The comfort of many books…

February 11, 2015

I can’t imagine not being surrounded by books. My father made me a bookcase for my bedroom when I was about eight – only a small one, but I still have it. Now, most of the rooms in the house have books in, not just mine, but mainly mine, I think. They are lovely to look at – colours, textures, patterns of spines on the shelves, collections, a variety of sizes. I think there are about 3000, though I’ve never done an accurate count. And that’s part of the problem: I did reckon up from my reading log, which I’ve kept since age 18, that I’ve probably read some three and a half thousand books since then. So I’m never going to re-read all the books I have: why am I hanging on to them?

I have a ‘waiting to read’ shelf which probably runs into three figures: even if I disciplined myself to only read from that pile, there’s a couple of years’ worth of reading. Some of them are duplicates, too – if I see a particularly nice copy of a book I already have, I’ll buy it anyway. I do thin them out occasionally, reluctantly, but I find it really hard to part with things I know and love, even though I know I will never re-read them. Why?

Somehow it’s comforting to have them all lined up as a record of what I have read, of my likes and enthusiasms, conversation starters sometimes with visitors who haven’t seem the shelves before. This is who I am, they all seem to say. They are reminders, they say ‘you really liked me once’, they invite or await a revisit that is probably not going to happen. But what if, one day, I took a fit on to read a book and I’d got rid of it? Yes, I know I could buy it again, but that wouldn’t be the same. I think I’ve had to do that all of once! And some of the books have sat there so long unopened that I can’t remember a thing about them, other than a positive impression years ago.

In the sitting room are the novels, and some of the poetry. In the hall, cookery books. In my study, literature, history, travel. In the spare room, a hodgepodge of the rest, whatever fits, including all the science fiction. Reference books, dictionaries, poetry anthologies… There are the orange spines of the old Penguins, the austere white spines of the original Picador series, the black and white dust-jackets of the Everyman’s Library, the lovely plain spines of the French Folio series.

There is a cosiness about them all, they furnish the rooms and my mind; I’m always uneasy when I go to a house and there are no books on view. And yet… sometimes there sheer weight of them, the volume (!) feels oppressive; there are just too many and I should start again and just pick the ones I definitely want to keep…

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