While the soft tunes from my record player fill my living room, I let my fingers slide over the backs of my book’s covers. I have to admit, usually I refer to this room as my library. Sadly, the income of a teacher doesn’t enable me to have rooms for all purposes. So, we dine in my library which is also regularly used as a small cinema.
Nevertheless, whoever owns a library will know there is something special about how you arrange your little treasures. Some do it alphabetically, others let colours do the sorting for them. While my eyes wander over my shelves, I come to the conclusion my system is a mixture of category loving librarian and emotional High Fidelity reasoning.
Every book has its place.
Every collection of detective stories should be connected chronologically. Poe – Doyle – Bentley – Christie.
Every randomly cheap chosen-by-cover novel should be with the ones I read in the same period. Like you have songs reminding you of phases of your life, so do my books.
Works on history are rather gathered in order of achieved knowledge than the usual timeline.
The classics take up most of my shelves and there is a feeling in me that Jane should stand next to the ones trying to continue her achievement as much as to the Brönte sisters.
I can hardly explain why Huxley is pressed to Salinger’s side. To me it’s just too logical, as they will always be connected to my being 18 and discovering English literature.
Kate Bush’s voice makes her way to my brain and I can’t help thinking of my crush on Sherlock Holmes. Never fall for fictional characters, girls, don’t!
My hand stops and I pull out the first novel. Today I’m doing a books-that-touched-me-most pile.
Isbel, Ursula. Das schwarze Herrenhaus. München, 1980.
While my mum provided me with lots of Dolly novels that set the path for me to become a teacher, this is the one book I got from the library whenever I could. Set in the Toscana, wrapped in mystery it tells about a girl’s first love. I have to admit, it’s the supernatural that caught me then and I am still hungry to read about.
Despite the fact that I tried to stay away from fright and nightmare, I was 14 when I fell for Mr King. While Kate is running up a hill, I glance at my King section. They are all here. I always try to keep the copy I read. It’s the main reason I just visit libraries for their smell and aura, but not to lend copies. It’s also the main reason I really am in need of an extra room for my treasures. The Kings are actually sorted by colour. I read most of them when I was a teenager. To improve my English I had to get English copies in my twenties. It was a hunt, as there was no online purchasing at that time. The one that impressed me most I have read just once.
King, Stephen. Brennen muss Salem.Hamburg, 1970.
It’s not the first King I read. That was Bachmann’s Todesmarsch. My mum had a copy of Brennen muss Salemnext to her bed. She said she couldn’t finish it. Since she started, there had been dreams. Not about horrifying scenes, but the word Marstenhaus hammering in her head again and again. To read it was like a dare. I never had a nightmare, but I strongly believe that this novel encouraged my interest for vampires subliminally.
While it took some time to develop my passion for bloodsuckers and their role in literature, the passion for the English language was woken when I met my tutor and his selection of student suitable literature. Through him I met Bartleby and Richard III. as well as I was introduced to Gatsby and Daisy. Most importantly I drowned in the world of Holden Caulfield.
Salinger, J.D..The Catcher in the Rye.London, 1958.
It’s been twenty years since I was in a room with Holden, and I wonder how I feel about him, now that I’m not his age anymore, but a teacher. I fish the novel out of the shelf and put it on my to-read-table. I really need to find out how things are with Holden right now.
The record player has arrived at the pause between two songs and I hesitate to listen to the nostalgic cracking of the needle scratching on vinyl. Simultaneously, my index finger moves along the many copies of my favourite novel.
Stoker, Bram. Dracula. Hertfortshire, 1993 (1897).
There is the copy I took to Ireland when I was 19 and read it for the first time. It took me two days to go through and to decide if ever I wrote a novel, it should be this style. Diary entries. Different perspectives and lines in the plot that put themselves together in the end. Well, Stoker was the Guy Ritchie of his time. The copy with all the post-its and comments inside, the one I took everywhere for a couple of months, is the one I used for writing my thesis about the role of the female vampire in Victorian literature. Jane Eyre, Carmilla and Christabel. Passing by the backs of their stories is like going through them in fast forward. At the same time I speed back to the times where every article about Stoker’s work led to another realisation how to interpret his words. The display of society, the hidden messages and warnings to women. Deciding what kind of woman you yourself would have been or longed to have been. In the end it’s always Lucy I identify with most. Especially since becoming a mother. I am the worst that can happen to my child. I am also trying every day to not suck him dry but let him flourish. So far he’s made it.
Striding towards the middle of my twenties I arrive at my I-read-anything-I-could-lay-my-hands-on phase. While on of those mind-changing reads will become something of a matter later in my life and luckily leading to my divorce, it’s one of those cheap books you find reduced at the check-out at the supermarket which moved me as much as wanting to write to the author.
Ligocka, Roma. Das Mädchen mit dem roten Mantel. München, 2000.
As I am German, I grew up learning about the prosecution of Jews, Sinti and Roma, homosexuals, political enemies, disabled and foreign people. History books give insight, the tone your teacher addresses the topic in give a feeling for its seriousness. Reading a biography aims straight at your heart. It was like reading Anne Frank’s diary, only Anne never had the opportunity to grow into a woman, raise a family and view her torment form the perspective of a lived life. It took Roma Ligocka 62 years and Steven Spielbergh’s well chosen red coat to find the courage to write down her story. Her life. I am very thankful she did. I am also thankful for my peaceful life so far. As a teacher I will never cease to talk about stories like hers, just to open hearts and do my part in preventing hate, generalism and racism to gain power again.
I have missed Hounds of Love while being lost in thought and Kate is already in the middle of The Big Sky. Not sure why I picked the record as it will forever be connected to Sherlock Holmes. Having read Doyle’s stories for my exam, a preparation I loved very much, I stumbled over a visual version later. Jeremy Brett. Whenever I read I watch a movie inside my head. Characters, settings and voices, it’s all forming on the read. Mr Holmes is pictured very clearly in my head. His arrogance, his superiority, his coolness. Distant and dedicated. Loyal to law but also shifting lines when he feels them unjust. It’s not like he plays hard to get. He is impossible to get. Fancy why I fell for him? And then I watched Jeremy Brett display all I had imagined.
Manners, Terry. The Man who became Sherlock Holmes.The tortured mind of Jeremy Brett. London, 1997.
Actually it’s worth a lot. To me because my father hunted it down. For others because he paid a lot to purchase it and have it shipped in for my birthday. Later I was informed that my then-husband asked him a day before Christmas to get it for him, as he remembered last minute I had told him I wanted it badly. Girls, the men who get the book you long for no matter how hard it is – keep them. So far two men have succeeded. My father with this one and my Darcy with Bartleby. The worth of Manners‘ work lies in the insight not only in Mr Brett’s life but also in anyone’s life living with maniac depression.
Mentioning Darcy, I have to point out the one novel that I have read the most often, never being tired of diving into Elizabeth’s world. I will read it a few times more until I decide why I think Lizzie so rebellious and daring whilst she still lives up to standards imposed on her by society.
Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. London, 2003 (1813).
The first side of the record is almost at an end. Kate is Cloudbusting. My eyes catch the Henry James section. It will be hard to chose the novel which touched me most. I stop at The Turn of the Screw. I wrote about the role of the governess in literature once. I have many copies of the story and it’s mystery is not lost on me. The Spoils of Poynton. The Awkward Age. The collection of ghost stories. Henry James‘ words are like music to me.
James, Henry. What Maisie knew. Oxford 1966 (1908).
I pull the copy out and flip through the pages. The bookmark is an index card me and my friend Kirsten used to write messages to each other while in class. I read the book before I had my son, whose name is Henry. Maisie’s parents are divorced. I didn’t know then what Maisie knew already. The last ten years I thought about her a lot, just to reflect on how Henry might feel.
Having left university I had to find a way to pick books up on my own. No guidance, no reading lists, no recommendations. So when I found my way back to being a reader, I was drawn by a cover as much as the title.
Frei, Pierre. Onkel Toms Hütte, Berlin.München, 2003.
I teach history. I am born and raised in Berlin. I had decided marriage is not for me. I was a mother. This novel narrates the lives of different women from childhood through times of nationalism until they meet a serial killer shortly after the war has ended. The perspectives on life in Germany then, the colourful pictures of a town I know so well, the emotions it whirled up in me. I remember sitting in our garden, reliving not reading the rape of one character by Russian soldiers. My grandfather interrupted me, yanked me out of the scene. I have never before shouted at him and I would never after, but I couldn’t realise at that time that me alone was in 1945. Having read about the experiences of those women at those times, I brought up a lot of courage and asked my grandmother. I knew there had been six of those incidents. I didn’t want her to to describe them as in the book, I was wondering about the tension that must have lain over Berlin then. She said it had. Women were going nuts. She told me about a woman next door jumping out of her window. It didn’t help the woman much in surviving, was what my grandmother added. A gun to your head you hold still. You think about the wedding ring hidden in the coal. You acknowledge that the Wehrmacht did not march through Russia like lambs. You hope your children and grandchildren will never have to endure times like those. I wear that ring every day, not only to be reminded of my grandparent’s love.
Kate is done singing. I could swap to side B, but I don’t want to lose my train of thoughts. Most of the books I read made me travel to other worlds, other times and sneak into the minds of males, maids and mass-murders. There are Flavia deLuce and Peter Grant who continue to abduct me to their worlds.
Last year I discovered a writer who found a way to let me follow two lives in two eras at the same time. She seems to have the same love for her New York as I for my Berlin. The buildings she sets her novels in are the ones I would visit first if ever I manage to travel to New York. Actually, while reading, whenever being able to take my nose out of the book, I mumbled to Darcy we will have to go there. I hope he heard me and takes the necessary measures. As much as I could relate with both characters in The Dollhouse, it is her second work that got me completely detached from reality for times.
Davis, Fiona. The address. New York, 2017.
It also got me a notion that if ever I was to write a novel, maybe it wouldn’t be like Dracula at all. Maybe I would try to enchant readers as much with the mystery of Berlin’s buildings and let them meet it’s one-of-a-kind residents.
I put The Address on top of my pile and linger with the thought of which building I would chose. I comes to my head at once. As fast as the first thought the character walks through my scene. Shouldn’t I write down what I see?