Our first Windmill Guest Blog comes from Jonathan O’Brien. Best known in the book world for his work as the voice of Waterstones Oxford Street, Jonathan is also Head Astrologer for the wonderful Horrorscopes. You can follow Jonathan on Twitter here, but not before you’ve read what he has to say about bookshelf hierarchy.
I’ve spent most of my life arguing with people that ‘the floor’ is a valid storage space. Especially when it comes to books and, now that I live in a small London flat, people are finally conceding my point. It’s strange to me that some people have enough space in their homes for more than one small bookcase. One of my biggest problem is deciding which books get to go on the actual shelves.
At the moment, only books I’ve actually read get the reward that is shelf space and, even then, they’ve got to be the best to reach such heights. I don’t want books I didn’t like unfairly lording it over the room like Joffrey Baratheon. I want them cast to the ground and slapped in the face like Joffrey Baratheon.
There are perks of being on the bookshelf. Alphabetical and genre order being the main one. Is there any other way to arrange your shelves? I’ve heard about people who arrange their books by colour. These people are clearly ill and need help. No, my books sit there, enthralled to the alphabet, easily found and noticed. Fiction first, Then short story collections, biographies, sport and more crossword books than I’d care to admit. Not like those on the floor, scattered and unread, the escalator Metros of my room.
Next to the bed, the ‘to read’ pile. Fifty books strong and regularly growing in number. I’m concerned that one day I’ll awake and find them covering my bed waking me with cries of, ‘read us. You promised to read us.’ There’s no order, a mix of non-fiction and fiction. An orgy of styles and ideas all vying for my attention. I go to sleep hoping that somehow they’ll whisper to me in my sleep. That I’ll wake up as well-read as I like to pretend I am.
By the computer desk, on the floor, the ‘have read’ pile. The books that simply weren’t good enough to make it onto the bookshelf. Cast aside, ignored. They spend their days wondering what they did to deserve such abandonment. ‘You were good books,’ I say. ‘But you are no Borges.’ At least, I think, they aren’t in the wardrobe.
The poor wardrobe books. Schroedinger’s books. Revealed only to ‘show off’ the extent of my collection whenever I think it may impress a woman who knows that John Waters quote. But I don’t let them get too close in case they realise that, ‘really, is that the time? I’ve got to be up early tomorrow. I think I’ll catch the last bus.’ Like going home with someone and finding out they’ve got an extensive collection of Enya records.
There’s an honesty needed with a good book collection. The ability to arrange your books for yourself rather than for the eyes of an ideal stranger. I used to arrange my books in case the Billy Liar version of Julie Christie came round. We could have been so happy together. Her with her looks and sense of adventure and me showing off that I’d read some books by Franz Kafka. One day…
But nowadays I don’t bother organising for people I’ve made up or thought about too much as a teenager. A bookshelf is a personal thing and it must reflect the mind and tastes of the person it belongs to. Especially because, if they arrange them by colour, you’ll know to get out. Get out fast before it’s too late