Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Me, My Shelf, and I

"If you cannot read all your books, at any rate handle, or as it were, fondle them – peer into them, let them fall open where they will, read from the first sentence that arrests the eye, set them back on the shelves with your own hands, arrange them on your own plan so that you at least know where they are. Let them be your friends; let them at any rate be your acquaintances."
-- Winston Churchill –

The time has come for me to say a word about the favorite part of my apartment.... the several walls against which my bookshelves lean! I'm showing you one wall, there.
I love the above quote, from Winston Churchill.
I live it. I really do.
I’ve heard it said that you can tell a lot about a person, by observing their library.
Wait a minute though. What if that person does not have a library?
Well..... hmmm... (just a suggestion here)... perhaps that fact in itself would speak a wee bit louder than any observation of the missing library ever would!
In my opinion, anyone who does not have an area of their living space devoted to the amalgamation of books, falls into one or more of the following categories of person:
a) they cannot afford to buy books.
b) they cannot read.
c) their books have been destroyed and/or stolen.
d) they are content to live within the framework of their own thought-life, and are not interested in developing their intelligence beyond the borders of their own “common sense”.

Of these four possibilities, three are excusable.
The fourth one, d), is not.
Correction. Wait a minute. It is excusable, because we all have the inalienable right to remain ignorant.
We do.
Therefore, it is more correct to say that d) is unfortunate. Regrettable.
And, in my opinion.... sad.

But again, this is indeed, everyone’s right.
We are all, by the very nature of our individuality and desire to be somewhat autonomous, different, it is true. Diverse aspirations, interests, and goals.
Reading and learning are decidedly optional activities in the lives of all free persons.
It stands to reason however, that if a personal library is evidence that a person has interacted with the world of “idea” and felt that some of it was relevant enough to retain in his or her possession, that the corollary is also applicable.
The lack of such a library is evidence that no such interaction has taken place.

Looking again at the words of Winston Churchill, above, the first thing I must admit to is that I cannot read all of my books. I have not done so. I have intentions of doing so, but I continue to accumulate at a rate that is exceeding consumption. If my books could gather their collective resolve, and speak as one voice, they would surely quote little Jude Jr. from Hardy's Jude The Obscure.... "we are too menny."
However, I do exactly as he suggests there.... I fondle them, I peer into them, I walk past them just before retiring at night. I select one and let it fall open where it will, letting its words lull me bedward.
I always return them to their place. And they do have a place. And just as he says, I arrange them on my own plan, and I know where they are.... individually, I know.
I prefer my books to be arranged somewhat topically. One shelf may contain favored poetry, the next, World War II history. Another, a row of Biblical commentaries, two shelves of C.S. Lewis, one or two for indispensable favorite fiction. Within each shelf, I arrange the books aesthetically, no real rules other than what appears pleasing to me. An ornament or picture placed here and there. Sometimes the tops of the books slope downward, left to right, within the shelf. Elsewhere the taller books are at either end, the gradually shorter ones towards the middle. Also, at some points, books are stacked horizontally between columns of verticals. And scattered throughout, are books placed atop the sloping rows, reclining lengthwise for easier access.
Monolith and dolmen. Post and beam.
Good book placement should dispel any idea of monotony. Bookstores know that variation draws people forward. This is why, in their stocking of shelves, they alternate between books with only the spine visible and others with the entire cover in full view. Rows of never ending spines are just as unappealing on a bookshelf as they would be on the beach. In both places, some flesh here and there is nice.
An aesthetically pleasing combination of randomness and symmetry is the thing. It makes a bank of bookshelves very inviting.
Just ask my cat Jack. He cannot seem to refrain from finding any sort of breach in the structure, weaseling his way in there, and then peering out at me between the ones he’s knocked out of place. I am almost certain he reads quite a bit when I’m not home....

Mr. Churchill says “Let them be your friends; let them at any rate be your acquaintances.”
I do! And they are!
I know that they are my friends, because, like friends, they are very nearly irreplaceable.
Everything else that I own can be replaced, given time and money.
But to replace my books?
It would require another lifetime.



Cold Molasses said...

Ah yes...that shelf of Biblical commentaries surely gathers no dust...I'm sure those books are on and off that shelf on an almost daily (maybe hourly) basis!

Cipriano said...

Yes, Cold Mol.
Why, I was just doing an exegesis of Isaiah last night WHEN I SHOULD HAVE BEEN AT THE HOCKEY GAME!

Beth said...

Timely post. Just today (while adding yet more books to the existing stacks) I had a fleeting moment of wondering if the bookcase in my bedroom might fall over with the weight of all the books – as in, on top of the bed when I’m in it!
I cannot imagine living in a home where I am not surrounded by books.

(Love your post title.)

Robin M said...

What a wonderful post and I love the quote from churchill. Thanks for the inspiration to keep on collecting those books. :)

Anonymous said...

Love the photo. You have beautiful bookshelves. Your post post a big smile to my face. :)

Jeane said...

What a wonderful post. I am smiling as I read it. I love looking at others' bookshelves- and yours are much nicer-looking than mine (I am currently trying to convince my husband we need another bookcase). I frequently stand in front of my shelves just to look at the books, to pull one out and take in its cover, to thumb some pages, to consider rearranging them yet again...

Rebecca H. said...

"We are too menny" -- that cracked me up, I must say. My books say the same thing to me.

Shark said...

For a long time I didn't even have a bookshelf, just piles of books all over my bedroom floor. Come to think of it I didn't have a bed or a dresser either; just a futon and a shirt rack. When you're as poor as I am you have to make a decision, furniture, or more books.