I’m taking a novel approach and ditching the #shelfies
Last year when I planned to sell my house I had some stylists come in to make it look, well, stylish. The first thing they did was pull all the books off my floor-to-ceiling shelves and stack them, with ruthless efficiency, in colourcoded piles.
Then they put them back on the shelves in little collections of colours with some of the books standing upright and others stacked horizontally. On top of the books they placed things from round the house — a globe, some colourful tiles from Mexico, a vintage camera, a photo of a sycamore pod and a bird’s nest I’d found under a tree in the front garden.
It looked alright I suppose except that the nonfiction was all mixed up with the fiction so The Devil Wears Prada was sitting incongruously alongside 501 Worst Crimes.
When I pointed out to the stylist that the 502nd worst crime was that the two volumes shared no commonality but for their purple spines, she gave me the sort of withering look that implied I was dense.
“But I’ve read most of these books you design Nazi,” I wanted to say, noting from the corner of my eye that a biography of Oscar Wilde was sitting pleasingly beside Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop thanks to their simpatico turquoise spines.
The stylists then took some photographs and declared that this was the best “shelfie” they’d ever created and how nice it looked with all the “white space” and how great was it that the books could now “breathe”.
Sure, the ones that had made it on to the shelf were “breathing”. The other 300 were shoved into boxes where they were doubtless expiring all because prospective buyers don’t like to be overwhelmed by reading material apparently.
Anyway, I didn’t sell the house (it’s a long story) and so have spent the past year looking at my pretentious “shelfie”-worthy bookcase and getting frustrated when I can’t find, say, Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar. Honestly, it’s enough to make you want to stick your head in the oven.
I should be grateful because a British interior designer called Lauren Coleman recently stacked her books backwards with the spines to the wall in order to keep the colour palette of her living room “neutral”. She’d tried out the trick after spotting it on Pinterest, and because her books were mainly chick lit and so their covers were, as she put it, “garish”.
As someone who has written a book — it took a year and was the hardest thing I’ve ever done but for giving birth — I want to punch Lauren Coleman. I want to march up to her chalk-toned bookshelves with their artfully-placed pot plants and whimsical picture of giraffes and pull every one of her magenta and tangelo hued holiday reads on to her limewashed floorboards.
Honestly, when did we become so obsessed with how things look that we forgot about how they feel?
My books are among the most precious things in my home, give or take a child or two. They thrum with possibility, escape, imagination and hope. Each is a wardrobe into another Narnia. They are, as Stephen King points out, “uniquely portable magic”.
My bookshelves not only hold stories, they’re a chronicle of my life. A yellowing childhood copy of Charlotte’s Web, the Raymond Chandler short stories given to me by a lover, the magic of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the grit and lyricism of Tim Winton, the plain speaking of Helen Garner, the sharpness and observation of Liane Moriarty, the enviable good sense of Alain de Botton.
I remember in the early days of motherhood walking into another mother’s house and knowing immediately that we would be friends forever simply because of her bookshelf. A woman who loved the characters of Annie Proulx, the wit of Nick Hornby and the brutality of Christos Tsiolkas was always going to be someone I would cherish long after our kids stopped having play dates.
Last year I couldn’t believe my luck when I was paired with Jennifer Byrne, the host of the ABC’s now defunct The Book Show, for a charity walk. For six hours I grilled her on every author she’d ever met and the books she loved the most. I’ve even convinced her to share her five best book club reading picks (see below).
For a while it seemed that books were going the way of cassettes — Ikea even announced that it was making its popular Billy bookcase deeper to accommodate ornaments since “nobody has books anymore”.
Well check out this month’s cover of Real Living magazine. It’s utterly gorgeous — a pink velvet couch in front of a row of Billy bookcases filled to brimming with books.
The truth is nothing looks as good on a bookcase as books. Yes there are owls and pineapples and shells and even what looks like a vibrator among the 989,000 “shelfie” posts on Instagram but the best ones are stuffed lovingly with books. I am going to exhume mine from storage where they have suffocated too long.
“Books,” as the marvellous author Anna Quindlen notes, “are the plane, and the train, and the road. They are the destination, and the journey. They are home.”
It looks pretty but where are the rest of the books? Picture: iStock