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My reading haven

Stylish private library finds this writer losing track of time while in the company of his favorite British authors.




“When I find myself absorbed in a book, I can just go on and on, delaying meals and errands I promised to myself I’d undertake that day.” PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY OF PHILIP CU UNJIENG

For over 40 years now, I’ve been a great lover of literary fiction; ready to take on anything as long as it’s well-written.

Black comedies and social satires, scifi and dystopian dramas, mystery thrillers and crime fiction, to fantasy, time travel and alternative historical fiction — I’m ready to take on all these genres, and refrain from claiming any one genre is my absolute favorite.

What I love is finding a well-trusted or new, young author putting a spin on some established storyline; and coming up with something that actually feels fresh and exciting — even if the more cynical and jaded will claim there are really only three to four truly original plots we can write about.

As a result, any living space that I’ll personalize and call my own will require a lot of shelf space for my books.

I’ve been tempted to transition to Kindle, but at the end of the day, there’s still nothing like holding a new novel in your hands, being careful about not putting too much stress on the book’s spine and turning to that pristine first page.

These books became something of a refuge for Philip during the ECQ.

The way it’s been mapped out — given the constant influx of new books — I’ve made the main living room area the repository of most of the books I’ve accumulated over the decades.

And then standing book shelves dot the bedrooms — there to accommodate the titles that arrived after the shelves in the living room had been filled to bursting.

They add character to each of the bedrooms, and should guests find themselves troubled by insomnia, there’s ready reading material for their perusal.

In my own bedroom, you’ll find the most recent titles and acquisitions.

At any point in time, there’ll be close to 12 to 15 titles that are patiently waiting their turn to give me hours of anticipated reading pleasure. Pre-pandemic, I’d be reading late at night — it’s my sacred “reading-time,” and so that’s literally in bed, turning the reading light off when my eyes get too heavy, and I finally feel my own regular insomnia fading away.

During the ECQ, I have to confess that these novels and the reading hours they represented became something of a refuge.

Stranded at home and falling in the high risk senior citizen demographic, I would find myself whiling the daytime hours away, reading.

And believe me, when I find myself absorbed in a book, I can just go on and on, delaying meals and errands I promised to myself I’d undertake that day.

In the aforementioned living room, just for a change in location, I’d ensconce myself in one of the sofas, take advantage of the natural light streaming from the windows, and while the hours away, absorbed in a book.

Obviously, these novels have become prized possessions — as they represent a compendium of contemporary Literary Fiction of the last 40 years, as curated and handpicked by yours truly.

Let’s see whether my sons will actually appreciate the bequest of this “little library” when I’m gone.

My favorite authors? Too many to mention, but if you’ll force me to give up some names, I’d volunteer that my go-to Top 5 British novelists (in no particular order), would be Julian Barnes, Ian McEwan, David Mitchell, Jonathan Coe and William Boyd.

From the New World, I’d “elect” Matt Ruff, N.K. Jemisin, Mark Helprin, Mario Vargas Llosa and Michael Chabon.

These books and their presence in my living space are just a given now. They’re a constant, and I can’t imagine inhabiting a space without them.