My first bookshelf was a cheap three shelves pine piece of furniture which I bought when I was in college. The taxi I had to get to take it to the apartment I shared with other girls was more expensive than the shelves, but it didn’t matter, because I loved that thing. It sat in my small bedroom – there was just space for it and the bed – and I kept not only books in it, but also music records. Still, there was not that many to fill it and the top shelf double as a makeup counter. That was the time when most college student had shelves made of wood planks supported by bricks, so I felt very sophisticated.
Later, when I shared a place with a single roommate, the shelf with a growing number of books got a place in the living room. There was still space for some of my roommate’s books too. Once when she had her boyfriend over, I noticed that she talked as if some of titles that had impressed him were hers. Their relationship only lasted the predictable 4 or 5 months that all relationships lasted then, but I felt really powerful with the knowledge of her lie for the duration of it. She bought most of my furniture (I also had a table and chairs, some end tables –she had the sofa) when I married and moved to Canada. She kept a lot of the books too because I could not bring all of them. Probably the most significant act of friendship between us is that I felt I could leave my books with her and that she honoured that trust.
Some of my favourite autors, like Umberto Eco, Machado de Assis, Fernando Pessoa, Roland Barthes, Yukio Mishima, Elias Canetti, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Clarice Lispector... they came with me and still sit in my Canadian bookshelves. Because I keep books on the shelves by alphabetical order, they are now scattered among the mostly English editions I have bought since. Those books – and most of the books I do own – are inexpensive editions – Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose is actually in mass paperback and very yellowish after more than 20 years sitting in there – but I still re-read the odd one every couple of years. The only first edition I own is an autographed British edition of Dandelion Wine I bought on eBay when I put a bid down never expecting to get it. I sometimes wonder if it should have a special place on the shelves, but it also is just sitting there in its alphabetical place. I every so often dream of a grand-child or great-grand-child finding it long after my death, and enjoying the whatever money it may bring in that future time – no, even in my daydreaming I do not imagine it valuing much, but just enough for a treat when one is young, more books perhaps.
There are many bookshelves now. In my bedroom I keep poetry, books of essays and the more inspirational books. On the very bottom shelf I have the TBR books. In the TV room are mostly the “guilty pleasures” – Diana Gabaldon, Anne Rice, Sue Grafton, a lot of the kids’ young adult books although they do have bookshelves in their bedrooms. But the living room is my “personal library”.
The bookshelves are actually Sears lawyer shelves sitting side by side, but in a group I like to think that they make a good impression – I am still trying to look sophisticated as you can see. With the books I also keep mementos from trips, little gifts from the kids over the years, porcelain cups from my husband’s mother, the odd picture. Some of those I place strategically, and I keep hoping that someone will notice without I mentioning that beside Dom Quixote there is a tile with a picture of a windmill, or that two small elephants – salt and pepper shakers in another life – are just beside Out of Africa. A small golem I bought on a trip to Prague is in front of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. And a big, antique key sits by A Room of One’s Own. Some of the knickknacks have no real significance, but I love just to have them there, like bookmarkers people gave me from all over the world, or the dried leaf from a millennium old olive tree I pickup on the ground on a Roman site in Provence.
This bookshelf in the living room is full now, unless I want to take away some of the bric-a-brac away, which I don’t, so anything after Tolstoy – yes, Jane Urquhart that means you, and you Virginia Wolf, with your big key - had to be moved into an old/antique cupboard with glass doors by the stairs. Eventually I will have to come up with yet more space, but for now it is still all fitting. I have actually committed to using the local library more and purchasing fewer books, although I don’t know how long I will resist the temptation, I have been “good” for the past few months.
This was originally posted on the GoodReads site.