Bookshelving: initial thoughts
Empty shelves:

I do so love synchronicity. Or serendipity. Or simple coincidence, if you prefer. Now this is not to imply causality, oh no. Or fate or destiny working in mysterious ways. No way. It’s simply what two of the terms imply: two or more events where cause-and-effect doesn’t apply but which do occur at one and the same time. Or near enough. Nor is it anything amorphous, like morphic resonance — defined by Rupert Sheldrake as “a process whereby self-organising systems inherit a memory from previous similar systems”, a kind of collective memory palace — because the process that I want to discuss is one that not only has teased a lot of minds over millennia but which also most of us pick up like osmosis from our prevailing culture.

Sari, in a recent post on The View from Sari’s World, touched on an topic that’s been troubling both her and me:
shelving books in an orderly fashion, to “give them a proper shelving” when currently “they are scattered here and there with little rhyme or reason”. Now while her concern is how to order her impressive collection of books on and by and around Shakespeare, mine is the direct legacy of a house move, during which boxes of books collected randomly off shelves by house removers have been equally randomly placed on different shelves as these boxes were opened and emptied. Something like fifteen hundred books dumped shoulder to shoulder with unrelated titles have caused me no end of angst for over a year, so a good sort-out following months of building work and decorating is long overdue.

Before I tackle the exciting but daunting task of organising I’ll have to remove the books from where they currently reside. Two reasons: the ghastly puce colour which has been hiding behind the shelves needs to be obliterated with a nifty shade of white or whiter shade of pale; and I need to start taking stock of where their future homes will be. The existing shelves (which I won’t be changing) were put up I surmise by a previous incumbent of the house, author (and a whole lot else) Jeff Nuttall.* The distance between the shelves varies quite a lot, no doubt to accommodate Nuttall’s own eclectic library which, ten years after his death, still adorned the wooden ledges when we first viewed the house. But my own books when arranged together by author or category are going to find it hard to fit comfortably between some of those ranked boards, a conundrum that I’ll have to address soon enough.

Now, of course, you’ll be curious as to what those authors and categories might be, won’t you? Well, be still, all your beating hearts; that’s for future posts. Naturally I could obliterate all these self-inflicted storage problems by the simple expedient of converting to ebooks, I hear you say. But where would that leave all those naked shelves? How would I impress the handful of visitors with my erudition and eclecticism with just a single e-reader placed strategically on Nuttall’s shelves? And how would I mange without all my familiar friends?

Have any of you — serendipitously — been contemplating or undergoing a re-shelving process? Do you anticipate similar or different problems? Or are you quietly snickering at me behind your copy of Get A Life, You Loser?**

*   *   *   *   *

* I remember seeing Jeff Nuttall’s Bomb Culture in a Paladin paperback in the 70s, though never got round to reading it; sometime soon, perhaps. He was an extraordinary character, with many strings to his bow.

** Not a real title, as far as I know. Though perhaps it needs to be written.


13 thoughts on “Bookshelving: initial thoughts

  1. Ah, storage is a constant problem it seems – there are never enough shelves. Devising a creative, attractive and practical way of storing things (books included) is an almost constant thought in the back of my mind. I quite like having stacks of books in various nooks, rooms, etc. and that being the case, the job of actually dealing with any practical solutions is ever postponed. I usually get there in the end, eventually 🙂

    1. After ten years I virtually had it all under control — and then we moved! I’m determined not to overflow my shelves this time, Alastair, though like you we have books in several rooms: I have the usual collection on my bedside table, and my wife’s books and books for the grandchildren to read are in two other rooms. I’m philosophical that, again like you, I’ll get there in the end!

    1. I didn’t know the Diner clip but we did watch High Fidelity a few years ago on TV. The powerfully put assertion in Diner that items like records (or indeed books) were almost like friends rang bells with me, though I wouldn’t have been so hot-headed about it. At least I hope not!

  2. When I moved a few years ago I had to put my books away before I felt at home. Before kitchen things, clothes, everything — I couldn’t rest until it was done. I actually have found the Ivar shelves from Ikea quite handy. They can be reconfigured to fit different spaces, book heights, etc so they’re very flexible. Good luck with your shelving project!

    1. Thanks for your good wishes, Lory! One of the things that sold the house to my mind were the pre-existing shelves — sad, I know — and the only Ikea shelves we’ve recently bought were metal ones for storing paint and containers in the cellar. We’re trying hard to maintain a decluttered appearance, despite both our squirreling tendencies!

      As for dealing with books first after a move, that was my inclination too, but it just wasn’t possible: builders moved in two days after us, we slept in three different rooms in succession for the first six months, and everything — walls, doors, ceilings — had to be repainted, mostly by yours truly. How I kept blogging for most of 2015 I have no idea …

  3. I used to belong to the “When you run out of space, buy another bookshelf” camp! But the house I moved into 5 years ago had floor to ceiling built-in bookcases in the living room, something I had always dreamed of having. They held all my books with room to spare. I have additional bookshelves in my study. But I got to capacity this summer and adding bookshelves in this space just didn’t make sense, aesthetically speaking.

    Just at this time, my mom’s fledgling “Friends of the Library” group was starting a used book nook at her local library. MY synchronicity, serendipity, simple coincidence!

    I took a good hard look at my books and the truth was there were so many I knew I would never read again and some I hadn’t read or would ever. So I pulled down the books and loaded up the car.

    Yes, I have room to spare again….but how long this lasts is anyone’s guess 🙂

    1. Laurie, this is so familiar! I started the process of downsizing my library before the move but I still need to decimate what’s left once, twice or maybe thrice! I’m with our local Friends of the Library too so some discarded books have gone there, others to friends and family and the rest to charity shops. Like you I’m not going to be adding any more shelves.

      I’m worried though that my ‘one in, one out’ policy is developing into ‘one out, two or maybe three in’ behaviour — I’ll have to work on that!

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