The forgotten bookshelf: my life flashed before me


Yesterday, I had a surreal experience. While dragging myself round a typical Saturday’s chores, I was waiting for the tumble dryer to complete a 10 minute towel softening stint, when my eye was caught by an adjacent bookshelf. My tumble dryer is located in a cupboard on the upstairs landing – a multi-purpose storage area, home to a mini Chinese laundry, innumerable boxes of family photos, a spare uncomfortable futon for the foolhardy who’ve imbibed one too many, and loads of books gathered over the years, and shelved in no particular order.  Or are they? I was taken aback, and taken back through the years by an apparently random shelf of books which seemed to encapsulate the key periods and interests of my lifetime.

Heidi by Joanna Spyri – the mountains in summer, the wildflowers, the alpine hut, sleeping on a bed of straw.  It was a far cry from a life in a Dundee suburb, one of my very first loves and prompted a detour to visit  Heidi-land while in Switzerland a few years ago.

Sunset Song by Lewis Grassic Gibbon – a school reader, and the first novel to touch an invisible place where roots, primeval attachment and a burgeoning sense of identity lay. One of the few books I have returned to several times over the years.

Across the Great Divide  by Jim Wilkie – a history of professional football in Dundee, evoking memories of pride, excitement and quality time spent at Dens Park with my late father every second Saturday from age 10 to 18.

Everything Elvis by Helen Clutton – the book of facts I could probably have written myself such was my appetite for all things Elvis from the days of Blue Hawaii onwards!  Very useful on quiz nights. The Existence of God by John Hick – one of the first recommended reads in my metaphysics class.  Sometimes I wish I had pursued a degree in Philosophy. However, picking up the book yesterday I am bound to conclude that my brain must have been much fresher and active at age 18!  It looks like a real challenge now.

Collected Poems by W H Auden – his own selection, and my copy dated 1969, bearing not my name by a certain WM, first boyfriend at University. I haven’t picked up the book for many a year, and I haven’t seen the boy for much longer. I wonder if he has worn as well as the poems have.

The Papers of Tony Veitch by William McIlvanney – Jack Laidlaw visits the deathbed of an alcoholic vagrant Eck Adamson who provides a cryptic last message which helps solve the murder of a gangland thug and the disappearance of a student. In the process, Laidlaw uncovers widespread corruption.  My first lesson in never saying never.  I didn’t think I liked thrillers and murders until I tried this one forty years ago! I still sometimes think I don’t and have only recently found and enjoyed the books of Val McDermid.

The Kingdom by Robert Lacey – written in 1981, some five years before I went to live in Saudi Arabia, examines the history, society, politics, and oil-based economics of that country and its role and influence in today’s world.  It was an eye-opener and a valuable eduction. I see now that he published another book on the Kingdom in 2009.  My next buy.

Sin by Josephine Hart – the master of sparse prose where every single word counts. I was captivated when I read it followed by Damage, and Oblivion in the 1990s.

And lastly – 101 Best Card Games by Alfred Sheinwold.  We’ve always played cards in our family.  By gaslight in a freezing holiday cottage in the 1950s, out of doors  Christmas Day 2002 in sunny Florida, every summer for years when the grandparents visited to see the children.  Playing solitaire on the Kindle just doesn’t compare. I’ve read many books since I last picked up any of the afore-mentioned. Maybe one day I’ll see the next 20 years of my life in books on a bookshelf.

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