I will let the Long Library speak for itself

The Long Library at Sissinghurst is a delight and a frustration. So beautiful and so chock full of things I want to look at, but none of it is allowed off the shelves and most of it is behind a velvet rope and defies attempts at photographic documentation. Our week in the Priest’s House gave us after-hours access to the gardens, but alas, not to Vita’s study nor the library. And unlike grander, stately homes that have lots of very old books, the books in Vita and Harold’s library are of a vintage that is more interesting to me. It was a really good thing that the books were secured on the shelves with what looked like fishing line because more than once I reached to take a volume off the shelf.

I’m not going to caption any of these photos. I put them up for you to click on and zoom in and explore on your own.

Organizing the cottage library

Prior to leaving home for our trip to Sissinghurst, I read something online about how the library in the Priest’s House where we were staying was full of good things to read. I almost decided to do something really risky and only take one book for the plane with the thought of reading whatever I found in the house when we got there. I thought better of that and ended up taking along four books.  This was probably a good thing as there wasn’t much on the shelves in the cottage that I wanted to read. Mind you, if I had run out of books there were definitely one or two that would have held me over, and maybe even surprised me. But there wasn’t anything enticing enough to make me put down any of the four I brought along with me. (I won’t even remind you of the fact that a 100 meters away at the plant shop near the car park there was a charity bookstall that had plenty that would have interested me.)

When I first saw the shelves, the Reader’s Digest Condensed Books jumped out like a sore thumb and automatically made me think that everything there was crap. It was only through the magic of alphabetization that I realized the situation wasn’t as dire as it seemed. It reminded me of the time at the DC central library when I couldn’t find a particular Trollope among the six or so shelves of his work. But after putting all of his novels in alpha order (and weeding out the Joanna Trollopes), like gorillas emerging from the mist (how’s that for a simile?), I discovered not one, but six, copies of the book I was looking for.

BEFORE: In general, an unattractive mess. Everything scrambled a million ways to Sunday.
It was those Reader’s Digest Condensed Novels at the top that made me assume, in a very visceral way, that everything would be crap. Follow that up with guide books and it seemed like a total bust.
Obviously, if you look closely, there might be one of two things you might enjoy picking up, but my expectations had been way too high for what I would find.
And so it begins. Part of the disappointment is that at least half of these were non-fiction, which can be pretty boring to organize if you aren’t interested in the subject matter. Plus, aside from the Sissinghurst/Vita/Harold angle, there wasn’t a critical mass of any given subject area other than guide books. But I’m not Dewey, and wasn’t about to start decimalizing things.
I had planned on reading this one, but exploring the garden for a week turned out to be a much less passive activity than I anticipated. But I did end up reading two and half of my own.
My interest in this vintage title was only stoked by…
…the inscription inside. Do we think Miles left it here in 1978? Probably not, they weren’t renting the house out then. I wonder where Miles is today?
Could have been a contender.
I love that this was there but since I have read it twice, listened to it once, and seen the movie twice, I decided to skip it.
This could have been really bad or really good.
It had a touch of the self-published vibe to it. Maybe it is an undiscovered office gem like two of my favorites: Joshua Ferris And Then We Came to the End or Nicholson Baker’s The Mezzanine.
And the AFTER. Visually it seems much more interesting now.
Notice I put the Reader’s Digests down off on their own. The other things that look like RDs were actually five of Nevil Shute’s novels. I easily could have gotten lost in them had I had more time. Notice the neat stacks of Sissinghurst/Vita/Harold stuff at the top. Thought I would make it easier on future guest to find it all. And what this photo doesn’t show are the two books I left behind. Iris Murdoch’s A Severed Head and Richmal Crompton’s A Family Portrait.
I tried to group the non-fiction in a rational way, but it was such a jumble there really wasn’t much I could do.