Greg Dixon

Greg Dixon is deputy editor of Canvas.

Four Kiwi authors open up their home libraries

The writer Gunter Grass once said even bad books are books and, therefore, sacred. And the good ones? Well, they are things to be read, objects to treasured and to be kept — hopefully in your own ever-growing library. Greg Dixon asks four bibliophiles why books matter and what their home libraries mean to them.

'A home without books is like a snail without a shell.' - Grahame Beattie. Photo / Sarah Ivey
'A home without books is like a snail without a shell.' - Grahame Beattie. Photo / Sarah Ivey

GRAHAME BEATTIE
Former publisher at Penguin and Scholastic, book reviewer, blogger and judge

"I not only like to read books and use them but I love to hold them and admire them. They make the best artwork, too.

"When I was in form two at Gisborne Intermediate School, our teacher, Miss Fisher, introduced me to Arthur Ransome's Swallows And Amazons series.

"I've been hooked on books ever since, buying them when I could afford it and borrowing them when I couldn't.

"My home library is very important to me and my home, with one main room that doubles as a library and my office, and houses most of the books. But piles of books are to be found in every room in the house. My library was designed and purpose-built five years ago when we had our home remodelled. My only regret is that I cannot make it any larger, as it long ago reached its capacity.

"I have quite a number of treasured volumes but two that are very special are Vikram Seth's A Suitable Boy, one of the longest novels in English ever published.

"This book deeply affected me when I first read it in 1993 and I am thrilled to have a copy signed by the author during one of his two visits to New Zealand. The other is a limited edition, #106 of an edition of 500, of Peter Mayle's A Year In Provence. This is an illustrated, slip-case edition with paintings and drawings by Paul Hogarth and it is signed by both the author and the illustrator.

"Occasionally I have to have a cull, usually of books I have reviewed. It hurts but there is a limit to the number I can house."

HAMISH KEITH
Writer, art curator, cultural commentator

"Why do books matter? There is a world in a book and a universe in a library.

"I stumbled on the happy truth that books were to be treasured at the age of 10. Dawdling home from school, I found a book on the path - a paperback, probably the first of those I had seen. We had children's books and my mother had added to the misery of our measles by sitting at our darkened bedroom door and reading Bleak House. I have that book still. But this book was a grown-up book about New Zealanders - Gunner Inglorious by Jim Henderson - and I realised that in the world of books there was a space for us. I have made space in my world for books ever since.

"I don't think we have a library. We have books. Both Ngila and I devour books and, once consumed, we have to make places keep them. In our house books eat walls sort of at random, but there is a tiny semblance of order just to put some sanity into finding them.

"There is no book I value above all the others.

"When people see our books they say, 'what a lot of books' and 'it must be a library, you have a ladder'."

ANNE SALMOND
Historian, anthropologist and writer

"I love books because they're another way of exploring the world. As the eldest girl in a big family, with seven brothers and sisters, I found peace and quiet in books. I used to climb the old walnut tree in our back yard and read, hidden by the leaves.

"As a scholar I have a large collection of books. They expand my memory, thoughts and imagination. Our library is scattered around the house, with different kinds of books in different places - good fiction, New Zealand writers, books to relax by.

"I used to write on our dining table. When the children were small, it was a way to stay close. Eventually my husband Jeremy designed me a study in the garden, where I keep my collection of manuscripts and books about the Pacific. We collect all sorts - cook books, crime novels, books about native plants and birds, the sea, landscaping, good fiction, travel, New Zealand writers, as well as my scholarly collection. I catalogue my books by topic and the fiction in alphabetical order."

"My most treasured volume is our family bible, with its genealogy of the ancestors from Ulva in Scotland.

"I rarely throw books away and then, only those that were not fun to read. I read good books over and over again."

DORIS DE PONT
Author, fashion designer and curator

"For me, books give access to the human heart. I recall sitting on my father's knee, with tears sliding down my cheeks, as he read aloud from the adventures of Heidi and her grandfather. At primary school I won an ASB art competition and the prize was a book voucher. The books I bought were the first that were actually my very own and I liked how they looked on my shelf.

"I am definitely a reader who happens to have kept what I have read and enjoyed. There is nothing fancy or collectable about the contents of my bookshelves. My library is not a proper library in the strict sense of a reading room full of books. Instead, every room has at least one bookshelf.

"I keep what I like and also books that have made an impression on me. I would say that narrative is one of the most appealing features of a book. Whether sharing actual facts or creating a fiction, it is the engaging telling that draws me in.

"My most treasured volume is Tarzan Presley, by Nigel Cox. The incredulity and audaciousness of its premise kept me reading, against my better judgment. I can recall that each time I picked it up to read further, I thought 'this is bullshit'. But it is such compelling bullshit.

"A favoured book can stay forever in my house and I have no problem divesting myself of the disappointments. It is the involuntary culling that is painful. When I love a book I become quite evangelical with a desire to share the pleasure."

- NZ Herald

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