Buried In Books: A Reader’s Anthology, By Julie Rugg

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The Independent Culture

Many readers of this section will share Julie Rugg's anguish about arriving home "with a blush and bag that is just a little too heavy". Her useful advice for hiding second-hand book purchases from your partner is to "spread them on existing piles of books... a method learned from the tunnellers in The Great Escape." Buried in Books would be a fruitful addition to any booklover's pile. Exploring this delightful anthology is akin to rummaging in the better sort of second-hand bookshop.

Literary quirks explored range from re-reading favourite volumes, a practice scorned by Somerset Maugham ("a mechanical exercise like the turning of a Tibetan's prayer wheel") but lauded by Oscar Wilde ("If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over... there is no use in reading it at all"), to what Philip Larkin called "the several atmospheres" of libraries: "The silence of wet artisan-haunted winter nights, the holiday-fattened shelves of summer afternoons."

"My pet foe is the individual who turns the corners of the leaves," wrote Adrian Joline in 1903, though sadly this has happened to the very page where this comment appears. At least this reviewer didn't go as far as Mr Pooter: "Got some more red enamel (red, to my mind, being the best colour) and painted the coal scuttle and the backs of our Shakespeare". The curious impetus for bookish uniformity put Alan Bennett off reading at Armley Junior Library in Leeds, which "bound all its volumes in maroon or black, so that The Adventures of Milly Molly Mandy were every bit as forbidding as The Anatomy of Melancholy".

The necessity of having the right books on show prompts both the panic in Sheridan's The Rivals ("Quick, fling Peregrine Pickle under the toilet... and leave Fordyce's Sermons open on the table") and the sort-out in the library of an imaginary friend by this paper's own John Walsh: "I though it tactful to remove books with the titles like Sex and Aging and Living with Cystitis... and silently slid Bella's husband's copy of The Big Book of Breasts under the sofa."

One feels to be among kindred spirits with the bookworms gathered in this volume. This reviewer experienced a shock of recognition at Rugg's admission that "In the majority of the novels I read – especially ones by Iris Murdoch – I forget who everyone is unless I make a plan and I tend not to make plans very often." Rugg should, however, have another bash at EP Thompson's The Making of the English Working Class, which she admits to abandoning on a Mexican holiday. There's much more to it than Methodism.