A break with bookshelves

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Before I go away, even for a weekend, I feel obliged to run round with hoover and duster… I like the thought of coming home to a tidy place. As I dust the bookshelves that take up more wallspace than anything else in the flat, I can’t help thinking that those shelves hold a lot of memories; the books on there are mainly old ones… a lot of fantasy and historical stuff as well as books from my own childhood and youth that I somehow seem to have retained.

If I go through the shelves I could, in theory, dispose of the vast majority of them really and only keep the reference books I still use. I don’t though, and I won’t unless I have to. Not because I can’t let go of them, but because they are old friends I like to revisit from time to time. Books are a doorway to other realms and ideas.

Me and the books have moved county and even country together and though, periodically, I have pared them down to minimum, it has never exactly been through choice, only necessity. They are a symbol of continuity and a link with other times, places and people. None have any monetary value, the few rare books went long ago, but all have value to me as the repository of knowledge, ideas and imagination.

It is said you can learn a lot about people from their bookshelves. I can trace the story of my life in the books I have stashed all over my home. There is the little illustrated Bible I was given by my paternal grandparents, which has probably seen more concerted use in the past few years with the writing than at any other time in the past half a century. The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám passed down from my maternal grandfather’s days in Burma, and via my mother to me. Old books on Yorkshire that belonged to my great-grandfather. The Burns a friend gave me in Paris.

My Sunday School prize of Dr Seuss sits by the Asterix books I bought in France twenty years later and the books on aircraft my sons left behind. Later come the fantasies and several tattered copies of Tolkien that snuggle up with books on physics and psychology. Cookery books sit cheek by jowl with art and poetry. But from the earliest to the latest acquisitions runs a thread of myth, magic and comparative spirituality across the ages.

It was always understood that a treasured gift would have words printed in it, and from childhood the book token was the firm favourite. It is even better when friends know you well enough to give the perfect book and ‘H is for Hawk’ sits with ‘Manifesto for the Noosphere’ and ‘At the Gates of Dawn’.

Perhaps the most futile of the books  of which I am custodian are the ones on dog behaviour. She doesn’t. Behave, I mean. I read them, I know the how and why… honestly I do… yet Ani seems to be the exception to any rule. But if I think of home and picture that feeling, the image that arises is always that of a warm dog and an old book.

About Sue Vincent

Sue Vincent is a Yorkshire-born writer and one of the Directors of The Silent Eye, a modern Mystery School. She has written a number of books, both alone and with Stuart France, exploring ancient myths, the mysterious landscape of Albion and the inner journey of the soul. She is owned by a small dog who also blogs. Follow her at scvincent.com and on Twitter @SCVincent Find her books on Goodreads and follow her on Amazon worldwide to find out about new releases and offers. Email: findme@scvincent.com
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37 Responses to A break with bookshelves

  1. cagedunn says:

    A terrier, perhaps? They are very good at training their people …

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  2. acflory says:

    This: ‘They are a symbol of continuity and a link with other times, places and people. ‘ So very true and the reason I can’t bear to be parted from my books either, even though I only read on Kindle these days [eyesight]. As for Ani…if you ever need a holiday, send her DownUnder. 🙂

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  3. barbtaub says:

    As an expat, people often ask what I miss most from the States. To me, the answer was obvious—my books, languishing in a storage unit back in Seattle. A few months ago a truck pulled up to our little house here in Scotland and unloaded crates, mostly filled with books. We’re still unpacking but already our place has changed from a house to a home.

    I remember a few years ago when a friend’s daughter came for a visit. She looked around and sighed. “It used to be,” she told me, “you could tell everything about people from what was—and wasn’t—on their bookshelves. Now everyone has their books on their Kindles and you just don’t know them as well.”

    If she came back now and saw our old friends on their new shelves, she would know us very well.

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  4. Jennie says:

    Books are good, old friends. And you have many, Sue. 🙂

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  5. fransiweinstein says:

    What a lovely post, I so relate. Love my books and love having them around. And they always have been my favourite gift — to give as well as to receive.

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  6. noelleg44 says:

    We were overrun by books for a long time, Sue, until the invention of the Kindle. I suspect hte house would have collapsed if we’d kept on. I’ve kept the ones I especially liked but need to do a purge at some point. For me, it’s a warm cat, a cup of coffee and a favorite book (you forgot the coffee), but if I had Ani, it would be her. And we always clean up before we go anyplace, too!

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  7. 1) We aren’t the kind of people who have obedient dogs. Other people have obedient dogs, but we aren’t them.

    2) You dust your books? I feel so shamed.

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    • Sue Vincent says:

      1) No, I’ve never managed that… though they have all known HOW to be obedient. They just have other ideas.

      2) They are so tightly packed it is barely a chore 😉

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  8. dgkaye says:

    So true Sue, I’ve always felt you can learn a lot about someone from their bookshelves – or the lack thereof. I have the same problem, I can’t throw away any books. I like to revisit them occasionally too. I hear you! 🙂 ❤

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  9. Eliza Waters says:

    It’s true about bookshelves revealing house members. What you can learn without asking! 😉 I culled ours a few years ago to lighten the load, but you wouldn’t know it!

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  10. I do believe that my life is reflected in my bookshelves too, Sue. I still have books from when I was a very small girl and wrote my name as Roderta instead of Roberta.

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