Everyone loves shelfies. What bibliophile doesn’t like sneaking a peek at the titles ranged on other people’s bookshelves? And who doesn’t like offering other book-lovers a glimpse of their cultivated, broad-minded, interesting inner lives – as spelt out by the titles of the volumes we have chosen to purchase and display – even if we haven’t actually got round to reading them all?
Since definitively leaving my parents’ home in 1974, I have moved house around fourteen times and changed countries four times. None of this would have been possible if I hadn’t got rid a lot of books each time I upped sticks. I dream of a life of easily transportable minimalism – an existence packed neatly into a couple of suitcases – but alas, I am a pathological hoarder and accumulator, and for every book that is sold or given away, I somehow manage to replace it with another half dozen, at least. My eager embrace of the ebook experience doesn’t seem to have helped much; the books keep mounting up. And no, I haven’t read them all.
Here then, are pictures of some of my shelves through the years. The shelves themselves have ranged from a wooden bookcase knocked up by my then boyfriend (who was into woodwork; I painted it bottle green, then black), a landlady’s Sheraton cabinet, cheap metal Dexion, to cheap Japanese cardboard modules, to cheap pine Ikea storage systems, to cheap Ikea Billy shelves – which are the ones I have now. As you can see, the operative word here is cheap. I have always hankered after aesthetically pleasing fitted shelves in exotic wood, but have never stayed in the same place long enough to have made it worth the expense and effort.
Few of these photographs were taken with posterity in mind, to put it mildly – most of them were end-of-roll shots or exposure tests or playing around with camera settings, hence the weird angles and variations in quality and colour. Some of them were taken for an art school project. Some of them display a weird indifference to sharp focus, possibly due to my having been for many years in denial about my short-sightedness; I call this my Impressionist Period.
Now, of course, I wish I’d set out deliberately to provide a record of My Bookshelves Through the Ages. But life, and the photographs you take of it, never seem to work like that. As I have written elsewhere, the most interesting old photographs rarely turn out to be the ones you thought were interesting when you actually took them.