Monday, November 28, 2005

Books away

It's amazing how easy, and enjoyable, it was to finish organising my studio once I decided to pack away my reading books. Letting go of my desire to have all my books visible on shelves was the most difficult bit! That set me to thinking about the nature of books as a preferred interior decorating accessory.

Artist's books, of the kind I make, are generally designed to be viewed as works of art. But most books, other than large format 'coffee table' books, are designed to attract bookstore browsers but not really for display at home, where once read, will be seen only as a spine. Yet I, like so many people I know, really like the look of a row of book spines.

My favourite looking kind of bookshelves are actually:
  • a couple of shelves build over a doorway, or above the stairs
  • glass fronted wooden book cases (perfect for displaying artist's books)
  • an entire wall of floor to ceiling shelves
  • shelves made out of books
NB None of the above are currently in my life.

There are people who's decorators will buy books by the foot just so they can look literary without having to go to all the trouble of reading. Then there are people who compulsively buy books, read them (or plan to), and obsessively keep them forever on view so that they and their guests never forget how well-read they are.

Books make wonderful insulation, if you get enough of them lined up against a wall. But despite this I don't own many books, compared to:
  • how many I read (2-6 per week, almost all borrowed)
  • how many I have owned (I rarely buy books except on sale or second hand, but I gladly receive book gifts and handmedowns and one way and another I have temporarily owned hundreds more than now)
  • many of my most dearly beloved friends and family
  • most bibiophiles.
Why such restraint?
1. I sell them because despite my best efforts, I have led a transient life, and even four or five cartons of books is a heavy load to schlep around.
2. I sell them because a really good second hand book shop will give you double the credit that they offer in cash, and that's credit you can spend buying more books at a ratio of about 4 old ones to 1 new one, which still means a 75% reduction in the number of books to be schlepped.
3. I give them away. The books I love most and know I will want to read again soon or often I keep. Books that I love second-most and want to share make great presents that don't require me coming up with fresh cash.

Thus my remaining collection of books contains no dross. Every book I own has been assessed for potential discarding once or twice a year, and so remains with me through positive choice, not inertia. I love my books. I love my collections of favourite SF novelists (Lois McMaster Bujold, Kim Stanley Robinson, Mary Doria Russell), my ancient, tattered poetry books, my few large format art books and my many Judaica and spirituality books which are added to on every trip to New York.

These books tell you more about what kind of person I am than the clothes I wear or the house I live in or the car I drive. They, and perhaps my CD collection, are the consumer purchases most congruent with my self-perception and the image I want to project.

With my books packed in boxes how will you know who I am? How will I know?

1 comment:

Jane said...

We will know you by your presence in this life, by the warm, beautiful spirit that flows from you to us via your words, and, simply, your being. You just need to look through our eyes to see yourself if you are ever unsure.