(This post was originally contributed to the new and impressive Booksellers NZ blog)
A recent article described the disappearance of home bookshelves in the face of growing ebookishness. It left me with the same feeling of stunned confusion I experienced when, aged nine, my brother cut my yo-yo string mid yo.
A home without bookshelves means a home without books, or, worse, hidden books. Which is wrong. Wrongity, wrong wrong wrong. I get a little dizzy thinking about it. I’m a long-term bookseller and am often given books – free, just handed to me. I buy a lot of books, too – many, many books. Having worked in six different bookshops in four different countries, I’ve accumulated collections of books that live scattered around the globe. My dream is to one day amalgamate them onto shelves in one house. I fantasize about that.
And now I find out that bookshelves are on the out because of digitalisation, with home cinemas and whatnot subverting their space. What will happen to our homes if bookshelves disappear? What further ripples will roll out through the bookish world? The ancillary benefits of book crammed space may suffer: floor lamps, comfy chairs, ottomans and tuffets. Whole industries could crumble.
Books on shelves are interior design. They insulate against heat-loss, bad taste and ennui. Books provide sound proofing and elegant ambience while enabling intellectual and cultural peacockery. Once, when desperately trying to impress a girl, I reorganised my bookshelves so the best books occupied optimum eye-lines for someone 5 inches shorter than me; we bonded over Jorge Louis Borges.
Plus books are a visceral part of one’s internal world. Some may be fingernails, easily trimmed and disposed of, but others are fingers, toes and kidneys; vital organs for sensory exploration, processing and balance. And without books on shelves one won’t be able to read the viscera of others, augur potential futures – if only that Ayn Rand book hadn’t been digitally camouflaged!
Without bookshelves I’ll lose touch with those unread purchases, those good intentions bought years ago; promises made to a future self. The books I haven’t read say plenty about me – my aspirations, my failures – without them around me will I just forget? They’re my internal bricolage of the partially read: quick, index driven brevity – two pages, nine chapters and a blurb – the little building blocks of my mind that I can’t do without.
And think of the philosophers and authors! What will they be interviewed and photographed in front of? A digital blue screen displaying the appropriate epistemology for the given intellectual? Oh, the ironic simulacra of depth!
As a child I feared burglary – probably something I read – so I’d take several volumes of the encyclopaedia Britannica upstairs to rain down on night-time invaders (Knives weren’t allowed outside the kitchen – too dangerous). Without bookshelves, in a digital world, hurling hardbacks in self-defence isn’t an option. You’d really only get one shot with a Kindle, and even then, with its slim design, smooth features and negligible weight, you’d have to be a freaking ninja.