Thursday, 1 October 2009

What does your bookshelf say about you?

I recently stumbled across this article about people and their bookshelves on the bookcrossing forums. At first I was delighted, then somewhat disturbed, particularly by the following quote:

Books aren't essential - you don't need them to sit on or eat off (unless you are a student). If you want to read, or check a reference, there are libraries.

I struggled past my feelings of indignation to see where she was going with this whole idea. It seemed, in the end, that she had concluded that the reason people keep books on their shelves is to show people how well read they are (or, as she puts it, claim to be). Why else would people keep books on shelves rather than in boxes?

Being an avid reader and a lover of books I felt this premise to be somewhat offensive, or at least ill-thought out. Why do I keep books on shelves and not in boxes? Er, for ease of access of course. These are books I keep because I want to read them, sooner or later, and I'd rather not be scrabbling around in the bottom of a box trying to find said book. Plus I have an awful memory and I need to be reminded of which books I actually own.

Plus, isn't a shelf of books an enjoyable sight, as evidenced by the wealth of options to fake well-stocked bookshelves she listed like the fake books and the bookshelf wallpaper? Who wouldn't want to look at a shelf of books? Well, I suppose those sorts of people ARE out there but since this is a book blog, I don't suppose they're bothering to read this so I'm safe. But in all seriousness, concluding that keeping books on shelves is purely for the display of ones reading prowess missed the far more interesting aspect that this article only lightly touched on.

I love looking at my books as it's tracking a journey in my life. I can see the novels I studied for my favourite undergrad literature classes; I can see books given to me as presents; I can see books that I read in a particular location and time in my life... Books are a part of my life. So when I go around to another person's house and look at their bookshelves, it makes me feel like I'm getting to know them a little better. Although some people might tell you I'm a book snob (and my reading tastes would rather suggest that so I understand) I certainly wouldn't judge another person on their bookshelf. A bookshelf stocked to brimming with well-thumbed lighter fiction is, in my view, a far more pleasant sight than a bookshelf only a few unread copies of "literature". Books are meant to be read and enjoyed. I can far better connect with someone that has bothered to read stuff on their shelf rather than just put it there because they think it looks good.

In answer, finally, to my own question - I wonder what my bookshelf says about me. I expect it reflects that while I appreciate some of the classics (Wuthering Heights is just fantastic) I definitely have a preference for contemporary literature. And yes, it might give you the impression I'm a book snob but actually I don't make any apologies for that. I know what I like and don't particularly fancy wasting time or reading energy on books that don't tickle my fancy. So many books and so little time and all that.

Take a sneaky peek at your own shelves. What do you think they say about you?

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