This week I offered to drop some books in at the charity shop, for a neighbour who’s moving. ‘Have a look through first, if you like,’ Jackie said.
‘Thanks,’ I said. If there’s one thing better than browsing an unknown bookshelf, it’s got to be unpacking books. I’m fairly certain I have developed peripheral-vision super-powers for lines of titles in rows. That’s good. When it comes to boxes, though, I feel like Pandora must have done with that box. I had two, and permission to open them.
These boxes were deep. On the top layers were old school-annuals. Judging by the hairstyles and clothes of the girls on the paper-coated boards, they were maybe seventy or eighty years old. I knew how those books would feel to read: the pages thick and fibrous, dry, slightly stiff. I’d had similar titles when I was growing up, passed on by neighbours, aunts and grandparents.
‘Are you sure Bella won’t want to keep them?’ I said.
‘They’ve been up in her old bedroom for the last twenty-years, if she had, she’d have taken them,’ said Jackie. ‘There won’t be room in my new house.’
Not in my old house either, but I couldn’t resist a look. Bella and I had been at school together. Most of the books brought back memories. There were the interests we’d shared, the author’s we’d passed back and forth – Heidi and Enid Blyton, a handful of Dean’s Classics, some Ladybird books, a selection of adventure stories and those old annuals.
At junior-school there had been a short phase when several of us were keen on them. We devoured stories about girls at boarding schools, that had been written to entertain our parents, or even grandparents. Part of the charm for me was imagining myself into that past.
Some of us decorate our lives with fragments of history, inherited, gifted or bought. I try to remember that when creating characters.