I’m back in London for the Easter vacation (yes, already), and one thing that I can’t help but notice is how many books I have. Somehow, when I’m in Cambridge with just a couple of shelves’ worth (although those shelves got significantly fuller this term), I forget how many I actually own. And then I come home to my bedroom where practically every flat surface has become a bookshelf, despite the fact that I have a shelf of books still in my room at uni, and wonder where on earth I’m going to put the books I acquired over the past two months.
So I reorganise everything. Again.
My uncle has a policy that for every book he acquires, he has to give one away — an attempt to stop his house becoming overrun with books. While I appreciate the wisdom of that approach, I can’t imagine ever doing it myself. I get incredibly attached to books. The thought of getting rid of them is completely alien to me.
I reread a lot, which I think is part of it: just because I’ve already read something doesn’t mean I don’t want it anymore, as the chance that I’ll never pick it up even to look for a reference or quote are extremely slim. I also hope one day to convert a room in my house / flat / wherever I end up living into a library, but I don’t want it to be the kind of library where I buy in pretentious books to fill the shelves. Instead I want them to be full of books I’ve read and loved — battered children’s books that I’ve had since I was eight, well-read YA fiction that I bought in a library sale…
Whenever I reorganise my shelves there’s a part of my brain that says, “Maybe I do have too many books.” Then the sensible part of my brain kicks in and says, “Maybe you don’t have enough shelves.” Which is totally true. I need more shelves.
The way I’ve shuffled them around this time means that the backdrop for my vlogs will be considerably less colourful, as several children’s books — which tend to be brighter colours than YA fiction with its dark spines — have been moved to a different shelf to make room for new acquisitions. That’s a bit of a shame, as I like to keep things varied. However, this new arrangement does mean that Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett are next to each other, something I’ve been meaning to do for a while in order to put Good Omens between them, but which seems even more appropriate now.
(I do put books in alphabetical order, but not all letters of the alphabet are on each shelf, as there’s an element of ordering them by height as well. That shelf has B-G and then P and R — Pratchett, Reeve and Rowling take up more than half the shelf by themselves.)
Another problem I have with my shelves is my loyalty to authors. It’s pretty rare for me to only have one book by an author. It either means that they haven’t written anything else, or that I didn’t like the book enough to track down the others, or just that I couldn’t afford them at the time and read them from the library. The result of this is that I have several authors who dominate entire shelves by themselves.
Culprits include Holly Black (7 books), Terry Pratchett (8 books, 9 if you count my second copy of Mort), Maggie Stiefvater (6 books), Kate Thompson (7 books), Eoin Colfer (10 books), Philip Reeve (7 books, or 9 if you count the duplicate copies of two books), JK Rowling (7 books) and Tolkien (8 books). That isn’t even including the extensive Anthony Horowitz collection that my brother and I own collectively, which lives on the shelves in the corridor.
This makes keeping books in any sort of order almost impossible. Whenever I get a new book it’s not just a case of shuffling a couple of books around. If I need to move books by an author, I have to move all of them. And it’s a lot harder to re-home nine books than it is to rehome two, I can tell you that much. There are exceptions, of course. My duplicate copies live on a different shelf. A Hat Full Of Sky lives on a different shelf to the other Pratchett books because as a hardback, it’s considerably taller and doesn’t fit on the small shelf that they occupy.
Nor am I strict about alphabetical order. The Hourglass Factory, the only book I own by Lucy Ribchester, looked out of place between Reeve and Rowling because the design on the spine interrupted the continuity of the colourful books, so I had to put it before them — and it only moved from its place next to Roth on the shelf below because I realised I had another Garth Nix book that ought to be reunited with its fellows, which required shifting Graceling up to the top shelf where it doesn’t entirely belong, but it didn’t fit anywhere else.
The whole situation is absurd, really. I’ve got library cards for both my local library here and the one in Cambridge; I also own a Kindle, as well as a tablet with numerous e-reading apps. So why do I still have this problem?
Because I’m sentimental, and can never get rid of books, even if I didn’t love them. Because people give me books for my birthday and ebooks just aren’t the same as that. Because I buy books in charity shops and library sales and from secondhand book sales. Because my love of stories may trump my love of books themselves but ultimately I still prefer reading on paper than reading on my tablet.
There. I said it. All these years of encouraging people not to be snobs about the format they read in and I have to admit: offer me a choice between a paperback and a kindle edition, when they’re the same price and just as easy to get hold of, and I’ll choose the paperback. I love ebooks because they allow me to read books I couldn’t get any other way. I love borrowing them from the library when I don’t have the opportunity to actually go there and look for paper books.
But in the end, I love books, too. And so I’ll live in a room overcrowded with books to the point where I’m wondering if I should build furniture from them. Come the summer, when my other books have to come home from Cambridge too, I have no idea how I will fit them in, but that doesn’t mean I regret owning them.
My room full of books says more about me than any posters I might stick on the walls or pictures blutacked to cupboard doors. And I like it that way.