Saturday, 21 May 2011

My Bookshelf

bookshelves by apenguinaweek
bookshelves, a photo by apenguinaweek on Flickr.
(June 2012: The Penguins rehoused)

I thought I'd alter my usually constrained format just this once to post this photo of my bookshelf. Guardian Books invited their readers this week to upload photos of their bookshelves to their flickr group (accessible here), and the response to this photo has been overwhelming. It's been viewed more than 3000 times in a couple of days and was listed as #17 in Flickr Explore (something I hadn't heard of until yesterday). I've received lots of very encouraging and welcome feedback.

This is the part I could fit in the photo; the bookshelves actually extend for another couple of metres, taking up an entire wall of the living room. It is the first thing anyone sees as they enter the house. It is a wonderful way to decorate a room, an ever-present reminder of all the books I have read and all the books I have yet to read, and of the many hours spent in charity stores and bookshops on the hunt for all the titles yet unfound.

And so each week when I have to choose a new book to read, I stand in front of this wall of books and choose at random. The very oldest Penguins give you very few clues as to what they are about; the colour of the spine is all you have to go on. But it makes reading an adventure; there are wonderful forgotten books on these shelves waiting to be re-discovered, and so many contain observations on past events and times which are surprising.




33 comments:

  1. Your bookshelves look fantastic Karyn, like an abstract painting.

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  2. Thanks Joanne, I should probably give some of the credit to my husband for building me these wonderful shelves so that I can have the books out on display.

    And Paige, you look suspiciously familiar. I promise that one day all these books will be yours.

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  3. That is a wonderful collection of penguins ,all the best stu

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  4. Thanks for visiting my blog, Stu. And can I say I enjoy what your doing on twitter. Especially #TranslationThurs.

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  5. OH MY GOODNESS. That is amazing, Karyn, I am in complete awe...

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  6. Thanks, Simon. And that was a very entertaining post on Illyrian Spring, by the way.

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  7. I think I might just be in love with your blog. Thanks for following me :D I love your bookshelves and I wonder where you got all your books. I'm going to go exploring now.
    Erika
    www.100starsorless.blogspot.com

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  8. Hi Erika, the books have mostly been purchased from charity stores and small bookshops, and cheaply, usually for no more than a few dollars each. It becomes a habit when you are passing somewhere selling books to quickly scan the shelves for an orange or green spine. And it is part of every holiday; the first thing we will explore when we pass through a town. For many years very few people were interested in them, and they were easy to find.

    It isn't that way any longer, though. They have become much more difficult to find in the last few years, and at the same time the prices of the oldest ones have started to climb fairly steeply.

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  9. Hello,

    What a great blog and useful resource for a fellow collector! I too have been collecting penguins for some time now, though I am some way behind your collection. I became interested because my great uncle designed the original covers and the penguin logo. Interestingly I just got back from Perth and was staggered at the price of penguins there!!

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  10. Hi Max's Dad, do you mean that you're the great nephew of Edward Young? I own a few copies of his book, but I've never forgotten the excitement I felt when I found the first one in a small charity shop in Oxford.

    Perth is not a great place for someone keen to collect Penguin books to live. They are difficult to find, and as you note, very expensive. Are you in Australia? I hear that they are still relatively easy to find in Tasmania.

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  11. Hi,

    Yes I am the great nephew of Edward Young. Sadly I am not in Australia, though I am Perth born and bred - I live in the UK (I have a toy and bookshop). Luckily there are lots of places near here with a good selection, but I am just trying to get to the first 100, then thousand...

    I recently found a number in Hay and also discovered an astounding selection in a bunker-like shop near Euston station!

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  12. Max's Dad - Well I stayed near Euston station last November and so now I am a little annoyed that I didn't manage to find this bunker-like shop. But that was a family holiday, and there wasn't really much time for looking for books; it was all museums, parks and Christmas lights. I'm hoping I will be able to head back to London later this year on my own, and perhaps I will have better luck.

    I hope I can encourage you to aim higher than the first 100. These books are wonderful to read as well as to collect, and there are so many forgotten treasures amongst the first 3000. My favourite has been The Last Tresilians, and I encourage you to look out for that one. Amongst its many qualities is the wonderful way it describes London in detail. As I read it I wanted nothing other than to abandon sunny Perth and hop on a plane to London immediately.

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  13. I will search for The Last Tresilians. I have many beyond 100, but I just feel the need to have the first 100, at least. The book shop I mentioned is called Skoob books. Keep it a secret. Its a joy, but don't bother asking the staff for something particular - they will tell you if they have it, but not where it is...

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  14. This blog is all kinds of awesome and your collection is more amazing than any adjective I can come up with. I have a section on my blog of "book porn"- beautiful bookshelves that deserve gawking at. I would love to do a post about A Penguin a Week, if that's okay.

    http://dangerouspages.blogspot.com/2010/01/book-porn-archive.html

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  15. Hi Sharazad,

    Thankyou for your comment. I had a look at all the beautiful bookshelves and libraries you've featured on your blog. I'd be delighted if you wanted to include mine.

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  16. Amazing!
    I was wondering if you had a full list of all the Penguins you have - my grandmother in law has a few lying around that are no longer read and I'd love to help your project, if they are titles you don't have.

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  17. wow I am in awe! I am regarded by my family as slightly weird for my obsession with penguins (except for my dad who understands:)) Looking at your collection though makes me feel very amateurish! I am not collecting in any order just raiding second hand book shops and trying to find stories that look good. May have to try a more methodical approach looking at yours!Lucy x

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  18. Hi Sarsafrass,

    Thanks so much for asking. At present my only list is on the pages linked to this blog, where I have the titles I am yet to find listed in pink. I set it up that way so that I could access it on my phone if I was in a bookshop, because otherwise I would find myself buying books I already had. I have been asked for an excel spreadsheet, and I keep meaning to compile one, but I haven't managed to find the time yet.

    And Lucy, thanks. Are you in Australia? Finding Penguin books in secondhand stores at reasonable prices is becoming increasingly difficult over here. The very earliest Penguins tell you virtually nothing of the story unless you're lucky enough to have the accompanying dust jacket so I developed the habit of reading them randomly, and I've found it a very rewarding approach.

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  19. Hi, wow absolutely love your bookshelves picture. Haven't come across you before but was fascinated to read about you today. I am also a crazy collector! I have a complete set of first editions of the first 100 Pengions together with a random selection of many others. Half of my 'library' is also taken up with hardback poetry books which I love. I shall certainly follow you on twitter. Thank you so much for being out there! Frances (UK)

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  20. Hi Karyn,

    So question, have you bought many more since this photo was taken? :)

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    1. Yes - I think I've bought about 500 books since this photo was taken last May. I found hundreds in the UK, and if it wasn't for the difficulty getting them back to Australia I would have bought many more than I did.

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  21. Hey Karyn,

    Absolutely love your collection, I just got my first Penguin classic on eBay (650- Angel Pavement, one of the few you don't have I think), loved its age, and have decided to try and collect, and stumbled across your blog... Was it very expensive all? And any tips? I thought I might try charity shops first, and perhaps eBay?

    Jack

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    1. Hi Jack,

      As hobbies go, I don't think it is particularly expensive - I'm sure that many readers will be spending far more on their books than I am, because everything I read has been purchased second hand, and often very cheaply. And it is worth it anyway, as it has all these wonderful side effects such as giving a focus to holidays, and decorating a room, and introducing me to a range of authors and titles I otherwise wouldn't have found.

      The best way to go about assembling a collection would depend on where you live. If you are in the UK, then I've found that with a little searching you can find them fairly easily at second hand bookshops and book stalls in markets, and at the Oxfam book stores (or head to Hay-on-Wye and you could assemble a fairly decent collection in a day). On a two-week trip there in Feb 2012 I found hundreds for under 3 pounds each.

      If you are in somewhere like Australia, it is much more difficult as they are harder to find, but I can usually find a reasonable number under about $6 each. Years ago I would find them quite regularly in charity stores, but that is much more unusual now.

      The value of these old books is often over-estimated. There are a small number of very rare titles which have values approaching 100 pounds, but most are not worth that much. You can expect to pay a little more for the green-spined ones as they are generally more sought-after, and war time editions which were printed on very poor paper and so fewer of them are likely to have survived. Ebay in the UK seems generally reasonable, but the prices on Ebay in Australia are usually too high (and buying on Ebay really takes away the element of joy you experience when you discover an old Penguin hidden in the depths of a second hand bookshop).

      Under the 'Finding Penguins' tab above I have a few posts naming the book stores in which I have found them. And my only other advice would be to join the Penguin Collector's Society (they sometimes auction books off, and the prices they charge more closely reflect the book's true value).

      Good luck with your collecting,
      Karyn

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    2. Hey Karyn,

      Wow, thank you so much! Thats really cleared things up for me. I completely agree about finding the books in shops though, as although it was nice to find on eBay, I'm sure its nicer to see first physically. Also, just wondering, do you have a favourite? Probably a difficult question with 3000 thousand of them, but just had to ask :)

      Thanks so much again,

      Jack

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    3. #2533 The Last Tresilians is the best one I've read, but #1 Ariel was the one I was most excited to find (wrongly, as it turns out, because they are not that rare - I have 5 copies all purchased for only a few dollars).

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    4. Sounds good, I'll have a read! Bought a few more today at a charity book store, where there's still a load more, so I'll probably be in contact again soon for more advice :)
      Thanks again,

      Jack

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  22. That's your bookshelf? Just made up of Penguins? Christ, it's incredible, amazing and out of the world. I rather pride myself on my collection, but mine is not even remote as good as yours. This looks like heaven. You must be a proud man.

    Debasubhra Banerjee

    thebookhaven.wordpress.com

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  23. Wow! So Jealous. Book porn indeed! I only wish I had space to show my books like this (sadly tho I have loads of books, not as many classic penguins as I would like)

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  24. Based on this photo alone, I can tell that I love you. Lol! What a great collection!! Thanks for posting this photo - it's inspiring.

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  25. Hello Karyn,
    A fascinating website and an even more fascinating idea. Does the numeration correspond to the chronological publishing order ?
    Tom

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    1. Hi Tom, it does approximately, although some numbers were skipped and others had issues which delayed their publication. The transition to ISBN was a little erratic as well, so you sometimes see numbers above 3000 as well.

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  26. Hello Karyn,
    A fascinating website and an even more fascinating idea. Does the numeration correspond to the chronological publishing order ?
    Tom

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