My book habit.
I am a huge fan of the Vulpes Libris blog (if you are not already a follower, you should be) and over the past few days they’ve been talking about book-buying and book-displaying habits, and what they reveal about the book owner. I absolutely loved both posts, and I’m always incredibly nosy about other people’s reading habits — I’m constantly craning my neck at all sorts of weird angles to try and sneak a peak at what other people are reading on the bus, and I love stuff like Swiss‘ ‘S/he is reading’ series. As a result, I decided to have a look at my own books and attempt to figure out what they might say about me, and I’d encourage you to do the same. And let me know the results!
I am an obsessive hoarder of a lot of things, but like most literary-types, books are my main weakness. I’m not one of these people who only buys books they know they’re going to go home and begin reading immediately; I’m also unable to make myself do the whole read-it-once-then-take-it-to-the-charity-shop thing (though I know for a fact that I’ll never read many of my books more than once). Books are also something I always feel I can justify buying — not so clothes or shoes or handbags or other girly stuff. No matter how many I still have in the “to-read” pile, no matter how skint I might be, I can always find a reason for buying just one more book. As a result, my (tiny) flat is crammed with books. They cover just about every available surface. The tops of my stereo speakers, the windowsills… I even have books on top of my kitchen cupboards. However, the most obvious public display is my mantelpiece.
One of my friends once laughed at me for having books on the mantelpiece… but in my mind, it’s just a shelf, and what else are shelves for? I do realise, though, that books on the mantelpiece are very obvious, and they’re also right at the focal point of my living room. So what’s up there?
Firstly, there are nine critical works on Allen Ginsberg, left over from my undergraduate dissertation. I own far more, but the ratio of Ginsberg crit: other books is so extreme that it instantly reveals my fangirlish devotion. There are also several works of actual Beat Lit there — William Burroughs’ Naked Lunch, Diane di Prima’s Revolutionary Letters, Kerouac’s On The Road among them. There are few volumes of poetry (suprisingly) — only Charles Bukowski’s Love Is A Dog From Hell, Wallace Stevens’ Collected and a couple of slim anthologies — and two Margaret Atwood novels, then four hip novels by contemporary Scottish fiction writers, one of which is Trainspotting. The final few books are Lolita, Tristan Tzara’s Seven Dadaist Manifestos and Lampisteries, Philip K Dick’s Ubik and Innocent When You Dream, a collection of writings on the life and works of Tom Waits. I realise with some dismay that my mantelpiece makes me look really obnoxiously hipsterish.
Elsewhere, I hope, it’s a different story. The small bookcase in my hallway is my next port of call. Because I am a tad obsessive-compulsive (and because I often need to access A Particular Book quickly) I catalogued the bookshelf when I moved in, and after a year the cataloguing system is still more-or-less holding up.
The top shelf is all modern and contemporary Scottish fiction — Janice Galloway, James Kelman and friends — and Robert Louis Stevenson, including my treasured first edition copy of Ebb Tide (very good condition, but missing its dust jacket). One or two rogue volumes have infiltrated this ScotLit shelf — The Bell Jar, Ezra Pound’s Cantos — but otherwise all is neat and tidy. The other three shelves are almost completely devoted to poetry books. Again, there are one or two infiltrators — John Le Carre’s The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, my Collected HG Wells and the new Collected Stories of Lorrie Moore (which I have yet to read) stick out like sore thumbs among all the skinny collections. I’m shocked to realise just how much poetry I have.
Tucked in the corner next to the bookshelf — and standing at nearly the same height — is the pile of literary criticism I have so far amassed for my PhD thesis. Two Norton anthologies act as the foundation stones for this teetering column, and bookmarks and post-its stick out at all angles from every book. It looks like a very unstable totem-pole.
I go searching for more books — there are more dotted around the living room. The ones on top of the stereo speakers are the ones I’m reading right now for this blog… to review, to give away, to offer crit, etc. Mostly they are little poetry chapbooks I’ve been sent. Some are still in their brown padded envelopes.
There are a few books hiding among my vinyl, too, and larger hardbacks form ‘plinths’ under my typewriters — Stanley Kubrick: A Life In Pictures (a present from me to Boy), Poetry In Theory, Mike Evans’ The Beats and the full collected manuscripts of Howl. I find another small pile housing Slaughterhouse 5, Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy and The Lovely Bones, among others. Also my Collected Derek Walcott, which I’d been looking for.
Boy points out my signed copy of Allen Ginsberg’s Wichita Vortex Sutra, hanging in a frame on the wall. I haven’t even started on the bedroom yet. This is going to be a two-part post for sure.
How about you? Ever thought about how and where you keep your books? Part Two coming soon…