What with Bookshelf’s shiny new midweek slot, who to show us their top five books than a man whose entire career has been based around the fascinating history of objects? Marc Allum is a miscellaneous specialist on much-loved BBC programme Antiques Roadshow and is also a freelance art and antiques journalist. His book collection and incredibly well-written captions reveal his wide-ranging variety of historic passions, and the objects scattered around them (human skull included) confirm his self confessed “collectoraholic” nature. Perhaps one of our best ever bookshelves. Here he is…
Tahir Shah: Sorcerer’s Apprentice
This is one of my favourite books of all time. Tahir’s extraordinary work strikes a chord with me because it seems almost impossible that it is based in reality. I like to live beyond the edge in that shady area just left of reality; this book enables the reader to do that. Tahir’s surreal journey through India deals with issues of poverty, survival and death, an immensely rich and informative travelogue based on the notion that he can become a master conjurer under the tutelage of India’s greatest teacher. It’s a life changing experience that almost kills him yet reveals one of the greatest deceits. Magical and rich; I always keep two copies – one to give away.
Yamamoto Tsunetomo’s Hagakure: The Art of the Samurai
This 17th century Japanese masterpiece had me completely spellbound when I first read it, in fact, the idea of Bushidō – the Way of the Warrior, and the idea that living and dying could be elevated into such an art form, affected me quite emotionally; little wonder that we westerners find the concept of the Samurai code so compelling. However, it’s not a book based on a beautiful utopian ideal; it deals with brutal and instant justice, feudal law, courage, honour and wisdom….I have a Samurai armour in the corner of my library; he’s my manifestation of the code.
Gabriel García Márquez: Love in the Time of Cholera
This is a gem of a book. Márquez turns my head into a mush with his balmy style, I feel like I’m wading through air with the consistency of water when I read this novel, it’s languid themes of love seem closer to home the older you get, reinforced by the accumulated experience of love and loss. Like many books that you read in your teenage years, the images become fixed in your head, you cannot change these, but the fulfilment you derive is multiplied one hundred fold every time you re-experience it.
Kurt Vonnegut Jr.: Slaughterhouse-Five
If no other genre had been invented I would happily read dystopian fiction every day of my life. Time-shifting suits me well; I inhabit various epochs in the course of my work and love a novel that switches between different worlds, different times and different themes. Vonnegut is funny but Slaughterhouse-Five is also grim and cynical challenging you to look far beyond the humour and extract something much greater. It’s short too, always helpful when you need to top-up and are limited for time. My copy is full of pencil notes from my student days – it’s now very fragile.
Jan Bondeson: Freaks
This is one of those intelligently written and informative books that give you enough witty after-dinner material to last an age. The idea of a book based on the deformities of humans through history might sound a little appalling but this is a totally enthralling well-researched read that deals with attitudes to malformation and the lives of those concerned, many condemned to be exhibits in freak shows. It’s a macabre but compelling area that ties in with my lecturing on mortality and artefacts – fascinating and sad too.