The burning of the books

Some time ago, probably eight or nine years ago, a chunk of my library – all of fiction, my shelves on philosophy, psychology, aesthetics and photography – were shipped off to a warehouse in Bedford. Each month, I have dutifully paid the storage charge. Last night, I discovered that the warehouse had been burned down. Everything is lost. All forty boxes of books. I spent the night making a mental inventory of what has gone: the complete set of Dickens which I bought from the bookshop in Hobson Street; a complete set of Jane Austen from Heywood Hill; much sadder than those which are easily replaceable was my set of the early novels by A.N. Wilson, including a well thumbed copy of The sweets of Pimlico (it would have been worth more if it was mint); and books by my two contemporaries who became novelists, Candia McWilliam and William Rivière. It’s not the financial loss I care about, but the sentimental associations: the books I read as a teenager; the copy of Henry James’s Portrait of a Lady. I have been a negligent reader of fiction as an adult, but it didn’t mean I didn’t care. It feels like a lobotomy, the memory of an old part of my life, including all those catalogues of photography exhibitions at the National Portrait Gallery and my copy of Michael Podro’s The Manifold in Perception. All gone.


9 thoughts on “The burning of the books

  1. Jane de Sausmarez says:

    I was so sorry to hear about your books, Charles. As all of mine are in storage at the moment, it sent an extra frisson of angst as well as feeling for you.

  2. Dear Charles, I’m so sorry to read off your loss. I know how i felt losing two hard backs in the flood on Thursday;I can’t imagine losing 40 boxes.
    And while I’m at it , thanks for your positive highlighting of the importance of sustaining the Whitechapel Bell Foundry ; i spend a goodly proportion of my time in lovely Limehouse and it has a special place in my heart since my student days in the 70s.
    Finally, now you too are “differently occupied” post RA, its good to read of all your travels and exploits. Thank you.
    Warm good wishes Pen
    Penelope Thompson CBE Barbrook Cottage Nether End Baslow Derbyshire DE45 1SR
    Mobile: 0776 205 2277 Twitter : @penny_thompson
    Penny Thompson Consultancy Ltd Reg no:09866863

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