HELEN MORGAN reflects on a life-long love affair with the written word


The longer I live the more I love books, which is lucky as I still possess quite a few despite the fact that during the Covid lockdown, I gave away a couple of hundred of them to friends. There were no books available to buy during those difficult days as all the bookshops and even the libraries were closed. Paper was always considered to be a disease-spreader so second-hand books were shunned unless one knew the owners.

When I have no new books to read, I enjoy nothing better than pottering around among my bookshelves, picking out a volume now and again to renew its acquaintance or finding one of my many book-marks gifted to me over the years by friends.

There is the beautiful hand-embroidered bookmark with my name on it gifted to me by a lady in Verona, Italy a few years ago; a lovely hand-painted bookmark, a gift from a German friend who had it especially made for me by an elderly nun with the inscription: ‘Shenk der Welt ein Lächeln und der Tag gehört dir’ which means ‘Give the world a smile and the day belongs to you’. My favourite bookmark of all is a simple hand-made paper one created for me by my Italian friend’s handicapped daughter who painstakingly made it when she was seven.

When I moved house a little while ago I had to get rid of most of books as my large bookcases would not fit into my new down-sized accommodation. Instead I bought a simple bookcase with four deep shelves to house the books that I couldn’t bear to part with.

Among these are my dictionaries which are in constant use. One is my Langensheidts Grosswörterbuch – a gift from my German landlady that first year I was a university student in Hessen. The few simple words she wrote inside the cover reminds me of her kindness and generosity to me when I shared her home. Our friendship, which lasted a lifetime, only ended with her death from cancer in 2009.

My Oxford English Dictionary – my pride and joy reminds me of all the happy years I spent in that city and in its surrounding villages. I see again Blackwell’s Bookshop with its well-filled bookshelves where I bought my course books while studying. There was an atmosphere of reverence inside that building where I spent hours browsing among the shelves.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own