My Nerdish ‘Book of Books’

Recent thoughts of belatedly backing up blog content have led to my pondering nostalgically about the books I have read over the past few years. To keep track, I have set up a bibliography within the Landing Tales pages although I am not very good at keeping it up. As they say, it seemed a good idea at the time. I borrow regularly from the library (actually from two county councils!) and I have discovered that I can access a list of borrowings for the last six months or so (such is the benefit of online services). I am sure that a certain amount of books fall by the wayside, but these information sources documents my recent reading quite well.

Book List

So many books…

But let me take you back to the dark time, before the internet acquired a window into my reading soul. Once upon a time, in 1993 to be precise I embarked on a mission to record every book that I read, whether owned or borrowed. I don’t recall why I thought it was a good idea to keep this information, and even now I struggle to think of a convincing reason for faithfully noting each and every book read. I did keep an authors’ book during my schooldays (inspired by something my mum suggested) in which I jotted down authors I had read. Sadly, that notebook is no longer extant, so now I have only book jottings of a more recent vintage.

Sometime before 1993, I began writing down authors’ names, in a sort of homage to my schooldays ritual,  and the listing of the year’s books came later. It all sounds very book nerdish and perhaps it was (confession: it still is). Then, it has taken me a long time fully to accept that I will never read all of the books in the world. If I can see exactly what I have read, then I feel that there’s hope for the as yet unread books. I am still planning to get though as many as possible however, which is probably where the idea of nerdish-ly writing down my reading habits for posterity first started.Ring Binder Cover

The ‘Book of Books’ is not in reality a book at all, but a mini ring binder with A-Z dividers that I acquired second-hand. A previous owner’s inscription on the inside front cover dates the binder to 1943 and it originally cost 11/6. I assume that the dividers were originally included, but it had no paper when I bought it. I cut sheets of A4 paper to the right size (not particularly neatly, I might add). I haven’t added any names to the A-Z list of ‘authors wot I have read’ for a long time, so this part is a tad out of date. Mind you, now that I have dusted off the book I am feeling an almost irresistible urge to fill in the authorial gaps.

Inside Cover

A second-hand bargain

But returning to 1993, I jotted down every book read for the whole year, also marking with a letter ‘N’ where a writer was new to me. This exercise has all of the hallmarks of a New Year’s resolution that despite my best efforts, managed to stay the course. In fact, I kept up my records in the old binder for several more years (even unto the next century), despite curtailing reading for pleasure while I studied for my degree, and later had a baby. That first recorded year I read thirty books (including fourteen new authors), which may not be a large tally by some standards, but seemed reasonable enough to me. The totals varied from year to year and I used to feel compelled to note if the book was a re-read so the record was true.

Looking back over the books listed makes me want to settle into a protracted period of re-reads, such is the lure of nostalgia. I may however, have to settle for a mere couple of such indulgences so that I can continue with the pressing needs of the un-read. I am also reminded that despite reading the first three volumes of Dorothy Dunnett’s Niccolò series in 1993, I still have not completed the series…maybe this will be the year to do it. Most of the books still linger in my memory, though a couple have faded to the extent that I can’t remember a plot outline. I wonder how many would stand the test of re-reading after twenty years? Clearly PG Wodehouse is a stayer, as is also Helen Zenna Smith’s Not So Quiet and I think there would be much still to enjoy in the Victorian Tales of Mystery and Detection. And that’s only the start of the book…

Reading though the lists creates all sorts of pictures in my head, of words and images; covers and pages; and scenes and people, both on the pages and in real life. What I am looking at is my lived life though the prism of my reading life, so my list is a fascinating resource to have to hand. A good reason to keep on adding to it perhaps? In recent years I have moved on to a new record book, but more of that another time.

Meanwhile, I would love to know if anyone else does a similar thing, and if so, where do you keep your list?

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Lymond and Niccolò: Dorothy Dunnett

Niccolo set

The House of Niccolo

I was inspired to take down my Dorothy Dunnett books when I read Susan Condon’s recent blog post about re-reading. Dunnett (1923-2001) has written two brilliant historical series, one set in the sixteenth century, the Francis Crawford of Lymond series (1961-1975) and the House of Niccolò series (1986-2000), which takes place roughly a century earlier. In between times, she has also written the Johnson Johnson series of mystery novels and the book that Dunnett considers her masterpiece, King Hereafter (1982).

A school friend, who gave me a copy of Checkmate (paperback 1976) for my birthday one year, unintentionally began my subsequent relationship with Dunnett’s books. My friend Julie bought me the book, knowing that I liked historical fiction, yet not realising that it was the final part of the Lymond series. I did actually read Checkmate before, rather perversely, going back to the beginning with The Game of Kings (1961). I gradually built up the rest of the Lymond saga, acquiring a couple as I recall from a second-hand bookshop in Cardiff.

But here I have to make the shameful confession that I never actually (for various complicated reasons) finished reading the Niccolò series. The last two volumes, Caprice and Rondo and Gemini languish unread on my shelves to this very hour. I have long promised myself a truly mammoth Niccolò binge; ideally this would mean returning to the beginning and starting all over again. I think however, for present practical purposes I will have to content myself merely with backtracking as far as To Lie with Lions and going on from there. Technically these books do not come under the remit of the Landing blog, as they live in our bedroom, but I may give myself dispensation on that point (after all all’s fair in love and reading). And it would be wonderful to return to that world for a summer break from the twenty-first century.

Dunnett Society Logo

Dorothy Dunnett Logo

Because of mentioning my idea of returning to them this summer, I discovered via Twitter that a Dorothy Dunnett Society exists which publishes a newsletter called Whispering Gallery for members. The society is actually a registered charity under Scottish law, founded in 2001 by Dorothy Dunnett. The society aims to promote interest and research into the periods she wrote about and to support the cataloguing and preservation of her papers and research materials, which Dunnett bequeathed to the National Library of Scotland:
“•advance the education of the public concerning the history,  politics, culture and religion of the 11th, 15th and 16th centuries by promoting the study of and research into such subjects generally and into such subjects particularly as they relate to the works of Dorothy Dunnett, and to disseminate to the public the results of such research.
 •foster the appreciation and recognition of the literary works of Dorothy Dunnett.
 •ensure that the manuscripts, letters, reference materials and research papers of Dorothy Dunnett are preserved and are accessible.”

It is incredible to realise just how many Dunnett fans are out there. To finish up with here is a a testimonial from a Dorothy fan. I came across this short clip about Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond series on YouTube, which was recorded in a bookstore in the States. The interviewee, Anna Kaufman, also discusses another Dorothy, the crime writer Dorothy L Sayers, whom I may well feature on the Landing in the future. There is also an excellent interview with Dorothy Dunnett on the Society’s website, recorded in 1989 for Off the Page.

Now, I must just go and plan the summer’s reading. What will you be reading (or re-reading) this summer?

Video credit: Uploaded to YouTube 24 March 2010

Anna Kaufman, Diesel Bookstore, Brentwood

Logo: taken from the Dorothy Dunnett site

Photo: from Amazon (for technical reasons: camera not charged!)

On final, final note I have come across The Idle Woman’s Literary blog who is also a great Dorothy Dunnett fan if you want to read up a bit. But watch out for unintended spoilers.