If I was wrapping up 2016 as a gift for myself, I would definitely be using the Literary Gift Company’s ‘It might be a book!’ gift paper. In January I was working as the Project Cataloguer at Downside Abbey Library on the Benedictine Recusant Collection – an invaluable collection of books written by recusant authors during the Reformation from c. 1500 to 1670. I should point out the collection is far more extensive than that, but in my brief 12 months of work funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, I managed approximately 1000 works in a collection of possibly more than 4000 books. The catalogue can be searched here. This was my dream job. I’m not ashamed to say I waited a long time in my librarian career for a job like that, and although I’m almost certain that I won’t find magic and privilege like that again, it was well worth the wait. The peaceful environment coupled with the equanimity that handling centuries old paper and print brought is irreplaceable.
Moving on from Downside in August was particularly difficult for me, not in the least because I had spent a year ensconced in the 16th/17th century. I miss the books and the people, however that part of the Heritage Lottery Funded Beacon of Light Project has now come to an end. I also miss the dichotomy between my working life there, and working with the monks. It is an experience I will never forget. Whilst there, I spent some time researching the librarian who had almost single-handedly formed the collection – Dom Raymund Webster (1880-1957) – even from his placement close to the Front Lines during World War I as Chaplain, he was thinking about his books.
So the first half or so of the year was a very positive experience. I should point out that I don’t have any religion. At first I found the Catholicism overwhelming, but eventually, just peaceful. I had the joy of seeing the monks doing their job at Midday Offices where they sing the service in Latin with solemnity and dignity. I also experienced the joy of feeling uplifted by their peacefulness and centredness.
Feeling as though there was a hole in my book life, I decided to get to know a bit more about book collecting on a personal level, and about book blogging. I’ve always been an avid reader, but I now have the time to read often more than 10 books per month – not all of these worth reviewing, but some of which have stayed with me. So in a period of reading approximately 70 books this year (the biggest chunk after July), these are the books that I will re-read, remember and recommend. So without further ado, here is my #BookishHygge from 2016:
House of Birds by Morgan McCarthy, The Swan Gondola by Timothy Schaffert, Bone by Bone by Sanjida Kay, Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury, At the Waters Edge by Sara Gruen, The Ballroom by Anna Hope and, The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan.
I have also moved home. I’ve moved from stereotypical suburbia to rural Forest of Dean. This is a complete lifestyle change encompassing an increase in distance away from my family, a lack of knowledge of the area or opportunities, from gas radiators to log burners, from smart work clothes to muddy walking boots. It has been a dream for a long time to live more remotely, and although moving home isn’t conducive to writing a proposal for a PhD, somehow I have managed it. This is something that you can’t just ‘whip up’, but is almost a short dissertation in itself. It also involves liaising with your chosen University, finding out about funding and of course primarily a heck of a lot of research to find out if your unique area of study is actually unique.
I also have 3 wonderful children – any parent will know from experience that not all your kids can be happy at once, so there is always some sort of drama going on. I consider myself very lucky to have 3 healthy, sensible children, 2 of whom are artists and one classical musician and composer.
This brings me to December and looking forward to a new year.
I am hoping that 2017 brings some new things into my life – new additions to book collections that I have started (Penguin Cloth Classics and Alma Classics Evergreen), new editions of favourite books such as those of Michelle Lovric, Scarlett Thomas and Erin Morgenstern, more knowledge in book design and getting to know some book designers, and of course, good books. I am also hoping to work with books again in some capacity, and start my PhD in book history. I will also be blogging some more Book Collector’s spotlights with books for sale. In other words, I am planning a very bookish 2017.