoughts on writing and life

34 responses to “Books Taking Over The House

  1. Love it! We shelved an entire wall of one room when we moved in. People come in and instantly feel at home in that room. Books are special 🙂

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  2. Thanks – gosh do you live on your computer like I ‘ve started to do! Just love your squirrel… yes, life without books is unthinkable isn’t it…
    Don’t know how to do those neat little squiggles people sign off with – take it as read!

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  3. yes what we do for our books! But it is a nice compensating thought Valerie, thank you for it – that a booklover never goes to bed alone! I’m re-reading Lila by Robert Pirsig at the moment, and remembering the progress of my thoughts way back in 1992 when I first got it while studying philosophy at Auckland uni. He helped my thinking enormously, though not my marks. Their loss…

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  4. ThanK you Peter! Love your comments. Robert Pirsig sounds like one of the gifts that I missed – will ovioously have to catch up on him

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  5. I had a library room in my home for 30 years. Then we moved and in this home it wasn’t possible. Rather than box and store books I donated hundreds to Mutual Ground. (An organization that helps battered women). Others I gave to the public library for others to enjoy. I kept those special books that I couldn’t bear to part with. The nice thing about that is it gave me an excuse to collect more books. However, I am more selective regarding my purchases. Since getting a kindle I can collect all the books my heart desires without worrying about shelf space. and I can always visit old favorites at the library.

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  6. EVetyone has their book stories, don’t they!!!

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  7. i too love books. my earliest collection by self starts when i was around7 years old an dthe book was a bday gift to me called”the little red hen ” which i have dutifully colored with my kindergarten color and written my name in many pages incase of theft. i also have my grandfathers old edition of cheiros and my grandmoms old book published in 1932.they are SACRED.

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  8. Wow. It’s good to hear I’m not the only one!

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  9. Okay I could sooo live in your house, I love books. All of ’em, and what’s inside and out. Most genre’s also. And Jane Austen, a huge fan, huge! I’m thinking from your commenters that you can take solace in the fact that you are not certainly not alone. And good veggies too! Excellent Post. Three cheers for you!

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  10. Penny, thank you for your lovely comments, I so enjoy your writings that it’s really good to know we share some of the same passions!

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  11. Liked your blog too. Wonder how all this will change soon with e books. Keep writing!

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  12. Great to hear from you, I’ve been so enjoying reading your witty delicious blogs…

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  13. Pat

    Brilliant Post Valerie. I feel I know you.
    New to blogging, but not new to books, I share your obsession and your post inspired me to write my own story of bookishness on my blog today. I have referenced yours at the top. Hope you don’t mind.

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  14. Pat, thank you so much for your enthusiam, and also for giving me a pat on the back in your blog – no wonder I’ve had so many extra readers today! I tried to say thank you on your book blog, but don’t think I made it – couldn’t find the right button to press. Great to connect, and look forward to following you.

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  15. Amen. A home without books is like a body without a soul. I have so much trouble getting rid of books, unless I give them away, because they all feel like my children.

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  16. Great to hear from you. Booklovers are a lovely community of souls too!

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  17. We lived over 20 years in a country cabin that had only one room with a door–the bathroom. We created the other rooms with bookshelf walls. It worked so well. When we moved back to town I struggled to cram the books into a much larger house and had to give away so many. Heartbreaking.

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  18. Thanks for stopping off at my blog – I love that idea of one big room, and dividing it with bookshelves… one more ambition there may not be time to accomplish!

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  19. Valerie, with the age of technology and influx of e-this and e-that, it is so good to hear stories that maintain the charm of the old-fashioned home ‘library’ – the library being whereever there is room to shelve or stack the books:>) Anyone coming into the house will just have to take it as it is! Nothing like the feel of a real book in hand with its own tattered bookmark that has stood its ground in so many places when no alternative remained other than setting it aside sometimes only for a short amount of time. Even a trip to the bathroom often warrants going with book in hand! Can’t take the computer and leary about the Kindle around water. . .Just a touch of humor on a Monday morning! Hope you have a glorious day! BTW When is open house so all of us bookworms can peruse your collection? My, oh, my what history you have in your midst. . .

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  20. Great to hear from you. Wouldn’t it be great if the world was small enough for like minded bloggers to meet? I’d love to have open house with all the booklovers!
    I’m afraid Kindle is a bridge too far for me, as I said to my daughter the other day, I’m just an old bat who can’t handle technology!
    To which she replied, well you’re an old bat who blogs!
    Thank you for taking the time to talk!

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  21. angchronicles

    It’s great to be among book loving friends. I have a Kindle, that’s two years old, one of the first, and I have only used it once. Valerie, thanks for confirming my piles of books as I have downsized from a house of 21 years to a two bedroom apartment. And what I miss most….space for my books.

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  22. Your thing on books was good!

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  23. What a fabulous collection of books you have, Valerie! I, too, have books in most rooms of my house but have donated many that I just couldn’t find room for. I purchased a Kindle a year ago, thinking I could save space and money. I use it a bit, but some books just need to be seen and touched, and hopefully it will always be that way.

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  24. Hello Shirley,
    Good to hear from you… yes, I hope Kindle never ousts what feels like real books! Homes without books would seem so bare. A kindle just doesn’t furnish the place, does it!

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  25. I love this post, for somewhat selfish reasons…you remind me of me…I looove my books and yes I suffer from ‘piles’ too (the book variety of course). I often hand mine on but on the proviso that they are returned. Kindle has been a space saver but I still by real books, and they are like little friends, new worlds you have entered. Thanks for making me feel ‘normal’

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  26. I love books, also! I also love words. I even love to sing words and I like to write poetry. (Although, I haven’t for a long time.)

    Great post!

    Linda
    http://coloradofarmlife.wordpress.com
    http://deltacountyhistoricalsociety.wordpress.com

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  27. Hi Valerie. I am with you in my thoughts as I haven’t a clue what you can do 🙂

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  28. Hello Ralph,
    Thanks for popping up here! And thanks for applying your great mind to the problem! And yes, it is really insoluble… I just learn to live with the joyful clutter of too many books!

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