Books: A Self-Portrait
If I had any doubts as to the importance of books—real, paper-and-glue, physical books—in my life, they were recently laid to rest when after ten years of living in this house, I finally got some decent bookshelves. I felt so guilty that I had to leave my beloved friends in boxes in the basement like redheaded stepchildren (I’ve never figured out why either of those things should be a bad thing), waiting for the day Mr. A. quit purchasing new surfboards and I could get a wall of bookcases handcrafted and lovingly planed. Or something.
Well, we still have more surfboards than Mr. A. has feet, and the shelves didn’t get made, but
my neighbor had a couple of old cases, so he painted them for me and put them up in my study. And lo, I was made very happy and Mr. A. is off the hook for another ten years or five surfboards, whichever comes first.
So I came to the exciting, satisfying and, it turns out, emotional task of choosing which books get to go on the hallowed shelves. And this is where I realized that every single book I choose is like putting my entire history, nay, my entire personality, out on display for all to dissect. So I thought I’d put it on a website too so you could learn more about me. I’m really getting the hang of this selfie generation thing.
(Also, my apologies to the R-H'd StepCs that had to stay down in the basement. And I know I have plenty of room. I'm enjoying the aesthetics, and I really don't need my copy of Thucydides' History of the Pelopennesian War at this absolute moment.)
First off, I’m a romance writer. The romance writer who has inspired me the most is Her Majesty the Kristan of Higgins, whose books you must go and read forthwith. So she gets half a shelf all to herself. Then there are some other romances which have broadened my understanding of what a romance can be: Beverly Jenkins’ Indigo, Katie McGarry’s Pushing the Limits, and Nalini Singh’s Slave to Sensation, among others. I just added Alyssa Cole’s An Extraordinary Union to that list because, well, just go and read it.
On the other side of that shelf are the four romances which have stuck with me through time and space: the Velvet Series by Jude Deveraux. They have flaws, oh heck yes: they are a product of their era (turn of the 80s) after all. But they made me feel all the feels, and that is what I want to do with my books, so they get to stay.
Next is Harry. Nothing else to be said (well, there is but I'd fill this entire blog with it). The voice of a generation. Not my generation, but still. And I’m putting Septimus Heap up there because those books are magical in a whole different and wonderful way to Harry. The Hunger Games trilogy is another YA series that surprised the heck out of me, and I’ll never be free of Katniss (though Jennifer Lawrence might have a large role to play in that). The Lunar Chronicles get a spot because they're unique retellings of fairy tales, for which see below.
Then we get to the contemporary novels, and the sad thing is, there aren’t that many of them. I must be getting cranky in my old age. Dickens and Austen and Gaskell and Eliot have almost a whole shelf to themselves. But on the modern side, only these few writers have really spoken to me. Neil Gaiman, A.S. Byatt, Louise Erdrich, Barbara Kingsolver, Joanna Trollope; they go without saying. But I also loved Andrew Fukura’s The Hunt, and I am NOT a fan of vampire books (#TeamJacob). The same goes for Elliott James’ Charming, which I talked about in another blog post.
There are all my Dick Francises and my Anne McCaffreys (just the dragon books; Killashandra will have to wait until I have more space). My dad read Dick Francis in airports while he was waiting to fly, and I always feel like we’re sharing a story when I read them.
Below these we come to the more historical side of me. From the Aeneid (I have read way too much of this in Latin in my time) and the Odyssey, through Tristan and Isolde to Chaucer (Mr. A. fell in love with me because I did his Chaucer homework for him, though he will always point out that I only got him a B+). There’s my foray into the Harlem Renaissance and Chicano literature, which got me to hear voices I sadly hadn’t heard before (see shelf full of Dickens).
Propping up another corner is my small collection of mythology collections, European and Norse. Here I’ve included the Lord of the Rings and The Secret Garden, which almost counts as a fairy tale. I’m as dippy about fairy tales as I am about language. You might see my board up top there, with one of my favourite quotes on the subject.
Slightly more prosaic, but no less important, are my English, French, German and Latin dictionaries, which saw me through my A-levels. No, I probably won’t ever have to look up a word in German again. Na und? Next to them is a small collection of poetry, which mostly consists of Shakespeare, the Oxford Book of English Verse and Pam Ayres. That just about covers it, I feel.
There sit all my books on English, where I can geek out and learn tons about history (thank you, Bill Bryson). My English Lit books that also help me write, and my writing books that help me appreciate English Lit. Basically, if you don’t like languages, I’m probably going to bore your britches off. Especially once I get going on how bringing back Þ and ʒ to our alphabet would make life so much more fun. Come on; you know it would.
Put novels and language together in the same book and I get positively orgasmic. Books including sentences like “this internal stratification present in every language at any given moment of its historical existence is the indispensable prerequisite for the novel as a genre” make me come over all gooey. In fact, this is probably a good time for you to quietly leave and close the door behind you on the way out. I’m going to read about heteroglossia again and can’t be responsible for my actions.
*not my joke but I basked in its reflected glory for a few paragraphs.
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Kimberley Ash is a British ex-pat who has lived in and loved New Jersey for almost thirty years. When not writing romance, she can usually be found cleaning up after her two big white furry dogs and slightly less furry children. Her first novel, Breathe,has been re-released through her own publishing company, Tea Rose Publishing. Her trilogy, The Van Allen Brothers, was released by Tule Publishing in 2019.