The Curated Shelf

curated sign 2a

When a book fascinates me (say, Paul Bowles’ The Sheltering Sky), I am compelled to read a background history of the author’s life (Without Stopping: The Autobiography of Paul Bowles or Ian Findlayson’s Tangier: City of the Dream) or to draw from authors in whose circles he traveled (A Life Full of Holes, the sparce and harsh collaboration of Bowles and Larbi Layachi, or the excellent short stories by his wife, Jane Bowles).

Now that I manage an Oxfam book and music shop, I have little time to daydream and browse for new works. I rely on the writers, artists, musicians and readers around me for inspiration. Who better to draw from than the writers in our OxfamReads! series? I wondered what would they create if they were “let loose” (to borrow Jo Ind’s phrase) in Oxfam to play. So I selfishly created the concept of the The Curated Shelf.

This year’s two-week event featured five of our OxfamReads! authors. If you were not able to visit the shop, here is the archive of their efforts.

–Ladi, Shop Manager

Follow the links to each author’s curation:


The Curated Shelf: Jo Ind

joindI greatly enjoyed being able to choose any book I wanted in the Oxfam Bookshop to sit on my Curated Shelf. It was better than being a child let loose in a sweet shop. Rarely, do I allow myself just to pick what I want. Normally my book selections are constrained by concerns about money and whether I will have time to actually read whatever title I’m considering.

For The Curated Shelf, I could just pick what I fancied and there was a luxurious freedom in that. My shelf turned out to be biographical. I chose books I had enjoyed as a child and enjoy reading with my own little boy, novels where I had interviewed the author through my work as a journalist, sheet music because I love singing and playing the piano, a book on language to reflect my enduring interest as a philosopher and writer.

In picking whatever I wanted, I found a story of my life displayed through the spines on books. That felt pleasurable and somehow important to me. I’m interested in seeing what shelves other writers have curated. However they have made their choices, they will be telling a story, one that I very much look forward to reading.

About Jo Ind

Jo Ind is a writer for print and digital media based in Birmingham, UK. She has a degree in philosophy and English from York University. She is passionate about words – the sound, rhythm, sight, texture and meaning of them. Jo has spent more than 20 years in the industry writing for national and regional publications. She writes books on the themes of spirituality and the body, particularly sexuality, eating disorders and ageing. Her book Memories of Bliss (2003) asks “What is sexuality? ” “What’s going on when we get turned on?” and “How can we live our sexualities well?” Her first book, Fat is a Spiritual Issue (1993) looks at the relationship between spirituality and eating disorders.

Jo’s Picks

I don’t have time to read fiction for fun anymore, but when I was a journalist I had to read fiction when I interviewed these brilliant authors. What joy!

  • Jonathon Coe. Rain Before it Falls.
  • Jim Crace. Continent.
  • Ian McEwan. Black Dogs
  • Michele Roberts. Fair Exchange.
  • Vikram Seth. An Equal Music.
  • Joanna Trollope. Spanish Lover.
  • Jeanette Winterson. Written on the Body.

[ Some of our customers enjoyed keeping the tent cards. Jo’s picks below fell victim to this: ]

  • The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron
  • Back to Black (song/piano) Amy Winehouse
  • The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  • New Labour, New Language? by Norman Fairclough

Ain’t I a Woman? Black Women and Feminism by Bell Hooks

When I studied feminism in my early 20s, I didn’t pay enough attention to black women’s experience. I would like to make up for this now.

Best Loved Poems edited by Neil Philip

I make my way through life with poetry. This collection is beautifully produced, which adds to the joy.

The Celts: Life, Myth and Art by Juliette Wood

I long to reclaim the spirit of the natural world that the Celts celebrated. I hop this beautifully produced book could help.

Children’s History of Birmingham by Mandy Ross

I love Birmingham, children and Mandy Ross.

Creating Uncommon Worship: Transforming the Liturgy of the Eucharist by Richard Giles

I don’t know if this book is any good, but I would like to find out. I’m interested in how we are changed through ritual.

The English Language by David Crystal

I’m interested in how language works. I would be fascinated to see how it could shape a political movement.

The Little Prince by Antoine De Saint-Exupery

This is inscribed “I found this book in the children’s selection.” I share the observation. Every adult needs this story.

Live/Work: Working at Home, Living at Work by Deborah Dietsch

I won’t read this, just look at the pictures and fantasise…

Making Babies: Stumbling into Motherhood by Anne Enright

How anyone has the time or energy to write about early motherhood I don’t know. I haven’t read this but would like to.

Man With a Blue Scarf: On Sitting for a Portrait by Lucian Freud

I would love to know what it was like to sit for Lucian Freud.

My Life in My Hands by Alison Lapper

I first noticed Alison Lapper when the statue of her, pregnant, was causing controversy in Trafalgar Square. I used that story to teach journalism in schools and was moved […] reactions. I want to read this.

Prisonomics: Behind Bars in Britain’s Failing Prisons by Vicky Price

I am chair of a charity, Bringing Hope, that works with men in prison. I am interested in a view from an economist.

The Road Taken by Michael Buerk

As a journalist, I like reading about others in the industry.

The Curated Shelf: David Hart


Thinking to find a range of books with titles beginning with The, I was pleased to discover a range, a mix, and would like the display to ask why The? What is being claimed for a book with such a singular title?

With no titles in mind–and I made no search for The Holy Bible, The Koran, The Oxford English Dictionary–I was tickled to find both old favourites and books completely new to me, and across a wide range of subjects and purposes.

It wasn’t relevant then to say why I had chosen them, except that their titles all began with The. I opened each at a random page and selected quickly something to quote. The question then is, does the quote–or the extension or lines of which it is a part–reflect, even justify the The of the title?

Finding a few works, especially of fiction, I saw the the The might indicate a focus of a mystery, or the crucial location or character.

And I wanted to see all these The titles in a row on a shelf.

–David Hart

About David

My own life began in mid-Wales by the sea, a move to Essex, university then in London, a university Anglican chaplaincy in Birmingham, theatre reviewing for The Birmingham Post, fifteen ears working for the then West Midlands Arts, and since when as a writer, of poetry mostly, undertaking residencies, some work in universities, and winning a few prizes. My latest and new book is Library Inspector of the One Book Library (Nine Arches Press).

David’s Picks

THE Age of Captaincy. Mike Brearley still being interviewed on tv, in a smart suit. P. 201

Strategy is essential for a captain as for a lionkeeper.

THE Art of Flying

The book of regulations is full of warnings to the pilot….a visual pre-takeoff inspection…

THE Banquet Years. p. 208

Finally, Grénier improvised a jig.

THE Best Places…. Top of page 127

Doctors and Dentists.” Also “Property

THE British in the Middle East. p. 99

The completed Suez Canal was difficult to reconcile with an independent Egypt.

THE Cloudspotter’s Guide. p. 128

There is an art for seeing shapes in clouds.

THE Cocktail Party. p. 41

Nothing. Wait. Go back to California.

THE Complete Classic’s Catalogue. p. 71


THE Critical Quarterly. A story from 1965. Gary Snyder. P. 105

to make revolution still turning. flywheel heavy elbow-bending awkward

THE Dhammapada

Someone has marked p. 56: ‘Consider this body!’ But page after page.
A man—
A man–
A man–

THE Divine Comedy. p. 273

Much like the dolphins that are said to surface.

THE First Industrial Revolution. p. 109

There were three features of Cort’s method that made it an important advance: (1)…

THE Heroine’s Journey. p. 37. Discuss.

Most women feel power and authority either by becoming like men or by becoming liked by men.

THE Hidden Places of the ___  p. 141

Also worth a visit is Charlecote Mill.

THE Language of Clothes. p. 147

People who decide to practice conspicuous outrage, of course…

THE Lifer’s Club. P. 291.

He assumed she had spotted the same thing a him.

THE Looney. p. 61

Tim McGuggles, the dawn customs officer, waited vengefully for the next batch of customers.

THE Most Amazing Places… p. 51

Grand houses abound in Buckinghamshire.

THE Nations’ Favourite Poems. p. 95

Think of what our nation stands for,

THE Old Grey Whistle Test Quiz. p. 272

Who was Led Zeppelin’s notoriously hands-on manager?

THE Perfect Summer. p. 83

The dining table would be decorated with orchids.

THE Pilgrim’s Progress. p. 165

Then I saw in my dream, that the shining men bid them call at the ghosts.

THE Poisonwood Bible. p. 129

But Pascal made a fine companion.

THE Primal Scream. p. 101

Happiness is not a goal of Primal Therapy.

THE Prophet. p. 81

I cannot teach you how to pray in words.

THE Sleep of the Just. p. 64

They were seated at a table in a Moorish café.

THE Spider and Chip’s Joke Book. p. 63

Waiter, waiter, what’s this fly doing on my ice-cream?

THE Spiritual Nature of “Man.” p. 59

The guys still wear their hair longs,….

THE Stripping of the Altars. p. 227

The advent of printing had enormous implications for–

THE Trouble with Horses.  p. 39

Rounding off the corders of the paddock

THE Virgin and the Gypsy. p. 49

She did not want to mate with a house-dog

THE Wind in the Willows. p. 55

Weren’t you at all — er — nervous? asked the Mole,…

THE World of Ice.  p. 71

Fred bore his disappointment.

THE Worst Witch’s Spelling Book. p. 59

I’m freezing!

The Curated Shelf: Katharine D’Souza


What was the framework behind why you chose the books you did?
I chose books I’d read, enjoyed, and wanted other people to discover. They’re not necessarily ones which influenced my writing, but they’re ones that stood out from many years of being an avid reader – just a few of the gems discovered along the way. There’s no theme and they’re a varied selection, but each meant something to me when I discovered it.

Being a curator is a bit different than writing, or is it?
Curating a shelf was a lovely opportunity to share the love of reading. It’s not something which has to be solitary experience, after all. Discovering that someone else has read the same book as you is a great point of connection. The Oxfam shop has a wonderful stock of quality books, which made it hard to select just a few. I hope the ones I chose will become someone else’s gem and raise a little money for a great charity.

What do you like about The Curated Shelf idea?
Reading has always been as important to me as writing, and a word of mouth recommendation is a great way to stumble on your next favourite book. The Curated Shelf gave me the opportunity to showcase some books I hope others will love as much as I did. It’s always fun to snoop at someone’s book collection when you visit their house because the books we enjoy reflect facets of their owner’s personalities. This was a chance to share something of my taste – I read widely and hope there’d be a few surprises in the set for anyone who knows my work and expected me to select similar titles.

About Katharine D’Souza
Katharine D’Souza has written two novels, Deeds Not Words and Park Life, both set in Birmingham. In Deeds Not Words a museum curator uncovers secrets from her family’s history and isinspired by a suffragette ancestor to do the right thing in her own life.In Park Life very different neighbours become friends as they help each other solve what turn out to be very similar problems. Katharine writes novels and short stories and is a member of the Pow-Wow writers’ group in Moseley @KatharineDS

Katharine’s Picks

1984 by George Orwell

I can still recall the impact reading this had on my entire English class at school. Often listed for having brilliant opening and final sentences — the story in between is rightly a classic.

A Passage to India by E.M. Forster

I overlooked Forster as a teenager. It doesn’t seem to have done lasting harm.

Black Beauty by Anna Sewell

One of my much loved childhood favorites. Read and re-read…

Bleeding Heart Square by Andrew Taylor

Serendipity brought me to this book. While working in London, I passed Bleeding Heart Square on a daily basis. I knew it featured in Dickens, but a name that like continues to inspire. Then I met the author Andrew Taylor at a crime readers’ event and found he’d written this. I recommend it.

Diary of an Ordinary Wonder by Margaret Forster

Don’t be fooled – ‘ordinary’ does not mean ‘boring’. This is an epic tale of twentieth-century woman, packed with experience and wisdom.

Going the Distance edited by Alan Bond

As a writer, I find the short story a difficult form. To succinctly convey a hard-hitting point and leave the reader thinking is a big ask. Try this collection from former local publisher Tindal Street.

Jane Austen, A Life by Claire Tomlinson

I continue to aspire to Jane Austen’s wit, observation and story — telling powers. Her life story contains insights into what inspired her. I should study and learn.

Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson

I love travelogues, random facts and nerdish attention to detail. Throw in a few jokes and you’ve got the perfect book to dip into while holidaying at home.

One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson

I enjoy Kate Atkinson’s more literary novels, but her detective Jackson Brodie is a marvelous creation. Case Studies is the first in the series but do dive in here for what one describes as, ‘a jolly murder mystery’!

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen by Paul Torday

As a former public sector worker, I found the bureacracy and office politics in this story hilarious. The understated hero is everything any office worker wished to be. Funny, charming and unbelievably real.

Spies by Michael Frayn

All children like to play games, but in war time games can be dangerous. This story evokes all the fear of a game which becomes serious. Intriguing and moving.

Under the Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas

Of course the audio version of this read by Richard Burton is well worth seeking out but the characters and humour are all here on the page. Read it and recognise your neighbors.

The Curated Shelf: Catherine O’Flynn

About Catherine

Catherine O’Flynn, the youngest of six children, was born in Birmingham in 1970 to Irish parents. Her father was a newsagent, her mother a teacher. Prior to the publication of her first novel she did a variety of jobs including web editor, box office assistant, deputy manager of a large record shop, civil servant, post woman, teacher and mystery shopper. Her debut novel, What Was Lost, won the Costa First Novel Award, was shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award, and longlisted for the Booker and Orange Prizes. She was named Waterstone’s Newcomer of the Year at the 2008 Galaxy British Book Awards.

Her second novel The News Where You Are, published in 2010, was shortlisted for the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize, an Edgar Allen Poe Award and was a Channel 4 TV Book Club choice. Her third novel Mr Lynch’s Holiday was published in 2013. Her short stories and articles have featured in Granta, The Independent, The Observer and on Radio 3 and 4.

She lives in Birmingham with her husband and two daughters.

Catherine’s Picks

The Book of the West by Charles Chilton

Yes ‘the’ book – a bold claim. I’m just a bit of a sucker for anything about the old west – a result of reading too much Cormac McCarthy and eating too many wagon wheels in childhood.

Cards and Conjuring Tricks by Roberts and Crayford

This is too enticing a prospect to resist – a dusty old book of magic tricks. Picking it up feels like the starting point of a novel…(possibly horror).

A Child’s Year in Nature by M.H. Briggs

Subtitled ‘Being 52 Primary Talks’ – not so relevant perhaps to my childhood in inner-city Nechells, but if only I’d had one of these talks weekly I might have avoided the shame I feel as a parent now unable to answer queries on birds, bees, furry things…all that kind of stuff.

The Unofficial Countryside by Richard Mabey

A classic for everyone who loves the almost invisible edgelands of cities. Mabey spent a lot of time in derelict industrial wastelands in the 70s and brought them and the lives lived in them to wider notice.

Introduction to Inn Signs by Eric Delderfield

Something nicely M.R. James about this. I imagine all kinds of folklore and spookiness enclosed within.

Eight Tales of Terror by Edgar Allan Poe

I think I had this very collection as a child and it still haunts me. What child could resist that title though?

The Curated Shelf: Gaynor Arnold


What was the framework behind why you chose the books you did?
I didn’t have a framework; I just turned up and hoped there would be books I liked. I was amazed to find so much that was interesting. I was also surprised that I chose a lot of non-fiction. But I also realised when I collected them all together that a theme emerged: history, especially of the Victorian period. Surprise, surprise!

Being a curator is a bit different than writing, or is it?
Curating is very different from writing. A lot easier; all your research and ideas ready in front of you; just the choice element left – which is a bit like editing.

What do you like about The Curated Shelf idea?
I think the curated shelf is an excellent idea. It made me look at books I hadn’t read, and I hope my choices might influence readers to look at something they would not normally read… and all the profits to Oxfam!

About Gaynor Arnold

Gaynor Arnold was born and brought up in Cardiff, but has lived in Birmingham for many years. She used to be a social worker but is now a full-time writer. Her first novel Girl in a Blue Dress (inspired by the marriage of Charles Dickens) was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize 2008 and the Orange Prize for Fiction 2009 and has been published all over the world. Her short story collection, Lying Together, came out in February 2011, and she recently edited The Sea in Birmingham – an anthology of short stories by local authors. Her latest novel After Such Kindness is a fiction based on the relationship between Lewis Carroll and his child muse, Alice Liddell.

Gaynor’s Picks

1066 and All That by W. C. Sellar and R. J. Yeatman

Wonderful fun! A humorous account of what many people remember about history. I first came across it at Oxford — and fell about.

1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare by James Shapiro

Scholarly — but very accessible — you really feel drawn in to Shakespeare’s world…

The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen

Much lauded — and deserving the praise. A closely-observed novel of family disfunction — a great (if long) read.

David Cox: 1783-1859

I first came across the name of this artist when I regularly used to pass a house in Edgbaston where he lived. Inside there are some views of Birmingham and [accents?] of pictures now in Birmingham Art Gallery.

Digging to America by Anne Tyler

I once worked in inter-country adoption so I was interested in this fictional account of two children of East Asian origin, brought up in USA. Fascinating!

The Elephant Man (DVD) directed by David Lynch

The Island by Andrea Levy

I loved this — great characters and a wonderful evocation of post war Britain.

Kilvert’s Diary: Selection from the Diary of the Reverend Francis Kilvert 1870-1879

Another Victorian writer — but not so well-known as Dickens, as he chronicles the lives of the poor parishioners in the Welsh borders. Kilvert comes across as such a sweet man — but with open admiration for little girls we might find surprising today…he was a source for After Such Kindness!

Life and Death of Mary Wollstonecraft by Claire Tomlin

Life of an iconic woman, by an excellent biographer. If no-one else buys it, I will!

The Making of Charles Dickens by Christopher Hibbert

Well, I couldn’t not have a book about Dickens — and this one is excellent, concentrating on the early years of the Great Man! One of the many biographies I read before writing Girl in the Blue Dress!

The Millstone by Margaret Drabble

My first Drabble novel, and one that had the biggest effect on me. I was working in a hospital at the time — and the chapters dealing with the separation of mother and child on the ward really struck home. Drabble is rather overlooked these days, but I think she is an excellent writer.

Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson

Another book about words — and Bill Bryson, too.

Possession by A.S. Byatt

Another ‘Victorian’ books. A literary thriller on two levels at least.

The Surgeon of Crowthorne: A Tale of Murder, Madness and the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester

I haven’t read this — but I want to — I love dictionaries, and this is a great story, too.

The Victorian Child by F. Gordon Roe

I should have had this book to hand when I wrote After Such Kindness so I could crib (!) some fact facts. But I didn’t. Could be interesting.

Victorian Working Women: Portraits from Life by Michael Hiley

Three things I like: stories of women, Victorian background — and old photographs!