So, you may have noticed I have a small interest in bookshelves. The pictures on the right side of this blog may have been an indication.
Hopefully, you share that fascination as well. I'm well-aware I am not the only person out there with this passion. A blog all about bookshelves is here. I've written a previous post on the actual order of books placed on shelves, a post that continues to be inspired by Nicholas Hornby's assertion that the best way to judge someone's taste is not by their music collection, but by their book collection. My co-worker has written on her blog about how she should not be allowed to shelve books in the store anymore because she keeps finding books she has to read and buy, and I confess to having the same problem. Because my world revolves around all these books I seemingly can't live without, it should come as no surprise that I need a place to put them all. This is where the shelving comes in.
It's amazing how many things can be used as shelves, other than regular shelving, of course. In my room alone, beside a big floor-to-ceiling bookcase, I have an old doll's cradle (stolen from my sister years ago; I can't quite remember if she let me or even knows about it or not), the fold-out seat of an old school desk, the surface of the old school desk, and, of course, the floor, all filled with books. This being the beginning of tag sale, yard sale, garage sale, and flea market season, I'm very much looking forward to finding some new shelving treasures.
It doesn't stop with just my room. Books spill out into the rest of the house. An old ceramic cistern of some kind holds favorite magazines. My living room has a fireplace with built-in bookshelves on either side - my side is filled with books, my roommate's side with DVDs. Oddly enough, there are only two books on the fireplace mantel itself, but there are plenty of other things to fit it.
This is one of the wonderful properties of the shelf - it can be used as a resting place for anything. The fireplace mantel holds a painting by my mother, the two previously mentioned books, a collection of three doorknobs, a set of wooden type, two fuzzy toy chicks (housewarming presents from our upstairs neighbors), a red devil rubber duck, two framed photographs, and a plant in half a plastic bottle. Apparently, I collect things other than books, too. Surprise, surprise.
The real inspiration for this post came from a NY Times article about a former stockbroker-turned-bookshelf designer. I should clarify, it's not that he designs the shelves themselves, so much as he goes out and finds specific books for wealthy people to round out their book collection. This is similar to a job at the Strand I've heard rumored to exist, a job where someone is called upon to create the prominent libraries visible in movies. The former stockbroker is quoted in the article as saying, "The best decoration in the world is a roomful of books," a line he borrowed from someone else, and which I'm reproducing here because I find it so applicable to my own life. In addition to the aforementioned shelves, I have a shelf of old school books and romance novels in the game/guest room, cookbooks in the kitchen, and there is a small collection of bartending books belonging to my roommate on the bar in the dining room.
What is it about books in a room that instantly make it more homey? Almost like a plant, they have the same power to make you believe real people live there. Gilbert Highet, a legendary Humanities professor from Columbia University, once wrote, "These are not books, lumps of lifeless paper, but minds alive on the shelves." Maybe that's the key, in a room empty of everything but books, you would never be alone; every conversation in the world can be held with a book. Writing that makes me question the need for any sort of companion or polite society, but then again, isn't that half the pleasure of being a reader: sharing that pleasure with someone else? Dissecting the minute details of whatever it was that made you laugh, cry, uncomfortable, hate whatever you were reading? Even as books suck you into their world, they spit you back out again to experience and share the world you've read.
William Ewart Gladstone, a former Prime Minister of Great Britan, wrote, "Books are a delightful society. If you go into a room and find it full of books - even without taking them from the shelves they seem to speak to you, to bid you welcome." I like that sort of welcome, and just realized I've surrounded myself with it. Welcome to my store. Welcome to my home. Skim the titles, grab a book, and welcome to the bookshelf of me.