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The boxes are piled high, after being carried up too many flights of stairs; their weight is a stark reminder of the growing mass of your book collection. Your attachment and inability to throw books out seems infantile. Your insistence on bringing your entire Harry Potter collection with you was balked at by your parents, but mostly because they knew they would be the ones helping you move these godforsaken heavy boxes.
Books get under our skin. They bring us in to a world, and capture our imagination. Our attachment to that experience is acted out through an attachment to the physical form. Book collections grow and shrink and grow again, becoming more than simply houses for stories and words. For most people there are certain books that they carry through most of their life, whether it’s the book your parents gave you at 21 or at five. Perhaps in each new city, you buy new editions of the same book. Or maybe you have over 10 editions of Alice in Wonderland. Everybody has different patterns with their book collecting habits. The power of books comes from the coalescence of the magic of the words within, and the very life of the physical book itself.
This becomes particularly pertinent as we live in an age where the tangibility of things is losing importance: music, calendars, photo albums, and books, all beginning to exist as mere lists stored within a device. It’s stripped away the physicality of things. While this shift threatens the book trade, we still find in many houses and bedrooms the presence of a bookshelf. Bookshelves operate in the middle section of a Venn diagram between housing a collection, and acting as a display unit. It is because of this powerful crossover position that bookshelves are a stronghold in homes.
The curation of a collection is built up through many different aspects. The origin is important: was it a gift, or did you inherit it, was it a treat to yourself, what impulse compelled you to buy it? Was it from Unity Books while you wandered the town with a love interest, or was it from Pegasus books after hours of hunting through their collection. Perhaps it was from Vic Books as an end of study present to yourself.
The significance of the author and title are important as well: are they a classic or an obscure writer, is this a book just for your collection or will you read this one, how did you discover this author, a friend’s recommendation? Is it your sibling’s favourite author? And then there are all the other books that have accumulated over the years, all those books you’ve borrowed and never returned, or those books you stole from your parents, all full of their marginalia. The constructed nature of curating a book collection can begin to occupy a realm saved for hobbies leading some to proclaim “I’m really trying to cultivate a library”.
Your particular style of bookshelf is also as individual. With Pinterest and Tumblr full of different romanticised bookshelf trends, there’s a certain element of pressure to have a solid bookshelf look—whether it’s the pallet bed with books strewn around the room in unruly stacks, inhabiting a truly boho-chic library, or a white-walled, evenly stacked, and beautifully accessorised bookshelf that embodies Vogue’s idea of home interior design (the ultimate goal is to create an off set balance using accessories, alternating book orientation and size, duh). Bookshelf styles tell you if their collector is an anal-retentive book fiend, who tries to keep all authors together, and same-sized books all perfectly stacked, or a laissez-faire book collector who isn’t interested in organising their book collection.
Bookshelves will make you fall a little more in love with someone, as you recognise the same titles lining their shelves. You may read poetry from said bookshelf, the morning after a one-night stand. Or a bookshelf may be the unfortunate object upon which the drunk dude you were just pashing vomits. A bookshelf contains your life of reading, and plays an important role in your life; something about chapters in your life would be such an appropriate and painful metaphor here. So keep this in mind when you unpack those boxes of books, in the words of Carlos Maria Dominguez, an Argentinian writer; “To build up a library is to create a life. It’s never just a random collection of books.”
Top 5 Survival Books
The Road – Cormac McCarthy
Wild – Cheryl Strayed
Robinson Crusoe – Willam DeFoe
Life of Pi – Yann Martel
Hatchet – Gary Paulson