After I interviewed Jan Morris about her in-depth e-book assortment working to greater than 8,000 titles, I identified her personally for seven years, had been aware of her writing for greater than twenty years, and had written a monograph on her within the “Writers of Wales” sequence. She agreed to what turned out to be a prolonged interview concerning the books that impressed her and those who she usually re-visited and cherished or had been not directly particular.

The interview ran in The E-book and Journal Collector (challenge No. 200, November 2000), a month-to-month journal printed in London from 1984-2010. It was carried out at Morris’s home, Trefan Morys, within the northwest nook of Wales the place the household had moved to reside in 1965. After the interview, in her traditional beneficiant method, Morris’s spouse Elizabeth served bara brith fruit loaf, Welsh cheese, and occasional.

For agreeing to be interviewed and giving off her time, I introduced Jan to a bottle of crimson Barolo wine, and instructed her it was generally known as the “Wine of Kings and the King of Wines.” She telephoned me later to thank me and stated that they loved the full-bodied Barolo and now felt “fairly noble.” It was a necessary interview to hold out for the historic and literary file, and I later drew on materials from it for my biography: Jan Morris, Life from Both Sides, printed by Scribe in 2022

Jan Morris pictured signing her books with Paul Clements, 1994. Courtesy of the creator.

Which books did you learn as a baby?
The primary e-book which I consciously kept in mind while studying was the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I like water, and the e-book had a fantastic sense of journey. The language was unusual to me because it was American, so it was very unique. It was my grandfather’s Chatto & Windus version, which I nonetheless have. It wasn’t the primary e-book I learn as a result it was fairly tough to learn, nevertheless, it was the primary I keep in mind.

What different kids’ books did you learn?
I additionally learn Alice in Wonderland, which is a superb e-book. I didn’t actually like kids’ books, however, I loved what you would possibly name “grown-up” kids’ books like Alice.

Have been there at all times books in your own home whenever you had been rising up?
My mom learn lots and there have been at all times books mendacity around the home, in order that they performed an especially necessary half in my adolescence.

You may have an enormous assortment. Might we start along with your journey books, which appear to kind a big part?
To let you know the reality, I don’t consider journey books as such, as a result, I really feel all of them blur into one another. I name them “place books”, as a result of their books about locations. The most important phase might be my guidebooks which I exploit mainly for reference, though one or two are clearly artistic endeavors in their very own proper. I particularly like Murray’s Handbook for Spain by Richard Ford, which is the perfect e-book concerning the nation. My copy is a reprint of the unique version, which got here in 1845. He was a racy, exuberant, and uninhibited traveler who was usually impolite as a result of he didn’t look after anyone’s opinion.

What else do you want about previous guidebooks—is it the ambiance they conjure up?
Partly that, however I additionally just like the look of them as objects. They’re good to carry and to personal, and as they become older, for me, they get quainter and extra attention-grabbing. Additionally they take you to a different time, one other place, and again into the corporate of one thing lengthy gone.

I discover you may have a run of the legendary Baedeker guides.
I exploit the Baedekers continuously and particularly when I’m touring, even when they’re outdated. In the intervening time, I’m writing about Trieste and one of the vital helpful books to me has been the Austria-Hungary Baedeker of 1905. It contains Dalmatia and Bosnia and describes the entire of Austria-Hungary on the flip of the century. So I’d by no means do away with my Baedekers for something.

You may have an enormous assortment of the latest guidebooks as nicely. Which do you want the greatest?
I discover the Lonely Planet and Tough Guides very helpful. I’ve among the colorful Perception guides, in addition to Michelin, Blue Guides, Pallas Guides, and the reasonably posher ones like Everyman Guides to cities, that are lavishly illustrated. I even have a stunning assortment of the Companion Guides to international locations and cities which had been printed by Collins within the seventies and eighties.

What’s the rarest merchandise amongst your journey books?
It might in all probability be a few of my previous books on the Arabian journey. I have a replica of Sir Richard Burton’s Pilgrimage to El-Medinah and Meccah. It’s a primary version in three volumes, printed in 1855. It’s a fantastically produced e-book, with colored endpapers, and was offered to me by a pal, which was reasonably rash of him. I suppose it’s an uncommon and beneficial e-book, though I don’t know how a lot of its value is. Other than that it’s a superb e-book that you can learn equally nicely in paperback.

Which e-book has meant most to you throughout your writing and touring life?
Travels in Arabia Deserts by Charles Doughty. It’s a magical e-book and I have a number of copies of it. The primary one is an American one-volume version which I purchased from Steimatsky’s in Jerusalem in 1947. I really like the odor of it, the texture of it, and the e-book for itself. I additionally purchased the 1936 Jonathan Cape version in two volumes and a condensed two-volume version referred to as Wanderings in Arabia which is inscribed by Doughty.

You’ve simply sniffed that e-book—what do you get from that?
Sure, I’m a book sniffer, though I don’t know the place the behavior got here from. Even after these years, I can nonetheless odor the Random Home ink off the pages. The odor is just now fading. Some folks sniff medicine and glue, however, I sniff books—it’s simply one thing I’ve at all times completed.

Do you at all times write your title in each e-book you purchase?
All my life I’ve written my title and the date and place of buy-in non-fiction books, and I’ve typically preserved the bookseller’s penciled worth. I typically write different feedback concerning the e-book on the title page.

Which e-book has been your happiest discovery or the one that you just had been most happy to get?
I don’t regard myself as an e-book collector as such, though I’ve purchased books everywhere in the world. After I was in Cairo in the Nineteen Fifties, I discovered a replica of E.M. Forester’s Alexandria in a bookshop. Virtually the whole authentic 1922 version was destroyed in a warehouse fireplace, however, I managed to get a replica of the alternative version printed by the Royal Archaeological Society of Alexandria in 1932 and signed by Forester. I’ve at all times admired and adopted his recommendation about seeing the town: “the easiest way is to wander aimlessly about.”

Which journey e-book means essentially the most to you?
Eothen by Alexander Kinglake, which was given to me as a gift a few years in the past and which I cherish greater than some other e-book. I have a number of copies, together with the primary version printed in 1844 and the splendid version which Frank Brangwyn illustrated.

What’s so particular about Eothen?
It fits me, that’s what’s so particular about it. It’s indifferent, wry, ironical, charming, and fairly frankly, elitist, and in each manner, I’m keen on it and I like him. It is without a doubt one of the most authentic and inventive of all journey books. It has had lengthy innings—the primary version was printed anonymously and it has been reprinted on many occasions since then. In 1982, I wrote the introduction to the Oxford College Press paperback version.

What about books on particular international locations and cities?
The author, Gerald Brenan, who wrote books about Spain, as soon gave me some books as a memento of my go-to to the nation, so I constructed an excellent library of Spanish books. I wrote an e-book about Spain in the sixties however I haven’t saved up with shopping for books about it. Brenan additionally gave me some Arabian books of the journey, together with the eighteenth-century topographical account of the area, Neibuhr’s Travels By way of Arabia. 

Why did he give them to you?
I feel he thought he was getting previous and was going to die and he needed them to go to somebody who would recognize them, which I definitely have.

I see that you’ve got a big part in America.
I’m fascinated by America and have visited yearly since my first journey in 1953. I’ve written a number of books about America, together with two about New York, so I have an excellent assortment of books concerning the metropolis. One of my favorites got here out simply final yr—Gotham: A Historical past of New York Metropolis to 1898, written by Edwin Burrows and Mike Wallace. Others take a look at particular areas such because the port of New York and the harbor.

Just about different books concerning the U.S., I have a wide variety of Works Initiatives Guides which had been printed between the wars, and a collection of information books protecting a lot of the completely different states of the Union. In 1999, I printed an e-book about Abraham Lincoln. I needed to learn as a lot about him as I might discover and ended up with a big assortment of books about his life—apparently, there are ten thousand biographies of Lincoln.

What different international locations are represented in your assortment?
I as soon as purchased lots of books about Afghanistan as a result of what I used to be going to put in writing concerning the first Afghan Conflict—the retreat from Kabul—and I invested in lots of books. I purchased all I might discover, however ultimately it boiled right down to a chapter in my e-book, Pax Britannica, the trilogy concerning the rise and decline of the British Empire. However, I’ve saved these books as I’m very keen on them. They’re fairly uncommon and I suppose fairly beneficial.

You may have written your individual account of the 1953 Everest expedition, and you’ve got a veritable mountain of books, for those who’ll pardon the pun, about Everest.
Because the Occasions correspondent, I accompanied the British expedition occasion led by Sir John Hunt that conquered Everest in 1953. The expedition spawned a lot of books. However previous to that, many accounts had been written of particular personal expeditions by climbers. There are greater than forty works in whole from the official Everest expeditions between 1921 and 1953, and I’ve all of them.

May you have a favorite?
I’ve received a replica of W.H. Murray’s e-book The Story of Everest, which is a common historical past of the climbs printed in 1953. It was signed on the spot by all of the climbers on the occasion. It was a proof copy that I introduced with me, and everyone naturally was involved in it as a result of it hadn’t been printed. So all of them learn it whereas we had been on the mountain and I received all of the members of the expedition, together with Sherpa Tenzing who might hardly write, to signal it.

You may see that it comes full of tea stains and grubby fingerprints, which give it authenticity. After 1953, I misplaced curiosity in Everest, though I’ve written articles about it and not too long ago reviewed for The Spectator Sir Edmund Hillary’s e-book, View from the Summit, and a brand new e-book on George Mallory.

You are interested in the structure and had been not too long ago appointed an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects.
I’ve fairly a lot of books on Islamic structure, which has been a selected curiosity of mine. There’s additionally an entire run of the Nikolaus Pevsner “Constructing of England and Wales” architectural guides, of which I’m reasonably proud. The difficulty is that, together with the large-format artwork books, they do take up a considerable amount of shelf house.

I see that you’ve got eliminated the mud jackets from your Pevsners. Why is that?
All of it goes again to my Oxford days after I was an undergraduate at Christ Church. My tutor, there was J.I.M. Stewert, who was the creator of donnish detective tales beneath the pseudonym “Micheal Innes.” When a brand new e-book arrived, he instantly threw away the jacket and I believed this was reasonably trendy so for a time I did the identical, however, I don’t do it now and I want I’d saved them.

Might you inform me about your reference books and dictionaries?
I do love dictionaries. I have a reasonably large part of reference books, which features an entire batch of foreign-language dictionaries. I like phrases very a lot and I like to have the ability to search for what folks have stated about language. One particular merchandise is the two-volume version of Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language. One among my kids picked off some bits of the binding nevertheless it’s nonetheless in a remarkably good situation contemplating that this version, which is the fifth, was printed in 1784.

It’s beautifully produced with gilt edging and was given to me by certainly one of my brothers in 1953 as a memento of climbing Everest. I’ve used it broadly through the years and sometimes use it nonetheless. Now, because of CD-Rom, I have a few of these reference books on disc reasonably than in book form, and typically each.

I see some atlases on this a part of your library, too.
There are fairly a couple of new atlases and a few historic atlases. I’ve each version of the Occasions Atlas of the World because it was first printed, together with the grand five-volume set which is named the mid-century version—a reputation, by the way, which I gave it.

Do you want to study different folks’ diaries?
I’ve received all kinds of diaries and journals. Some are literary and theatrical—Alec Guinness, Harold Nicolson, Virginia Woolf, Noel Coward, which I believed was very contrived however they definitely give the impression of getting been jotted down, and I like that. I just like the immediacy of individuals’ diaries.

What about common English and European literature?
I maintain the fiction facet in a separate space. It covers a large spectrum of the nineteenth and twentieth-century authors. Some, like Kipling, I’ve received in fairly nicely full editions. Different authors embody Trollope, Joseph Conrad, James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, Evelyn Waugh, Graham Greene, plus many European writers. I’ve various Balza, Tolstoy, Turgenev, and Proust.

I’ve at all times liked Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina and have my grandfather’s copy within the previous Constance Garnett version, which is quaint and which I like very a lot. Lately in America, I purchased the Everyman version, which was printed by Knopf. It’s a good copy, however, I don’t prefer it as a lot because the previous Constance Garnett one!

Transferring to a different part of your library, there’s an assortment of books about Wales. You may have written broadly about Wales and you might be keen about it. What’s in your Welsh assortment?
It’s fairly a ragbag assortment. It’s principally made up of historical past, literature, journey, topography, artwork, and structure—all the pieces from the usual Historical past of Wales by John Davies to the Shell Information to Wales with a gazetteer by Alun Llewellyn and a splendid historic introduction by Wynford Vaughan-Thomas. The literature part contains some traditional works by the medieval poet, Dafydd ap Gwilym, the good Welsh storyteller, Kate Roberts, and the poet, R.S. Thomas. I additionally attempt to learn a lot about present-day novelists like Robin Llewellyn.

I additionally see a group of slim books with white covers about Welsh writers. What are they?
They’re the “Writers of Wales” sequence of monographs which characteristic of Welsh and Anglo-Welsh poets, novelists, and writers. It’s a really worthwhile sequence printed by the College of Wales Press in Cardiff and gives a crucial introduction to Welsh writers. In actual fact, the sequence is the longest within the historical past of Welsh publishing and has been in existence for almost thirty years. I like supporting Welsh publishers similar to Seren and Gomer who’re doing an excellent job with their books. I evaluate their books each time I can, however, they do not often get the popularity of the London papers.

What’s the stack of magazines on the window ledge beside the Welsh books?
That’s a big run of Planet: The Welsh Internationalist, which is a bimonthly journal. It covers all kinds of matters, together with politics, artwork, music, literature, and the atmosphere, and has an excellent evaluation part. I’ve additionally received a virtually full assortment of the Transactions of the Society of Cymmrodorion—a cultural and patriotic society based in 1751—which nonetheless seem yearly. There are such a lot of them that I’ve to retail half of them at my son’s home.

Staying with the Welsh theme, do you ever go to Hay-on-Wye to purchase books?
I’ve purchased books there however I don’t prefer them, though the retailers are good. I don’t like seeing a previous nation city changed into a spot for one kind of buying solely. Having stated that, I’m a fantastic supporter and advocate of the Hay Pageant and have spoken at its events.

Elsewhere on this planet may you have any favorite bookshops that you just at all times revisit?
Sadly, a lot of my favorite bookshops have closed. I used to go to the Tillman Place Bookstore in San Francisco, which had a mixture of secondhand and new books, however, has not too long ago closed. There have been additionally some in New York, though I can’t keep in mind their names. They had been single-owner bookshops with superb picks.

Are there some other topic areas through which you may have changed into?
Currently, I’ve been shopping for an increasing number of books by continental authors. For instance, I’ve tried to get all of Joseph Roth’s books. He wrote concerning the Austrian Empire and there’s presently a serious republication of his work. A few of his books are solely being printed for the primary time now, despite the fact that he died in 1939.

Are there any main gaps in your assortment?
I’m weak on science fiction. I by no means received into it and I remorse it in a manner as a result of I understand that there’s extra to it than I used to suppose. I’ve received a couple of Conflict of the Worlds-type books, however, I’ve by no means actually explored the sector completely sufficiently.

If there was a hearth in your own home and you can rescue just one e-book, which one wouldn’t it be?
After the cat—in fact—I’d go for him first—it could be Eothen, largely for sentimental causes.

Lastly, which three books would you’re taking with you to a desert island?
Firstly, Doughty’s Arabia Deserts. Then Conflict and Peace and I feel, a P.G. Wodehouse—maybe a “Jeeves” e-book for the appeal of the writing.


Jan Morris

Jan Morris: Life from Both Sides by Paul Clements is obtainable through Scribe.

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