My life in books

Prompted by a friend’s recent FB challenge that I secretly hoped would never end, whereby you post over 7 days a picture of a different cover of a favourite book, I discussed with same friend how difficult it was to select just seven books, how books reflect various aspects of my life and personality, and how to continue this theme, I decided the best option would be to just continue posting photos, either with it without commentary, and maybe invite friends to add their contributions.
The first book I remember entering my life was not one that I remember reading for myself but one that was read to me and my sisters by my father.  I still consider it an act of betrayal when parents stop reading out loud to their children.  But my lovely Dad did the next best thing.  He took us into town into the public library .  

This was a magical kingdom – I knew it was magical not just because it was a place filled with shelf upon shelf of books, but you had to enter it through the magical portal of the revolving doors.  No other place in my experience had such a wonderful entrance.  And there to my utter disbelief and bewilderment, we were allowed to pick a book, any book, from off the shelves, and take it home with me to read.  This was the start of a life long love affair with books and with libraries.

I don’t recall what my first choice was, no doubt something colourful with plenty of pictures.  But I do remember the stories my Dad read to us.

What stories did your parents read to you?

What are you reading to your children?

Have you forgotten yet?

​Prompted by recent events I am currently reading “Globalising Hatred: The new antisemitism” by Denis McShane.
The book arose from a cross-party parliamentary report a decade ago looking at the rise of antisemitic incidents across the world.  Jew-hatred has not been consigned to the past;  people may attend Holocaust memorial services and claim “never again” yet walk away in total denial about what is going on around them, and in how they are contributing to the poison of contemporary Jew-hatred.

The book does not make for easy reading – 12 pages of one chapter simply lists examples of antisemitic attacks across the world in 2006 alone.  

One phrase though should give some small hope – the author, a Labour MP, states that his political community – that is progressive, left, liberal, pro-European, supporters of human rights, etc  – “needs to understand that until neo-antisemitism is confronted, contained and rolled back the chances of movement on the Israel-Palestine question are slim. 

But  I did say some small hope.  These words were published a decade ago.  Plenty of time for party leaders and activists to take heed and take action, yet here we are, 10 years on with a Labour Party at best, in complete denial that there is a problem, or even worse, aggressively dismissing the concerns of British Jews as a politically motivated smear and attacking those who are genuinely concerned about the rise of antisemitism.

Unseasonal Offering

March 2013 005

Q: What to do when you have arrived early for your meeting and have some forty minutes to spare?

A: Find the nearest antiquarian bookshop and browse.

Unfortunately I had already bypassed Henry Bohn’s, who I knew would be most likely to have a copy of John Clare’s poems, and I thought of retracing my steps which would take me further away from my rendezvous.  Kernaghan’s books in the courtyard of the Bluecoat gallery was nearest to where I was and to where I was going, and as I hadn’t visited for a while I thought I’d spend a pleasant while browsing and chatting.

I had barely been there five minutes when they announced they were closing in five minutes.  Nothing focusses the mind like the pressure of an imminent deadline.  I picked up the book I had recently replaced on the shelf and knew I had a decision to make.  I replaced the book, paused and picked it up again.  I opened it at random this time and read the first paragraph.


Monday the 16th of January seemed to be the turn of the year.  Looking from my window that morning I saw at the edge of the lawn three small white flecks, the first snowdrops; and then looking upward I saw, in the elms, rooks bowing to each other beside their past season’s nests.  When just then the postman brought me a letter from a lady of seventy-six asking if I would take her to a dance, I felt that spring had indeed arrived.

It was that final sentence that tipped the balance, that and this slim hardback book would easily fit into my pocket.  I took it to the counter, spent ten further minutes chatting with the proprietor about books read and unread, a signed photograph of Ella Fitzgerald he had recently sold and I read out the clinching sentence from the book.  And it was time to leave.

The book is “Till I End My Song” by Robert Gibbings

The photo of the snowdrops is mine, taken on Mothering Sunday in March 2013 by the river Cocker.

The engraving is by Robert Gibbings.

Robert Gibbings (1889 – 1958) was an Irish artist and author who was most noted for his work as a wood engraver and sculptor, and for his books on travel and natural history. Along with Noel Rooke he was one of the founder members of the Society of Wood Engravers in 1920, and was a major influence in the revival of wood engraving in the twentieth century.

“Till I End My Song” is his last book. He lived and died his last few years in Long Wittenham, a village in Oxfordshire. This is an account of his life there, of people and of nature, supported by many of his engravings. It was published in 1957.  My copy was published by the Readers Union in 1958.