I love reading, and I have a lot of books. Until last December, there were more than enough books to fill a bookcase stacked on the floor. A lot of them were acquired while I was a student (I was a student for too many years), when I enjoyed browsing in second hand shops, yet did not always have time to read the treasures I had found.
One of the problems with stacks of books is that it is very difficult to organise the books within the stacks, and retrieving books from the bottom can be dangerous. So last December I bought a new bookcase. I thought about it for a long time, contemplating so many options, and that basic decision of whether I should be buying a bookcase or tossing the books. Some would say that as the books hadn’t been read for over ten years, I would not miss them if I discarded them. But there were few books I might be able to discard from the shelves I had, and I know that I am not going to suddenly stop acquiring books, so new shelving came.
It was wonderful to shelve the books, to reunite works by individual authors, to have books grouped by categories that make sense to me (genre, era, mood). Books in stacks tend to be organised by size and weight. Now I am up to the fun part. Each time I read a new book, I follow it up with four of these old books. Sometimes I select a group I expect to be able to toss, so that I can then move quickly on to reading an old favourite or another new book. Other times, I select books that seem promising. I have had a couple of wonderful surprises.
For example, the ‘new’ book I read was ‘Religion for Atheists’ by Alain de Botton (I don’t know why it took me so long to get around to it). I think those attending church, but feeling a little jaded, could gain something from this book too, an appreciation of what they have, the purpose of the paintings, etc. Then in the selection of old books, I had ‘The Birdcage’ by John Bowen (first published in 1962). I laughed at the connection between the novel and the book I had read previously. A character was in Venice, trying to appreciate a painting, Tinterotto’s ‘Crucifixion’, in the way that society dictated that paintings should be appreciated, and it just wasn’t working for him. He needed ‘Religion for Atheists’, then he would have felt comfortable in his non-appreciation, or he would have had an alternative approach for looking at the painting.
My selection also included some books that inspired a television series. The books had been slowly given as presents over several years. I had read most of them, but did not remember enjoying them all that much. The one I had selected was extremely dull. So I pulled some others from the shelf. They gave me as much pleasure as ‘The Birdcage’, but for an entirely different reason. They were so incredibly boring. This hefty pile of books could be discarded, and would generate a little shelf space, so that some books don’t need to be doubled up on the shelves any more. As I had shelved the books I had suspected at least half would fit in this category.
Now for a fun quote from The Birdcage, a very funny thing to have read the day before St Valentine’s day:
” ‘You won’t make him think I . . . I’m in love with him or anything like that?’ Norah Palmer said.
‘I shan’t mention the word.’
‘I’m past all that.’
‘My love, we all are. One goes through that kind of thing, but one couldn’t put up with it all one’s life.’ ”
By the end of ‘The Birdcage’ I found myself thinking of Nick Hornby’s ‘High Fidelity’. There are similar sentiments and themes, yet the books are so very different too. I will be reading ‘High Fidelity’ again soon.