One of the ways I get to know someone is to look at their bookcase. Until I’ve done that, I don’t feel like I really know them. A person’s bookcase says a lot about them, so I thought I’d share my work bookcase with you which, appropriately, tells you a lot about my work. I have other bookcases which are more personal to me, but I’m not sure I know you well enough right now to share those with you just yet. Let’s see how this goes first. We shouldn’t rush things.
I keep my books loosely group by theme, partly to keep their mojo ticking synergistically along, but mostly so I don’t have to go hunting all over whenever I need something. These are the sections:
1. Comics - Okay, so these aren’t strictly on the bookcase, being hung on the wall above it, but I’ll give them a quick mention – they’re a few comics from my collection that I’m particularly pleased about. I may say more about these in the future.
2. Chesterton - The bedrock and firm foundation of my fictive research – appropriately housed at the top of my bookcase. I’m a nut for all things Chesterton, and I’ve read 25 of his 140 some books, and some of them many times.
3. The Norton Anthologies - Indispensable for the modern writer. Read each of these bad boys cover to cover and you probably don’t need that English degree.
4. Homer - Large editions of the Robert Fagles translations of The Odyssey and The Iliad. One day I’ll read these, I swear. I’m just a little busy with stuff right now. Look nice, don’t they?
5. Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable - Brilliant for browsing. And settling dinner-time disputes.
6. This is a salt-rock tea-light holder that comes from Hallstatt, in Austria. I got it as a present, but I’ve also been there. They have some fantastic Celtic burial sites.
7. Anglo-Saxon Collection – Now we’re getting to the meat of the bookcase. For my current series, I did a whole lot of research in Old English (Anglo-Saxon) culture and literature. I even took a course at the University to learn the language. I’ve scoured Oxford’s best and worst second-hand bookstores to get many choice items. I’ve got several translations of Beowulf, nearly everything that Henry Sweet has printed, and several collections and readers of untranslated texts. I also have a slim volume of selections of Layamon’s Brut that contains an introduction by C S Lewis. I’ve tried as hard as I am able to put the spirit and psychology of Old England into my current series, and it directly influenced and inspired names, conversations, and incidental poetry. Let me know if you found that successful.
8. Old Norse Collection – When I ran out of things in Old English to read (and there’s not that much) I started in on Old Norse, of which there’s considerably more. I’m particularly fond of Icelandic Saga. This is pretty much everything that’s been printed in English, and a couple things that haven’t (I signed up for an Old Norse Course after I finished the Old English one). This doesn’t directly influence my current series, but it has inspired some short tales.
9. This is a weird bookend thing and I’m not sure where it came from. I’m 85% certain my parents gave it to me. They may have bought it in Portugal.
10. Gaelic Myths and Legends - This is a small section that I expect will grow exceptionally in the next couple years, based on the direction that book 2 is headed. It’s nothing compared to what my dad has got, which could fill these shelves twice over. I don’t want to step on his toes in this area, literature-wise, so I’ve been resistant to Celtic motifs, but there are still some areas he’s left unexplored, particularly when it comes to Faeries and Elves.
11. Medieval Histories of Britain - This is what has been blowing my mind this year – trawling through some of this stuff. Your historian will tell you that there’s no evidence at all for any of these stories to be true, but then there’s precious little to say that many of them aren’t true. These books are Geoffrey of Monmouth, and Castleford’s Chronicles.
12 & 13 Medieval Plays & Poetry – Pretty much what you’d expect. A bunch of mystery plays, a few versions of ‘Gawain and the Green Knight’, a Piers Plowman, and the complete ‘Faerie Queen’ by Edmund Spencer. I tried very earnestly to read the entire Faerie Queen last year, but stalled on page 317, just over halfway through book two (of six). I may give it another go in a couple months.
14. More Books on Vikings - These are academic works, of which I don’t have many. The Vikings speak pretty loudly for themselves, and I’ve found that most current scholarship about the Norsemen is speculative conjecture. I’ve agreed with only a few of the translator’s notes and introductions that I’ve read at the beginning of my Norse books. Jesse Byock in particular deserves honourable mention for clear-headed work in a confused field. Anyway. It looks like a copy of The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle has wound up here also. Well, that’s appropriate.
15. Senate Mythology books - …and a big ol’ stack of them. I bought most of these off of a friend at Uni and have added to them over the years. They’re pretty cheap and cheerful, and obviously have been photo-reproduced from older books and slapped up with some new covers, but that’s not a bad thing, really.
16. More old poetry – William Blake: The Complete Illuminated Books, The Riverside Chaucer, and an Oxford edition of Malory. I like to keep Blake close at hand, just because he’s so wacky. He may actually see angels and elves. Or at least, if anyone has, it was him. The Riverside Chaucer is the only Chaucer you’ll need, ever. [Interesting side note: I bought this copy, printed in Oxford, second-hand in the University of Nebraska bookstore in my old hometown of Lincoln for $5, and then carted it all the way back to oxford. One of the few books I personally identify with geographically.]
17. Generic books on legends and fairy-tales - Just for reference and inspiration. I’ve actually blacked out a couple titles on the photograph because they relate to an idea I have in mind for one of my next projects. It’s not important. Forget you saw this.
18. Even more books on Vikings. Man, those guys get everywhere.
19. Time-Warner picture books - on Wizards, Dragons, Dwarfs, and, once again, Faeries and Elves. Very well illustrated, and a good broad view of these subjects. Bought for $3 apiece at a Goodwill in Texas.
20. Unsure - appears to be a stack of graphic novels that I’ll probably try to sell or trade for food.
21. Miscellany - just a stack of magazines and DVDs. I think that’s Bill Bixby on the top one, starting to get ‘angry’.
22. A miniature reproduction boxset of Dr Seuss books - because you can’t get better than Seuss. Sure, he made up a bunch of words, but his poetic metre is absolutely perfect – rock solid every time. My current favourite is The Sneetches – four stories about identity and belonging with racial undertones. Genius.
23. This is a guitar.
…And that’s the lot. I’ll keep you posted if anything changes.