I’m doing the 2017 Read Harder challenge from Book Riot. For each book I read in the challenge, I aim to write a short blog post about it
Read: Phantoms on the Bookshelves Jacques Bonnet
Task: Read a book about books
Completed task 3/24
I’ve been surrounded by books for my whole life, in one way or another. My parents had a bookshelf when I was a child that I remember, filled (at least at my reaching level) with large format books and photo albums, with more books up higher. I remember my grandparents’ bookshelves (which still stand in much the same orientation), and looking through what was on there quite early on as well. I’ve always loved books, and I’ve always been a reader.
Bonnet’s book is about his relationship with books- his 40,000 strong collection of rarities and art books and old books. My collection in my unit is a little more modest- I counted it last night, and I have 386 books in my unit at first blush. They are not in any order (Bonnet would glare at me), though mostly on shelves, and I think my completion rate is pretty good. This of course doesn’t include e books and any books I’ve loaned to people at the moment, which would probably tip me over the 400 barrier of physical books, and if I rescued my childhood library from my parents it’d probably approach 500.
I’m not sure I can objectively classify my library, though I kinda know what I am as a reader. My tastes are pretty middling- I love my genre novels, my fantasy and my sci fi, and many of them aren’t groundbreaking or genre defining. Most of the authors on my shelf are British (when your collection includes Terry Pratchett as the number one represented author that’s bound to happen) or American (Science Fiction in paperback gets very American very quickly) though I’ve got a decent chunk of Australian authors.
Most of the Authors are men. I’m working on that.
Occasionally I read ambitiously. This year and last year I’ve been doing the reading challenge, which has widened some of my scope, but before that I have tried to read something pretty literary, and I like that. Some classics (Anna Karenina, but not War and Peace though it mocks me from my bedside table), some modern notables (The Narrow Road to the Deep North I enjoyed a lot) and increasing amounts of slightly arcane non-fiction are making their way in (I enjoyed The Burglar’s Guide to the City last year, and through Audio I’ve been supplementing this).
I guess I’m not building a library towards anything. I’m not a collector, or a completionist in terms of ownership (I don’t even own every Pratchett book, but I have read them all). I lend them out freely (perhaps to my detriment, I know a lot of them are still out in the wild) and I’m not particularly fussy with their condition- while I don’t go out of my way to trash them, accidents happen and spines sometimes become cracked. Unlike Bonnet, I don’t see me creating any system to them any time soon.
I do, however, love books as objects. I love the heft and feel, and the way the pages under your left hand feel as you near the end. I love covers and blurbs. I don’t particularly care for dust jackets. I find the presence of these shelves comforting in a way. Even bookstores, which are not my books, I find calming. Through my love of these things I’ve made friends, I’ve experienced new ways of thinking, I’ve sought to emulate some characters and detest others. I’m pretty easy to please as a reader, and I value most of the books I read. They’re my constant companion.
Don’t get me wrong, I love ebooks too, but that’s a different… texture of reading. I love loading up my tablet with ebooks and ripping through a series, but once those books are gone they leave no trace. One of my real regrets there is I can’t then lend an ebook to someone as readily as their dead-tree counterparts, and I can’t access them as easily for reference. A few months ago, I was writing a science fiction and fantasy themed quiz, and being able to go over to a shelf and draw inspiration helped a lot. Not even two weeks ago I could flip to a passage in The Last Wish and clear up an internet discussion through a photo much quicker than I could have found it in an ebook.
So where will my library go? I don’t… think it will get to Bonnet’s 40,000 books. It might, over the years, get to a couple of thousand, because if anything my rate of acquisition is increasing (I have five books coming in the mail right now). I think it will grow organically, without collecting in a particular area, and I’m fine with this.
I could see it merging with other libraries at some point, whether through acquiring a partner or inheriting books from somewhere. I can see the rate of growth slowing, as I read more digitally or get around to going into libraries more. It will never go away. They’re my books. They’re my collection, and they’re my friends.