Books at home


I was not born in to a house of bibliophiles. Throughout my childhood there were the same small selection of books, latterly housed in a bookcase I had made at school in woodworking lessons.Most were inherited from my grandfather from a half century before. There was a part-work Harmsworth encyclopaedia that he had acquired together with some nice red covers. They had never been bound and remained loose within the covers. They proved good for history homework (at my school history stopped short of WWII) but they were well out-of-date in respect of geography and science.

He had also assembled a part-work of Dante’s Inferno, the explicit and heavily detailed line drawings were my first introduction to violence and soft porn.

He had also passed on a collection of the works of Dickens that my grandfather had acquired half a century earlier. They were considered valuable and so I was not encouraged to actually read them.

The only novels added by my parents was a battered book-club copy of Doctor at Sea and a very small selection of ‘leather-bound’ book-club classics. The print size and flimsy pages had none of the touchy-feely benefits that paperbacks would later impart.

In case my brother and sister think I am having a cheap shot at our parents, I know that my wife, Jane’s, parents were if anything even less blessed with books around the house. Their single shelf of books were mostly book-club purchases too, though they had invested in a current set of Children’s Britannica encyclopaedias for their daughter.

Their generation had just come through WWII and their habits were just different to ours. But it was in the 1930s that Penguin paperbacks started a revolution of low-cost reading, initially at just six old pence (£0.025). Though I see the few Penguins we still hold from the 1960s had been victims of post-war inflation, priced between 2/6 (£0.125) and 4/- (£0.20).

But then we had a good local library so why own a book when you could borrow it for nothing, provided you returned it on time! Then it had a strong reference section too, though usually you needed to go several miles to the central Bristol library if you wanted anything current or esoteric.

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