One for the bibliophiles... During the pandemic, reading has provided a momentary escape from the stress and uncertainty of the COVID-19 lockdowns. While unable to climb, many of us have sought refuge in books to let our imaginations return to the mountains. In this new series, we take a look at some collections of climbing and non-climbing literature. It's unlikely that any could rival David Price's enviable library (UKC article) in scope and scale, but there are no doubt some cherished collections with interesting titles to be shared.
First up: climbing instructor Ian Fenton, who suggested the idea for a series on bookshelf-nosing...
Excellent idea. I'd love to do one - a bit like fantasising about being on Desert Island Discs except slightly less unlikely! I was lucky enough to inherit a climbing library from an alpinist uncle who collected old books, so have quite an interesting collection along with all the ones I've bought.
Article needs an edit “Bonington” rather than “Bonnington”.
Most of my climbing books are allowed a place in the living room. More general travel is consigned to the dining room, with quite a few guide and all my maps in my study.
Bottom shelf here is cycling and running, but most of the rest is mountains and climbing.
My house is overrun with books, my biggest bookcase being in my dining room, plus three other smaller bookcases (latter containing spillover of mountaineering books from my front/living room). There are then a further 9 bookcases in the house, 2 in my front/living room, 3 in my office, and 4 in my bedroom. These are the dining room ones:
The main categories are (taking them in the order of the above list of bookcases, then from top) is:
Western philosophy (2 shelves); ecology; medieval history; modern history inc World Wars; Celtic culture and mythology; modern science with emphasis on Gaia; Derbyshire local history; large coffee-table books on art and mythology; music scores/piano music .e.g Complete Beethoven piano sonatas; English social history partic c17-19; hinduism, buddhism and Shivaism; studies of world mythology; modern science; writing: novels and screenplays; art, drawing, painting and photography; coffee table books on the arts, WWII, bird migration etc etc; classic European literature and art, from Renaissance onwards; music, classical music, Beethoven, etc; Classic screenplays, movie directors, film theory and criticism, directing (stage and cinema); nature, natural history.
Encyclopaedia Britannica; spillover of all mountaineering books from front room; reference books.
Novels I've enjoyed most; poetry; major biographies; vinyl and CD music collection.
Classic mountaineering books (some v valuable); coffee table mountain books, inc. my own.
All 2 ¼ and larger format film transparencies; web design (HTML, CSS and PHP) manuals; collections of notes and essays; dissertations; book design; photoshop; huge amount of reference books/dictionaries; UK ordnance survey maps; foreign maps; my notes from working in the film industry (esp with Hawk Films); previous scripts of mine.
Comprehensive collection of British, Alpine and world climbing guidebooks; plus my own climbing log books; main books relating to my latest biographical writing project (huge).
Spillover of books on western philosophy and science (hundreds); huge collection of works by and on Aristotle and the Greek philosophers; more modern novels; more books relating to my latest book project; books written by various family members going back for over a century; the Great War; evolution; natural history and biology; philosophy of biology; large coffee-table size books relating to my latest book book project.
Related note, a subset of our club (Avon MC) is just starting a book club, suggestions (from a very broad definition of "mountaineering") in a hat then everyone reads the chosen one before a (currently) zoom chat. Wine may be involved, Feeding the Rat first off the list. We'll see how it goes. I expect others are already doing this.
So Gordon what would you consider the most valuable in your library, and if God forbid there was a house-fire, what would be the one that you would rescue first? I know it's a kind of impossible question to answer, but if you really had to make that painful decision?
Oh my god, what a difficult question. Cheating a bit (because it's a collection), but probably the Complete Works of Shakespeare. If I happened to be in a 'mountain nostalgia' mood, probably Whymper's Scrambles amongst the Alps. If I was in a poetic mood, probably Philip Larkin Collected Poems. If I was in a 'childhood nostalgia' mood, 'Wind in the Willows'. If in a philosophical mood (and this is really cheating because it's a huge collection) the Loeb Classical Library Works of Aristotle.
Interesting reply Gordon. As you are mostly known for your mountain books which feature a lot of your photography I was expecting something in that genre. Mine would certainly be my book on Vittorio Sella, found in a 2nd hand bookshop in Totnes.
> So Gordon what would you consider the most valuable in your library, and if God forbid there was a house-fire, what would be the one that you would rescue first?
I like the format. Desert Island House Fire.
> Interesting reply Gordon. As you are mostly known for your mountain books which feature a lot of your photography I was expecting something in that genre. Mine would certainly be my book on Vittorio Sella, found in a 2nd hand bookshop in Totnes.
In the Desert Island fire situation I would want to have something more substantial than a collection of brilliant photos by the likes of Vittorio Sella or Ansel Adams. I would want a very substantial text. Even a biography of either of those would not be enough because I would just have one biography of one person. If I were forced to take a mountain photography book (hope this doesn't sound big headed) I would take my own 'Eyes to the Hills'. Actually, I'd be much more interested in taking a book on the cinema, in which case it would have to be one on Kubrick. Again, probably even above that I would probably take one on classical music, either on the work of Bach or Beethoven.
PS. In the wider world I'm probably slightly better known for my work in the cinema, actually (certainly in terms of numbers who've heard of me).
For me it would be a tough choice between Volume 1 of my hand-written climbing diaries (1976-87), my copy of the Owl and the Cragrat (signed by all the authors), my 1952 copy of Night Climbers of Cambridge, and the apparently fantastically valuable Extreme Rock. Probably it would be Edward Pyatt's A Climber in the West Country, which has inspired many exciting adventures and, I hope, more to come.
If it had to be a non-climbing book, it would be my prized copy of Smiths' (sic) Sea Fishes for not only because it's a fascinating definitive work and highly nostalgic of a magical time spent in Africa but also its connection to a dear friend no longer with us.
Send some answers through to firstname.lastname@example.org! Also interested to see what people would consider to be their most unusual/shocking book.
Gordon, you too if you like! That's some collection.
I've just learned that the technical term for a photo of your bookshelf is a 'shelfie'....apparently...!