Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Shelf Analysis

[posted by Callimachus]

I wish I had thought of that. Best headline of the day yesterday, though it's actually in the photo caption accompanying this column on books in pictures.

Perhaps it's a form of voyeurism, a lust to discover guilty secrets. What I really hope to discover is that someone like Roger Scruton has shelf upon shelf of chick lit; that Jeremy Clarkson can't get enough of the novels of Margaret Drabble; or that the dainty aesthete Roy Strong is harbouring a stack of books on motor-vehicle maintenance, one of which is a dog-eared volume entitled The Sump.

Right. When I want to know about someone, I look at his bookshelf. Oh, his library might be something a decorator ordered up by the crate, but chances are it's not. Especially if the books look shopworn. And there's no certainty that he's read them just because he has them. But often you can tell that, too, on suspicion.

Instead, if it's someone you've known for any length of time, when you see his library it's like an intellectual biography. You think, "aha; that's where he got that notion."

Like the Guardian writer, when I see pictures of prominent people posing in their libraries, I wish they'd move out of the way so I could see their books. I tend to look at such pictures with my head cocked to the side.

For my own part, I'd rather pose my library than my face or figure. Not that either of the latter is anything to look at. I have far more vanity about the bookshelves.

As I'm about to prove. I'm figuring most of our regulars here, like the two bloggers, are readers. These thumbnails link to larger versions in which, I think, you can read the titles on the spines. Maybe you'll have an "aha" moment out of it if you care to, or have the delightful experience of catching sight of an old friend in an unexpected place.

First, the essential stuff, As I sit at the computer, these are the books immediately at hand to my left:

And these to my right:

And about a step away is this shelf:

Already, have I confirmed your idea of this persona who posts here, or rattled it?

Across the room is the rest of the library:

I haven't included the shelves on the other walls, which are full of my wife's books, many of which are 19th century novels or books about fabric, clothing, and couture, since she is a fashion historian. To include them as though they were mine would give me an aura of sophistication I do not deserve.

This low-rise bookcase is where my fiction and poetry titled generally end up. It's between the two cushy chairs, so you can reach over and pluck something out to leaf through while drinking a beer or a glass of wine or scotch.

I have learned not to keep books in the bedroom and weaned myself from the habit of reading in bed. For me, a bedroom ought to be a defined space for certain activities that brook no distractions.

We keep four low bookcases downstairs, in the living room. Some of these are "better" bindings, but that doesn't mean they're only there for looks. Since we don't have a TV and cable, this is also a recreation room, and a place where you can pick up a title and kick back on the couch with it, if you're a guest. It's also where I keep some of the bigger picture books that wait to be discovered by our children.

If you want to make a game of it, In this collection of pictures you can see two (corrected: three, but two are the same book in different editions) books written by me and one by my best friend. Needless to say, my small-time name is not in big letters.

Shall we make this a meme? I'd invite my co-blogger and everyone among our blogfriends and regular visitors with sites of their own to post their own version of this -- especially Amba, who seems to have a bookshelf fetish.

UPDATE: Dave S. has taken up the challenge, head mugs and all.