shelf by shelf : from Murdoch to O’Farrell

As I do shelf by shelf, I am finding that the monoculture shelves are kind of boring to write about. Not because I find the authors boring, be silly to own so many if I felt that way, but it just isn’t that interesting when there aren’t a lot of different authors on the shelves. But it also makes me worry what I will do if I keep collecting the full catalog of authors I like. I could end up with full shelves but few authors. But two things come to mind:

1. Just because I love an author doesn’t mean I have to keep every book by her/him if I don’t love every title. I’ve already done this with Margaret Atwood. I’ve read Alias Grace two times and I found it just as boring the second time as I did the first, so I gave it away. I also sent her most recent novel on its way as well. I wasn’t bored by it, but I did find it a let done after the brilliant MaddAddam books. I’m also going to do this with Timothy Findley (not to pick on another Canadian). I went through a period fifteen years ago where I wanted to read and own everything by him. But one of these days I am going to start re-reading that collection and if I don’t love it, it goes. I have a feeling Murdoch is headed for the same treatment, but more on that below.

2. As I have been plowing my way through that stack of 26 hardcover novels that I purchased in the last year, I have been ruthless about what I keep. I’m starting to settle more and more on the idea that I am only going to keep books that I think I may want to re-read. I realize that some of my urge to keep certain books is because I like the physical proof that I read them, or I want imaginary guests in my library to think I have wide ranging tastes, or read important books, or something silly that. I don’t need to prove any of those things. So these days, my approach that, aside from my TBR, I’m only keeping books I think I will want to re-read. It’s really quite liberating.

Much more interesting if you click on image to make it bigger.
Much more interesting if you click on image to make it bigger.


SHELF EIGHTEEN: 27 books, 14 unread, 13 read, 48% completed

Murdoch, Iris – The Black Prince
Murdoch, Iris – The Bell (completed)
Murdoch, Iris – The Sand Castle (completed)
Murdoch, Iris – The Italian Girl (completed)
Murdoch, Iris – The Sacred and Profane Love Machine (completed)
Murdoch, Iris – An Unofficial Rose
Murdoch, Iris – The Book and the Brotherhood
Murdoch, Iris – The Philosopher’s Pupil (completed)
Murdoch, Iris – The Green Knight
Murdoch, Iris – Under the Net (completed)
Murdoch, Iris – A Word Child (completed)
Murdoch, Iris – The Good Apprentice
Murdoch, Iris – The Red and the Green
Murdoch, Iris – Nuns and Soldiers (completed)
That is quite a load of Murdoch. I am a little surprised I’ve read that many of them. I thought there were more of them I hadn’t gotten to yet. And on top of these I have read an additional eight that I have read that I don’t own. Wow, that makes 16 Murdoch novels that I have read. And that, brings me back to my discussion above about monculture shelves. Since I took this photo a few months ago, I re-read The Italian Girl and I must say I wasn’t a fan. I’ve already put it on the donate pile. And it’s made me rethink how I feel about her work in general. Even without re-reading I know I will keep a few of these and I know that I will probably want to re-read The Sea, The Sea, and A Fairly Honourable Defeat for sure and I don’t even own them. And I have yet to read (or own) A Severed Head, which I know some people swear by. There is still much I love about Murdoch, so regardless of how many I get rid of, I’m pretty sure I will always have  more than a few of her novels on my shelves. 

I would be remiss if I did not say something about Under the Net, Murdoch’s first novel. I say it is my favorite Murdoch, but it was also my first, so it has been some years since I read it. I’m very curious to see what I would think of it now and to be reminded of the young Murdoch. However, the real story here is that on my first date with my husband I mentioned how much I loved Under the Net. A week later, after returning to DC from a business trip, John gave me that  very nice first edition–on our third date no less. Any wonder why I kept him?

Naipaul, V.S. – The Mimic Men
Naipaul, V.S. – In a Free State (completed)
Despite some of the truly stupid things Naipaul has said in recent years, I still like his novels. I’ve read his more famous titles The Enigma of Arrival, A Bend in the River, and A House for Mr. Biswas. And those I think I would re-read. Hmm, something to buy.

Nichols, Beverly – A Thatched Roof
Nichols, Beverly – Laughter on the Stairs
Nichols, Beverly – Merry Hall
Nichols, Beverly – Down the Garden Path
I hope I like these more than I liked Evensong. These are house and garden related so even I hate them I probably can’t get rid of them until John has read them. Funnily, when I was a kid I checked out Down the Garden Path from the library just because it had a few illustrations.

Norris, Frank – The Octopus
I bought this doorstop just because I like these Penguin editions. We will see if I ever read it.

O’Brien, Kate – Mary Lavelle
O’Brien, Kate – The Land of Spices

O’Farrell, Maggie – Instructions for a Heatwave (completed)
O’Farrell, Maggie – After You’d Gone (completed)
O’Farrell, Maggie – The Hand That First Held Mine (completed)
O’Farrell, Maggie – The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox (completed)
Nothing really to say here is that I love O’Farrell. The Hand that First Held Mine is the only advanced copy I have ever accepted from a publisher. (I’m pretty sure that is true.) She is an author I will never hesitate to buy.

NEXT TIME: Pym to Persephone (don’t ask, it gets v. complicated)


11 thoughts on “shelf by shelf : from Murdoch to O’Farrell

  1. Barbara M. September 25, 2016 / 11:14 pm

    Have you read “McTeague” by Frank Norris? It’s a great story with the most memorable ending.


  2. Karen K. September 26, 2016 / 2:07 am

    Anyone who gives you a first edition by an author you love is worth keeping, full stop. And I know what you mean about Persephones, they are complicated to shelve. I wouldn’t even attempt to post photos of my bookshelves because they make sense only to me, but at least they look nice!


  3. Liz Dexter September 26, 2016 / 3:15 am

    Wow – a first of Under the Net – that’s a keeper. It took my husband 10 years of knowing me to try an IM, “To see what the fuss is all about” – the fuss being my fuss, obvs. He enjoyed The Sea, The Sea but disliked The Book and the Brotherhood – lucky we’d been together about 12 years by then, or … There was a dramatisation of A Severed Head done by the BBC a year or two ago which was very good, so it might be worth seeing if you can track that down.

    I’ve had the policy of only keeping books I’m going to re-read for a good few years now and it’s liberating of both mind and bookshelf space. I periodically have a Month of Re-reading (tho haven’t done that for a while) and one thing I do then is pick an author I’m not sure I will re-read and try one to see if they get to stay or not. I’ve had mixed results there. Every now and again I go through the shelves and go, “Really? Keeping that?” but I started with my TBR as that’s immediately easier to do.

    My paperback and small collection of first ed Iris Murdochs are not going anywhere, however.


  4. Travellin'Penguin September 26, 2016 / 4:56 am

    I am going to Hay on Wye today and I know there will be a thousand books at least I will want to take home. So I have decided I will photograph them and get them from the library if I still want to read them when I get home. If they are old and beautiful I wont let myself actuaally buy them unless I find them in Australia. That will be my book game. However if I find first publisshed Penguins at a low price I dont have yet, well, that is a different story. We’ll see how I go. It is rainy today so a good day to spend on book shops. Wish me luck.


  5. Karen September 26, 2016 / 10:50 am

    I am reading with interest all posts/comments on Iris Murdoch – ummh, I have not read anything by her, but have really been meaning to!! Can someone suggest which title should be my first Murdoch?


    • Thomas September 26, 2016 / 1:30 pm

      I think Under the Net is a good place to start, but as I say it has been quite a while since I read it.


      • Karen September 26, 2016 / 10:12 pm

        thanks Thomas!


  6. Deb September 26, 2016 / 4:55 pm

    Oh yeah–hang on to that man!

    I love Murdoch (and loathe how her passive-aggressive husband turned the tragedy of her Alzheimer’s into a cottage industry). Of the Murdochs you have but haven’t read, I’d recommend THE BLACK PRINCE (unreliable narrator nonpareil) or THE BOOK AND THE BROTHERHOOD. You don’t have one of my absolute favorite Murdochs, THE TIME OF THE ANGELS, a deliciously fraught novel set in a fog-shrouded London vicarage. I also second the recommendation of A SEVERED HEAD, which takes adulterous liaisons to a whole new level.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Susan in TX September 27, 2016 / 9:44 pm

    With Nichols, you could start in the middle of the trilogy with A Thatched Roof. Nichols says it is not a sequel to Down the Garden Path, but Garden relates all the outside work, setting up the garden, etc., and Roof moves you indoors. I’ll be very surprised if you don’t enjoy these. Especially Roof, and the third one, A Village in a Valley, where we get even more interaction with the neighbors. I love these books. They never fail to make me chuckle. I’ve still got the 3rd one in the Merry Hall series unread on my shelf – I’ve been waiting to savor it, but it won’t be there much longer. In addition to the housekeeping details, there is an occasional scene when Nichols plays the piano and talks about his music – another detail that I think you will really appreciate.
    I’ve never read O’Farrell, and after listening to Episode 160 and hearing you mention her, my interest was piqued and then serendipitously, we are to her shelf. Is there a title I should start with, or does it matter?
    Happy reading to you!


  8. Jackie September 29, 2016 / 7:22 am

    A WORD CHILD is my favourite and most enjoyable Murdoch.


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