Ana Sampson’s latest poetry anthology Gods and Monsters, illustrated by Chris Riddell and with a foreword by Natalie Haynes, draws together classic and brand-new mythological poems from around the world. With retellings and reimaginings of Roman, Greek, Egyptian, Norse, Celtic, Aztec, Japanese and Inuit myths, it includes poems from Neil Gaiman, W.B. Yeats, Kae Tempest, Sylvia Plath, Shakespeare, Benjamin Zephaniah, Joseph Coelho and many more.

Tell us about the bookshelves in your home. 

There are a lot of them! Too many, my husband would say – although in my opinion you can never have enough. It’s partly practical, to house the ever-growing book collection (although I think I must have relinquished at least 150 volumes this year as we have been moving house) but I also firmly believe that books dress a room, and my shelves give me so much pleasure.

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As a poetry anthologist, I have a lot of poetry books. Single poet collections are arranged alphabetically but the anthologies are more haphazard. Looking around me now, I have a shelf of unread books of all genres in all formats and another random shelf that’s half-read. Paperback fiction is grouped alphabetically in various rooms but not as rigidly (the As are together but not in alphabetical order). Hardback fiction is all over the place. History and Art are shelved in order of height for aesthetic reasons, then in roughly chronological order. I think the best that can be said of my system is that there are pockets of order. There’s no double-stacking though, and the shelves are tidy.

Which books are your most recent bookshelf additions?

I recently bought Briefly, A Delicious Life by Nell Stevens and Violeta by Isabel Allende, and poet Sarah Doyle was kind enough to send me her moving new collection (m)othersongs. I always have a lot of proofs for my work as a publicist at Quercus Books and the latest one to arrive on my shelf is the electrifying debut novel from poet Joelle Taylor, The Night Alphabet (look out for it in 2024!) I’m also eagerly awaiting my pre-orders of Natalie Haynes’ Divine Right and Katherine Rundell’s Impossible Creatures (the children think it’s for them but it’s really mine, all mine…)

Do you judge people by their bookshelves?

Yes, of course! I’m perpetually shocked by how many people don’t have stupid numbers of books in their houses, although I fully acknowledge I am at a very extreme end of the scale.

Which is your most treasured book?

It’s two: I have hardbacks of two anthologies of poetry I edited – She is Fierce and She Will Soar – which my editor had given to Chris Riddell, who illustrated some of the pages. He is amazing. All my dreams came true this year when Chris illustrated my new anthology Gods and Monsters, but those two copies are just for me. My husband framed reproductions of some of the pages for me and I absolutely treasure them.

What do your bookshelves say about you?

That I’m incorrigibly greedy! I dread to think how long it would take me to read the unread books on my shelf. My eyes are definitely bigger than my leisure time. Also: poetry addict, history geek, devotee of women’s writing, lover of historical fiction. I think they would imply I am more organised than I feel in real life.

What’s the oldest book on your shelf?

I have a beautiful copy of Paradise Lost printed in 1822 which once belonged to my mother. It has amazing marbled endpapers. I have dipped into it although have to confess I’ve never read it all the way through…

Do you rearrange your bookshelves often – and where do your replaced books go?

I have been regularly culling over the past year as we knew we were going to move house. The removal men still blanched at the sight of my book collection, and weren’t remotely mollified by me telling them I had divested myself of at least 150 books already. So there’s been a reorganisation to put them to bed in their new house, but once the system is in place I don’t rearrange in any meaningful way. I need to consult my poetry books when editing anthologies, so I have to have a sense of where everything is.

Do you have any books from your childhood on your shelf?

My parents kept a suitcase of them in the loft and lots of my favourites are now in my daughters’ room: Ninety-Nine Dragons, The Kitchen Elves, The Neverending Story, The Sword in the Stone. They also have all my old Mr Men and Garden Gang books. I was obsessed with Jayne Fisher, child author of the Garden Gang books. Where is she now? What was it like to be a publishing phenomenon in the 1980s at such a tender age? Google tells me nothing but this is a story I’m still yearning to read forty years later. The kids are not into Susan Cooper yet so her The Dark is Rising sequence is on my own shelves, although I’m going to try and lure them into the annual readalong with me this Christmas.

Book lender, book giver or book borrower?

I rarely borrow books as I have too many unread books in the house as it is, although I do use my local library. (No matter how many books on my shelves, I know they need usage metrics to make a case for essential funding, so I make sure I borrow when I can and the children plunder our village library regularly.) I give books all the time and I lend books too (although woe betide you if it comes back foxed!)

Whose bookshelves are you most curious about?

I would love to browse Katherine Rundell’s bookshelves. I bet they’re amazing. I loved Super-Infinite and Rooftoppers and am looking forward to reading everything else she has ever written. Also, if I could go back in time, the poet Amy Lowell. When she decided to become a poet, she read for eight years in preparation. Bliss! She grew up in a house with a library with 7,000 books – just imagine. I’d love to see those shelves and what she took from them.

Introduced and complied by Mark Reynolds
Shelves by Ana Sampson

Ana Sampson is the editor of bestselling anthologies covering subjects ranging from women’s poetry to natural history, motherhood, cats, dogs and the countryside. Her most recent include She Is FierceShe Will Soar, Night Feeds and Morning Songs, Wonder: The Natural History Museum Poetry Book and The Book of Tree Poems. Ana grew up in Kent and studied English Literature at the University of Sheffield. After achieving both a BA and an MA, she began a career in publishing PR and speaks often about books and poetry in the media and at bookshops, festivals, libraries, schools and literary events. She lives in London. Gods and Monsters: Mythological Poems is published by Macmillan in hardback and eBook.
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