Huh! It’s a couple of days into January and I’ve already broken my blogging New Year resolution.
You know, the resolution I declared on 31st December 2019 that I would not to do any bookish challenges for 2020. Here on this very blog.
What a loser, fallen at the first hurdle! And what is this heinous oath-breaking I’ve committed? You’ll gasp with shock when you’re told. It’s — I can barely bear to say it — something that will freeze the blood of every bibliophile who ever tremblingly anticipated entering a bookshop, taking a book off a shelf, opening it …
You may remember among the photos I included in a piece about Lamb House in Rye, East Sussex, the picture of some bookshelves as Henry James might have seen them (sadly the books pictured are not James’ originals).
I thought I might also share with you some images of other bookshelves I saw on a recent visit to places in East Sussex and Kent, shelves associated with a couple of other literary figures. You may care to imagine, as I did, the authors in these places scribbling away or reading the latest publication sent their way.
9th August is apparently Book lover’s day, according to some anonymous and apparently self-appointed committee who decide these things.
This is despite the fact that there is no end of special days for bibliophile and bibliomanes.
World Book Day is celebrated worldwide (early March in the UK and Ireland — aimed at younger readers — 23rd April for Catalunya and most of the rest of the world) and Independent Bookstore Day on the last Saturday in April for the US. There are even weeks dedicated to the acquisition of books, for instance Independent Bookshop Week in June for the UK.
As far as I’m concerned every day is Book Lover’s Day: remember, giving or receiving a book is not just for Christmas…
“A House is Not a Home…” goes the song by Hal David and Burt Bacharach, and I think we can all agree with that. I’m sure that many of you have been in the position of having a few or even several abodes in your lifetime. Did all of them feel like home at the time?
What is it that makes a house a home? The lyrics of that song were clear: a house is not a home “when there’s no one there to hold you tight.” This is corroborated by the common saying that home is where the heart is, implying that this is where loved ones still live or even where one’s fondest memories reside. I think it’s impossible to underestimate the emotional pull that ‘home’ has over a mere dwelling place — think of a building and its associations are bound up with its actuality.
I’m occasionally asked where home is for me, and my stock response has usually been it’s here, where we live now. Certainly the four different properties we’ve lived in as owner-occupiers — where we raised a family, or worked from, or retired to — felt like, or still feels like, home at the time we were/are there.
But increasingly I find it’s not as complete an answer as I’ve glibly trotted out.
“A room without books is like a body without a soul,” declared Cicero. Or at least is said to have said. I’ve been away for a few days for a very enjoyable mini-break but am glad to get back. To books. Silent friends with things to say. Artwork with a thousand words standing in for any number of pictures. Continue reading “Shelfies”→
Alan Powers Living with Books Mitchell Beazley 1999
Museum Selfie Day — when you post a picture of yourself on social media in front of a museum exhibit — has become hugely popular since it started in 2014. (Twitter account @MuseumSelfieDay has announced it will be on January 18th next year.)
Anticipating the success of Museum Selfie Day the New York Public Library promptly declared that the Wednesday following would be Library Shelfie Day (the 3rd annual event was on 27th January this year). The NYPL blog described how, after the inaugural event, “the stats were flooring: approximately 1,500 Instagram posts and 1,800 tweets from roughly 244 libraries/orgs/anything non-personal accounts.” Following the success of America’s National Library Shelfie Day, Britain’s National Libraries Day (this year held on Saturday 6th February) also celebrated with the #libraryshelfie tag on social media.
Naturally I’ve missed all this fun the last few years, being a latecomer to most parties. So here, on a date of no particular significance, is my shelfie, as I’ve been promising for some time now.
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.
I’m a great believer in libraries, as you may have noticed. Not just the idea, you understand — though I know many people do love the idea of a place where books are on tap, just because it’s a Good Thing. (Have you noticed, by the way, that whenever there’s a threat to a library locals get aerated about it? Even though it’s often the case that it’s been years since they last entered one?)
No, I’m a great believer in libraries, and not just as places where I can get free wifi, or shelter from the rain, or get my food recycling bags but as somewhere I can actually borrow books. Funded by council tax (what some still quaintly call ‘rates’) libraries are a wonderful resource for accessing fiction and non-fiction, and taking it away with you. And reading it in your own time. Or not, as the case may be.
The death knell of the book made from dead trees may have been premature, according to figures which keep being bandied around various media. For a long time the inexorable rise of the electronic book seemed to spell doom for the traditional tome: the demise of Borders was supposed to be a foretaste of worst to come, along with the closure of numerous bookshops both in the Old World as well as in the New. But is the situation changing? Continue reading “The book is dead?”→
Unpacking books was low down on our list of priorities, but the time eventually came to tackle the waiting boxes. No careful sorting at this stage, just transferring to existing shelves to see if the guestimated storage is adequate. And the answer is (huzzah!) it is! Sadly no “triangular wall of books” but at least it will be a whole wall, in what will be a guest bedroom. Hope guests won’t feel intimidated, just tempted!
There’s more art than science goes into arranging books, I feel, and I’m going to enjoy getting stuck into that when the time comes — though that may not be any time soon. I promise you will be first to get the update. Here’s a last look at how they were crammed into that pyramid.
Now those shelves, I hear you asking, who else had need of so much storage? The answer is Jeff Nuttall, who lived in this house for the last couple of years of his life, and whose books and papers filled all the space when we first came to view. Who he? I will leave that for another post; but if you can’t wait, there’s an informative Guardian obituary of this interesting polymath.
Thanks to Flojo (blogger, tweeter, daughter) I now know the word that describes my affliction, the addiction that I’m trying to kick. Wiktionary describes it as
“the act of leaving a book unread after buying it, typically piled up together with other such unread books”
This sounds so negative, doesn’t it? This aspect of book hoarding implies a dog-in-the-manger attitude: I can’t/won’t use it but, yah boo, you can’t either. It smacks of those billionaire recluses who buy artworks at auction only to hide them away from the public, keeping them as investments in a locked vault. But of course true book lovers don’t do that. Their intentions are good: to read the book at some point in the future and then, hopefully, share their thoughts about it with anyone who’s prepared to listen.
You want to know what this word is, don’t you? (Or perhaps you already do, and are patiently smiling because it’s taken me so long to cotton on to it.) Here it is: tsundoku.
Not to be confused with sudoku, of course. The elements of the Japanese word are “pile + up + read”. That doesn’t seem to me to imply that the books will remain unread. Wiktionary suggests a pun on tsundeoku, “to leave piled up”, but the original doku element strongly suggests that reading is involved. Eventually.
Tsundoku. My current favourite word. Those piles are slowly being reduced by the simple expedient of reading them. And then passing them on.
How much the world changes in a lifetime! Hands up if you can remember having to physically find a public telephone box to call from (when it worked) if you needed to tell someone you were running late? Or having to wait a few days for your film to be developed and printed by a specialist shop to see if those snaps you took were works of art or a waste of time? Or going into a library and searching through yellowing index cards in catalogue cabinets to see if they housed the book you were looking for?
Decluttering, discarding, downsizing… You may well be fed up to the metaphorical back teeth with my ongoing saga of denuding my bookshelves in preparation for a move. And yet, if you’re a booklover — I’m assuming you are one if you’re following a blog dedicated to exploring the world of ideas through books — such talk may induce a frisson of fear. It does for me. But confessional posts like this help me come to terms with the trauma of parting with books, and may even help you when your time comes!
For award-winning, internationally-acclaimed author Rosemary Sutcliff (1920-92). By Anthony Lawton: godson, cousin & literary executor. Rosemary Sutcliff wrote historical fiction, children's literature and books, films, TV & radio, including The Eagle of the Ninth, Sword at Sunset, Song for a Dark Queen, The Mark of the Horse Lord, The Silver Branch, The Lantern Bearers, Dawn Wind, Blue Remembered Hills.