Wednesday, 26 August 2009

On Arranging Books - Katherine Langrish

Many, many years ago I lost count of how many books I have. I only know that I don't have anything like enough bookshelves to keep them on. And of course I keep on acquiring the things. In only the last week, the tally runs something like this:

A secondhand copy of the Oxford Book of English Prose, which I couldn't resist and looks such a great book to keep in the car, for those little moments when I'm waiting in the Sainsbury carpark for my daughter to turn up.

A secondhand paperback Georgette Heyer, to relax with.

'The Crucible', 'Waiting for Godot', and Caryl Churchill's 'Top Girls', all from Oxfam.

'Blaze' by Stephen King, new from W.H.Smith's.

From the Red Cross Shop, a book called 'Silent Thunder: The Hidden Voice of Elephants', which looked too intriguing to pass over.

And a secondhand hardcover version of Susanna Clarke's 'The Ladies of Grace Adieu', even though I've already got the paperback, because, well, hey, it's Hardcover!

You see my problem. And I know you understand it, because I feel sure you have it too. Even though I do get rid of books - in driblets, in half-dozens, in great, wrenching pogroms - the tide keeps advancing.

I actually do have a system, and pretty well know where every book in the house is. I have a very good (through life-long training) visual and tactile memory for titles. I know, for example, that my copy of Siegfried Sassoon's 'The Weald of Youth' is a small, reddish-brown, cloth-bound hardcover and is going to be about halfway down the shelves to the right of the kitchen door. 'Count Belisarius' by Robert Graves is a Penguin paperback with a black and white photo of Graves himself on the front, spine cracked, losing pages, and will be found in a cramped location near the floor in the shelves underneath the staircase. And so on.

I try to have groupings of books. I have a history section, a science section, adult fiction, children's fiction, poetry, gardening, art etc. But it doesn't really quite work out. For example I'd like to keep the children's books together, all neatly arranged by author, but it's difficult because of the annoying way bookcases are designed, with the shelves at the top only large enough for paperbacks. I do have to use ALL the space, which means breaking up families of books when one hardback won't fit in next to its paperback brothers and sisters. I simply can't fit all my children's books into neat rows. They flow over into the adult novel bookcase, and get stacked up in piles. The shelves also get used as ledges where all sorts of other debris accumulates: combs, make-up (lots of my daughters' lipsticks rolling around), odd bits of rock, shells, photos, cameras, and small model cars.

It would be lovely to have a library, I sometimes think. A proper library with room for every book.

But then I visit some National Trust house and see a real country house library: ranks of uniformed books on parade, shut away behind tripwires and glass doors, read by nobody - and I realise that real booklovers haven't got time for arranging books.

We're too busy reading them.

Visit Katherine's website:
Follow me on Twitter


Stroppy Author said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Stroppy Author said...

Kath, I have a library (I decided I didn't really need a dining room and two sitting rooms), but it doesn't get rid of the problem. There is still the same issue of books of different sizes, and the shelves still get full up, and the library leaks off around the house. It's like work expanding to fill all available time and then some - books expand to fill all available space and then some!

John Dougherty said...

I have to confess that every time we see one of those old orange second-penguins for sale in a charity shop, we buy it, just because we like the look of them all lined up on a shelf.

Our shelves are full of books that I haven't read yet, because I'm too busy, um, reading other books, most of which I then take back to the library (they've got a deadline, you see. Why don't new and second-hand books come with a 'best before' date?).

Leslie Wilson said...

We made daughter Jo's ex-workroom (ex-family dining room) into a library and at first we had loads of space on the shelves. Oh, I did enjoy the day I spent arranging them! Now we have piles of books 'to shelve' and steadily diminishing space to put them, and a supply of spare bookends, all of which are rather nice. In the hall there is now a pile of books for Oxfam. And I can't resist a 2nd-hand bookshop either, though I do buy new books, especially if by my friends! What to say? You are not alone, Kath. Enjoy the sense of community with the rest of the reading species!

Brian Keaney said...

I had my loft converted into a library. It cost quite a lot but it was worth it.