A Life in Books
As so many previous Barefoot Booksellers have written here, finding out on a grey, wet day in the UK – and I can guarantee that nearly every bookseller found out on a rainy day in the UK – that I was to be given the opportunity to go to Soneva Fushi was a dream come true. After two years on pause due to successive lockdowns, this news felt like the chance to embark on something new and to test myself in ways that I couldn’t imagine. However, when asked to introduce myself on the blog, I knew that I was a true bookish introvert and that having to talk about myself would render me speechless. Fortunately, I’ve long held a tradition where, if I didn’t know what to give someone as a present, I would buy them my favourite books, because there’s nothing quite as revealing or intimate with another person as knowing what novels speak to them, from the Everyman Classics that we pretend are our favourite novels at a dinner party to the Jilly Coopers that we hide under our beds. Therefore, instead of giving you the facts and figures about me: University, work, hobbies; I thought it would be far better to tell you the story of my life in six books.
1. Charlotte’s Web by E. B White
Charlotte’s Web is a children’s classic about the friendship between a young pig called Wilbur and a barn spider called Charlotte. I grew up on a farm in Bedfordshire, which is a forgotten county in the middle of England. This farm is also home to some of the smartest, naughtiest pigs in existence and at any given time they can be spotted on a nature walk through the village, sunbathing in the garden or trying to hitchhike down the road. I grew up surrounded by nature and fell in love with the idea of coming to Soneva Fushi and discovering the island’s marine heritage site. And I also re-read Charlotte’s Web to try and inspire some affection for the tropical spiders that will undoubtedly become my roommates over the next few months!
2. First Term at Malory Towers by Enid Blyton
One of the questions that I was asked again and again when I was applying to become the Barefoot Bookseller – from the Soneva and Ultimate Libraries interviewers, to friends and colleagues – was, how are you going to cope with living on such a small island? Well, my answer is that I have been marooned on a desert island with hundreds of other people – as nonsensical as that seems – before, when I went to a boarding school in a small market town. As with most of the intensest experiences of our lives, it was ‘the best of times, it was the worst of times’ but I’ve never forgotten the camaraderie of a life lived in such close proximity and I think that the Malory Towers series, whilst being the ultimate in parent propaganda for boarding schools, captures the fun and excitement of being away from home for the first time.
3. Normal People by Sally Rooney
After I finished school, I headed overseas to live for the first time while I studied English and History at Trinity in Dublin. Yes, that Trinity of Sally Rooney novels. It was here I struggled through Ulysses and fell in love with the realisation that the world was full of stories and romance and adventure. I found my closest friends there, the ones who waved me off from Heathrow just a short week ago. And I most definitely over-identified with Marianne, the novel’s protagonist, because of it. Normal People is a novel about possibilities, and I think that my journey from a damp lecture hall in Dublin to a beach in the Maldives shows that in life anything is possible.
4. A Far Cry From Kensington by Muriel Spark
Full of eagerness and exuberance after university, I ended up working in a major publishing house back home in London. I went from working in a wonderfully mad Irish publishers, where we took book stock down from a hayloft at the end of a rope, and picked wildflowers for the windows, to being in a serious, money-making enterprise. The printer became my mentor and I came to the horrible realisation that I had managed to get a job in my dream industry and I hated every second of it. This is why I chose Far Cry From Kensington because it has the humour and the friendship that I made during those years slaving away but also because it asks the bigger questions about what it means to keep your integrity and your love of art’s for art’s sake when you’re confronted with the bastion of commerce. It’s a very funny, spiky novel that encapsulates a similar time in my life.
5. The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford
I chose this one not only because Nancy Mitford was actually a predecessor at the bookshop – Heywood Hill – where I ended up working after leaving publishing, but also because it reflected a personal quest of my own to fall back in love with books. If publishing was my Tony Kroesig, Heywood Hill isn’t quite the communist Christian Talbot but working there did teach me a lesson in not being afraid to leap into the unknown. And so, it definitely prepared me for the decision to apply for a job at the exotic and, to me, unknown Soneva resorts. The Pursuit of Love is such a wonderful novel because it looks at the ways in which we love and live our lives and is ultimately about our search to make meaning.
6. No Offense by Meg Calbot
This one is cheating slightly as it’s set in a public library on a small island in Florida but I think it’s close enough to the Barefoot Bookseller concept to count! It was a book that I picked up because I was looking for some fun and some sunshine, much as I was hoping for when I applied for a job with Soneva. It’s about a young woman who goes to work with books on a small island and so that’s my last choice for the moment because who knows where the story will go from there…