Books and me: On my shelves with Sam Peters

Honest autobiographies, elegant crime fiction, and Disability History Month. We caught up with Library Manager Sam Peters to hear about the books that are most important to her.

Where is your favourite place to read?

As a child I used to love reading on the stairs. One of the houses I grew up in had this curved staircase with a sunny spot part of the way down, and that used to make a perfect little place to read in. I also have a really vivid memory of reading the Harry Potter series one Christmas at my friend’s home in Amsterdam. It was the first time I had been away for Christmas and whenever I reread Harry Potter now, certain parts of the story transport me straight back to that sofa in Holland. These days it’s more about when I can find the time to read, so that is often in the staff room on my lunch breaks.

How do you read?

I love an audiobook and Borrowbox is brilliant for that, I think we’re so fortunate to have something like Borrowbox available to us.  I think if you’re not a big reader, or you find reading hard, or you just don’t have that much free time, audiobooks are a brilliant way to still have access to those stories. I enjoy the stories that have been dramatised and sound like radio plays. I listen to a lot of the older detective stories because I find the period really interesting, the Paul Temple series is one of my favourites, but I’m a big fan of Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey stories too.

If I’m not listening to an audiobook, I like to read a paperback book. Every now and then I’ll come across a great book that I really enjoy and it’s so hard to put it down. I had that with both of Richard Osman’s books, The Thursday Murder Club and The Man Who Died Twice. I just carried them around the house and kept reading. They’re just so funny and I love the setting of the retirement village.

What are you reading at the moment?

I definitely read more fiction than non-fiction. For me, reading is a way to escape to somewhere different as much as anything else, but I have been reading some interesting autobiographies lately. Ellie Taylor’s My Child and Other Mistakes talks about her becoming a mother and her introduction to motherhood in a really funny and feminist way which was nice to read.

Right now, I’m juggling two autobiographies but they’re both really quite different. I’m reading The Storytellerby Dave Grohl and My Unapologetic Diaries by Joan Collins. Dave Grohl’s book is quite a structured look at the bands and music that influenced him, whereas Joan Collins has literally published her uncensored diaries across a certain period of time. So, although they’re both autobiographies, they read totally differently.

I’ve also just finished The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo which I just couldn’t put down. It’s a perfect read for anyone that loves a strong female lead. It’s very much about the character of Evelyn and her life, her husbands are a very small part of her story. 

Reading patterns

When I was younger, I would just go to the section of the library with surnames that matched the authors that I liked to see what books were there, but I think now I’m quite comfortable with what I like to read. I’m a fan of what I call ‘elegant crime fiction’. I love crime fiction, but I don’t like all the gory bits. I stick to the more mainstream books from the genre because I don’t want to risk reading something I won’t enjoy as my reading time is very precious. I don’t like leaving a book unfinished so I’ll always keep reading in the hopes that it will get better.

First loves, best loves

I was given a copy of Jane Eyre for my eleventh birthday and I just loved Jane. I thought she was so brave and strong, and her story is so interesting. Reading it as an adult I definitely pick up on parts that went over my head as a child. But it’s all about her choices and what she wants, and, for the period it was written, I think that’s actually really significant.

Another one of my favourites when I younger was An Inspector Calls by J.B. Priestley which I had to read for my GCSEs. I absolutely adored it and over the years I’ve seen it performed three or four times. It’s one that I always try to introduce people to if they don’t know it and about two years ago, I took my teenage children to see it and they loved it too.

As a crime fiction fan one of my favourites has to be Agatha Christie. I liked that she wrote female murderers, though the idea that a woman could do such wicked acts caused some controversy at the time. She allowed women to be complex and central characters and I think that’s a lot of why her books are still relevant today. If you compare Thursday Murder Club with Miss Marple, Richard Osman has clearly taken inspiration from Christie.

I went to Burgh Island in Devon a few years ago which is where And Then There Were None was set. Much of my bucket list is about visiting the places that Agatha Christie set her books, going on the Orient Express is pretty high up on the list.

Another author I love is Simon Brett. When I first started off with Hampshire Libraries, we sent him an email just to test the water and see if he would consider doing an event with us. He replied and was really excited and offered to do the event for free because he said he really wanted to support the library. I met him at Lymington Library and was the nicest he could have been I really enjoyed seeing him.

Overlooked delights

As it’s Disability History Month I’ve been reading Take Up Thy Bed and Walk by Lois Keith. It talks about the issues with how disability is presented in society and the histories of these ideas. Like in stories such as Pollyanna, where the disabled character is punished for wrongdoing, or the disability that the lead character has must be cured for the story to be resolved. I think it’s really important to talk about how these views in the world are formed because we’re still having to fight a lot of them. As someone with what would be classed as a hidden disability, it’s something that’s close to my heart and I’m glad that we can enable these conversations in the library with some of the brilliant books we have. I think reading can be a great way to challenge our pre-conceived notions or unconscious bias.

Sam Peters is a Library Manager covering the libraries within the Avon and forest areas of the New Forest. Sam was speaking with Isaac Fravashi.

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