I'm packing for a move overseas and finding that one of the hardest things to do is to try and fit my life into a piece of luggage with a 25 kg max restriction. It's even harder to dismantle and sort the large collection of books that fill every nook and cranny in my place. My pile of "keeps" is far too big and I have to keep telling myself to be ruthless.
Bookshelves can tell a lot about a person. Curiosity piqued, visitors in new places find that the gravitational pull toward browsing bookshelves is almost comparable to that of glancing into bathroom cupboards, but out in the open. Don't ask me what I'm searching for. Commonality? An equal love or hate? If anything, a great conversation starter. Internal dialogue runs rampant: "Whoa, what's that doing there?!""I never knew so-and-so liked fill in the blank." "Ooh, that's a good one." " Er, nope...."
Every book tells a story and everyone's shelf tells one too.
I think of John Cusak's character, Rob, in the movie version of High Fidelity, when he's come undone and is re-arranging his record collection:
Dick: I guess it looks as if you're reorganizing your records. What is this though? Chronological?
Dick: Not alphabetical...
Dick: No f*#%ng way.
An intriguing new-ish release entitled My Ideal Bookshelf, illustrated by Jane Mount and edited by Thessaly La Force, is a reveal of book picks by famous authors, musicians, and artists, giving you a peek at just one shelf and the stories it represents. Each exquisitely illustrated spine answers questions that an observer could never truly answer: What is the book that inspired you to follow your dreams? The first book that made you cry? Your favourite book? etc.
One of my favourite excerpts is by novelist Pico Iyer: "The books on my shelf never asked to come together, and they would not trust or want to listen to one another; but each is a piece of a stained-glass whole without which I couldn’t make sense to myself, or to the world outside."