Archive for Bookcases

The Self on the Shelf

Posted in Biographical, Books with tags , on September 12, 2021 by telescoper
Financial Times Weekend Edition

In this Weekend’s Financial Times there is an article (above) about why some of us find it hard to throw away old books. This range home to me because the work involved in packing and shipping my possessions to Ireland recently would have been considerably reduced had I thrown away my books, all 25 boxes of them. The removers who did the packing mentioned that they dislike packing books because it takes so long. You have to use small boxes otherwise they are too heavy to shift but mainly it’s because books aren’t all the same size so it can be awkward to pack them efficiently.

Anyway, it would have been a lot easier not to have bothered moving them and , but I just find it very difficult throw books away. So there they are on my shelves (or part of them).

They’re arranged somewhat randomly because I just put them wherever they would fit. This is the packing problem in reverse: it’s hard to organize books by theme or author when they can differ so much in dimension that they don’t fit. For this reason I tend to arrange books by height but I can usually remember the size and cover colour so I can find them quite quickly.

The various gaps are because some books are currently on loan friends while another is on my bedside cabinet (as I realized when I was unpacking that I hadn’t read it yet and am now doing so).

My house in Maynooth came equipped with a large selection of bookshelves. Above you see half the shelves in my sitting room. The hallway is also lined with built-in bookcases; the spare room has a set of similar shelves and my study has four standalone bookcases (of the ‘Billy’ variety, for those of you familiar with Ikea). I also have a small bookcase unit in the kitchen in which I keep cookery and gardening books. All of these are full (or nearly full). That amounts to well over a thousand books altogether – and no, they’re not mainly dictionaries.

So why do I have so many books?

The FT article hits on some of the reasons. There are definitely some that I consult regularly, for different reasons. Reference books such as dictionaries are obvious examples. I also have quite a few old maths and physics textbooks which I keep because they’re useful sources of homework problems and exam questions. I dip into poetry books quite regularly too as one can read a couple of poems at a time; I have a habit of putting a volume of poetry in my pocket when I travel on the bus or train. Quite a few of these and other books have scribbles in the margins, another habit of mine.

Other books I keep because they remind me of the experience of reading them. Just as you might keep a souvenir of a visit to a foreign land, a book is a memento of a journey of the mind. That doesn’t explain however why I tend to keep books I’ve read but didn’t enjoy!

Among the other ideas suggested in the FT article is that a library of books is that they are statement of identity or even a form of bragging: you display them to impress visitors to your house with your intellect and erudition. I don’t think that works for me, though, as I don’t have many visitors and didn’t even before the pandemic. In any case I think most people aren’t likely to be “impressed” by stacks of books – they’re more likely to think you’re a weirdo.

But there’s another reason missed by the analysis in the Financial Times and that is that books actually look quite nice on shelves. Covering a wall in that way saves you the bother of having to paint it!