Sunday, October 7, 2007

The "Keepers"

by Nancy Northcott

One of the difficult parts of being a book person is having to purge the shelves. There just isn't room to keep every book I ever buy. So about every four or five months, I go through and weed out books I haven't read in a very long time or books I've owned for a very long time but haven't read. I've learned to be fairly ruthless over the years, but there are some books that survive purge after purge even though I may not have read them recently. These are my "keepers."

At the top of the list is Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird. If an author were only ever going to write one book and this was it, I think that would make one content. The book resonates with me because Scout's viewpoint is so engaging and because so many people in Maycomb care about doing the right thing. Gone With the Wind has survived years of purges. My copy belonged to my grandmother, so sentiment may play a role in its longevity, but I think Scarlett would have her own place if I'd bought the book new. She makes me impatient and appalled at times, but the woman has backbone. Even though I don't fully accept Mitchell's rendering of southern society, I admire the detail with which she did it. I haven't read either of these books in years, but I'm pretty sure that I'll eventually want to.

Then there are the series. The Harry Potter books will probably be family heirlooms. The Inglis Fletcher novels about the Carolinas will stay as long as I live. I fell in love with them years ago and never fell out. Dorothy Dunnett's Lymond Chronicles swept me into Renaissance Scotland and carried me along to France, Russia, and the Mediterranean before coming full circle to end in Scotland. I almost didn't finish reading the first book. I didn't like anyone but the blind woman. Trusting the friend who gave the book to me, though, I persevered, only to have Dunnett turn everything inside out in the last hundred pages or so. I blitzed straight through the rest of the series in a week, reading late at night, on my lunch break, and during dinner (I was single then). I bought them in hardback when my mother and I went to England, the only trip the two of us took together, and lugged them back in my suitcase. So they stay. Someday I'll want to be swept across the Renaissance world again.

I loved Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover novels and Robert Jordan's massive, unfinished Wheel of Time saga (I selfishly hope he has a successor who'll get Rand to the mountain) and Gordon R. Dickson's Childe cycle and Dorothy L. Sayers' marvelous Lord Peter Wimsey and everything Georgette Heyer ever wrote. Their stories have fascinating worlds and noble, but not perfect, characters and intriguing plots. Hmm. All those authors are gone, as are Fletcher and Dunnett and Mitchell. Yet their books stay on my shelf through purge after purge. What was it Shakespeare said--something about the "evil men do liv[ing]after them" while "the good is oft interred with their bones?" Not for writers, it seems.

So what are your keepers? How do you choose them?


Anna Campbell said...

Nancy! What a thrill to see two of my absolute all-time favourite writers mentioned in your column. I too remember sitting up all night reading the Dorothy Dunnetts the first time I got them. Even more tragic, I got them secondhand when they were out of print and thought they were only a four-book series. I don't know if you remember what happens at the end of book four but babies and chess games should give you an idea. Then it took me over a year to get the last two. What a happy moment that was! Although happy isn't quite right. She sure makes her characters suffer. I think she taught me about making your characters face the consequences of their decisions - she really does push the stakes and push the stakes. What a wonderful writer. How sad that I'll never get to meet her.

And Dorothy L. Sayers and Peter Wimsey. Just magic! Sounds like I'd have fun going through your bookcases!

Great post.

Nancy said...

Thanks, Anna! Sounds like I'd have fun with your shelves, too! There's nothing so agonizing as falling in love with a series and not being able to get the rest of it. And I do remember the end of Book 4. What a wretched place to have to stop! Yes, she was the queen of making characters suffer.

I know someone who knows someone who met her. This person was in Edinburgh and called her up to ask if she could just stop by and get a book signed. And Dunnet invited her to tea! I mean, how lucky can you get? I'd bet most writers aren't that welcoming these days--too risky!

I'm nuts for Lord Peter. I even had the library track down copies of the Wimsey stories from The Spectator for me!

Too bad we live too far apart to browse each other's shelves.

Christine Wells said...

Great post, Nancy! I know at the end of reading a book that it's going to be a keeper. I'm depressed because it's ending and I read far too fast and I want to start it all over again.

All of Heyer's books, Homer's The Iliad and The Odyssey, SEP's Chicago Stars series, Jenny Crusie's Welcome to TEmptation, Gone With the Wind (of course) my Austen collection, Queen Margot, Margaret Atwood, Anne Stuart. I have a LOT of keepers!

Anna Campbell said...

Wow about tea with Dorothy Dunnett. Do you know she came to a signing in Sydney and I had the worst bout of flu and didn't go? Yeah, I know, I know. Hard to believe. But you know when you're SOOO sick, nothing matters. I've regretted it ever since because apparently only about half a dozen people turned up (including Isolde Martyn from my crit group which is where I got all this from) and it turned into a proper chance to meet her, not just a signing. She died about 12 months later, sadly. Believe me, I've kicked myself ever since!

Trish Milburn aka Tricia Mills said...

Other that friends' books, my keeper shelves include all of J.R. Ward's books, the Harry Potter series, all of Pamela Morsi's American-set historical romances, Gone With the Wind, Nevada Barr's mystery series (the only series I've ever bought in hardback), and a few other odds and ends.

I'm not good at purging though. Once I've bought a book, I just CAN'T get rid of it until I've read it.

Helen said...

Nancy I can't purge my books I just buy another bookshelf and squeeze it in somewhere I have to have them.Favourites is hard Gone With The Wind, all of Kahleen Woodiwiss, Shirley Busbee, Johanna Lindsey the first historical romance I read Sweet Savage Love Rosmary Rogers, Julie Garwood, Jude Deveraux, Judith McNaught and of course a lot more authors Anna Campbell, Jenna Petersen, Jacquie D'Alessandro,Shana Galen,Christine Wells and the list goes on I am sure I have left some off and these are the authors I have read and have the books not the books on my wish list or the ones on order that I haven't read yet. If I keep buying books like I am at the moment I will need another bookshelf fairly soon. Great post Nancy.
Have Fun

Kirsten said...

Wait a minute, Robert Jordan is DEAD? I haven't even read the most recent Wheel of Time book yet! How dare he! There's got to be a successor out there somewhere.

I have a collection of very unusual books I bought in college when I was studying with an Arab woman, Nawal Sa'adawi. They were all special order books from the UK that I doubt I could find again, and I treasure them partly just for the stories of the authors who wrote them (many who were writing under threat of death or imprisonment). I also have a few non-fiction books I love by authors like Barbara Kingsolver, Terry Tempest Williams, and Kathleen Norris.

I don't have many romance keepers, to be honest--Eloisa James (squeee!!), Mary Balogh, Johanna Lindsey, and of course, all the Banditas...

Joan said...

Great post, Nancy.

Though I have to admit that many of the authors you cited I either a)have never heard of or b)have heard about from the other Banditas.

I can list scores of books I read in my much younger years but in high school....not so much. (The only literature course I took then included a bunch of literary fiction from the (mumble) '70's by a teacher who was "on the edge" of rebellion for the times)

Going onto nursing school the required reading was more "Grey's Anatomy" minus McDreamy.

My loss of a well rounded experience came into evidence when I tried to CLEP out of World Literature II. I didn't do it. (Darn poets).

Now romance fiction wise...any and all trilogies by Nora, Fires of Winter by Johanna Lindsey, Karen Marie Moning, Suzanne Brockmann, Sherrilyn Kenyon and increasingly every author who is a Bandita or has guest blogged for us!

And Gak! I've never read Harry Potter :-0

Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

Oh, Lord, now I have to go read Dorothy Dunnett. Just what I need, ladies. Another keeper. Sigh. Nancy, I love the Darkover books too, but they've not been "re-reads" for me. Pretty much everything David Eddings has written I've read about five times. Same for Anne McCaffrey, Mercedes Lackey, and Andre Norton. Harry Potter. I've about worn out Sorcerer's Stone. Eva Ibbotsen, as Anna and I have both raved over. Virtually every book ERB ever wrote. (That's Edgar Rice Burroughs, BTW, for those who aren't afficianados) Some of the JD/Nora books are keepers, but not all. I love Mitchell's incredible descriptive power, but Scarlet annoys me, so I don't keep her around, even tho' I'm a Southern Gal. Thurber. I love Thurber and can't part with my dog-eared copies. Then there's the non-fiction. I've reread Tony Robbin's Awaken the Giant Within about 9 times and refer to it often. Jack Canfield's The Success Principles is another re-read, but it's fairly new, so I'm only on reread #3. And Claude Bristol's The Magic of Believing. Like Helen says, too many books, too few bookcases. I'm getting good at weeding, but as a Librarian's daughter, it's so HARD to part with them...Grins.

Keira Soleore said...

Banditas, I'm going to limit myself here to the top five authors, because I have way too many keepers and I'm a hoarder to boot.

1. Enid Blyton (mais oui, Foanna)
2. Georgette Heyer
3. PD James
4. Lisa Kleypas
5. Jane Austen

I noticed that most of the mentions on our lists here are female authors. w00t!

Nancy said...

Wow--There's so much variety in our reading! It just goes to show that we need choices in the market to satisfy everyone's taste.

Christine--I envy your ability to know a keeper right away. It would save me some time and tough choices on purge day.

Helen and Trish, I envy you having enough room to keep everything. I used to do that, and I still have books double-shelved (kind of like double parking) on our biggest, hidden-from-visitors bookshelf, but I just can't anymore.

Anna C. - I love Isolde Martyn's books! Please tell her hi for me. I'm sorry you missed Dunnett, but really, the flu is so devastating. Not to mention, depending on the variety, potentially embarrassing.

Kirsten - Yes, Jordan died a couple of weeks ago. I'd been buying the books but not reading them yet because I was awaiting the finale. I can't retain those complex plot developments in the intervals between books and don't have time to re-read such massive tomes every time there's a new one, so I was planning a straight-through blitz reading marathon for the final book's release. I assume Tor will make some sort of announcement eventually.

Joan - The world needs nurses more than it needs readers, alas. Now that you're free of school, all these books are just waiting for you!

Jeanne - I think you'll either like Dunnett or hate her. That seems to be the experience of the people to whom I've given the first book, The Game of Kings. Just be sure to start with Lymond and not Niccolo, whom I didn't like nearly as well. JMHO, of course.

Thanks for all these great responses!

Nancy said...

Keira--I loved Enid Blyton's Five Run Away Together! I read it from the library as a teenager and, years later, found a copy in London. I treasure it.

Anna Campbell said...

Nancy, I'm with you on Lymond over Niccolo. Much longer and much lesser IMHO too! Loved King Hereafter which is about the real Macbeth and I know a lot of people have started with that because it's (slightly) easier. She doesn't tend to talk down to the reader, our DD! Yes, Isolde is great, isn't she? I'll certainly tell her she's got a fan!

Keira, I love PD James. She's definitely carrying on that tradition of fantastic English female crime writers, isn't she?

Tawny said...

Oooh, keepers. I have a whole shelf in the closet just for those. My bookcase is open to anyone to peruse or borrow, but that shelf is "ask or else" *g*

I have all of Nora's except 2 of her earliest... they are pricey so I don't know if I'll ever have a "complete set".

The Harry Potter series, quite a few Julie Garwoods, Vicki Lewis Thompsons and Jenny Crusies. Also David Edding's Belgariad and Malloreon series are up there.

On the shelves above my desk are my friend's books... they are all keepers too LOL. Can't wait till I have the complete Bandita set.

Keira Soleore said...

Foanna wrote, " I love PD James. She's definitely carrying on that tradition of fantastic English female crime writers, isn't she?"

Absolutely. Adore her biography, too. In the same vein, I like Elizabeth George and Jill McGown.

Nancy wrote, "I loved Enid Blyton's Five Run Away Together!"

Ooh, the Famous Five series!!

Suzanne Welsh said...

My "keepers" are varied. I have every book by Julie Garwood, even the Rose series that wasn't my favorite. We're talking original first print paperbacks to her hardbacks.

On my shelf I have a Harlequin book titled "The Over Mountain Man", can't quote you the author, because I'm up during my nap time, but the story is what's important. It takes place in my parents small hometown of Erwin, Tennessee in the Blue Ridge Mountains. I know every stream, river, and stop along the highway mentioned in that book!

There's a 1965 copy of "Anne Of Green Gables". It's well-worn from years of reading it as a kid. Several copies of Grace Livingston Hill's books and one Barbara Cartland, I snuck out of my aunt's huge library in Tenn as a kid. And recently I found a great copy of "The Blackhorse Inn" a book I devouered as a teen.

There's the copy of "A Scarlet Pimpernel" I helped hook my middle child on reading with. Hopefully she'll use it to teach her daughter to love books and romances, too.

Several of my good friends and CP are on the keeper shelves because they're excellent books and I know the authors. Then there's the standard mix of Kay Hooper, Johanna Lindsey, Amanda Quick, etc.

Hmmm...must remind DH I need two more book shelves for the dining room after we get the painting done!

Nancy said...

Tawny--my keeper shelf is not only "ask or else," it's "mutilate and die." I hate having a book come home with a cracked back and puffy pages.

Keira--I also like Elizabeth George, though she's a bit grim for me at times. Her book On Writing was fabulous.

Anna--I read King Hereafter after Lymond, and I saw some of the same themes in it. I tried the mysteries but couldn't get into them. I met Isolde at RWA and enjoyed talking to her immensely. We share interests in English history. I reviewed one of her books for the Richard III Society (American branch).

Suzanne--I have fond memories of The Scarlet Pimpernel, too. Did you know that the Over Mountain Men made the difference in the Battle of Kings Mountain? We history geeks note such things.

Anna Campbell said...

Keira, thanks for those recommendations. I'll check them out! Just what I need - more for the TBR pile!

Nancy, Isolde's The Maiden and the Unicorn was the book that inspired me to go back to writing after I'd decided it was a childish dream to want to be published. I'd been trying so long and not getting anywhere so I gave up for about 18 months. I think it was because it was great, it was a historical and she was from Australia (although she's originally English). Made me think perhaps my dream had a chance after all. And she's such a lovely woman - she's been a real supporter to me! You do meet nice people in this game, don't you?

jo robertson said...

Interesting post, Nancy. It's very difficult for me to throw books away. When I was English Department Chair, we cleaned out our book storage room annually and (even though it's against CA law -- shhh, don't tell), we threw books by the score into the dumpster. It was a painful experience, even if the book was an old Warriner's Grammar copyrighted 1960 LOL.

Books that I know I'll keep forever I laminate with contact paper. That way I can read them again and again. I'm also pretty selfish about lending them out. Some of my children are harder on books than others.

Aunty Cindy said...

I'm with Tawny... must get new bookshelves for The Complete Bandita Set!


Caren Crane said...

I just pulled out my tattered copy of Rosamunde Pilcher's 'The Shell Seekers'. It's been years since I last re-read it, so it's time. It was my very favorite book until I read her 'Coming Home'. I've gone through two copies of that one already.

Tawny and I have discussed the Belgariad series before. And y'all know how I feel about Anne McCaffrey's Dragon books - all of them plus the Menolly books.

One I adore but rarely mention is Joan D. Vinge's "The Snow Queen" (have to love Starbuck!). Also Anne McCaffrey's Killandra/Crystal Singer books.

In romance, Liz Carlyle's books are on my keep-your-hands-off shelf. All of them! They are nestled next to my beloved Elizabeth Peters collection - all the Amelia Peabodys.

What makes a keeper? The characters, of course! I could never tell you the plot points of any of those books, but I remember the characters forever.

Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

Tawny, you, Caren and I have to get a drink in SF and just yak and yak about The Belgariad, The Mallorean, everything McCaffrey (dragons, Menolly, Stitch in Snow, etc.) Tawny, which of the two early Nora's are you missing. I may have them in the donate bin as we speak, so email me off loop and I'll check. :>

Nancy, I'm going to the library to see if I can pick up Game of Kings. Thanks for the recommend.

Oh, Suz, how could I forget Anne? "YOU know, teacher..." I have read every one of them about 5 times. Never got into the Emily series, but Anne, well. She's Anne. My mother was quite like Marilla. :> The Scarlet Pimpernel is on my keeper shelf too, along with Captains Courageous. I'm hoping to hook my boy into reading that one when he's a bit older...bwah-ha-ha!

Caren, The Snow Queen was the only book Vinge wrote that I liked. I also loved all the Killashandra books and the Rowan series as well. I have an original paperback of the Ship who Sang and of the one that started the Rowan series. Grins.

Nancy said...

Anna--The wonderful people we get to meet are a great benefit of the long road to publication.

Jo--The contact paper sounds smart. As a comic book collector, I can't do it (makes the book no longer mint or near-mint*g*), but I have to admit it makes sense.

A new bookshelf, AC? At the rate the banditas are going, it'll require a new book room!

Caren and Jeanne and Tawny--I also have the Belgariad and the Mallorean (gave up on Sparhawk) and big chunk of Pern.

One of the biggest pleasures of today has been learning how many people love so many of the same books. Thanks for sharing, y'all!

doglady said...

Sorry I am so late to the party. I was working on my WIP and lost track of time. Over 2000 words today!! This is a great topic. I just have one question. You're supposed to get rid of books?? Nobody told me that, so I have all of them. I cannot remember when the last time was I got rid of a book. My brothers come into my house, look at the wall to wall bookcases and roll their eyes. I have even resorted to to help me keep track of what I have so I don't repeat buy. Of course almost any autographed book I have, I buy a second copy to read. My autographed copies go on a special reserve bookcase. Occupants include books by Anna Campbell, Nicola Cornick, Amanda McCabe, Kathryn Caskie, Julia Quinn, Stephanie Laurens, Victoria Alexander, Eloisa James, Teresa Medeiros, Kinley MacGregor, Cathy Maxwell, Sophia Nash, Cindy Kirk and I should have a Christine Wells in a few weeks. I have all the Enid Blyton books. I have my first copy of Black Beauty. I just love books. I love being surrounded by them. The bad news? you have all given me books to add to my list of things to buy and put on the TBR stack!! See, you are enabling my addiction and I wouldn't have it any other way!

Keira Soleore said...

Caren a keep-your-hands-off shelf? :) :) Sounds like a lot of inquisitive fingers in your house. :)

Nancy wrote, "I also like Elizabeth George, though she's a bit grim for me at times. Her book On Writing was fabulous."

Yes, I adored her book on writing. That's what got me interested in exploring a methodical approach to my mess-in-progress-that's-stalled-for-a-bit-right-now. And I agree. Her last book was scary and horrific all the way through to the shocking murder. I haven't recovered yet.

Suzanne Welsh said...

Oh and I forgot...the complete collection of Robert Ludlum. As I've said before I hooked son and half an ROTC group on reading with Ludlum's stories!

Tawny said...

Ooooh, Belgariad over drinks... I like it *g*.

jeanne - I was wrong, there were about 6 books LOL. I pulled my old fan girl list to check. Thanks for the offer, though :-) You rock.

LOL on how many of us have don't touch shelves.