I saw this fascinating article on the BBC website today about what our bookshelves say about us. It was inspired by the 30th anniversary of the good old Billy IKEA bookcase, of which I own one, that has been put together wrongly (the rough edges of the two sides face the front instead of the back, so mine has a rustic effect…completely unintentional and I was too exhausted from the effort of screwing with a COMPLETELY POINTLESS ALLEN KEY to rectify my mistake by the time I had noticed), and is now almost collapsing under the weight of my books in the corner of my bedroom. Billy holds a mixture of random unorganised books as well as a bottom shelf of ‘unread’ books that I must get around to one day. There are also piles of either recently read or recently purchased books shoved on the edge of shelves that don’t really fit anywhere else, and miscellaneous stuff that I can’t find anywhere else to put dotted on the shelves. It looks a complete mess, but as I have nowhere else to put any of the books, a complete mess it must stay. To the left of Billy is another pile of unread books and to the right is a lovely Persephone bookbag filled with unread copies of the TLS that I subscribed to and then never got around to reading. Some of those are nearly two years old and still in their cellophane. Oh well.
On the other side of my wardrobe (see photo on the left) sits my little bookcase that is made up entirely of unread purchases. It is my Bookcase of Shame and is the first thing I see when I wake up, as it is directly opposite my bed. The Bookcase of Shame’s purpose is to collect all of my unread books together in one place, making me realise just how many unread books I have managed to accumulate, and shame me into stopping my obsessive book buying habit. Needless to say the Bookcase of Shame has failed in its task and the collection of unread books has spilled out into another shelf on the aforementioned Billy and also a large teetering pile beside Billy as seen above. I have admitted defeat on this one and have settled on a philosophy of in for a penny, in for a pound. If I’m going to have a book addiction, I may as well do it properly. I suspect another teetering pile beside Billy will be growing soon.
My third and final bookcase sits in the living room of the flat I share. No one else is allowed to use this bookcase. It is filled with all of the books I have managed to read and is in no order whatsoever. One day when I have my own house and can line the walls with bookshelves and not worry about running out of space, I will alphabetise. Until that day, my books can be grateful that they even fit on a shelf, because some of their unlucky brothers and sisters don’t even have that luxury. They are stuck in boxes under my bed, gathering dust and generally feeling unloved. I know this is heartless but I have nowhere else to put them and they do have each other for company as they slowly lose a little more hope every day that they will have a shelf of their own. The shelf is coming my friends, I promise. One day.
This leads me on to the content of my bookshelves. They are filled with all sorts but most are Victorian to mid 20thc women’s fiction, classics, social histories or literary biographies. I collect Virago Modern Classics and Persephones, largely indiscriminately; I know I will like what they print so I am willing to take a chance on whichever ones I find, as long as they aren’t too expensive. Most of my books are bought from charity or second hand book shops, though some of the nicer hardbacks I have either got as presents or won as school prizes. The majority of my books have been read and loved, and I keep them because I enjoyed them and I want to have them around me in case I should ever want to read them again. Others have been bought because I fully intend on reading them, and though they might have to wait a while, I will get around to reading them eventually. Some of my books I will admit I have solely because they make me look intelligent and well read (I may or may not have read them..) and some I bought just because they have gorgeous bindings. However, I did weed most of these vain purchases out when I last moved so the majority of my beloved books are indeed beloved and will be appreciated when I get around to reading them. Some people (mainly my mother) are appalled that I continue to buy books at a rapid rate even though I have a bookcase and a bit of unread books already, but I like the fact that I can always be sure to have something new to read, and I have such fun browsing book shops for that special find that I can’t stop myself, no matter how hard I try. There are worse addictions to have!
So…what do my bookshelves say about me? I think they show that I:
1. Can’t stop buying books
2. Have fairly traditional tastes
3. Am a bit snobby
4. Am very interested in women’s fiction
5. Am very interested in Victorian fiction
6. Like literary biographies
7. Had a teenage obsession with the Russian Romanovs…hence my huge collection of books on Imperial Russia
8. Don’t do organisation
And if I could pick three books from my collection to sum me up?
1. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott – I am traditional, feminine and am very much a homebody. I love to sew and bake and read and drink tea and be cosy and be surrounded by family and friends, much like the girls in Little Women. I was born 55 and I’ve only been getting older since, what can I say!
2. The Buddha of Suburbia by Hanif Kureishi – Though I have grown up in the suburbs, I am desperate to get out and have had itchy feet for a long time. The protagonist of this book, Karim, is searching for something more than a life in a semi in a non descript London suburb and wants to make something of himself; this was my favourite book as a teenager and it inspired me so much that I gave copies to all my friends. This book shows the secret rebel in me and continues to inspire me to dare to believe in something more.
3. New York Mosaic by Isabel Bolton – New York is my favourite place and I dream of running away to the bright lights of Manhattan and charming the socks off everybody with my London accent and excellent tea making skills. The cover of this book is of the New York skyline and every time I catch a glimpse of it, it makes me smile and my thoughts drift to the city that never sleeps, and my dream of making it my home one day.
So, what’s on your bookshelves, and what do they say about you??