Some houses have rats. We have books. I know I’m not alone in this, and I love my books, and I love the shelves we had built for them in the living room, and I’m quite happy with the IKEA shelves I put up myself in my ‘study’ for the rest of them (not to mention the shelves in the loo, and the unfeasible ‘to read’ pile by the bed).
‘The rest of them’: ah, there’s a joke. Having an extensive library is something I always aspired to, but now I’m getting there (and I don’t say I’m finished yet, dear wife) I’m having problems. Simply put – and again, I know I’m not alone in this – my house isn’t big enough for my books.
Here, then are four places in my house you’ll find books, where, according to any basic law of decency, books shouldn’t be.
1) Behind other books
Double-stacking: the great sin of book-ownership. Books breathe through their spines. To put a book in front of another book is to do something akin to what happens in ‘The Vanishing’. You know those priests that got walled up in country houses for reading the Eucharist wrong? That’s what it’s like for these books. They’re suffocating.
This sin, moreover, makes a nonsense of the excuse I give for the unending proliferation of books in the house – that, as someone who earns (some) money from writing about books, I need them on hand, all of them, because I might need any of them at any time, to… to… well, to refer to. And sometimes I do. But not the ones in the back row. They’re dead to me now.
(The shelf beneath is double-stacked, too, but these are the only two shelves in the house that are, honest.)
2. Shoved on top of cupboards
Ah, student life! The suitcase on top of the wardrobe! Post-university existence has two structurally essential elements: i) a wine rack (signification: bottles of wine that come into this house aren’t necessarily going to be drunk tonight. No sir, they’re going to sit in a cheap balsa-wood-and-stainless-steel assemblage under the kitchen counter and mature, like they’re in some goddam wine cellar) and ii) a cupboard big enough to hold your suitcase or rucksack.
Books stacked on top of shelving units or cupboards don’t collect dust, they are starting to become dust.
Also note the lateral stacking: another book-owning sin, though for a more heinous example, consider:
3. Shoved in cupboards
Roughly 100 books in a built-in cupboard in my children’s bedroom (I hate built-in cupboards). Not as vicious or sadistic as double-stacking the things, but nevertheless what a dull, airless existence they have. But hey! If I need to refer to any of them, all I need to do is open the cupboard doors, and there they are. And if I need to actually get at one them, I need only go downstairs and get a chair from the kitchen and bring it back upstairs. Easy!
And if it’s one of the books stuffed down at the bottom of the laterally stacked piles, gradually compressing to peat?
Well, maybe I don’t need to refer to that one, right now.
(There’s an equally crammed fitted cupboard in our own bedroom.)
4. In a crate
Perhaps the final ignominy. This is the crate in the sitting room that gets used as an ad hoc side table. The kids keep their Wii remotes in it – and why not? It stops them ending up dumped on the rug and the sofa. And hey! If I put a couple of layers of paperbacks, spine-up, at the bottom of the crate, then the poor dears won’t have to reach so far down to get at them, will they?
Still. No books in the loft. No books in the garage. No books in boxes in a paid-by-the-month storage facility. I’m not damned yet.
And please, people, join the self-flagellation. Post or send photos of your books in places books shouldn’t be.