There are books in just about every room in our house, except for the bathrooms – and then only sometimes in their case. Of those rooms, the living room, dining room, conservatory and naturally his study are dominated by the books that my father accumulated over his life.
Some of those books were introduced to my sister and I when we were quite small. Others, he told us, he would let us read when we were older, and he always kept his promises. Some of them were brought out when he wanted to quote something, or when we were telling him about a subject we had learned or discovered. If there was an argument about history or literature, there was usually a book that he believed could provide the solution. There were books that, upon sneaking into his study, it emerged were my books, which I had been looking for for ages and had somehow found their way onto his shelves.
My father died last November.
It still hurts, so much, to go into his study and look around the room he spent most of his time in during the last years of his life; the photos and the pictures on the walls, the objects he collected and the books he lined the walls with. I can’t stay in there longer than a minute before I start to cry.
But I’ve promised my mother that, at some stage, I will go through his books and organize them, put them in categories on the shelves so we can have a better understanding of a collection he’d been accumulating, a love he’d been indulging, for nearly eighty-one years.
One of the first authors Dad introduced me to was Charles Dickens and, not entirely coincidentally, some of the first books my father owned were the Charles Dickens Library (The Educational Book Co. ltd.) gifted to him by an elderly female relative when he was very young.
The Pickwick Papers was a Dickens’ novel that got read to us a lot when we were little; while it’s not Dickens’ best work by a long shot, it’s definitely his funniest. Dad was brilliant at doing the voices for the various characters, giving each of them a distinctive character and coping with the various cockney dialects Dickens managed to preserve in posterity. The pictures in this copy, drawn by the extremely talented Harry Furniss, were brilliant at helping us to imagine the scenes of Mr Pickwick on trial:
or Mr Weller Senior finally getting his revenge on the hated Mr Stibbons:
This last chapter, wherein the climax is Mr Weller seizing said Stibbons, kicking him violently and then dunking him in a horse trough and nearly drowning him, was a favorite scene for my dad and I to read to each other over the years. It never failed to cheer us up. Schadenfreude in its purest form. (To be fair, Stibbons most definitely had it coming.)
The Pickwick Papers will always be one of my favorite books. Another copy of it that my dad owned has the unique honor of being carried in my backpack half way across Mongolia; I was only allowed to bring one book on the trip, and I like to think Dad was pleased when he learned which one I wanted to take – even if he cringed inside from having to allow the book to be taken outside the house, let alone to the other side of the world.
Fortunately it made it back in one piece, and he barely let it out of his study since then.