"And all the sweet serenity of books"

Monday, 19 October 2009

picture from here

Longfellow clearly spent no time in my library. Yes, you did just read 'my library.' And your sigh at my pretension is blown away by the absolute joy with which I wrote it. The Colonel and I have spent several lifetimes each buying, collecting and (just me, no truck with morals) liberating books. So we finally had the chance to transform a whole room here at Monavis Manor into a real library. We ripped out carpet and wallpaper and a man came and covered every single wall, including above the door, with proper shelves. He even put in the little brass rails so we could adjust them. Time has mercifully blotted out the memory of painting every single shelf. Twice. Still, all done eventually.

Vive la difference! The Colonel wants everything practical and Dewey-indexed. I envisage a riotous cornucopia - my mother's leather-bound Dickens next to my well-thumbed Rosamond Lehmann, interspersed with interesting chapatti presses from Kerala and stunning b&w photos. He wins. A to-scale map is drawn. It details the categories of book and where each shall go. Some make sense (tall shelves down low for his collection of oversized books of tanks and uniforms; sixties German erotica high above the door) and some don't (biographies, alphabetically in a category alone. I argue that it makes sense to keep the authors close to their works. My opinion is ignored).

We schedule a weekend when the bots are at Grannie's. We are up very early. Books are unpacked, reading is forbidden. Organisation reigns. Boxes empty, books are divided, filed, piled. The shelves are slowly filled, genres are observed. It is apparent I live with a man obsessed with military speeches and tactical warfare. The Colonel expresses mild surprise at the number of obscure early twentieth century female authors I have collected. He suggests that many of them needed a good man. That is not exactly the word he uses. I take umbrage and wreck several perfect piles finding books to prove that Gaston Palewski killed off Nancy Mitford by not loving her enough. He argues back about the Free French, toppling several more piles to illustrate that my Francophilia is misguided at best, dangerous and unpatriotic at worst.

I start a new category of non-British authors, many of whose countries I also feel allegiance to, having lived in them. I declare them out of bounds. I make a sandwich just for me and eat it. In my absence, TC moves Military Strategy to the seven shelves we had agreed were for poetry. I fill the designated Former Yugoslavian War Crimes space with Historic Houses of the West Indies. Ha. Feminist tracts and rants on Bad Messages Sent by Victorian Books for Girls lose out to twenty-four volumes of Naval Reminisces from the Napoleonic Period.

Eventually, we declare a truce. All the books find a place. Alphabetisation is mutually, peacefully checked. The chapatti presses are found; photos and bibelots whimsically arranged. We add William Morris sofa, reading lamps and cushions. Over the years, we love the library. We read in it and drink tea. The bots and dogs wreck the sofa springs. Santa leaves things there, we drink cocktails with our friends. Jokes are told and wine is spilled. We need to repaint. My sister gives us beautiful tartan heavy silk curtains. I find the perfect green for the walls. All the books come off the shelves and pile up in the hall while a real decorator deals with the tricky bits. The green walls are a triumph, the curtains provide appropriate luxury and hush. We just have to put back all the books.

 This weekend, I'm headed to Grannie's.


  1. I left for a week three summers ago and returned to a wall of floor to ceiling bookshelves....made the mistake of populating said shelves with books and alas...forgot to paint them. My shelves are prolly 70% populated with the stuff that Col. would love. Can you get him to read Keane?


  2. Nope. Too much huntin' not enough shootin'. And FAR too much moonin' about. Had modest success with some louche continental stuff...

    Oh yes, and Spy cartoons and Vanity Fair caricatures too. You beat me to the post.


  3. Could read this again and again, have such fond memories of days in the library....

    When are you going to send this to the Sunday papers and knock stupid Slummy Mummy off her boring spot?!

  4. Oh you are sweet - come and drink tea in my library again, whoever you are!!

    Sunday papers couldn't afford me - have a serious book habit to fund.


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