Writers are magpies stealing the shiny bits of other people’s lives to line the nest of our imaginations. My magpie instincts are always on the alert at car boot sales. A small brown object on the edge of a blanket caught my eye. I was drawn to the object and as soon as I held it in my hands I did not want to part with it. It was a Booklover’s Diary. It cost me 50p
The diary was from 1931 and it cost one shilling. It belonged to Olive. Her full name and address is printed inside. She did not have a telephone but she had a Library number – W.D. 4839. There is an entry for most days.
The diary also contains the list of the 83 British publishers, libraries, literary prizes and modern authors. Olive has ticked the ones she liked including Anita Loos, Ethel Mannin, Rose Macaulay, Somerset Maugham and the romantic novelist Berta Ruck is both ticked and underlined.
Each week an author was asked to say at the time of writing which book would they most like to be judged on. Somerset Maugham chose ‘Of Human Bondage.’ Francis Brett Young said ‘the best book is invariably the one I am writing.’ Bernard Shaw said ‘all of them’. By contrast Edgar Wallace said. ’There is no work of mine by which I should wish to be judged.’ Olive highlighted John Erskine who said, ‘my favourite among my published works is Adam and Eve largely because I have a weakness for the character of Lilith.’
Phillip Gibbs chose his book ‘Realities of War,’ because it is a record of four tragic years during which I was an eye witness of unforgettable things, written down in this book as a memorial of dead youth and as a warning to a future generation.’
In 1931 the 26th May fell on a Tuesday and was the day after a Bank Holiday. It was also the day that another diarist, Samuel Pepys died. The featured living author that week was Radclyffe Hall.
On 26th May Olive took the bus to town, took tea at Beatties and went to the Hippodrome. The day before she had been to the Criterion cinema see Will Roger’s film ‘Lightnin.’
I like to think Olive and I would get on. We both work in education and love reading, the theatre, the film star Ronald Coleman and afternoon tea. She seemed to have enjoyed 1931. She was probably a young girl during the First World War and in a few years time would be facing another war.
One of the questions I always ask my friends is ‘What are you reading?’ A shared love of E.M. Young’s Miss Mole cemented one of my closest and enduring friendships. .Sharing Olive’s diary and the books she loved makes her feel like a friend too.
The foreword written by Lord Riddell says;
‘This Diary is unlike other diaries, inasmuch as it deals with books and authors, so that the user can brighten up his daily life by nice little tit-bits of literary information.’
Reminds me of the delight I take in reading the daily posts on this blog.
How would you answer the question, 'Which book would you like to be judged by?'