Sunday, October 1, 2006

Other People's Books

Gentleman in his Library
byJulian Barrow

What's on your shelves?

By Jay Parini

"...In Scotland my roommate for a time was an English fellow, and his father, who was a novelist, owned a lovely secluded Georgian house in the countryside of Surrey. I spent one Christmas at that house and returned many times in later years. Apart from the good company, I was attracted by the glass-enclosed bookcases in the sitting room. That collection represents, for me, a fine example of an English gentleman's library from an earlier era, when there was ample time and space to read and think. The library contained the Sussex Edition of Rudyard Kipling (in 36 volumes), the Vailima Edition of Robert Louis Stevenson (26 volumes), and the novels of John Galsworthy, W. Somerset Maugham, and Hugh Walpole, among others.

In such a library, one also always found a copy of Palgrave's Golden Treasury of English verse and poems by Robert Bridges, John Masefield, and Algernon Swinburne. Those were collections redolent of Edwardian England, when every room had a fireplace, and the smell of fires permeated the books themselves. As the British have always been world travelers (and world conquerors, alas), one usually also found an array of travel books a genre in which the British excelled..." Note: Mr. Parini's regret that the British conquered the world, is regrettably typical of today's Englishmen...

"...Another novelist I once visited was Anthony Powell, who actually wrote a novel called Books Do Furnish a Room. Indeed, they did so in his case. He lived deep in the English countryside, in Somerset, in an old stone manor on many green acres. We had tea in his sitting room, which had floor-to-ceiling shelves on every wall. There were first editions by his good friend Evelyn Waugh, and countless volumes culled from his decades as a reviewer. "I can't give a book up, if it's a book that meant something to me," he said. "I always imagine I'll go back to it one day. I rarely do, but the intention is there, and I get a warm feeling among my books." I wished I could have spent days wandering in that house, as he had books in nearly every room..."