Sitting down with a cup of coffee in the library for a few minutes, I leafed through one of the books from the shelves. Turning a page, here was a pencilled annotation, there a slightly creased top corner… for a moment I am drawn into imagining who else has held this book.
A library such as this one at Highclere is admired firstly for the harmonious crafted architectural order and then of course for the books themselves: over 6,500 of them ranging from those written and treasured 600 years ago up to modern editions.
Each book is a tangible work of art written by someone who spent long hours creating stories from paragraphs and words. It is exhausting work I promise you! Books are treasures. They are our thoughts, stories and myths and can be shared for years and even centuries unlike today’s effervescent disappearing comments. From holding a book, I had a lightbulb moment and thought why not start a reading prize?
Authors need readers – indeed they are essential. Thus, the first Highclere Castle Reading prize was born. The brief was simple – to review a book of your choice. Where in the world you live or how old or young you are was irrelevant – you could simply send in your review.
We devised five categories with both winners and runners up and, with many thanks to Legal and General, offered cash prizes. Last October we held a small presentation at the Castle to recognise the winners and I would like to say a huge thank you to everyone who took part. It represented an enormous range of summer reading.
However, there is also a lovely follow-up story. One of our runners up was a lady called Sandra from Los Angeles who reviewed the classic book “The Count of Monte Cristo”. Fortuitously she had already planned a holiday in the UK and was therefore able to receive her prize in person at the Castle.
At the time of her book review she had also been applying for a job at a Tiffany’s store and, in great excitement, had forwarded news of her success and subsequent invitation to Highclere to her potential employer. They subsequently gave her a wonderful job in a magical, sparkly store and thus she says that Highclere was instrumental in impressing Tiffanys.
In my mind, part of the Tiffany myth owes no small part to Audrey Hepburn and the film Breakfast at Tiffanys – it is a staple to watch and rewatch. Romance, music and a well-paced story line which also has a happy ending.
Sandra has now been working at Tiffanys for a few months and emailed us to update her adventure story. Asked by her manger Rachel to sort through a hidden room within the store she came upon 3 books bound in the distinctive Tiffany blue binding, but with nothing written on the covers.
“I opened the first one, which was an edition of Ibsen’s plays, then the second, which was a book I’d never heard of. But when I opened the third, what to my wondering eyes should appear but “The Count of Monte Cristo!”
Apparently used as a prop and then forgotten about, Rachel told Sandra she was most welcome to take the book. Who would think a French adventure story from two hundred years ago would lead both to Highclere Castle and to Tiffanys.