Sunday, 27 March 2016


I read an interesting article in the Guardian overnight (small children woke me up, went promptly back to sleep, I was awake for an age) about books that we choose to keep on our bookcases.  The essence of the article was that the books we actually like to read we perceive to be too trashy or unimpressive to be put on public display.  These books we probably picked up in a charity shop and will probably take back to remove all trace of them.  Proof of this phenomenon is that this week charity shops have reportedly requested that 'Fifty Shades of Grey' is no longer donated as they are rather inundated with copies.

The implication is that our bookcase is a public display of who we are as determined by what we are prepared to show others we have read.  This is all pertinent to me right now as we are in the process of building bookcases.  Having lived in various rental properties over the last nine years the amount of books that we had space to display has been varied and limited.  Last year we finally got our act together and bought our very own renovation project.  Some books that have been recently read were crammed on an IKEA bookcase but aside from that all our reading material has been neatly presented in sealed boxes in the attic.

On first reading the Guardian's article I was quite resolute that this didn't reflect me. Certainly with two small children I am unlikely to go to any shop, charity or otherwise, to actually buy a book.  Amazon all the way, next day delivery and I can buy the Kindle version too which enables middle of the night reading while sitting with a small child.  I do recognise I am probably the only person in the world who buys every book they read twice for this purpose - once for the bookcase, once to actually be able to read.

However...three years ago now and at a reading impasse I decided to give my reading habit a kick start.  For Christmas I asked for the Booker Prize Shortlist books in an attempt to take the choice out of selecting books.  With a baby, a toddler, a pre-teen and teen I hardly had time to eat let alone search for books that I'd like to read. Everything I encountered I found hard to get into, most books indeed sent me to sleep within about five minutes.  When my first box of Booker Books arrived however they took pride of place on the end of the mantle, all hardback copies proudly showing themselves off.  I received general public approval for choosing this as a 'thing to do' and certain amount of status as a serious reader.  Perhaps there are elements of me in the article after all.

I have given some thought to how our books will be presented on the bookcases when completed.  I am a great advocator of alphabetical order having worked in the university library while studying for my degree - I am perhaps a little pedantic about book organisation in fact.  Once a colleague described to me how over the weekend she had reorganised her bookcases arranging her books by colour.  I was, in fairness, aghast, however looking at an image in a Conran book of a bookcase presented in this way I have to say the pleasing aesthetics rather took me aback.  Whatever is decided about our organisation, and I suspect our books will be alphabetical, I had envisaged that the Booker Prize books would have their own section, separating them from the other, more mediocre text.

Not believing myself to be a book snob it seems that I almost certainly am.  I find this to be a disappointing realisation about myself as I thought I was simply a great advocator of reading.  As a teacher I would rave about the joy to be found in a good book and would painstakingly cajole my pupils to learn to read and to seek text of interest to them in an attempt to make a small contribution to tomorrow's reading community.  As a parent I have so far taught three our of four children to read and number four is just starting to recognise some phonemes.

It seems I have a choice to make; am I comfortable being a book snob sending my children the message that not all books are equal, or should I just bite the bullet and display fiction as one complete alphabetical section?  To my dismay the answer is obvious.  I will have to settle for being a closet book snob.

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