Recently I’ve had an idea for a new series of blog posts and today is the first one. Welcome to “What’s on my bookshelf?”
I’m going to photograph and talk about individual bookshelves around my home. I’m already stretching that plan with this first post as the books I am going to tell you about are spread over several shelves, in fact an entire bookcase. But here we go.
When I was a little girl every other Thursday evening we went to the library. I looked forward to it all week. In those days – before the library was renovated in the 1980’s, it had two very separate sides. If you went straight in from the door you entered the children’s section, if you turned right and went past the circulation desk, it was the adult section and that was strictly forbidden territory. Or at least I felt it was so.
In “my” room (for I felt very possessive about the library) there were the low picture book bins with a little table and chairs, then shelves with juvenile non-fiction books, (I soon learned to trove those for my special interest research into important things like secret code breaking and nature crafts skills) to the right of that were the shelves of juvenile fiction novels. It was there I truly discovered my own world of adventures. I fell deeply in love with the stories of girls who were brave and solved mysteries.
I worked my way though those books over the space of a few years. It was a different time and I was a mostly obedient girl so I never really ventured into the adult section into which my parents disappeared. But at some point I did bravely step around the corner, past the card catalogue and started to scan the A – C fiction shelves. I think I expected the librarian to tell me I was too young and not allowed, but she never did. As I worked along that first section I was too short to see the very top few shelves but luckily it was along the very bottom row I discovered a shelf filled with a single author. It was a treasure trove of Agatha Christie. The memory of exactly where those books were, and how I knelt on the ground and marveled at how many titles there were is clear in my mind. I made a pact with myself that I would read them all. In fact it was not even close to the entire Christie back list, but I had no idea at the time how prolific she was. I was allowed to try out one or two. I wish I could remember which ones I read first but I really believe I started with Miss Marple, maybe the librarian gently nudged me that way.
I’m not sure that in the jump from Nancy Drew to Miss Marple I completely understood all that was going on in the stories. Christie’s plots are a bit convoluted for a pre-teen, but I loved a good mystery, even if there was a disappointing lack of secret passages.
Over the years I regularly picked up paperback copies of my lovely Agatha at auctions, yard sales and second hand shops, and before long I had amassed a good collection. I did move on to read other writers, discovered the joys of a historical romance, lived for an entire summer in James Herriot’s Yorkshire, and methodically worked my way through the fiction alphabet.
I miss that library so much. It had alcoves of books on tall dark wood shelves that felt like little rooms, and a squeaky floor so you knew if someone was sneaking up behind you. I loved it with the kind of deep satisfaction that you don’t often find in life today. I’m sure it was in those stacks I determined my life goal of bookshelves in every room of my house. While I’m happy to report this is an achieved goal, I have drawn the line at the bathrooms, but only because the damp from the shower is horrible for the paper.
So these are my Agatha shelves. I have plans to re home them on to a proper book-case one day, but for now it s more important to keep them together. Is it sad that I take so much care to shelve them chronologically?
In truth I eventually worked in that very library – sadly after it was renovated – and a former librarian has to have systems.
I feel like Agatha was my jumping off point for adult fiction and is still a comfort read to this day. I loved that she wrote so many different things, short stories, plays, romance novels, different detectives (Tommy and Tuppence!) In my 20’s I was thrilled to get to see a production of The Mousetrap in Toronto.
Slowly I learned more about Agatha, the woman. The unanswered questions around her brief disappearance, her happy marriage in later life to Max Mallowen an archaeologist. and their travels to the Middle East which became a new set of locations for her novels. I briefly dreamed of a career in archaeology. I read her biographies and even fiction about her life and of course I avidly watched all TV productions of any of her stories. There is so much to admire about her and so many ways to enjoy her stories.
In the 1960’s and 70’s Fontana Books published a series of her novels in paperback with cover illustrations by an American artist, Tom Adams. The surreal and often macabre paintings sometimes give clues to the plots. I have quite an extensive collection of those.
More recently my daughter gave me a graphic novel edition of Halloween Party. It does cover the high points of the story but misses some of the nuance.
I have tried to cull the doubles from my collection and keep it to one shelf unit, but I suspect I will still feel a thrill when I see her name below the little blue Fontana symbol as I eagerly check to see if it is one I have. I do spend a lot of time in bookshops and Goodwill.
Her plots may be dated, and many other writers have imitated her detectives so that even when reading the originals they can seem like a parody of themselves, but she rightly deserves the title of the Queen of Crime.
Many of you may not be able to understand my …obsession with collecting books – it certainly doesn’t stop with Christie – but those who share this book fever will get it entirely.
Until next time happy reading.