shelf by shelf : from Collins to Dickens

shelf (2)I was sitting in my library a few nights ago finishing up Chinelo Okparanta’s novel Under the Udala Trees and was pleased to note how the room now thoroughly smells like a lovely used book store. Thankfully no must or mildew, just the smell of old paper and bindings. I first noticed it a few months ago, but I don’t know if it was air movement in the room or what, but every so often as I read the smell would waft up into my nose. I’m guessing most of you are book sniffers, some perhaps more than others. But there are some out there who would mock us.

I used to belong to a book club where there was no set book each month. Everyone would just bring in what they had read recently and then lend the book to others in the room who were interested. Over time some books would get read by most in the group and the discussion about it would flow from month to month. One night at book club someone pointed out how I was opening books and sniffing them. I was a little surprised that they were surprised by this behavior. How can one not sniff a book? There are maybe four or five different basic book smells. Sometimes it’s the paper, sometimes the ink, some smell older and warmer, some smell newer and sharper. Like a bouquet of mixed flowers, the disparate smells don’t compete, but rather come together to create something even better.

So, for this installment of shelf by shelf I am going to tell you what each book smells like. Just kidding, I’m not. That would be crazy.

Don't forget to click it. Plenty of room to zoom.
Don’t forget to click it. Plenty of room to zoom.

SHELF SEVEN: 33 books, 21 unread, 12 read, 36% completed

Collins, Wilkie – Iolani; or, Tahiti as it was
This seems to be a relatively new edition of a Collins manuscript that I’m not sure  was published in his lifetime. It will be interesting to see if it stands up to his other work.

Crace, Jim – Being Dead
I only know Crace from his snarky takes on fiction that he has recorded for the BBC. At first I didn’t quite understand what he was doing in those snarky takes, but am now mildly amused by them.

Craik, Dinah – John Halifax, Gentleman

Cresswell, Helen – Ordinary Jack (completed)
I first bought and read this book when I was in the 4th grade. I had been given a gift certificate for a small (and short-lived) bookstore in my hometown. For some reason I was drawn to this book by British author Helen Cresswell. Jack’s family is a little eccentric and the book is filled with details of British life that the young me didn’t understand but was somehow still fascinated by. When I came across a copy of it recently, I couldn’t pass it by. I am excited to read it again and see what the adult Anglophile in me thinks of it now.

Crompton, Richmal – Linden Rise (completed)
Crompton, Richmal – Frost at Morning
Crompton, Richmal – Leadon Hill
Crompton, Richmal – Matty and the Dearingroydes (completed)
Fell in love with Family Roundabout by Crompton and have been very interested to read more of her work. When Claire (formerly Paperback Reader) visited DC she brought me three of these. I think I had already stumbled across one of them at some book sale.

Cronin, A.J. – The Northern Light
Cronin, A.J. – The Judas Tree
Cronin, A.J. – Pocketful of Rye
Cronin, A.J. – A Song of Sixpence (completed)
Cronin, A.J. – The Green Years
Not great literature, but Cronin provides good, solid, readable novels, often about doctors.

Cunningham, Michael – Flesh and Blood (completed)
Cunningham, Michael – Specimen Days (completed)
Cunningham, Michael – Land’s End 
Cunningham, Michael – By Nightfall (completed)
I really like Cunningham’s work but found his most recent novel, The Snow Queen, annoying enough that I didn’t finish it.

Cusk, Rachel – The Bradshaw Variations
Cusk, Rachel – The Lucky Ones
Cusk, Rachel – Outline (completed)
I picked up Outline in my attempt to read the shortlist for the Bailey’s Prize last year. It turned out to be the one I enjoyed most and one of my favorite books of the year.

Davies, Robertson – The Lyre of Orpheus
Davies, Robertson – The Papers of Samuel Marchbanks
I went through a Davies phase in the late 1990s with the Deptford Trilogy.

Davis, L.J. – A Meaningful Life

Delafield, E.M. – Diary of a Provincial Lady (completed)
Delafield, E.M. – The Provincial Lady in London (completed)
Delafield, E.M. – The Provincial Lady in America (completed)

Dermout, Maria – The Ten Thousand Things

Dickens, Monica – Joy and Josephine
Dickens, Monica – The Happy Prisoner (completed)
Dickens, Monica – Kate and Emma
Dickens, Monica – The Landlord’s Daughter 
Dickens, Monica – No More Meadows 
Dickens, Monica – Cobbler’s Dream
Dickens, Monica – The Listeners

NEXT TIME: Dinesen to Findley

19 thoughts on “shelf by shelf : from Collins to Dickens

  1. sharkell April 28, 2016 / 5:07 pm

    Really enjoying your library posts, thank you


  2. Anthony Catanzariti April 28, 2016 / 6:25 pm

    Just wanted to let you know how much I’m enjoying your commentary. I read the Deptford trilogy about 20 years ago and absolutely loved it – although there’s 20, 000 hours I won’t be getting back. I’ve purchased some of his other books but have yet to commit!
    I’m currently reading People of the Book. Have you read it or any Geraldine Brooks? It’s not as wonderful as Year of Wonders (which I really did think was wonderful!) but it’s intermittently engaging.


    • Thomas May 2, 2016 / 8:57 am

      I feel like I have read a Geraldine Brooks. Something about the Civil War I think.


  3. Travellin'Penguin April 29, 2016 / 7:21 am

    Haha I know what you mean smelling the books. I always smell mine, except for those on the kindle, as I also smell flowers and my dog’s neck. Love all of that. 🐶🐕

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Gina Thomas (@ginafordthomas) April 29, 2016 / 11:00 am

    I’ve had a tumblr for several years called Breathing Books inspired by quotes of favorite authors like Harper Lee and Anais Nin saying that reading and writing are as necessary as breathing. The practice of smelling books is also highly encouraged:

    “He loved a book because it was a book; he loved its odor, its form, its title. What he loved in a manuscript was its old illegible date, the bizarre and strange Gothic characters, the heavy gilding which loaded its drawings. It was its pages covered with dust — dust of which he breathed the sweet and tender perfume with delight.” ~~Gustave Flaubert

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Mary Grover April 29, 2016 / 3:52 pm

    I think that Jim Crace is not the author of the “snarky pieces.” I’ve seen the “Digested Read” on the Guardian book page and the author is John Crace.


    • Thomas May 2, 2016 / 8:58 am

      Very funny. Thanks for the correction.


  6. Simon T April 30, 2016 / 9:05 am

    So many authors I love! Although did you not keep The Hours? Or did you never own it? I read Land’s End last year and really enjoyed that, and have a couple more of his on the shelf.


    • Thomas May 2, 2016 / 8:59 am

      The Hours must have been a library book.


  7. Susan in TX April 30, 2016 / 11:58 am

    So many on this shelf that have been hovering at the edge of my radar, but I haven’t tried yet (Crompton, Cronin, Cunningham). I’ve read most of the Provincial Lady books — all but the Russian one, which is on my TBR shelf. I had to take a break from her because she started getting on my nerves a little bit, and at that point was no longer humorous to me. I kept wanting to tell her to “grow up and be responsible.” The only M. Dickens I’ve read is Mariana (I’m assuming that is missing because you keep your Persephones on a different shelf? Same with Family Roundabout?)
    And, of course, I’m with you on the book sniffing.


    • Simon T April 30, 2016 / 5:58 pm

      If it helps, Susan, the Provincial Lady in Russia isn’t the Provincial Lady at all – it’s a later, very misleading, retitling of Straw Without Bricks, where EMD visits Soviet Russia.


      • Thomas May 2, 2016 / 9:01 am

        Is that the same as the I visited the Soviets book that she wrote and will pop up later in my non-fiction section?


      • Simon T May 3, 2016 / 6:01 pm

        Yep! It seems to have been published under dozens of titles.


    • Thomas May 2, 2016 / 9:00 am

      Good deduction on the whereabouts of Mariana and Family Roundabout.


  8. Liz Dexter May 2, 2016 / 4:41 pm

    I love the Helen Cresswell books but they are SO English it’s unbelievable. And what didn’t you like about Cunningham’s The Snow Queen? I wasn’t so enamoured of By Nightfall, did you see my recent review of that one?


  9. biggardenblog May 3, 2016 / 4:44 pm

    OMG there really are other people who sniff books! New books especially. Or the creamy fine paper of a really good old book … but definitely not browning cheap paperback books! There’s a certain smell – in fact I mentioned this very thing today to Denise! – that always invokes the memory of being in the school library, probably 15yrs old, pulling out The Inland Waterways of England by LTC Rolt. Yes, that specific. If I give it a moment or two I’ll probably come up with the Dewey number on the back … 386.5. … … OMG, just checked that on Google, and that’s right! So, from here, I’ll know a seriously bookish person by the way they pick up and handle an unfamiliar book, and whether they try and sneak in a subtle sniff!


  10. biggardenblog May 3, 2016 / 4:51 pm

    Trying to think what is familiar about the AJ Cronin, and turns out this is another blast from the past: a TV show popular in the 1960s (I would have been under 10, certainly) called Dr Finlay’s Casebook. (My Mum loved this series, but I suspect mostly to watch an especially good-looking actor!) The series was based on ‘The Country Doctor’, and Cronin actually wrote the screenplay 1962-1964. Possibly a case of the TV series being better than the book!


  11. Ange May 5, 2016 / 5:50 am

    I used to read AJ Cronin when I was a teenager in the 80’s. They were old fashioned even then, but I found them highly readable. The Citadel was one of his better known novels, as was Hatter’s Castle. However I loved a small novel he wrote called Lady with Carnations. I have more recently read The Judas Tree, which I found a bit dull. I’m pleased to see these AJ Cronin’s on your shelf. Robertson Davies and Michael Cunningham are also favourites for me.


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