Monday, 4 March 2013


A bajillion years ago, I decided to crack down on unread books bought in bulk during sales. Change of regime. I’d challenge myself to chew through a few unread volumes on a shelf and declare that shelf cleared.
   How fared my simple plan?
   The simple plan went a-gley. Instead of devouring two unread books on a shelf crammed with a further 22 read volumes, I read what I pleased. No shelf was cleared in the making of this blog post. Instead, I enjoyed reading book upon book with no great sense to the order.
   I squeezed some juice out of bookends, and reorganised my shelves for the bajillionth time. Somehow, I swept an entire shelf of tomes into seeming nothingness. Breathing was done, and space grew. I conjured more room for even more books.
   And I have fewer unread works on my shelves.
   The trick is to refrain from purchasing books. Make those gains LAST. Absorb information from pages. Let that data inform my work. The author’s library is no burden. It is a wonderful thing.
   Admittedly, the classic-heavy hardback portion of my library could be packed away into the Kindle with no difficulty. That’s why the collection is no burden – electronically. Physically, I dread to think what the hard stack weighs. The heaviest book in the library checks in at…
   Almost eighteen pounds. Undisputed heavyweight champeen. I try to imagine the number of Kindle units stacking up to that same weight, and the mass of books stored on so many machines. Wisely, I stop imagining after lifting my Kindle and hefting the non-weight of it.
   For a week, I think, I had no books on the floor. That handy storage area has since been reinstated. Tales stack up, as though they are aircraft waiting to land. Land they do. Then they taxi to the final destination. Done. Occasionally dusted.
   The comfortable chair (behind this strict writerly chair) has three books on it. There are seven titles on a piece of furniture to my left. Six books lie on the floor. My seldom-used printer plays host to a single volume. That’s a book I’d read. Sitting there for reference. A work on ghosts.
   Surely I need no research material for a ghost story? I just make it all up. Don’t I? Depends on the type of ghost story I’m writing. A comedy. Oh. Even less reason to reach for research tools? Far from it.
   When I installed two computers, my office became the old office. Here, in my hardback library, my new office came into existence. The old office is just my paperback library now. Through there, a check shows one book on the floor. Seven volumes on one desk, and five on the other. These works are read and unread, living in harmony.
   The paperback library has far more read books in it. Why? Hardbacks were bought in bulk, during sales. That’s the simple, crushing, reason. So there you have a snapshot of my library, slightly updated.
   You may take it that this is always the state of things for any writer, no matter the update. I’ll have stacks on the floor, and on chairs. Stories to absorb. Some novels to read again. A few works to flip through for research.
   There’ll be tales of dark and stormy nights read on dark and stormy nights. Stories of high adventure, and hardy adventurers, read in conditions of comfort. Mysteries to be solved, as well as unsolved items reserved for pondering over. History. Biography. The odd bit of poetry.
   Stories ostensibly for children. Reading Victorian and Edwardian fiction for children informs the author of the state of things as was. I may yet write my way down those dusty avenues, with an eye on adding something new. The author’s library is read for enjoyment. And for more than that.
   To write, read.
   If I am unkind to my own writing style, declaring it nineteenth century with a few tawdry postmodern tricks thrown in, that in no way denigrates the works of dead authors on my shelves. To write, be self-critical beyond the point of pain.
   I should say something of maintenance. Occasionally, I check the shelves to see if they’ll hold up to the titanic weight of books stacked upon them. One shelf gives more cause for concern than any other. The high shelf with its worldly weight of tall books arrayed against me, should there be a…
   Yes. Let’s uncoin that phrase almost immediately. Why the concern? That shelf isn’t the highest shelf. It is the one that hovers over my new office arrangements. The higher shelf, at the back of the room, with books as heavy as the books at the front…
   THAT shelf should cause as much worry. If not more.
   Nonsense. It doesn’t really matter how high those shelves are, or how heavy the books upon the shelves happen to be. No. It’s the combustibility I should fret over.
   I’ve just noticed five works lying on a shelf. They are on their own plank, but were removed from the upright position. More books stacked in the queue, waiting to be devoured. When was the last time I bought a book?
   It came into the house in January and was read in January.
   See. The job can be done. Depends on the book. I suspect that there are two hardbacks on my shelves that I’ll never get around to. For I attempted to tackle both, and had to stop for a break that almost turned into eternal rest.
   It’s rare that I’ll abandon a book – I expect I’ll finish them this century.
   The shelves all seem fine. Random as they are. All shelves are stacked by convenience. Only a single shelf has a loose-fitting collection of tomes. The other shelves are snug with books. Rarely, I see a need to shuffle works around.
   That comes to pass when an awkward volume enters the library. If I remove those two, I can add that one to this shelf. The height is a problem. Now I’ll have to shuffle the other two around, and see what I can do about several of these items grouped by a very general theme…
   And so it goes.
   Public libraries are alphabetised and categorised for public convenience. Private libraries follow private rules governed by the laws of space-time. Height is a factor. Breadth proves of import. Occasionally category rears its head – though seldom.
   The day before I sat to write this blog post, I noticed a book shelved upside-down. A set of riotous, if unreliable, memoirs by Clive James. His Australian nature has no bearing on the upside-down-ness of his book, though some will sneer at so easy a target’s not being hit.
   Setting the book to rights, I had a quick go at the author’s introduction and burst out laughing as I impersonated that wonderful wandering waver in his accent. His words, unsurprisingly, go well with it.
   I’ve now checked the stacks, and I just spotted another upside-downer.
   How can you tell? Of the hundreds of hardbacks on my shelves, 40% of them have upright titles – the words are read with the books stacked spine-up. So it’s very easy to see if a book is upside-down going by spine alone.
   Almost 60% of the books carry titles readable by turning your head on its side – to the right. One book flouts the convention, and a left-hand turn is called for. In truth, no head-twisting is required. We have the capacity to absorb the information at a glance. Clue’s in the title.
   Ow. No more shady wordplay today.
   Why does that one tome carry its author and title from spine-bottom to spine-top? I cannot say. The rest run in the other direction – for ease of use in reading the title if the book lies stacked flat in a face-up pile, rather than upright on a shelf-plank.
   I stack books in a series from right to left. The Jungle Book sits to the right of The Second Jungle Book. If I were to remove the series and lay the books flat, then I’d read them in order from top to bottom. Convenience is handy that way.
   Now I’m staring at spines, wondering why some books carry the author’s name first while others start with the title itself. There are a few examples of the title missing an author. They are world-famous, and need no writerly introduction. The Scarlet Pimpernel and The Scarlet Letter sit side by side, simply for having scarlet in the title. It’s a private library, and the books are stacked as I please – size-permitting.
   Those authorless red-themed books are almost identical in size. Not quite authorless. I found a clipping on Nat Hawthorne sandwiched between the scarlet volumes. Clarification? Neither book is red. Both tomes have been read.
   I hate to puncture an image. There are no cobwebs. Shocking, I know. The shelves, though they should be of deep dark wood, are light and airy. To burst the bubble, there’s half a shelf free. Though I’m quick to point out that the shelf in question is already a half-shelf. A corner plank. I may just be able to store this next year’s gathering of hardbacks there.
   (Nonsense. No more books.)


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