My Mother’s Books

About a month ago one of my brothers delivered about 20 boxes and bags of books from my mother’s house. I had volunteered to sort them so others could focus on the rest of her stuff. She died at the end of last year at the grand age of 94. That’s about 90 years of reading. And therefore I received an awful lot of books.

The love of reading

I will always be grateful to my mother for her encouragement to read. Other parents, I have been told, would chide their children when they had their head in a book, saying things like, ‘stop wasting time’, or ‘go and do something useful instead of lounging around’. My mother was the opposite. If you went to her saying in that dragging way, ‘I’m boor-ed’ her first suggestion was always to find a book.

Among the bags and boxes are all the Alison Utterly stories of Fuzzipeg, Squirrel, naughty Hare and Little Grey Rabbit. Who could forget what RSVP meant at the bottom of an invitation? (Rat Shan’t Visit Party, which is always reassuring to find out, don’t you think?)

When I got older she made good suggestions to me: two I particularly appreciated, were Katherine by Anya Seaton (1954) and Desirée by Annemarie Selinko (1951). Both featured strong women in historical settings, exercising power and judgement behind strong men, in this case John of Gaunt and Napoleon Bonaparte. 

There were books all over the house where I grew up. I remember that both my parents had piles on their beside tables. And they were members of the Reprint Society, also known as the World Book Club. This brought hardback copies of recent fiction to people by post. The club thrived in the 1950s when it had 200,000 members. It disappeared as I had known it in 1966. There are probably more than 30 from that source that she kept to the end of her life.

A disappointment

I had hoped that a rather nicely bound book, published in 1946 by Vita Sackville-West called The Eagle and the Dove  would turn out to be a novel, but it was not to be. It turned out to be a comparison of two Sts Teresas, annotated by my Great Aunt Helen Davies. I had visited her one or twice in the 1960s or 70s, and have a lovely collection of French verse from her. 

Many surprises and delights

It was in January (the link to the post is here) that I mentioned I wanted to read At the Back of the North Wind by George MacDonald (1871). I had been given a copy by my Grandfather on my 9thbirthday. But I have no idea where my copy went. How pleased I was to come across an edition given to my mother by her grandmother in 1937 when she would have been 13. Now I have her copy to re-read.

There is an early edition of The Secret Garden, which I reviewed in January. You can find the link here. It also has illustrations by Charles Robinson.

I like to see old penguin editions and have inherited many of these. It’s a bit of a décor cliché, but I like having them around.

Problems Problems

So what am I going to do with all these books? Before they arrived I thought that it would be simple. I would keep the few I wanted and give the rest to charity.

But now they are here, what are the criteria by which I decide? Books are so much more than the text, or even the physical arrangement of text, paper, dust cover, font, white space etc etc. Books carry so much significance.

Another treasure: Tennyson’s poems

Take the leather bound copy of a prize for my Grandfather for his holiday project in 1912. Or the copies of books I should have read but haven’t yet, like Kim by Rudyard Kipling. Or those inscribed by people who I loved. Or those that are beautiful objects, especially those with leather bindings. No, actually, you can’t take them. 

And those which I shall pass on? I have to decide whether they go to Oxfam, as we have a good local Oxfam bookshop. Or to the local second hand shop which I also like to support.

And there are all the books I cannot decide what to do with, the don’t knows.

And where to keep them? Even when I am sorting them they need more space than the footprint of the bags and boxes they arrived in, for I have to find other bags or boxes while I go through them. And then I have to sit down and gaze at the inscription or begin reading, or just remember…

So my house has uneven piles of books, and some in bags for disposal and the boxes that still remain. And I wonder, how many copies of Shirley  or Keats’s poems do you need? Fewer than I have in my house at the moment. 

Books my mother gave me. A lifetime of exploring before they get passed on again. And in tribute, here again is a picture of my mother reading The Lighthouse Keeper’s Lunch by Ronda Armitage to my grandson, taken about 7 years ago. All together now: CLEAR OFF, YOU VARMINTS!


Filed under Books, Books for children, poetry, Reading

12 Responses to My Mother’s Books

  1. Monty

    A good job well done. Thank you. Lovely photo of our mother reading with her great grandson.

  2. Marianne Coleman

    Caroline what a lovely problem to have. All those treasures and memories.

    I just don’t envy you having to decide where to store the ones you want and what to do with the rest.

    • Caroline

      There are heaps and piles and a few crates around my house, everywhere. I can’t remember what the piles represent any more. But, yes, there are some treasures and pleasures in this windfall.

      And my arms are growing (I imagine) with every bag I take to the charity shop.

      Caroline x

  3. Bonnie

    I’m sure i’d find it impossible to get rid of any of them! All the luck and love x

    • Caroline

      Thanks for this comment Bonnie. I am obviously more ruthless than you, or just realistic about the space I have.
      I like the idea of the books going on their own journeys now, hopefully bought by people who want to read them, who find them interesting.
      C xxx

  4. Jennifer

    What a wonderful way to remember your mother. I’m glad you’re getting so many lovely memories from this undertaking.

    • Caroline

      Thanks Jennifer. I am finding some unexpected pleasures, and see this as the continuation of her encouragement to read.
      C xx

  5. Lordy, what a difficult task! I find it hard enough to deal with my own books, let alone a close family member. There will be so many treasures in there that spark memories, and I would think you need to take your time over this. If you rush, you may regret. Happy browsing…

    • Caroline

      Good advice, except I live in a small house, and had already used up all my book shelves. But there are treasures and pleasures and I may never quite finish the task, because arranging, rearranging and acquiring and disposing of books goes on forever!
      Thanks for this comment!

  6. Lynda Haddock

    So many echoes for me here. My husband and I are currently sorting out the books in our house, following some building work and I’ve rediscovered my childhood copies of books like Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan. Just holding one of them in my hands sparks a hundred memories.
    But what do you do when you find you have two copies of a favourite book? Whose do you give away?

    • Caroline

      Hi Lynda. Those memories!
      BTW my suggestion when faced with a choice of which is to say both or neither. In this case, I wold say don’t give either away.
      I’m seriously considering setting up a box of books that I don’t want but can’t let go of. It would go in my attic or cellar if I had either of those!
      Look forward to seeing your house improvements sometime soon. C xx

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