As an ‘only child’, I spent a lot of time reading. I learned to read fluently at the age of four and from that age I just loved books. I must have read the full collection of Ladybird books, everything from history to wildlife; I loved ‘Wind in the Willows’ and I re-read it only last month. The Heidi Stories were a delight and I also re-read those a couple of months ago, with equal delight. I moved on to Agatha Christie, Georges Simeon, Gavin Maxwell and Henry Williamson until I got more serious and became a passionate follower of Thomas Hardy. I could read in the quiet of my bedroom or in front of the television. I never got into Enid Blyton or Arthur Ransome; I think it is difficult to relate to books about brothers and sisters or a group of close friends when you are an ‘only child’.
My mother was a reader; she was a member of the public library but she was also a member of a Book Club. She never got rid of a book; they were displayed on book shelves, piled high. She had very catholic tastes in books, everything from autobiographies to the novels of Compton MacKenzie, from biographies of people like Cary Grant to the battles of Napoleon Bonaparte, from the novels of Frances Parkinson Keyes to those of Howard Spring (people I’ve never read). Over the years, I followed her habit of keeping any books that I bought and my bookshelves began to bulge. When she died, I inherited all my mother’s books. I had no idea what to do with them. I just merged them with my own. They looked very good on purpose-built bookshelves. I have moved all the books several times, the last time 14 years ago.
But the world changes and I have to change with it. I haven’t stopped reading, in fact, I read more than ever but I read on a Kindle. I never thought that I would change from ‘real’ books to a ‘device’ but I did and I love it. It makes going on holiday so much simpler, just one book rather than taking seven or eight. I haven’t bought a novel in about five years. I’ve managed to re-read all the classics like ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and ‘Jane Eyre’. The best thing about a Kindle is that if you drop off to sleep at night, while reading, you don’t lose your page.
I bought this tea towel last year at the Bodleian Library in Oxford. I just love it because it reminds me of my love of reading. There are some great books on these bookshelves, all about girls, nothing I would have read. The reality is that I am planning on moving home, at some point, in the near future and I have to make a decision about whether I am going to move the books once more. I don’t read them, I don’t use them, they gather dust and they take up a lot of space so about six months ago I decided to pass them on. But where to? Some have gone to friends like Fee and Jane, some have been sold via places like MusicMagpie and WeBuyBooks, a few have gone to local charity shops but I knew that some would not be easy to sell. Then about a month ago, I visited Blickling Hall, a National Trust property, that has a serious secondhand bookshop which raises funds for Blickling Hall. When I say ‘serious’ I mean a proper secondhand bookshop; it has a huge range of books in a very large area, not just a few bookshelves. That’s it. All my books will go there and hopefully will raise some money for the National Trust. My mother would like that, so today that’s what I did, took most of my books, that I no longer want, to Blickling Hall. That was nearly 500 books in about 20 boxes. Once completed, I felt as though a weight has been lifted off my shoulders, nothing to worry about. It’s not that I have got rid of all my books. I’ve still got the ‘coffee table’ books, some classic books, books that have been given to me as presents, books that have been inscribed and all the books about Edward VIII who was my mother’s favourite hero, someone she thought had been misunderstood. And, of course, my travel books.
This tea towel will always remind me of my original collection of books and the journey to Blickling Hall to empty my bookshelves in order that other people can enjoy them.