KITCHEN SINK DRAMA
Here’s what you would think if you were to look at my bookshelves: that I was somebody who read a huge amount in their twenties, and completely gave up reading in their thirties. There followed, you would surmise by the contents of my shelves, a relatively short burst of enthusiasm for reading again before, three years or so, the reader gave up completely. All of a sudden, this has begun to worry me.
If you were to open the drawers in which I keep CDs, incidentally, you would think the same thing. Engaged to utterly disinterested, followed by short revival in interest, then nothing at all. With the music, you might conclude that I had simply followed the care-worn path of a previous generation; from youthful interest in rock’n’roll to ‘I can’t make out what he’s saying and what the hell is he wearing anyway’ putting away of foolish things. But because you can’t see my CD collection without knowing where to look, this wrong impression bothers me less than my bookshelves.
What really happened, of course, was that my enthusiastic reading lasted right up to the day when the newborn Small Girl was discharged from hospital. Do you know what I was reading in the days after her birth? Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie. That is the impressive trajectory I was on. By a huge (and extremely pretentious sounding) coincidence, I would go on to read two other brainiac Indian novels, A Suitable Boy and The God of Small Things, during my subsequent confinements, but aside from those tomes, I don’t believe I read a single book during the first 10 years of parenthood that didn’t have a picture of a flying dog or a pink rabbit on its cover. Then one day, I realised that I had – oh my God – a few minutes to myself. And so I returned to reading, and my bookshelves started to fill up again. And then I discovered the Kindle, which some days now I think I might love more than my children.
Replace the word Kindle with iPod and you will see the musical journey has run along much the same lines. But the music is a little different because CDs were never really furniture. Once
I’ve been looking at these books and wondering what to do. Last week I hoovered them – evidence of how rarely they’re used
you are over 21, it’s no longer really acceptable for strangers to run their finger across the spines of your CD collection and annoying advise you on the holes in it. But bookshelves are about displaying books, and if the last 50 titles that you read are all contained on a small tablet, then your ability to dazzle at dinner parties is limited (actually, since my dinner party journey is almost identical to my reading and musical ones, with its current cycle revolving around talking to my brother and sister on Skype while eating chicken salad alone, this doesn’t really matter anymore). All of a sudden, my bookshelves look dated. I could tell you that I’ve read four out of the five Booker shortlisted titles this year – I HAVE, HONESTLY – but unless you can see them on my shelves, there’s no reason why you should believe me. It’s a bit like having a wardrobe full of flares: it suggests you’ve been around for a long time, but it doesn’t really prove you’re still here.
So lately I’ve been looking at these yellowing books and wondering what to do. Last week, I hoovered them – evidence of how rarely they get moved around these days. I could hold my nerve. On the bookshelves in our front room, after all, we have an attractive collection of beautifully bound hardbacks inherited from my mother-in-law. But I just can’t see my knackered paperback copy of Vernon God Little being an aesthetic event a century from now – and if it is, then I won’t be around to see it. And there is another inconvenient truth: aside from the ones with the flying dogs and pink rabbits, I have never in my life re-read a book. Too many of them, too little time.
So I am thinking of drawing a deep breath and getting rid of them all. After all, they’re nice shelves. I could become the kind of person who puts a single, tasteful ornament on a shelf and lives a fabulous life accordingly. Or I could, if Ikea hadn’t suddenly started calling itself Ah-kay-ah and inspired me to yet another of my utterly pointless nose-cutting-off boycotts that will now probably last the rest of my life. Honestly, I could write a book about it. And ooh, I know just where I could put it.