9 Jan 2013

My mother's bookshelves

These are the shelves of my mum's library. As usual, I'm sorry about the quality of the photos. One day we'll replace our camera.

It's an eclectic collection of books, this one I grew up with. There's Enid Blyton and The Pilgrim's Progress and Charlie Brown and the KJB and Chaim Potok and 1915 and Bill Bryson and the Anne series and Nancy Drew. You'll find Paul Gallico and a collection of Tuckfields Tea Bird-Card Albums. There are books written in broad Scots and Nigel Tranter historical novels. Steel Rudd and Ion Idriess, and shelves of Lee Child and Daphne Du Maurier and Jeffrey Archer and Amy Le Feuvre and Sydney Sheldon. Isabella Beeton's huge Household Management is there along with Stephanie Alexander's more recent tome. There's a shelf of old books with beautiful leather bindings. Dickens and poetry and theology feature here. There are even books written and bound by me and my siblings.

Most of the friends of my childhood live on these shelves - Trixie and Caddie Woodlawn and Betsy and The Secret Seven. My brother's Hardy Boys books are there as well. I never read those. I wonder why not.

Not all of the books are old. My parents, of course went on reading after I moved out of home to go to university at 18, and there are lots of books that I haven't read. I love selecting a few new titles whenever I'm visiting.

These are the shelves of a family of readers. They're the shelves of my family, and you'll learn a lot about us as you look them over. You'll discover that we read widely about a huge variety of subjects. You'll notice that most are good books but that a certain amount of twaddle was read and enjoyed as well. We were not book snobs. As you browse you'll learn that some of us like gardening and cooking; others are fond of history and literature; still others like crime and church history. There's even a set of encyclopedias on motor mechanics!

I feel quite nostalgic when I peruse my parents' bookshelves. I remember nice times in my youth, and discover lost treasures. Sometimes I remember what I was doing when I read a particular novel. Sometimes I can remember how I felt. I wonder why it is that we think so kindly of these old books from childhood. Why is it that when I rediscover an old friend I want to introduce it to my daughter?

As I look over these shelves with a seeing eye I have a renewed appreciation for the quality of writing read by my parents and selected by them for us to read. My father was not an educated man, but he certainly used books to educate himself, and he was a very knowledgeable and wise man. I realise that their broad reading has contributed, in part, to make my family the interesting group of knowledgeable individuals they have become. I am impressed by the number of AO titles that appear there. Many more than I first thought. There have been books on every year list that I find on these shelves, and when I flick through a few pages of a title I discover that this, too, is a story that I read as a child.

All bookshelves tell a story. I love my Auntie Mary's bookshelf, for example. She and I are kindred spirits when it comes to books, I think, although she is more discerning. There is less twaddle on her shelves.

My own shelves at home scream 'homeschooler'. They tell you that we love Japan and gardens and interior design and cooking and Reformed theology. There is a shelf of books about books. That says something. It is impossible to hide our passion for Australian children's literature.

I absolutely adore my bookshelves, but the bookshelves in these pictures are special because of the memories they contain between the books. Memories of my dad. Memories of past holidays. Memories of my misspent youth. These books tell the story of my family, and it is hard to do better than that.

Do you have a bookshelf that contains this type of memories?  Is it the one in your home, or is it somewhere else?  Does it still exist, or is it now but a memory itself?  Do tell me about your favourite shelves.


  1. I love looking through bookcases as it says a lot about the person/family. I am about to move into a new study/library space (as we are now empty-nesters) and I plan to go through all our books and categorise them into topic and get rid of any I don't want. Then I can start add to those areas I am most interested in eg photography and art!!

    PS I noticed Elli in the first photo - I read that as a teenager and still have the copy. I loved it.

  2. This post made me cry. (Oh, it is not your fault or anything... in a different sense it also gave me joy and hope).

  3. We are really focusing on getting a good little living book library! I didn't grow up with a family that read a lot nor an amazing library. As a reader, I want to make sure my kiddos have the opprotunity to have such great book memories.

    These book shelves look fabulous!

  4. My favourite shelves are the ones filled with the books I had as a child. I think this is purely because I so love to share things from my childhood with my girls. Sadly, whilst re-reading some of them outloud to them, I have found that I am not so enamoured with them anymore. Miss 10 was so appalled and outraged at Enid Blyton's portrayal of girls in The Adventurous Four (i.e. girls can't do this nor that simply because they were girls) that she ended up having me in fits of laughter.

  5. When I was kid, all of our "literature" books (translation: the books the "big kids" HAD to read for school) were on shelves over the washing machine. I figured out a way to climb up to get them and I often at least started reading them while sitting on the machine because I simply couldn't wait to climb down first. Those makeshift shelves of books will always remain my favorite bookshelf ever. :)


I'd love you to leave me a message. Tell me what you like - and what you don't. Just remember that this is what we do in our family - it doesn't have to be what you do in yours...