Slobokan has tagged me for one of the book tags that's been going around. I've been wondering how to answer this, and have decided that the only honest thing to do is to say that the answers change regularly. Daily, even. Sometimes more than daily. I spend day after day working with books, and my heartstrings get tugged by new discoveries all the time.
Number of books owned: Thousands probably, and that's personally. Through the bookstores, I don't even want to think about it. Since we sell mostly used books, there sometimes isn't as clear a distinction between our books and store books as you might think. Books go back and forth and back and forth all the time (you'd think I'd be immune to seller's remorse by now, but no...). I try to pare the personal library to no more than two hundred at a time, but I (ahem) notice that I'm back up to roughly five hundred again.
Last book purchased: For myself, specifically ordered and not just plucked from inventory: The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal, 1870-1914, by David McCullough. I read a library copy of this years ago, and wound up checking it out more than once. I finally decided to get my own used hardback, so I could dip into it when I wanted, partly for pleasure, partly for background for a project I'm working on.
Last book I read: This is embarrassing, but I'm about the only person I know who hasn't read the Narnia series. I recently decided I needed to remedy that. The last two books I've read, in order, are therefore The Magician's Nephew and The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. (I'm reading them in the order C.S. Lewis recommended, not the order of publication.)
Five books that mean a lot to me: I'm finding this surprisingly hard to answer. So, how's this? I'm going to hedge. Instead of five books that mean a lot to me, here are five books that have made a difference or have mattered to me. That's easier to answer. Almost at random:
1. Black Beauty, by Anna Sewell. My parents bought us kids a junior library of some sort that we were supposed to share and share alike - but each of us was allowed to claim one book as our own. One of my brothers nabbed Big Red by Jim Kjelgaard, and I staked out Black Beauty and read it and read it and read it, and cried, and cheered and marveled, and was fiercely proud of it being my first big book that I could call my own.
2. The Harvard Classics: The Five-Foot Shelf of Books, circa 1965. Okay, so this is really cheating, since it's 51 books all told (which, by the way, take up rather more than five feet of shelf space), and I've only dipped into it here and there. But it's helped me discover some great books and authors and history, and I've had untold hours of great fun reading bits of it here and there. The first thing I think I read in it was The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin - which was nothing like I expected and turned my concept of early American history on its ear. It also made the Founding Fathers real to me. This set has sentimental value, as it happens. It was one of the first things my husband and I bought as a couple. We found it in a thrift store, couldn't afford it, not really - and bought it anyway and had to be frugal for a while to make up for it. How could I not love it?
3. Drink to Yesterday by Manning Coles. I think this was the first book by "Manning Coles" that I read, and it introduced me to the incomparable (if fictional) Tommy Hambledon - and also to the intelligent and occasionally off-the-wall talent of Cyril Henry Coles and Adelaide Frances Oke Manning, the pair behind the pen name. I read their books mostly for fun, but also for the substance behind the farce. History and insight along with wild adventures - what's not to like? (Okay, so they were prolific authors and not everything they wrote rises to the same high standards as the rest. Don't be so picky. I love these authors, warts and all.)
4. Washington Goes to War: The Extraordinary Story of the Transformation of a City and a Nation, by David Brinkley. Hand this book out to high school students instead of the dreck they tend to get for history books, and they'd not only have more fun but maybe they'd learn a thing or two about the real world (for better and worse). Civilized but unflinching.
5. Don't laugh, but The Penguin English Dictionary, 2nd Edition (ISBN 014051533X). This dictionary covers "English" in its Australian, British, Canadian, North American, Northern English, New Zealand, South African, and Scottish forms, all in the same book, regionalisms clearly marked. As an American who loves British fiction, and as someone who reads online newspapers and blogs from around the world, I've found this invaluable. Not perfect (the second edition has a few misfires, I think), but invaluable.
Oh, oh. This list will never do. It doesn't have The Screwtape Letters, or a book with Mark Twain short stories, or anything by Joseph C. Lincoln, or The Third Life of Per Smevik by Ole Rolvaag, or...
Okay, I guess I have two options. Either I run with what I have here or I wait until I'm feeling more ruthless and focused and can trim the list back to its proper five. (Pause while blogger considers the options...) Ah, what the Sam Hill - let's go with the extended list. (I plead illness. I've been one sick puppy the last several days. Who wants to concentrate when they're only half-recovered? And, yes, thanks, I do seem to be mending. Somewhat. If I didn't work at home, I wouldn't be back to work yet, let's put it that way.)
Rather than tag anybody with this particular book tag, I think I'll start a new one. (Does anybody else start feeling particularly contrary after they've been sick a while, or is it just me?)
New book tag: Imagine that a local philanthropist is hosting an event for local high school students and has asked you to pick out five to ten books to hand out as door prizes. At least one book should be funny and at least one book should provide some history of Western Civilization and at least one book should have some regional connection. The philanthropist doesn't like foul language (but will allow some four-letter words in context, such as expressed during battle by soldiers). Otherwise things are pretty wide open. What do you pick? I tag Bookworm, Dev, and Headmistress, and anybody else who has read this far and wants to run with it.
UPDATE: I seem to have unleashed something. Oh, hooray. Lots of books I didn't know about before now...
UPDATE: Another participant, who has, by the way, remembered that door prizes can include booby prizes - an important point that I forgot to clarify. And she's reminded me of Hendrick Van Loon - who helped me fall in love with history. I haven't read any of his stuff for years, but suddenly I want to go find a copy of something of his and reread it.
Feel free to leave a note in comments if you've participated on your blog. I'll be happy to have the link.
UPDATE: Mama Squirrel joins in.
Relief block printing - [image: vintage relief block printing]
3 hours ago