Chopping bits out of books


Those of you who know me well will also know that I love books. I read them. I devour them. I collect them. I love them.
At home, we had books everywhere, and I have many wonderful childhood memories built around reading. The way we lived, it was perfectly normal to hear harrumphs and guffaws as you wandered in and out of rooms, the sounds made by people enjoying what they read; there were times of day (and night) where all those who were awake were reading.

We read eclectically. And voraciously. We were the kind of people that would walk a mile for a Camel or a new Rex Stout; if we had to choose, then Rex Stout won. We quoted from poetry and from plays, from books as well as magazines. We were Walter Mittys and Holden Caulfields, we lived among Empresses as well as Queens, we moved from misty-eyed meanderings about “acres and acres of golden yellow pajamas glinting in the noonday sun” to equally misty-eyed meanderings about the liquefaction of Julia’s clothes.

We read Wodehouse all day as if our lives depended on it; at high noon it was Max Brand; in between games of Cluedo it was Perry Mason time; our Grishams weren’t Grisham, they were Desmond Bagley and Alistair Maclean and Hammond Innes. [An aside. We played a short-lived charade game where you had to guess “composites”, weird creatures that were portmanteau phrases merging a popular film with a popular song. And the worst one I can remember was “The Guns of Navarone A Sunday“, which should need no explanation. That one hurt].

We read Shakespeare as well as Pynchon, Dante as well as Rabelais, the Thousand and One Nights as well as George Mikes, Salinger and Mailer, Dumas and Swift, Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller. Hawthorne and Eliot, Whitman and Twain, Carroll as well as Castaneda, Sellar with Yeatman. We moved from Parker to Parker as if nothing was amiss. Leo Rosten kept warm alongside H Allen Smith. Somewhere in between we read a lot of comics as well, but that’s for another post.

We dwelt among many untrodden ways. We would talk to each other about the books we’d read, the books we were reading. [An aside, about “untrodden ways”. I remember a time when the men of the house were busy reading the oeuvre of Nevil Shute book by book, while the womenfolk were equally busy with …. Mills and Boon. It drove us crazy. So we the menfolk did the only thing possible, we started reading the Mills and Boons as well. Which drove the others crazy. Yup, I’m confessing to having read a horde of “Violent” Winspear (Violet’s heroes were always festooned with romantic scars) and Anne Mather and Janet Dailey and others of that ilk). We laughed and teased about Innocent Deceptions and long tall drinks with cubes of ice clinking at the bottom of the glass (sic).]

Yes, we read a lot. And we treasured books. So when I came to this country, I was unprepared for some of what I saw. People tearing chapters off books and throwing the “read” bits in the bin. People clearing houses and throwing hordes of musty mouldy books into skips. People actually destroying books.

I was aghast. And I’ve been collecting books ever since. Some strange collections, some very strange collections. For example, I have over 180 different first editions of just one book. Don Quixote. Just for the illustrations.

Bearing all this in mind, I had some mixed feelings when I first saw the works of Brian Dettmer, one of which I’ve used as an illustration above. I’ve decided I quite like his stuff. What do you think?

If you do like it, you can find out more at Aron Packer Gallery, which is where I found out about him. How did I get there? I Stumbled.

8 thoughts on “Chopping bits out of books”

  1. I also grew up in a family where we read instead of watching TV, and we all still read voraciously. I remember the first time I saw a friend’s dad throw away a book after finishing it. I was aghast – books were something you kept, or if you didn’t keep them you could at least donate them to charity. Needless to say, I constantly struggle to find bookshelf space.

  2. For many years I dreamt of opening a bookshop with a difference. Five questions written on a blackboard at the door. You had to answer one before you came in. I’d change the questions regularly.

    Once you came in you could stay as long as you liked. Coffee and tea and pastis and wine and water on offer.

    No prices anywhere. Just three zones.

    Zone A: Over my dead body. Here you could see, feel, touch but not take away.

    Zone B: Make me an Offer. Here we traded.

    Zone C: Take it away Jose. Recyclable bags provided, just take whatever you like, I am done with them.

    A library is only as good as the way it gets weeded.

    Dawn, I have moved house in order to have the space for my books…. my family sends out search parties when I go near a second-hand bookshop….

  3. Useless piece of word trivia. I used the word “dreamt” in the previous comment.

    No other word in the English language ends in “-mt”

    Happy to be proven wrong.

  4. Dreamt and its derivatives are the only common English words that end in mt. (Though many Americans prefer using dreamed.) Derivatives include undreamt (typically used only in the phrase “undreamt of”), daydreamt, and the rarer outdreamt and redreamt. Other -mt words include the Scots word fremt (usually fremd or fremmit[2]) meaning “foreign” or “estranged” (cf. the German “fremd”, same meaning) and, familiar but of foreign origin, Klimt, the Austrian painter.


  5. While I can share some of your pain over seeing books treated poorly and being thrown away – I also believe that some books deserve to be thrown away. I sometimes write book reviews for small presses, and I am absolutely stunned at some of the complete crap that gets published! It is so frustrating to come across terrible, terrible writing in book form – when I know plenty of good writers who are struggling to find a publisher.

    I am impressed that you read Pynchon in your family – I’ve tried to read Gravity’s Rainbow about 5 times over the past 15 years and I honestly do not understand it’s literary importance…. But I didn’t throw it away. I left it in an airport on my way somewhere one day….

    And I think Brian Dettmer’s work is amazing. Making art out of books that no one wants is so much more “healthy” than throwing them away!

  6. French Panic, couldn’t agree more with you. That’s why, in an earlier comment, I said “a library is only as good as the way it gets weeded”.

    As far as Pynchon is concerned, I don’t want to pretend to be something I’m not. We had V and Crying at home, and I enjoyed them. Read Gravity’s Rainbow later in life, but slowly; never did finish Vineland or Mason & Dixon. Plan to read Against the Day over Christmas.

  7. Hi,
    I’m a graphic design student from kingston university. I am current doing a project about collecting, if anyone would like to email me about their collections or let me know of anyone with any interesting collections I would really appreciate it. Please contact me at [email protected]

Let me know what you think

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