The bookshelf in my bedroom has been intimidating me for long enough, so I’ve decided that it’s time to do something about it.
Here’s the thing: the bedroom bookshelf seems to be the place to which new books gravitate, specifically the ones that I’ve bought for myself with the full and certain intention of reading them in the near future, if not immediately. Unfortunately, like most readers, I’m also something of a compulsive book buyer, and so I inevitably end up buying books at a faster pace than I can read them.
The bedroom bookshelf is now full, and I’ve started doubling up on books, which can only mean that the obscured books are destined to be forgotten unless I introduce some form of rotation system, which smacks both of obsessive-compulsive behaviour and the final, desperate days of Rafael Benitez at Liverpool football club.
The bedroom bookshelf problem is compounded by the fact that there are also bookshelves in the hall, the dining room, outside the living room (three), in the guest bedroom (two, both doubled up to the max), and in my office, which is where the advance copies of books sent to me by authors and publishers tend to end up on the grounds that I’m less likely to forget about them if they’re in front of me every day.
Unfortunately, this approach has backfired because of the associations of the bedroom bookshelf with books that are to be read soonest. It would make more sense to put the advance copies on the bedroom bookshelf so that they, too, become sprinkled with immediacy dust, but then where would I put the books that I’ve bought for myself? They can’t go in the hall, the dining room, or outside the living room because those shelves are full. Even if I could put them in the guest bedroom I wouldn’t because, with the best will in the world, those poor books are NEVER going to be read. The guest bedroom is a literary gulag. It is where unread books go to die.
No, the current system, imperfect though it may be, has to continue, but the least I can do is attempt to make some serious inroads into the books in the bedroom. So, for the past month, I’ve been knocking books out of the park, so to speak, as far as the bedroom is concerned, alternating fiction and non-fiction, aided by the fact that I didn’t buy any books at all in January, since nothing came out that I wanted to read. (Actually, I tell a lie: I did, but I left them in another country so they don’t count.)
You know, there is a great satisfaction in reading rapidly, and with serious intent, and clearing one’s shelves along the way. I long ago got over any sentimentality about holding on to books. Unless they’re signed, or have some kind of association with someone I know and like, they go in the charity box once they’re read. I make exceptions for the occasional non-fiction book, and music books that might prove useful for my radio show. Otherwise, once I finish the last page, it’s bye-bye book.
(And, no, I don’t want to hear about how an e-reader might be useful in my case because a) I don’t like using them; b) I prefer reading printed books; and c) you don’t own an e-book (you’re just licensed to access its content), and I like owning books, whatever I may ultimately decide to do with them. End of lesson.)
Anyway, yesterday I finished Len Deighton’s SS-GB, a book recommended to me by my good friend Steve Stilwell, a gentleman with whom I may disagree on many things – generally because he’s wrong and I’m right - but with whom I agree on most. The great thing about SS-GB was that it was a fast read: I began it on Sunday night, and read the last page in bed on Monday night. My previous book – Peter Bart’s INFAMOUS PLAYERS – took me two days, but that was because I was distracted by the weekend’s newspapers. The book before that, which was John Sandford’s BURIED PREY, also took two days, although it shouldn’t really have because I was tearing through the pages. That’s three books in less than a week and, on top of what I’ve already read this month (including TREASURE ISLAND, which I’d somehow neglected to read until now, and A FEAST OF CROW by George RR Martin, which took a while because it’s 1000 pages long, give or take), represents a considerable inroad into the bedroom bookshelf stockpile.
One thing I have noticed, though, is my reluctance to read books that are very thick, or that might take me an unduly long time to get through. A FEAST FOR CROWS represented nearly a week’s reading, and that’s simply not good enough if I’m going to clear some space on the shelf. It’s one of the reasons why I haven’t yet managed to pick up Stephen King’s latest, 11/22/63, as that’s quite a chunk of book change and I don’t want to mess with my momentum. On the other hand, reading 11/22/63 would leave a decent sized hole on the shelf, but it would still only be one book. Then again, TREASURE ISLAND, though dense, was comparatively short, and while I felt a sense of satisfaction in adding another book to the ‘completed’ pile – and a classic, no less – its absence from the shelf didn’t free up much room.
Oh well: I never claimed this was a perfect science, and in my darker moments I acknowledge that I am engaged in a Sisyphean labour. There are still more books in the house than I’m ever going to read, and there are new books on the horizon. As February dawned, books started appearing that I might want to add to the bedroom bookshelf, and last week, in a moment of weakness, I ordered one of them. It was Marcus Berkmann’s A SHED OF ONE’S OWN, which deals with the trials of male middle age and therefore seems somehow appropriate in the context of my current obsession with de-cluttering my bookshelves. Perhaps it’s just one facet of a larger desire to simplify my life as I get older. Having too many unread books on one’s shelves, too many unlistened to records, too many unwatched films, starts to rankle, and becomes an uncomfortable reminder of one’s own imminent mortality. I have to read these books! I’m going to die one day! Maybe soon!
Time to go. I have books to read…
This week John read
SS-GB by LEN DEIGHTON
INFAMOUS PLAYERS by PETER BART
BURIED PREY by JOHN SANDFORD
EMPIRE OF SILVER by CONN IGGULDEN
and listened to
LE VOYAGE DANS LE LUNE by AIR
D&B TOGETHER by DELANEY AND BONNIE
OLD IDEAS by LEONARD COHEN