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
“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.
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