There are books in just about every corner of my house. As artefacts, they are connected emotionally to different places and moments and people in my life. For this reason alone, they are treasured.
As my friends and family know, I have a deeply ingrained habit of accumulating books. And once acquired, I can hardly bring myself to part company with any single one of them. This makes keeping the rooms in my house tidy a bit of a challenge. One of the things I love about the in-between period straddling Christmas and New Year is at long last finding even a little time at my disposal, to try to bring some order. The truth is, I’ve spent most of today sorting and rearranging rooms, and starting to tackle my unruly bookshelves. I even managed to enlist the help of some members of a younger generation, to whom I am indebted!
Lots of us enjoy reading those seasonal ‘top ten books that I have read this year’ posts that appear around this time. But this is not one of those posts. Today’s treasure is this: finding books currently sitting on my shelves that are still beckoning to be read! Confession is good for the soul, so I will be honest and admit that a few of these books have been waiting patiently for my attention for quite a while. Some of them are the spoils of my adventures in various bookshops that I have sought out on my travels. Today I decided to lift one or two of them down from the shelf so that I can share their story with you before I set about reading them in coming weeks and months.
The first book reminds me of a special trip this summer to the United States, the first for me since the birth of my daughters in 2001. Highlights included the fulfilment of a long held dream of mine: to visit Wheaton College, Illinois. I enjoyed that opportunity immensely. The trip also took us further south, to attend the fabulous Getty Sing conference in Nashville, Tennessee, which was an unforgettable experience in itself. After the conference, with a day or two to spare, I made a quiet beeline for Landmark Booksellers in Franklin – a veritable treasure trove for any book- lover. I’m looking forward to reading the books that I found there. In this one, Letters from the mountain, the writer Ben Palpant ‘gracefully paints a vision of what it means to enter into one’s creative work as an act of generative obedience – an act that blesses the writer, the work itself, and the world that receives it’.
For our next stop we move continent, for I picked up Poetry Notebook 2006-2014 by Clive James in Skoob in London. A haven for anyone seeking ‘pre-loved’ books, Skoob is one of the most well organised second hand bookshops I’ve visited. In this respect it’s on a par with, if a little smaller than, the wonderful Barter Books in Northumberland which I discovered earlier this year.
In London, my all time favourite bookshop is travel specialist Daunt Books in Marylebone. But in recent years I’ve made a pilgrimage or two to Bloomsbury, tracing writerly steps and finding new territory to explore. These days London Review Bookshop is high on my list, due in part to its tea room in which a delectable lemon drizzle can be paired with Earl Grey Tea.
Back to the particular book in question. I first encountered Clive James as an intriguing figure on television with an Australian accent who made people laugh. But I later learned that his reading journey throughout his life in Cambridge since his student days at Pembroke College was wide ranging and voracious, shaping in turn his own remarkable writing. He wrote about forty books in all. I was given a copy of his Opal Sunset Selected Poems 1958 – 2008 a few years ago at Christmas; I admire his poetry for its concision and high impact. ‘A poem’, he wrote, ‘should make you want to say it even if you don’t understand it: that, indeed, is how you recognize it to be worth the effort of trying to understand’. I have a feeling I will learn a lot when I read his Poetry Notebook.
For our final stop we move north to Bonny Scotland, and specifically to the Isle of Skye. Today’s final piece of treasure was sourced in the lovely Carmina Gadelica bookshop where I spent a leisurely hour one Saturday morning a few summers ago. This purchase was inspired by the Dalriadan roots shared by Western Scotland and my home province of Ulster, a story that I have written about previously And like so many books, even if we shouldn’t judge anything by it all, it did have a very pretty cover!