Posts Tagged ‘Shakespeare’s First Folio’

A tour of my library – part two

August 9, 2019

My collection of literature and literary criticism lives in my study, and includes works of reference I used when I was teaching. I have been gradually slimming this section down in retirement, since I have actually finished with a good many of the books and do not expect to have any further use for them. I still write the occasional study guide, and so the collection does come in useful, although I tend to rely much more on my own teaching notes, most of which I’ve scanned and keep on my laptop. I’m most pleased with a collection of Shakespeare texts I built up over many years: a complete set of thirty-five volumes of the Arden Shakespeare Second Series in hardback editions. This may not mean anything to you, but this series was the gold standard in my time as a student and teacher. However, the gem of my literature collection was a treat to myself of a facsimile of the First Folio: pure book porn (if you’ll allow the expression), I love to sit and turn the pages over and marvel quietly.

The fiction section lives in our sitting room, by and large, and fills two alcoves on either side of the fireplace. For ease of searching it’s divided into two sections, works written before 1900 and works written after that date. The pre-1900 section contains many of the classics you might expect, Austen, Conrad, and also quite a few of the Russians. I have a good number of nice editions, particularly those of the latest incarnation of the Everyman’s Library; these are books that I do like to come back to. The modern section is very eclectic, but – as you might expect – with a bias to Eastern European literature on my part. A good number of our poetry books also find their homes on the top shelves: Milton, Donne and other metaphysicals; the modern poetry I used to teach is in my study.

There’s a small selection of my science fiction in my study. It’s the only section so far where I have begun to apply a new criterion: do I definitely want to keep/ re-read this book? If I’m certain, or there’s enough doubt, then I shall keep the book; otherwise I shall part with it. This means that quite a lot of the science fiction is actually in boxes in the loft, because I have no interest in re-visiting it. One book which I am keeping is a not very well-known American utopian novel from 1887, Looking Backward, by Edward Bellamy, which envisions a socialist America in the year 2000. The premise is contrived, as often in a utopia, but the vision is fascinating. And my copy is a most bizarre example: it’s printed on very cheap paper which has gone seriously brown, and looks exactly like the original British edition of the novel, except that it’s in a semi-glossy paperback cover, which would not have been possible then. This cover would seem to feature the frontispiece portrait of Bellamy from that first edition. There are absolutely no clues that this is a reprint or facsimile, and it certainly does not look like a photographic reproduction. I bought it new in the late 1970s, and there was apparently an edition published then, but I have no clue who published it. Very mysterious…

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Turn the page and look at the pictures…

November 30, 2014

I wrote about books as objects of beauty here a few  weeks ago; doing some tidying up of my shelves, I was reminded of all the books I love to look at, rather than read from cover to cover. I’m sure everyone must have some. I had thought of calling this post ‘book p*rn’ but thought that might give some people the wrong idea…

I’ve always loved atlases; one of my earliest Christmas presents as a child was an atlas, and I’ve never looked back. No contemporary atlas beats The Times Comprehensive Atlas of the World, though it doesn’t balance easily on the knees; I’m onto my second copy, what with the world having changed so much in 1991 and subsequently that I needed a new one for all the place name changes. But I can pore over it for hours, looking at the beauty of placenames, contours, mountains, islands…

I scored a great bargain about twenty years ago when I go a copy of the Daily Telegraph Atlas as published in 1919 – a veritable time machine with an almost unrecognisable Europe and a completely unrecognisable rest of the world. Beautifully produced, it make the Times Atlas look small. Some years ago Taschen, the German publishers, reproduced a large selection of Joan Blaeu’s Atlas Maior of the 1660s, and I couldn’t resist that! You can see the world part way through Western white man’s discovery of it; the engravings are beautiful. the illustrations and decorations – especially in the unknown parts of the world – magnificent. I turn the pages and wonder.

You would expect an ex-English teacher to have something to say about Shakespeare…I treated myself to a reproduction of the First Folio of 1623, and I love to look at my favourite plays and read the speeches in that antique font, the old style ‘s’, the ligatures between ‘c’ and ‘t’. It’s an object of great beauty and fascination, and whenever I’m in London near the British Library I go in to see the real thing, and shivers run down my spine.

I’ve written enough about desert travel in this blog for no-one to be surprised that I have several books of stunning photographs of deserts in various parts of the word. I prefer my deserts without people; I don’t mind close-ups though I think I prefer panoramas, and I’m still amazed at the variety of landscapes, rocks, colours, since the immediate association with the word ‘desert’ is usually ‘sand’.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve begun to explore the world of art more deliberately, and to learn a little. I like exhibitions, when I can get to them, and galleries when I’m on my travels, and books of reproductions when I’m unable to do either. I can gaze in wonder upon Turner’s oil paintings and watercolours happily for hours. I did not realise my luck in seeing my favourite of his, Modern Rome, at an exhibition in Edinburgh before it was snaffled by the bottomless money-pit that is the Getty Museum in the US. And large tomes of Monet, and Kaspar David Friedrich are also on the shelves, and often off them.

There’s something about sitting down and just turning pages, rather than reading, that makes me feel a little guilty, but I comfort myself with the thought that it’s a throwback to my childhood days, when one was allowed to turn over pages and look at pictures…

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