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Monday, 11 February 2013

AN AUTHOR’S LIBRARY.

Here’s an advance on a theme. The theme appeared in my blog. Sources of inspiration are meaningless. Now for the advance on that view. You can’t tell a damned thing worth knowing about an author from books stacked in that author’s library.
   Why not?
   You don’t know, and can’t say for sure…
   Which of the books on the shelves were gifts…
   Or which of the books on the shelves were borrowed and await return…
   Which of the books are there by mistake…
   Or which of the books were read…
   Which of the books were enjoyed…
   Or which of the books were useful…
   I could go on. Instead, I turn to stare at the books on my shelves and I think…
   It’s a bloody shame I bought so many at once in that sale, for there’s little worse than an instant backlog. An entire shelf groans under the mass of free books. My free shelf. Free books sitting on my free shelf.
   Yes, through a quirk at the factory, I ended up being sent a free shelf to make up for a minor omission in the number of small metal fixings.
   They could only send out the missing metal bolt with an entire shelf thrown in free. Along with enough fixings for the extra shelf.
   My free shelf of free books.
   Other shelves carry cut-price books. I am a Kindle author, but I read off the paper storage system. There’s a lot of paper to chew through. Sales skewed my view of my own library. I now see shelves I must clear.
   There’s no pattern to this. The clearest shelf is read. Below that shelf, there are seven unread tomes. And below that shelf, lie two untackled books. I just see shelves. My plan is to clear those. So I’ll tackle the shelf with two unread books on it.
   Then I’ll have cleared a shelf. Trumpets may sound. In that slice of the library, just over a tenth of the books remain unread. Lately I haven’t been reading books. I’ve been reading articles for research. Oh, I’d pick up a book and race through the thing. But then I’d not follow the pattern in reading more.
   Now I’ve forced myself to blog about the foolishness of buying too many books at once. It is my fate to be found under a collapsed bookshelf so heavily-burdened that it is in danger of generating its own gravitational field.
   I won’t be found. Fingertips, perhaps.
   Space is important. When the last batch of books came in, I spent over an hour working my way through tomes of different dimensions. There is a pattern to this. I don’t stack books alphabetically. Books are slotted where they’ll fit.
   After the last reorganisation, and the addition of a piece of furniture to take some of the strain, I gained two empty shelves. Unheard-of. I’m down to 1.5 as I type. Something must be done about the biggest lie.
   No more books.
   How can an author say that and believe it? There’s always the floor. I have over half a dozen books on the floor right now. They were removed from shelves so I could read them. You have to take action. This blog post is part of that action.
   I have a book sitting atop my printer. Which shows how rarely I use my printer these days. Four books lie on the floor in my old office. Only four? Must be having an off-day. I indulge in the perilous pastime of stacking books atop bookshelves as well as in them. (Where possible. And sometimes where unfeasible.)
   Just now I was eyeing up a few bookends, with a view to getting more use out of them. How do you squeeze more use out of bookends? You redeploy books that are so thick they’ll act as bookends themselves, freeing you to make more use of bookends.
   Idly, I wonder which book will kill me. It must fall while I am crouched checking another book lying on the floor. This rules out anything below the top shelves. Unfortunately, shelf layout gives the greatest space to the top shelf. There, the tallest books reside.
   Some of the widest, too.
   Had I a death-wish going, when I stacked chunky books so high? Of course I’m not going to be killed by a falling book. The house will explode in flames if ever there’s a fire. They’ll trace the conflagration to that Ray Bradbury volume.
   What do these books weigh? Not very much, on Kindle. What would I do if I replaced these books digitally? I mean, what would I do with the space? Put more books on empty bookshelves, out of habit. I’m in a digital world now. Moving house would be so easy with a Kindle library packed and ready to go.
   One box, and you’re away.
   Near-paperless office. Paper-packed library. My Kindle sits above hardback books. I suppose the electronic device is a hardback, too. It demanded feeding the other day. Paper books don’t request electricity. Strange sigils appeared on the screen, informing me that the digital wonder’s charge was low.
   Annoying. Though I’ve yet to receive a cut from turning a Kindle page.

*

After a break to shuffle some books around, I realised there was a mini-shelf to my left with one unread book on it. Though that book is a chunky one. Where to start? Read all the thin ones first? You can’t tell which book makes for easiest reading, based on girth.
   I stare at the shelves and note a straightforward book I found hellish-going. If I can’t get into the story, I’ll keep on. Things may pick up. The Call of the Wild meant nothing to me in chapter one. I really liked chapter two. Just my mood, on cracking the book open. I knew it wasn’t a bad book. Jack London knew what he was about, in the fashioning of the beast.
   London’s book wasn’t the hellish one. Sometimes, classics can take a bit of getting used to. The Red Badge of Courage left me flat, but I went from one end to the other anyway. I suspect I’ll have to go back in and reappraise the work. Let’s say at the distance of a few years, when I’m in a mood to appreciate the effort Stephen Crane made.
   Casual racism in Edwardian children’s fiction slows me right down. You have to grit your teeth with “family favourites” now and again. Fun for all the family – provided you’re a white middle-class family with plummy English accents and at least half a butler.
   Wow. I’ve really veered off. What was I supposed to say? I’d stopped to look over my bookshelves, and started commenting on what was there. I thought The Power and the Glory would be Graham Greene’s most depressing book, but it wasn’t. Books surprise you.
   An author’s library should surprise you. You can’t tell a damned thing worth knowing about an author from books stacked in that author’s library. How many were stolen? (In my library, not one. And no, not more than one. You’re a suspicious lot, out there in the blogosphere. What do you mean, I’m a fugitive…)
   Would I ever remove books from my library? Oh, I’ve done so. Sometimes duplicates come your way. In this new office of mine, most of the books are hardback. A few paperbacks reside here, hidden away.
   The old office contains overspill from the hardback library. Most of the paperbacks are through there. The only system I have is one of stacking. On the floor, on shelves, above shelves, on desks, in cupboards…
   I really must see to those bookends. If I squeeze the juice out of the system, I can make room for another twenty books at least. Twenty books not-yet-purchased. Don’t ask me what they’ll be about. Fiction and non-fiction sit shoulder-to-shoulder in my collection.
   If there’s a single subject running through my library then my library has failed in its purpose. All writers should read. Scandalously, some don’t. That’s their business. My business is to sigh and tell myself that there’ll be no more books.
   Something rather obvious tells me I’ll fill my 1.5 clear shelves before the year is out. And I’ll have those bookends reclaiming land from the sea to make room for another twenty tomes before long. When all else fails, build up. I could improvise a new miniature bookcase atop a sturdy unit.
   Or, gasp, I could return to stashing bookcases in the kitchen. That was a woeful period, when I still had all the old small storage units. They were abandoned in favour of bigger and sturdier paper containers. The kitchen overspill left me uneasy. I risked encouraging mildew in a steamy kitchen. Inadvertent experiments in biochemical warfare loomed.
   With some tricky manoeuvring, a new tall thin bookcase could be wedged into position behind the door. Yes, I’ve considered removing doors to allow small bookcases to take up the space occupied by a swinging piece of wood. But that’s a step too far, even for me.
   I’ll find a way to get by. And by that, I don’t mean squeezing past another bookcase. At least, that’s what I tell myself when I say no more books. Something must be done about the biggest lie. But I remember that reading is part of the trade. Writing depends on it. The remedy is to sigh as I lie to myself. And to lie to myself when I say that’s a remedy.

NEXT BLOG: ALISTAIR COOKE.

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