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Sabrina Mahfouz (Photo by Naomi Woddis)

‘Books are my most treasured objects’

Shelfie | 3 minute read
The poet, Sabrina Mahfouz, talks about her love of The Odyssey, giving away books and reading in bed

Can you remember the first book you bought?

I can’t, but I remember saving up my ‘sweet money’ from my grandma and spending it all on The Baby-Sitters Club and Sweet Valley High books!

How big is your library now?

I actually gave away 500 books when I moved a couple of years ago as there was no space for them – very sad! I still have around a thousand though, they’re absolutely everywhere.

How do you arrange your books?

I have three shelves above my desk for books that I’m likely to use in some way whilst working. Mostly plays and poetry books. The rest are organised into classics – mostly Ancient Greek, Roman and Shakespeare, and then poetry, fiction and non-fiction all get their own shelves too! I follow all those book people on Instagram though so I do hold dreams of having colour fade bookshelves one day!

Favourite reading spot in your house?

Bed, definitely.

Do you have a regular purge?

No, but I really should. Books have always been my most treasured objects so even if I haven’t enjoyed one, I still justify keeping it somehow!

Favourite bookshop, new or secondhand?

I love pretty much every independent bookstore, new or secondhand. It’s such a labour of love from the owners, how can anyone who adores books not? But Waterstones Piccadilly and Foyles on Charing Cross Road are both very special to me as I worked in those areas in nightclubs and strip clubs for ten years before writing was a financially viable job, and before my shifts I would saunter around in them, anonymous in their vast spaces, always discovering new books to buy or read in store.

What’s on your ‘to read’ pile?

Ah, so much! I have a whole wall of shelves dedicated to ‘to read’ – it hasn’t been just a ‘pile’ since I was a teenager! Off the top of my head I have Aurabel by Laura Dockrill, The One Who Wrote Destiny by Nikesh Shukla, Mothers by Chris Power, Islam in Performance by Ashis Sengupta, The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Barber Shop Chronicles by Inua Ellams.

What is your favourite edition that you own and why?

A Penguin Classics deluxe edition of the Odyssey by Homer which my college Classics teacher, Angela, gave to me, with a speech of encouragement and belief that pushed me to apply to universities I wouldn’t have dreamed I could attend.

To break the spine or keep it as immaculate as possible?

Break, bend – a flexible spine is a flexible mind as they say in yoga! And annotate, all over; I am that person – but only in my own books!

Do you lend books?

Yes, and then I inevitably buy them again! I think my mum is the only person I know who always returns a borrowed book.

Do you like to get books signed by the author?

I love it. Especially if I know them. It’s such a huge achievement to complete a book and have it published and then for somebody to be buying it. I feel so honoured to be a minuscule part of that journey, a reader of the words written by someone with so much going on in their life and mind; their signature highlights all of that for me.

Sabrina Mahfouz is the author of The Things I Would Tell You: British Muslim Women Write, and other books

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