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Bookshelf of memories

5th April 2011 - Ben Sweeney

I have too many books.

People say there is no such thing as too many books, but if you have to shift as many boxes as I do whenever I move house, you probably know what I mean by too many books. My problem is, whenever a book makes me feel something, anything really, I keep it. This happens far too often.

The hoarding problem goes deeper - about forty years deeper, since I inherited the problem off my mother. I have also read, borrowed and liberated all of her books that took me somewhere great. It was her copies of Narnia, the Famous Five, Chrestomanci, and Dickens that I grew up with.

To look at my bookshelves, it's easy to see that a great chunk of the material there is children's books. I find it the most difficult to part with these books, because the books that I read back then are like family photo albums. Every time you read a book you take something new from it, but, equally so, it takes you back somewhere else.

Until recently, I had one whole shelf of Redwall books by Brian Jacques. These were a staple of lunch-times at school. They did not change my life, but they ate up a significant chunk of time that should have been spent studying. Having not read back over one for a couple of years I sent most of them down to the charity shop, regretting it a couple of weeks later when I found out that Brian Jacques had passed away. The nagging urge to read these tales once more has not gone away, compounded by the fact that all but a few had gone from the shelves of my local charity shop when I went to try and buy them back.

Even more recently, having been dropped in a position where I needed to move house, I ruthlessly boxed up books I hadn't touched for a while with the intention of also sending them to the charity shop. In there went some of my mother's books, including: all of the Chrestomanci books by Diana Wynne-Jones, as well Howl's Moving Castle, Archer's Goon, and The Ogre Downstairs. I opened up the newspaper a few days ago to find that Diana Wynne-Jones has also sadly passed away - this is turning out to be a bad year for the understated masters of children's fantasy. But I am very thankful that my slothful nature has left me with her books; there is no amount of obituaries that can do her justice in the way that her own words speak to my childhood.

I'd like to use this opportunity to take my hat off to Diana Wynne-Jones and Brian Jacques. They have carved a handsome and sizeable niche in their genres, on the bookshelves of shops, libraries, bedrooms, and also on the bookshelf of my memories.

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