Being a bibliophile has one obvious drawback – unless you’re one of those ruthlessly minimalist people who gives away every book they buy once it’s read, you need a library. Most people – me included – do not live in a house capable of housing a library. Our books spill over into every room in the house bar the bathroom (too steamy otherwise shelves’d be in there before you could say rawlplug) even the downstairs loo has a small cache.
I’m not the most brilliant of DIY-ers. I’m more inclined to have a go than get it right but putting up shelves in an alcove where the dimensions are all over the place and none of the corners is a true right angle turned into a nightmare. The length of the shelves where they butted-up against the wall had to be 102 cm but, 20 cm further forward, at the front edge of the shelves they had to be 104 cm long. [This is all to imply that I can work in cm when, in fact, I automatically measure up by eye in inches, despite the fact that I was about eight years old when the UK avowedly ‘went metric’] Add to this discrepancy the fact that the angles weren’t the same on either side and that there was a chunk to be taken out of each shelf for central heating pipes and the stage was set for a lot of swearing, banging of recalcitrant planks and going up and down stepladders looking for spirit-levels, screwdrivers and my sense of proportion which seemed, sadly, to have got lost somewhere around shelf 3.
Thank goodness, whilst I was out giving the Ultimate Frisbee Freak a driving lesson, the Other Half (who had been out manning a Christmas fair stall) took over and quietly corrected some of my more obvious mistakes. Without her, shelves would not have been a feature of our life by Saturday evening. As it is, I think they look quite fetching.
So, the thing was done and we could finally bring out the books which have been languishing in a cupboard in our bedroom. A cupboard! Books! It’s a crime. It felt like locking up little birds…
As we rescued them I felt I wanted to re-read them all instantly. It was like greeting a load of old friends. Oh my goodness, is the Hovel in the Hills still letting the rain in? Brother Cadfael, how goes it in the infirmary? Joanne Harris – in the wonder of the novels I’d forgotten your short stories. Must read Jigs and Reels again.
But then there are the guilt-inducers. Still not read Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom despite the fact of his lovely face smiling benevolently from the spine. Don’t worry, he seems to be saying, I’m not going anywhere. Trouble is, I don’t need letting off the hook like that, he needs to chivvy me along. I mean, 751 pages is 751 pages when all’s said and done.
And Jim Crace’s Arcadia. I loved Quarantine but couldn’t quite get on with Arcadia. I need to have another go. Then Frank McCourt’s ‘Tis – got as far as about page 30 with this before something distracted me (probably a crime novel…) and I haven’t got back to it.
I know some disciplined souls don’t buy any new books until they’ve read all the ones they’ve got. (Probably the same people who then nobly give their books to Oxfam rather than hanging on to them like some second-cousin you’re quite fond of but aren’t sure what to do with and wouldn’t like to see go out into the night friendless…) I can’t be that disciplined. I have to be in a particular mood for different sorts of book, so they wait, patiently, sometimes on the tbr pile but often, if they’ve been there a while, they’re ‘moved sideways’ to a more permanent shelf.
If I was really organised I’d have a shelf dedicated accusingly to ‘books you haven’t read yet and should really get around to’. But a) I’m not that disciplined and b) I’m not really sure I want my shelves taking that tone with me!