Monday, December 30, 2013


The antics of the respective leaders of Denmark, the United States and Britain in taking a 'selfie' at Nelson Mandela's memorial service provoked an avalanche of disapproval from all round the world, but it has also prompted a new vogue – the 'shelfie'. Joanne Harris, the author of Chocolat, led the way on Twitter and it's caught on, with The Guardian, a leading British broadsheet, asking its readers to send in pictures of their own bookcases.

They always say the contents of your bookcase say a lot about you, so with some trepidation, here is mine.

You will see that it goes back a long way, with the old Penguins right across the top, relics of my student days. The green ones even belonged to my father, their titles all from the Golden Age of crime writing. I read my way from one end to the other as a teenager and I blame this for my addiction to writing crime.

Then there are the precious books I have been given or have saved up to get – one or two treasured first editions, pretty bindings, special printings... Some are reminders of university study, others collections I like to browse. There are the books I couldn't bear to be without, even though I'm unlikely to read them again. On the right hand side there are shelves of books by people I know and yes, I have to confess, the different editions of my own books.

Just looking at the shelves gives me a comfortable feeling, I'm surrounded by the books I treasure. They're a statement of my reading history.

But it's not the only bookcase in the house. There's the one in my study, crammed with reference books – and a couple of shelves too of books for my grandchildren, some of my childhood reading and some of my own children's favourites, left at home.

My husband's passion for political biography is taking over his study completely and of course books surreptitiously colonise any shelf that isn't already full with them. If it wasn't for a couple of charity book sales, one in May and one at Christmas, we would have books the way other people have mice.

The bookcase in the sitting-room is the 'posh' bookcase – he one where the books really do, as they say, furnish the room. So I thought I would leave you with the picture of the working bookcase - the one in our bedroom.

It's not posh. There' the TBR pile, and some are library books, some the easy reading we do last thing at night, assessing whether a book just goes to the next sale or whether – rare honour! – it is promoted to the sitting-room.

And as well as those, there are the most important books of all - the books you reach for when its the middle of the night and you can't sleep and are too tired to struggle with anything new – the beloved comfort books that are chicken soup for the soul. I don't think I could go to sleep if i didn't know they were there, waiting on the untidy shelf.


Hannah Dennison said...

What a great post! I love your bookshelves! I so miss mine. We're only here temporarily so I have boxes of books in the garage. I wondered why our home hasn't been feeling too homey. It reminds me of The Sixpence House about a book lover who moved to Hay-on-Wye and took all his 3,000 books with him.

Aline Templeton said...

It's the worst thing, not having your books to hand. Probably there isn't much you would actually go looking for but not being able to get at them is like having an itch you can't scratch!