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  • Writer's pictureWilliam Tyler

A Lifetime of Books

As a small child, in the early 1950s, I had a tall bookcase in my bedroom. Initially filled with Enid Blyton's Noddy series, then replaced by the same author's Adventure series. Later John Buchan and Conan Doyle took over the shelves, along with, naturally, the William books of Richmal Crompton. Of course, there were classics too, such as Wind in The Willows, Water Babies, and Robinson Crusoe slipped in by well meaning aunts. Some of those titles, especially Wind in The Willows, remain firm favourites and are returned to so many decades on.

One of my favourites as a child was The English Civil War story Children of The New Forest which still appears on my book shelves today as I was able to secure an exact same copy of the book I once owned as a child. Today it sits on a shelf of 'special' books; that is books with a personal tie to me. One of the most precious is my late folklore friend, Bob Bushaway's By Rite. One of the first folklore books to take a strictly historical view of the subject.

At boarding school the number of books one could take was limited both by weight and personal space. Between 11 and 13 at Prep School, I could only squeeze about three books into my tuck box/play box so the choice was always a really hard one, but encyclopaedias and coin catalogues tended to take preference as they could be looked at many times. From 13 onwards I was subject to filling in a termly Leisure Chart of my out of classroom doings, which included a section on books read. I tended only to include 'worthy' history books to impress my tutor. I always admired my friend, later with me at Oxford, who filled his in one term only with novels by the American author Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer stories. What individuality did he show, yet like me it was all for effect! The vanity of youth.

We were allowed to take a book into Evening Supper, and I usually took Sir Charles Petrie's The Jacobite Movement with me; my original copy I still have on my shelves today. An old friend never to be discarded, although somewhat out of date. Second only to that was an 1892 copy of English Coins and Tokens by Jewitt and Head - yes, The Stuarts and Coins again.

As I grew older, and had the wherewithal to purchase more books, many second hand, I became a lifetime browser in bookshops. On an early visit to Oxford for an interview, I managed to kill time by visiting numerous second hand bookshops, and purchased, you guessed it, a book relating to The Jacobites.

When I 'retired', changing my career path to that of a freelance historian, my book collection expanded exponentially, filling many rooms in the house and taking over the garage too. So much so that when we moved to Sussex five years ago I gave roughly 10,000 books away to charity. I promised my wife at that point that I would not let books dominate everything again. Rash indeed, as today my new garage serves as a reserve stock library, but on balance I have become more controlled - at least I think so. But I have, nevertheless, fallen foul of the newly minted word Tsundoku, or owning a growing pile of unopened new books.

Books have accompanied me throughout life and old friends are never far away, and new friends are yet to be discovered. Not for me the new technology of Kindle. There is nothing quite like opening a new book, whether fresh from the printers, or imbued with the notes and stains of previous owners.

Every new book I read leads me to other as yet to be discovered volumes. At the moment I am thoroughly enjoying A Small Town in Ukraine by Bernard Wasserstein, Emeritus Professor of History at Chicago. I have now added his other works to my Must Buy list. I am also reading Rory Clements novel featuring Tom Wilde, Nucleus, and have added other of his other Tom Wilde stories to the same list.

Perhaps books will still be with me after I have left this life, as Jorge Luis Borges has written, 'I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library'. I sincerely hope so.

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