Tuesday, 26 October 2010

New House... New Bookshelves

A new house... and new bookshelves to fill. What a treat in store. Several years ago I met A.A. Gill who told me about the person he had coming in to organise his library for him. It was a job of which I hadn't heard, but one I fondly thought I might be good at.

Perhaps surprisingly, given this vague hope (I don't think AA would appreciate it, anyway), I made a desultory attempt in our old flat to organise my books by the colour of their spines. It's a pretty silly idea in retrospect, especially since I only ever managed to do about a third of them, but what I liked about it was the randomness of how the books fell into place: a particular favourite was one of Jilly Cooper's early heroines, Harriet or Emily, all soft-focused, girlish romanticism, next to Nicholson Baker's pretentious ode to literary eroticism (or was it pornography?), The Fermata. Also, in finding a book, I had to remember where it was geographically on the shelves - a game as good for the memory surely as pelmanism.

Everywhere I've lived, I've had the problem of not quite enough shelves. When Michael Holroyd and Margaret Drabble put their house up for sale a few years ago, one of the things considered notable by the selling agent was the yards and yards of shelf space. With a great deal of flair-filled drilling and many bustling visits to the local hardware store, my father put up a wall of shelves for me in a cottage I rented on the Welsh borders some years ago. It was a huge success for some months... until I went away on holiday and returned to find my sitting room floor covered in a sea of books and the shelves collapsed.

Here's no different. It's a big house, but the shelves are more for display than use. Still, limitations aren't a bad thing. I'm trying to think of having to choose which books I really need out, and which can be piled at the back of a cupboard, as like choosing a capsule wardrobe: the skill will be all in the editing.

I'm definately going to sort them by author and into fiction and nonfiction categories, though. At least I think that's how I'll do it. I worry a little that having them organised will detract something from searching for a book, like mini-cab drivers with tom-toms who have unlearned all their navigational skills, and I'll be sad to lose happy mixed marriages like that of Jilly Cooper and Nicholson Baker, but the merits of knowing where a book should be and being able to find it instantly will outweigh all that.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Scratch + Sniff

The other day I ventured across London to The Book Club in Shoreditch to provide a bit of historical context to a stunningly original way of thinking about - well, about loads of things: history, culture, gender - and last but not least, scent.

It's an event called Scratch + Sniff, compered by the fabulously named Odette Toilette. The theme for the evening was the 1920s - a time when synthetics took over the perfume world, rendering classics like cologne and rose and lavender water hopelessly old-fashioned. Modern men and women in the 1920s wanted to smell like cigarette smoke, aeroplane fuel, leather, imaginary flowers - even each other. Famously, Charlie Chaplin wore Mitsouko - one of the few 1920s fragrances still easily available today, a potent oriental that today is seen as a woman's fragrance.

My favourite was Habanero (I think), which was created to drop onto cigarettes like a room fragrance, though I think Odette told me in one of our talks before the evcnt that the perfumers were trying to make a smell that evoked Cuban maidens rolling cigars on their virginal thighs. There were bowls of coffee beans on the able to smell when you got nasal overload, the olfactory equivalent of crackers at a wine tasting.

The best thing about the night was the way it provoked conversation, and made you think anew both about what you were smelling and why you responded to it as you did. One especially celebrated 1920s scent made almost everyone think of vintage shops, but in a good way - it was the most popular on the night. The scent was intended to recreate the smell of a brothel.

I haven't got out much over the past few years (as the fact that Shoreditch is foreign territory to me proves), but I can't remember when I was last in a room so buzzing with common interest and enthusiasm, and wonder at experiencing something new. Somehow looking at things through the prism of scent gives new shape to them - the 1920s is a relatively obvious one, but upcoming topics include the Movies, Scent & Creativity, and Scent and Masculine Identity. Bravo Odette Toilette.