This week’s video over on my YouTube channel is me pondering about what I’ve rather grandly called my “bookish inheritance”. You can watch the video here or read the text version below (or do both because shiny).
Last week I put out a video I’d filmed whilst visiting my parents at the weekend. They recently moved into a new house and were putting together their bookshelves – what better thing to do than ‘help’ them by pointing cameras at the process. But whilst we were heaving stacks of books out of boxes and on to the shelves I, inevitably, kept getting distracted by the books themselves.
Other people’s books are fascinating – they can tell us a lot about their interests, enthusiasms, and background. Even the placement of the books can be telling – an interesting juxtaposition may be random or it may throw light onto a never before seen connection between certain titles. My mother, for instance, has many books on textile arts (spinning, knitting, crochet, etc) and they’re sitting happily with The Subversive Stitch: Embroidery and the Making of the Feminine by Rozsika Palmer, and A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. May your knitting ever strike fear in the hearts of your enemies!
(If you’ve never read Tale of Two Cities and encountered the terrifying tricoteuse Madame Defarge then this might not make any sense – read it!)
I actually started reading The Subversive Stitch and it looks AMAZING. I’m fascinated by the idea of subversive crafts and the blogs Thread for Thought and Kate Davies Designs have been distracting me a lot since then.
But to return to the shelves of my parents – another thing that became clear to me was how much their shelves were a reflection of my own reading history. There was the copy of The Hobbit that was read to me as my bedtime story, the classics I tentatively picked up and adored, the compendium of Orwell novels I read just because it was there and promptly had mind blown, those first science fiction books that opened a door into a new world. I read widely and with an open mind because I had a wide selection of things to read from and no judgement put on me about what I chose. And so Greek myths were intermingled with Sweet Valley Twins, pony stories with the history of the Coelacanth. As well as leaving me with a preponderance of strange facts that can be brought out at (in)opportune moments this wide variety of subjects and stories has left me with an unshakeable belief that just about everything is really quite interesting and wouldn’t it be nice to try and understand more of it? Quite the inheritance.
All those books were my first steps into a reading journey that has shaped my life and will continue to do so. In a way those bookshelves reflect me as much as they do my parents and it makes me look assessingly at my own shelves as I write this. Certainly there are already echoes of my parents’ shelves in my own – classics rub shoulders with crime thrillers, cookbooks live with art and history in perfectly muddled harmony. I inherited my dad’s love of The Saint books by Leslie Charteris, and of classic science fiction, though not of Tolkien. My mum’s degree in English literature inspired my love of the subject and we share many of the same theory books and classics as our interests overlapped. What will the books I have surrounded myself with pass on to my children (if/when I have any), how might they be shaped by them, which reading experiences do I want to pass on to the future?
So what was your literary inheritance and what would you like to pass on to the future? And it also got me thinking about the books that aren’t on my shelves. Not because I haven’t bought them or didn’t like them but because they’re electronic. How are we passing on our ebooks – do you keep a digital family library as well as or instead of a physical one?