How to ride a rhino. Or shift a white elephant.

Stop me if I’ve told you this before (I see, now, the point of doing categories of one’s posts so that it’s easy to check back and see what I’ve said before; but after all these months, is it likely I’m going back to do some sort of sensible index? Me?) but, after my mother died and I had to clear her house, nearly all her books came to me.

The idea had been to have a good clear-out and get rid of the ones I didn’t actually want. But when it came to it, that was not possible. I started well, putting into boxes my mother’s self-help books (she was clutching at straws, the last few years) and some Readers Digest Condensed Books from the 60s (call me a literary snob and I’ll agree), but soon I started to find books I remembered from childhood, whether from having read or simply from their familiarity on the shelves. Al, who was helping, started to encourage me. He picked up a book at random. “Look at this” he said “‘Ride a Rhino’. The only possible interest in this could be if someone actually was riding a rhino, ha ha.” I took it from him. “But it’s Michaela Denis!” I exclaimed, opening the book, fortuitously, at the very page where she was pictured doing just that. “She and her husband Armand used to do wildlife conservation safari-type programmes back in the 60s. He had a moustache and looked years older than she was – she was a babe, and even as a child I used to wonder what she saw in him. Even more so were the nautical equivalents, Hans and Lotte Hess, she was gorgeous and he was an old man.”

I said all these things from my childhood memories, of course, and there may be little truth in any of them, except that Lotte and Michaela were, assuredly, babes.

Al said “I see what you mean. Keep the books.” A little later, Ro came in and started, briskly, to encourage me as well. “It’s all right,” said Al kindly. “She’s done all she can.” I felt all understood and cared for – even if they thought I was barking mad, they knew how I felt.

So instead, we lined two rooms with bookshelves and fitted several more bookcases in bedrooms and on the landing, and I have the security blanket of far more books than I can ever read, but which give me comfort and pleasure to see and touch and browse through. And now, I am starting to read them. Some of them, of course, I read years ago, particularly the ones that date from the 60s – I had a wide-ranging taste in books even as a child and ploughed through everything that caught my eye, not caring whether it was a child’s book or not. But many of them, I’ve never looked in.

I should, of course, read them and then give away all but the best. But I’m not sure I can. Or, at any rate, that I will.

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