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.

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