THE COM­FORT OF THINGS

THERE ARE CER­TAIN ITEMS IN YOUR HOME THAT ARE LIKE GOOD FRIENDS: THEY AL­WAYS CHEER YOU UP. THIS MONTH, WE FEEL THE LOVE FOR… THE BOOK­SHELF

The Simple Things - - GARDENS - Words: CLARE GOGERTY

“A row of spines is an in­dex of memories: like an au­to­bi­og­ra­phy chart­ing your in­ter­ests”

It’s an un­de­ni­able fact that a book­shelf im­proves a room. The ad­di­tion of a row of books, no mat­ter how small, in­stantly adds warmth, colour and per­son­al­ity. Nov­el­ist An­thony Pow­ell knew this when he en­ti­tled the tenth book in his ‘Dance to the Mu­sic of Time’ se­ries Books do Fur­nish a Room. Any house with­out at least one book­shelf feels empty and unloved, and its owner risks the dan­ger of look­ing like some­one with a sketchy, sus­pi­cious iden­tity. Nos­ing around other homes lined with a book­shelf or two, on the other hand, can re­veal much, and is as ir­re­sistible as pok­ing around a vinyl col­lec­tion once was.

As­sem­ble a row of books by favourite au­thors, with their fa­mil­iar spines and cov­ers, and the house starts to feel like a home. All the un­cer­tainty and up­heaval that comes from mov­ing set­tles once a book­shelf is put up. Un­pack a box of books and you will find old friends: some may have ac­com­pa­nied you through sev­eral moves – from stu­dent days when they perched on planks sup­ported by bricks, to shared houses where they jos­tled be­side flat­mates’ du­bi­ous book choices, to rental prop­er­ties where they lined up on your Billy book­case, to a home of your own where they set­tled into or­derly ranks on proper shelv­ing.

For a while, the ar­rival of the e-reader put the book­shelf at risk. Read­ing be­came a se­cre­tive busi­ness with ti­tles and names of au­thors con­cealed be­hind the screen of a Kin­dle or iPad. But this was a tem­po­rary blip. Sales of books are buoy­ant* once more, and fur­ni­ture buy­ers at John Lewis and Heal’s re­port a greater de­mand for book­cases. It seems that we can’t re­sist the pull of a three-di­men­sional book: the feel of it in our hands; the sat­is­fy­ing busi­ness of turn­ing a phys­i­cal page (or turn­ing down a cor­ner to mark a place); the smell of it; its bulk; the fact you can scrib­ble in its mar­gins and lend it to a friend.

And, when lined up along a book­shelf, a pa­rade of books be­comes a lovely thing. The enor­mous pop­u­lar­ity of In­sta­gram’s #shelfie, where ’gram­mers post images of their art­fully ar­ranged shelves, revealing them­selves in more nu­anced way than the vain selfie, and the web­site book­shelf­porn.com, which has cel­e­brated “beau­ti­ful book­shelves from around the world” since 2009, shows how much they are loved.

This act of dis­play­ing books is a civil­is­ing and pleas­ing thing to do, and when life feels as though it is tum­bling out of con­trol, it can re­store a lit­tle or­der. A row of spines be­comes an in­dex of memories, and the older you get, the more your books be­come a pot­ted au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, chart­ing your shifts in in­ter­est and au­thors. All in all, a book­shelf is a com­fort­ing thing, which is why we love it.

Wool blan­kets, from £55, ur­ba­nara.co.uk

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