Things You Never Learn

I collect young people’s books. I have a general collection of books published from the mid nineteenth century onwards which includes everything from Louisa Alcott, through Julia Green, Joan Lingard, Philip Reeve and John Rowe Townsend to Paul Zindel. I don’t necessarily have everything by all the authors in this collection; it’s more of a snapshot of publishing. Alongside that I have what I consider to be my more serious collection of books for girls by specific authors from the twentieth century.

There are some authors in that latter collection whose inclusion is immutable: Elinor Brent-Dyer, Dorita Fairlie Bruce, LM Montgomery… All I have ever done with these (apart from read them!) is add to them. However, in the interest of space (and sometimes money) other authors have not been so fortunate. In my reckless younger days, I disposed of my collection of career novels and of books by Mabel Esther Allan in all her guises. I have lived to regret both of these decisions and am still engaged in rebuilding that part of my collection.

Two moves ago, after much thought and a long cooling-off period, I decided to sell off my Elsie J Oxenham collection. I was moving to a smaller house and I hadn’t read any of Elsie Oxenham’s books for years. I reminded myself of my previous regrets but I was sure that I wouldn’t miss these books. And I didn’t. Immediately prior to my most recent house move, I gave away most of my remaining titles, keeping only the few I thought I might reread one day.

I blame lockdown.

I was wrenched away from Australia before I’d had time to see all my cousins there. I arrived home and immediately self-isolated from my aunt for two weeks. My sister contracted COVID-19 and I, of course, couldn’t go to her. In fact I had to wait four months before I could see her. I’m fairly self-sufficient but I’m also pretty attached to the few family members I have. So what was my response?

I surrounded myself, physically, mentally and emotionally, with memories, thoughts and actions that made me feel secure. And this involved buying books. I bought new-to-me books, I bought hard copies of books I owned electronically, I bought books to add to my specific collections. I bought them to read, to write about and just to own. The first two filled up my days and the last made me feel happy and that I was investing in my future.

Occasionally I saw some books by Elsie Oxenham for sale but I resolutely turned away. Life settled into its new pattern and I became more balanced about my book-buying. I got involved in a Facebook LM Montgomery Readathon and my thoughts swung westward to Maritime Canada. Then the lockdown eased, albeit in a measured way here in Scotland, and I experienced life outwith my own walls again.

So I was somewhat taken aback this week to find myself buying three modern reprints published by the Elsie Jeanette Oxenham Appreciation Society. I hadn’t gone looking for them but the seller, a member of the Society, appeared on my Facebook timeline and without much conscious thought I asked for them.

They haven’t arrived yet but I am looking forward to reading them when they do. I fear that another collection is on the cusp of being rebuilt. EJO was fairly prolific, I currently own six titles and am awaiting these three. I may be busy for some time…

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