Geoff’s Literary Treasures: Six Books That Shaped a Lifetime

by Laura Storey


Our resident historian, Geoff, has built up quite a library during his 81 years, with over 2,000 books on his shelves. For this issue, he’s picked out six books that have meant the most to him. Have a read and see if your favourite made the cut.

We’ll start at the beginning, as all good stories do, with Geoff’s very first storybook, Here Comes a Candle, by Norman S. Pugh. “This was my favourite book when I was growing up. It’s as old as me!” Geoff exclaims, showing me the old storybook printed on dull, thin wartime paper. “I’ve read that a thousand times. I remember being about three or four years old and reading it, but my mum and dad got it when I was born in 1943. They must have known that I was going to be a reader.”

Geoff at three, writing his very first book.

He believes that the book’s story not only ignited his passion for writing but also sparked inspiration. “The tale begins with a little girl and boy during the war. Their father’s been killed, and they don’t have much money. So, their uncle gets them to write a book, and the rest of the book is what they came up with. It’s meant to be a true story.” Guided by whimsical thoughts of magical creatures, young Geoff eagerly began to write. On his third birthday in 1946, armed with a special writing desk from his loving parents, he penned his very first book inspired by a memorable trip to Blackpool Zoo.

“My best book, sonny?”
He asked Geoff.
“My best book is my next one!”

The second book on Geoff’s list, Catcher in the Rye, has been beloved by teenagers since it was published in the ’50s. The novel follows an angst-ridden, alienated 17-year-old in the two days following his expulsion from school. After it was first published, The Catcher in the Rye was banned from school libraries because the protagonist, Holden, was seen as blasphemous and vulgar. Even today, the book is still controversial. Many teenagers on TikTok complain that they have trouble relating to the angsty, wealthy protagonist who seems to have no real problems. In contrast, others consider it a true classic that still holds up 70 years later.

Geoff’s first edition copy of The Catcher In The Rye

“I read this when I was 17, the same age as Holden,” Geoff explains. The book was such a favourite that he wanted a first-edition U.S. copy. “The item was auctioned at The Christie, a charity supporting cancer patients in Manchester. I was bidding against dozens, and I got it for £800.” Geoff beams. “It’s worth at least £2,500 now.” However, it’s not the rarest copy of the book. “J.D. Salinger was a recluse,” Geoff explains. “When they did the first edition, it had a big photograph of him on the back, and he removed it from every book.” Geoff points to the blank back cover of his edition. “If you get one with a photograph, it’s around £5,000. One that was signed went for $35 million.” The signed book belonged to an old girlfriend of Salinger, Oona O’Neill, who later married Charlie Chaplin. J.D. Salinger never did book signings for the public and was said to regret publishing Catcher in the Rye due to the attention it brought him. However, Geoff and the millions of people who fell in love with the book as teenagers were grateful for it.

“Another classic!” Geoff beams, showing off an immaculate first edition of Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, published in 1953. The dystopian novel narrates every reader’s worst nightmare – a future where books have been banned and burnt. “Fahrenheit 451 is the exact temperature paper sets alight,” Geoff explains. Nazi book burnings and Soviet Union repression inspired the book.

First edition of Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury with signed letter from the author.

The first edition isn’t the only thing Geoff possesses from his favourite writer. There’s also 25 years of correspondence between himself and Bradbury. He shows me a postcard with Airmail stamped in the corner and a Los Angeles return address, alongside a typed note on the other side and Ray Bradbury’s elegant signature. “He never ever didn’t reply,” Geoff smiles.

Geoff’s fourth favourite book is one for Colne locals – Song of Sunrise by Robert Neill. “His first novel, Mist Over Pendle, has captivated millions and has never gone out of print!”

Song of Sunrise

Song of Sunrise immerses readers in Colne’s history through its engaging narrative. Geoff describes the title as representing the rhythmic clog irons on the streets heading to the mill. The book cover features a charming 19th-century Colne illustration by the renowned artist Val Biro. Additionally, inside the front cover, there’s a detailed hand-drawn map of Colne crafted by historian Wilfred Spencer, showcasing the town nestled amidst sprawling fields. Delving into the turmoil of the Powerloom riots in the 1830s, this historical fiction gem beautifully portrays a community at the crossroads of progress and tradition. Geoff highlights the blend of reality and fiction in the story, “grounded in reality, the narrative features actual individuals like the Colne mill proprietors, notably Barnard Crook, who transported cotton while also engaging in the slave trade.”

Geoff met the author Robert Neill at a book signing and asked what book the prolific author thought was his best. “My best book, sonny?” He had asked Geoff. “My best book is my next one!”

A personal project close to Geoff’s heart is The Greatest Burnley Team of All Time, co-authored with his grandson Nathan. “Back in 2004, we penned down our thoughts about the remarkable 1959-60 Burnley team that clinched the First Division title while they were all still with us. Nathan was just ten years old then, and I was a youthful 60!”

Geoff’s personal project The Greatest Burnley Team of All Time.

Geoff’s copy of the book has all of the team’s autographs and, in a somewhat bleak fashion, he’s noted down the date of each member’s death, with three of the team still surviving.

“We sold 2,375 copies in the first calendar month,” Geoff beams. “We interviewed each member, and they even did a book signing with us at Badger Books in Burnley.”

The journey through Geoff’s literary passions culminates in A Free Wheelin’ Time: A Memoir of Greenwich Village in the Sixties by Suze Rotolo. Suze was the shy daughter of Italian working-class communists who somehow found herself on the cover of one of the best-selling records of the time – Bob Dylan’s The Freewheelin’.

A Free Wheelin’ Time: A Memoir of Greenwich Village in the Sixties by Suze Rotolo.

“This is a favourite,” Geoff says, showing off the record he bought for around £1.54 in 1963. “Suze Rotolo wrote the book just before she died, telling the story of how she met Bob Dylan and his early years as a musician. It was another world back then.”

These six books take us on a journey from wartime Britain to dystopian futures, from local history to the vibrant 1960s Greenwich Village. These six books not only reflect Geoff’s eclectic tastes but also chronicle his life’s journey through wartime narratives, local histories, and cultural revolutions. Which book has shaped you? Share it with us at

ColneLife July/Aug 24