‘I dream of a wall-to-wall room of books’

An­gela Keoghan’s book­shelf

Weekend Herald - - Books -

My book col­lec­tion is like a trav­eller’s aviary of ex­otic birds; a splen­didly colour­ful ar­ray, full of tales and char­ac­ters col­lected from coun­tries and cul­tures abroad.

Some of them are full of pic­tures with no writ­ten nar­ra­tive. Oth­ers have that worn look of well-loved ti­tles with peel­ing pages, fray­ing spines and that stale “old book smell”. I of­ten lose my books in my book­shelf only to one day stum­ble upon a for­got­ten ti­tle, a feel­ing akin to dis­cov­er­ing a rare spec­i­men, and need to take it away and study it once more.

My menagerie is con­tained in a large free­stand­ing book­case with square shelves big enough to fit those awk­ward over­sized va­ri­eties. Cur­rently full to the brim, it re­sides in our lounge within handy reach from the couch. I dream of a wall-to-wall room of books but the re­al­ity is our home is rather small. The groan­ing tower our book­shelf has be­come is be­cause of trav­els to far­away book fairs where you just can’t pos­si­bly leave with­out pick­ing up a book or . . . seven to bring home in ex­tra lug­gage space.

As an il­lus­tra­tor, my col­lec­tion con­sists mainly of chil­dren’s books for all ages. Favourites like Home by Car­son El­lis, A World of Your Own by Laura Car­lin, Jane, the Fox, and Me by Fanny Britt or word­less books like

Sea­sons by Blexbolex fill count­less cor­ners. A spat­ter­ing of pa­per­backs by Jane Austen, Dodie Smith, Paul Gal­lico and James Her­riot sit along­side the oc­ca­sional book from art school mas­ters like Robert Frank, Cha­gall, Pi­casso or Monet.

My ap­petite for read­ing started with my nana, who in­tro­duced me to the many mis­for­tunes of Mit­ten the Kit­ten by Chris­tine Rees, part of a BBC Ra­dio pro­gramme called Lis­ten with Mother. I still have her copy, although it is a lit­tle worse for wear nowa­days as it seems de­ter­mined to sep­a­rate it­self from its spine but the mem­ory of my nana’s voice and the rivet­ing tales of poor un­for­tu­nate Mit­ten had me hooked in the world of sto­ry­telling.

Book col­lect­ing is ad­dic­tive yet so cre­atively re­ward­ing. One of my ear­li­est in­spi­ra­tions came in the clas­sic Win­nie the Pooh se­ries. I loved the lan­guage and hu­mour and E.H. Shep­ard’s beau­ti­ful ink draw­ings re­ally bought the char­ac­ters in the Hun­dred Acre Wood to life. Richard Scarry’s Busy Busy World is a book I would also pore over for hours, fas­ci­nated by the il­lus­tra­tions full of weird and wacky per­son­i­fied an­i­mals and the hi­lar­i­ous sto­ries. My Fam­ily and Other An­i­mals by Ger­ald Dur­rell, is a favourite sum­mer read. Hu­mor­ous and full of won­der­ful im­agery which trans­ports you to the is­land of Corfu after a busy day at work.

The only book not in my book­shelf is the re­sult of a slight mis­cal­cu­la­tion on­line where in a frenzy of but­ton-click­ing, I some­how failed to no­tice the sheer bib­li­cal pro­por­tions of Charley Harper, An Il­lus­trated Life. Its mea­sure­ments turned out to be more the ac­tual size of a cof­fee ta­ble rather than be­ing able to fit on one. So it pays to know the na­ture of the book you buy when think­ing of hous­ing it.

An­gela Keoghan is a for­mer pho­tog­ra­pher­turned-il­lus­tra­tor who was com­mis­sioned by the UK’s Na­tional Trust to il­lus­trate its new chil­dren’s book about con­ser­va­tion.

How to Help a Hedge­hogand Pro­tect a Po­lar Bear by Jess French and il­lus­trated by An­gela Keoghan (Nosy Crow, $28) is out now.

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