Library Stories | Anne P. Fenton
In Library Stories we investigate the tales behind your book collections and book rooms, visiting the homes of Folio members, collectors and enthusiasts from around the world. If you have a Library Story you would like to share, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This month we speak with Folio Bookshop regular Anne P. Fenton about her eclectic and well-travelled collection.
One of the first things you notice upon sitting down in Anne Fenton’s cosy North London sitting room-cum-library are her towering walls of books. They are glorious. Sections on Japan, Africa, Egypt and Spain spill into shelves of mysticism, poetry, gardening and sociology, and every corner is peppered with intriguing and beautiful objects from all over the world – with seemingly no room to spare (although she later confided that she had moved some of the scruffier paperbacks to the attic before our arrival). It is a truly eclectic mix of interests and passions. And, as we would discover – amid mountains of sandwiches and fresh fruitcakes – Anne speaks as effusively about Japanese court music as she does about John Donne.
FS: Tell us a little bit about your library, Anne.
AF: It’s a reflection of my interests – each section is a different passion, like Africa, Egypt, China or Japan. I lived in France for 30 years with the UN agency UNESCO in Paris, and my friends are from many different places, so I’m very attracted to everything that’s exotic, everything that’s foreign. My very dear friends are from the different continents, and I just love to have their books and learn more about their cultures. I studied the languages a little, not fluently, but I have English, French and Spanish. Russian I can sing to you and write, but hardly speak, as with Arabic, which I can read and write, but can’t sing. And Chinese I can just say a few words. My interests add warmly to my life, but it’s lovely to have these beautiful books. I like my paperbacks as well, but these [Folio books] are very special, and I really value the way they’re presented. You just don’t see that with other publications.
FS: And how far does the collection go back? What were the first books you bought?
AF: I’ve always had books, but because I’ve traveled a lot and moved house – about five times in Paris – you can’t afford to have too many. But my dear father, when he was alive, worked with publishers and I used to ask him to get me mainly paperbacks, nothing like your books. I must say, I read less fiction now – I am drawn to fact. But I find it’s lovely to open a book and see drawings, not just words. And yours are very tasteful in Folio. They add colour and warmth to my home, I just know that I’ve got lots of wonderful lives around me. It makes my home more interesting for me, I don’t know about anybody else. But I love them. And they make my home very cosy.
FS: On our little tour, you mentioned your particular love of Japan. What other cultures interest you?
AF: Many areas. As I mentioned, working for UNESCO you meet people from all different cultures. You can study their languages, which is a wonderful way of learning how people think. Through my friends, I have a whole African section there. I have a particular interest in Yoruba culture from Nigeria. I can even sing in Yoruba.
I don’t know where they come from, these passions. Although, I must say I am often rather serious. That’s why I love your children’s books, I missed out on that when I was young. The presentations are so exciting, lovely design and drawings. They make them very inviting. I go mad when I come to the Folio Bookshop.
FS: Do you have a favourite Folio edition?
AF: I love my Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Twain. I love your Mark Twain. All the wonderful books on my shelves, I haven’t read them all fully, I’m ashamed to say. Actually I’m not ashamed to say, I just love to have them. From poetry, John Donne I love – one of the books that I take down and just read the bits that I like. In fact, I bought John Donne from you but I also bought John Donne from everybody else! But my favourite must be your limited edition of Don Quixote. It is beautiful.
FS: And do you have a favourite non-Folio book?
AF: I love Murasaki Shikibu’s Heian period The Tale of Genji. I have the Arthur Waley and Seidensticker translations, I just wish I could speak Japanese. I have this passion for Japan. I listen to Gagaku music, which is the ancient Imperial Court music of Japan. The Japanese must think I’m a crazy lady. It’s probably like listening to the music of Shakespeare’s time!
FS: Your library is certainly lovely. It’s very peaceful here.
AF: Yes, I just love being with myself. There is a lovely solitude being here. And it’s so nice to have the books in the background. Everything else is intrusive – television, radio. With the books there is a peace and quiet, and you have your imagination. There is an element of reading that has been lost. I’m not crazy about those books you read on the computer. I love the smell of a book, and the feel of a book, and to put it down and pick it up and reread. I suppose you can do that with a computer, but a book is like receiving a birthday card handwritten – you really feel like it’s coming from the soul.
FS: Thank you for talking to us Anne, it has been an absolute pleasure.
Anne has also written a number of poems about her many and varied travels. She has kindly allowed us to include one below –