Reorganising the living room bookshelf gave me a panoramic wide angle view of my relationship with books and reading. At one level, I regretted my love of books. Alcoholics among you know will know the sensation of hitting rock bottom intimately. It also felt like meeting long lost friends. The pleasant surprises leading newer, better understandings and relationships.
The regret came from dealing with the physicality of books. Some, like the Geoffrey Bawa books have the girth to qualify as murder weapons (if used from a sufficient height). Even the slimmest volumes must be puffed up the stairs to avoid creating back spraining stacks. I used to brutally sell off books to avoid dealing with heaving boxes of books. Yet there was always a body of survivors.
Space they occupied in the overstuffed living room shelf had to found in their new homes. Namely two minimalistic bookcases with limited shelf height configurations and even less space. My collection ranges from generously of proportioned art books, fragile childhood era Tintins, and a spectrum of other books varying wildly around the size of paperbacks. That made organising the books into any sort of order into a headache – specially for a dim wit like Cerno. The only practical solution was to grovel to the new spatial order and put them wherever they fitted.
As a result Cicero’s biography is now sitting next to the Bukowskis. Funny Boy is jammed next to a yellowed Philip K Dick. Cinnamon Gardens was moved to another shelf and amongst Kandyan history due to a few excessive millimetres. At least I almost managed to keep the art books together. Compromises had to be made of course. A lushly photographed work on ancient Sri Lankan rock paintings just happened to be around the same height as a book of banned Robert Mapplethorpes. The book on strange late war German aircraft designs landed next to the Abstract Expressionists because it fitted in perfectly.
Once the sneezing from the dust settled, I thought the whole thing was over. Yet while I was lying on the heat pack reeking Wintogino (moving books and sprains are tragically linked), the realisations crept in. Oddly enough, it started with the Tintins and wondered over to the Asterixs which I had rarely flipped though as an adult. Details glossed over in childhood were deliciously fresh. Made me think how my perceptions of the world had changed.
Bukowski remains an old favourite — specially since Green Tea Diaries has been quiet. I used to prefer the hiku splendour of his later poetry. Now I have come to enjoy the punch of his prose works (eg: Post Office, Factotum) as well as the earlier poems. All because I flipped through those neglected pages between fittings. I thought I got over of my juvenile interest in Nazi WW2 aeronautics but I was wrong. Even if there was anyone interested in the cockpit layout of the BV141, I’m not selling.
Why? Just like the strange affinity I’m starting to notice between Cicero and Bukowski, it’s hard to pin down. Particularly when the whispers of thought have yet coagulate into something specific for words. It will certainly take another post as this one’s rambled on too long (thank you for reading this far btw).
The realisations have an unexpected deliciousness to them. Makes the sweaty brow work of book shuffling worth while. With eBooks this sort of experience will be replaced by algorithm (people who read this also liked…). I have unscientific doubts about the richness of that experience. It makes my interest in other people’s bookshelves feel even stronger. So what sort of journeys has the chaos/order of your bookshelf taken you?
Oh yes, Happy 2012!
* The specific titles of the books mentioned have been blurred for security reasons.