I was looking at the definition of the ratings given by This Kid Reviews Books. Four stars is “a very good book I will keep in my library” and five stars is “you have to read this book!”. It made me think of the books I have kept in my library forever. Some of them I don’t like but they were school prizes with one of those stick on plates in them. They don’t actually make it onto the shelf with all the other books these days. But some have been carried around from bedroom to bedsit, from flat to house and on again. They sit in pride of place on my bookshelf.
It’s funny to look at them. Some I haven’t read for years. Recently I’ve read a lot of the children’s (MG) ones again, to remind myself of what I liked and how it was written. Elyne Mitchell’s The Silver Brumby series. Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty. Ruby Ferguson’s Jill and her ponies series. Joseph E Chipperfield’s animal stories – Dark Fury, Greatheart, and others. Classics like Wind in the Willows, Winnie the Pooh. The Flower Fairies.
I seemed to jump straight from beloved animal stories to scifi. The other books I kept from teenage years are all scifi, including Lord of the Rings in three volumes of hardback, carefully covered with clear plastic to preserve the dust covers. Roger Zelazny’s Amber series probably dates from college. When I read it now it seems very dated. Poul Anderson’s The Trouble Twisters doesn’t date. I don’t know why I have that one, maybe I read all the rest in the library. I certainly read John Brunner’s Traveler in Black stories – my next story is titled in homage to him. Where did my Arthur C Clarke, Fred Pohl, Robert Silverberg, Robert Heinlein and Asimov books go? Well, my brother seems to have the Asimovs – along with the James Bonds!
What I don’t have is any books that English Lit students take for granted. I didn’t read any classical literature after age 14 when I did my school lit exams (Macbeth, Lord of the Flies, Strife, Memoirs of a Fox-hunting Man, and something that must have been a poetry anthology). I’m beginning to think I ought to backtrack, but there are so many good new books, why go back? To learn, of course. To give things your own assessment. I read War and Peace when the BBC did its 100 Greatest Books event some years ago. I enjoyed it but left out the essays on war.
What I have read is a lot of other things. I was commuting through the Harry Potter years and read two books a week, plus a daily free paper (and doing the Sudoku of course!). I’ve read Harry in two languages, His Dark Materials, all the Sharp books (my niece has those), and the Aubrey and Maturin books (I have all those). I had an earlier phase of horse stories including all the Dick Francis books and others by people like John Welcome. Then all the thriller and spy writers, Alistair McLean, John Le Carre, Martin Cruz Smith. A few seafaring ones by authors I’ve forgotten (but they included Claire Francis). I also read a lot of science books, including the history of science and technology. The Lunar Men is fascinating. There was a brilliant one on glass called the Glass Bathyscape. I also had a lot of background reading for other science programmes I took to keep up to date. So if I didn’t read classics, I read a heck of a lot of other things. Readibility is so important to science books – not dumbing down. But it doesn’t count as creative writing, let alone literature.
But I do have Pride and Prejudice on my shelf. That was definitely worth carrying round for years!
What’s on your shelf?