Friday, November 25, 2005

The Book Collector's Dilemma

There is a question which comes up with inevitable regularity on the Child_Lit list: how do you (or I) arrange my books ? And it appears that the Child_Lit subscribers are not alone in their cry; in yesterday's Guardian Susie Boyt revealed she faced the same book collector's dilemma. Her article begins:

No one in her right mind would display her wardrobe on open racks and shelves in the living room for all to see: the bad mistakes, the telling array of sizes, that dented tin of Doom to Moth, the smell of sweat deodorised. It would be more exposure than anyone could bear.
I've always felt a little like this about books too. Until now I have kept mine stowed away [...]. I've never felt books added much to any room visually, as long as you can always find one when you need one.
But recently I have had cause to revise my opinions: one of my daughter's friends asked her mother why we don't have any books in our home, and I'm not sleeping well because the stack of books next to my bed is so high that it is penetrating my dreams, where towers and precarious cliffs loom large.

In something akin to a panic, Boyt has installed 14 bookcases (I can't even imagine having enough space for 14 bookcases, never mind sufficient books to fill them !) near the front door and now she has visions of scathing analyses of their contents (and omissions therefrom):

Why the nine biographies of Judy Garland? Why every book by Henry James but not a word of Hemingway? Why four annotated Tennysons? Why no Virginia Woolf? If only I could argue that the books I have simply represent me; but in that case how to explain the glut of Dryden? And where are all the embarrassing titles? Surely when none of those are on view something in the household must be seriously amiss.

And then there's the big dilemma of how to arrange them:

An alphabetical arrangement, especially for poetry, seems unsatisfactory. [...] I recall a good conversation I had with my father about Whitman and D H Lawrence, so I put these two next to each other. I remember a wonderful essay by John Bayley comparing The Eve of Saint Agnes with The Dead, so I put Joyce and Keats side by side.

I have to confess my books are shelved fairly haphazardly, for the simple reason that my tiny attic only has space for two small bookcases which are packed with books. The ones I use most often (Tolkien and FWW poetry) are in the bookcase that's alongside my left arm even as I type, and the remainder are in or piled on top of the second bookcase just inside the door. I wish I had the luxury of sufficient space to have bookcases all over the place ! It is my most recurrent fantasy to have a house big enough for an actual library (such as the well-off had in the 18th and 19th centuries). If I ever buy that winning Lotto ticket...

* * * * * *

Talking of the First World War, I only found out today that Michael Morpurgo's Private Peaceful has won the Blue Peter book award. Michelle Pauli reports on the award in the Guardian and notes Morpurgo's response: "To win a prize is always encouraging to a writer. To win a prize judged by your readers is something very special indeed."

I haven't read it yet, it's on my "to be borrowed at some stage" list for the library. Right now I'm reading Patricia McKillip's The Forgotten Beasts of Eld which a friend kindly loaned to me - and tomorrow I'm finally picking up Alan Garner's Red Shift from the library - hooray !


Anonymous said...

I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts on Red Shift - it's on my list of to-reads...

Michele said...

Well you can be sure that I'll post a review here on my Blog as soon as I've read it - which will probably be on Monday or Tuesday...