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My father’s library


My father is a big reader. It was his birthday yesterday so I thought I would make him a book-themed present. I bought him a selection of nostalgia books – John Irving, Graham Greene, Edgar Rice Burroughs – ones that he had already read, but might like to read again. It is always dangerous to buy him new books, as they are never quite the right ones, and William has a large pile of library books, and hoards new ones for the apocalypse when libraries and Amazon cease to function.

He read us Arthur Ransome as we were growing up. I always resisted the stories – they were too English; my father loved them too much; the characters had silly names – who calls herself Titty? But I must have grown to love them because they are part of my inner landscape.

I never read any Dick Francis, but William had an endless supply of them. Dick Francis wrote about murder on the race courses, and he published over 40 books. There must have been something compulsive and comforting about them, which kept my father coming back for more. My father is embarrassed about this – when I gave him this picture he said he couldn’t display it on his wall.

I did read his John Irving books, starting with ‘The Cider House Rules’. I  loved ‘Setting free the beers’ and ‘The Water-Method Man’. His books were filled with so many astounding characters and images – men liberating bears and going on motorbike trips, women with their tongues cut out, wrestlers. I read all the Irving titles on the bookshelf as a teen, finishing up with ‘A prayer for Owen Meany.’ I want to re-read them as an adult, to see if I still love them as much.I also read all of his Stephen King. King was way too scary for me. I couldn’t go past a drain for years after reading ‘It’. ‘The Stand’, ‘Carrie’, ‘Cujo’, ‘Christine’ – they all scared the bejesus out of me. But I kept on reading them because the fear – or perhaps the calm, comforting bits in between the fear – was addictive. My dad had lots of ideas about King – he might be a little cliché, but he sure knew how to tell a story. He had been turned down a number of times before he was first published. He had triumphed over the un-believers.

Kurt Vonnegut was another of his favourites, and he insisted that I read ‘Slaughterhouse-five’. I found it perplexing and wonderful. I particularly liked ‘Bluebeard’ and was always taken with Vonnegut’s titles in our bookcase, which were quite inventive and surreal.

My dad had lots of Lawrence Sanders books lying around, which were grizzly and trashy. William has also refused to display this picture in his office. I particularly loved ‘The Eighth Commandment’, about a tall woman from Des Moines who cracked the Greek coin robbery case. This book added to my NYC obsession – it lovingly described the city, from its grotty downtown basement apartments to the incredible wealth of the Upper East Side.

This is just a small window into my parents’ library – they had bookshelves full of books. My mother was an avid reader too, and I read all of her favourites, which tended to be more literary. I’m glad I read my dad’s books though, because they were enormous fun. I don’t really read those kind of books anymore. They’re not lying around, tempting me with their curious, gold-foiled titles. Those books had power, so much so that I had to hide ‘The Exorcist’ in the garage in case the devil seeped out of the newsprint pages and caused my head to spin. I wonder if kids will read their parents’ books when they’re locked inside their kindles.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Paula Green permalink
    03/04/2012 9:51 am

    Marvellous! As a reverse thing, when my daughter turned 18 I gave her a bundle of books that I loved reading at her age. Who knows what she will make of them.

  2. Linda Burgess permalink
    03/04/2012 9:53 am

    He will treasure them Sarah.

  3. 03/04/2012 9:56 am

    The apocalypse will come! It’s wonderful that there are still those who keep this fantastic collections of books, and Kindles can go get stuffed, I much before a good paper bound novel to the electronic monstrosity. I can just about cope with email documents for eiditing sake and that’s just to save the trees.
    I really like the way you set this out, and I just thought that I’d point out that Dick Francis’ books were written alongside his wife and since her death their son has taken over writing them it seems.

  4. 03/04/2012 11:59 am

    I guess we’ll always still be inspired to read books recommended by other readers whose taste intrigues us, no matter the format…but I was thinking about this in relation to Robert Graves the other day – whose name I knew when I was a teenager, because my mother had his books on her shelves. I read her copies, but never bought my own, so my children won’t see them on my shelves (if they look up from their screens) – and so might be less likely to have their curiosity about him piqued. It made me think about the accidents of chance and circumstance that bring readers and writers together; and the various ways writers can get lost to each new generation … in-built obsolescence seems to come in so many forms. Mortality, I suppose, is the brutal short-hand for that….but yes, what a playground parents’ bookshelves can be…what a powerful addiction they can start.

  5. 03/04/2012 3:08 pm

    What a wonderful gift! Now I’ll have to check out Ransome. I’d like to read about a character who calls herself Titty.

  6. 03/04/2012 3:29 pm

    You are such a talent Sarah. Love these illustrations and also your latest METRO page.

  7. 03/04/2012 8:25 pm

    I surrender, I will hang the pictures in my office. But only with your commentaries in order to explain and justify the ones I said were embarrassing. Stephen King can certainly tell a spell bounding story, even if he takes a 1000 pages to do it

  8. 04/04/2012 11:51 am

    I suppose I should be thankful that when you did my author pictures you did my theoretical as opposed to fiction tastes – I would have even more shame issues than william

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