“Isn’t it odd how much fatter a book gets when you’ve read it several times?”… “As if something were left between the pages every time you read it. Feelings, thoughts, sounds, smells…and then, when you look at the book again many years later, you find yourself there, too, a slightly younger self, slightly different, as if the book had preserved you like a pressed flower…both strange and familiar.”

Cornelia FunkeInkspell

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Today was one of those good days that starts with a perfect quartet: good brunch and good coffee in the home of good family who have good bookshelves. Perfection, right there. So, as one can when she is in entirely comfortable territory and the conversation is easy, I began to browse the bookshelves. A few things occurred to me.

Firstly… Bookshelves tell you a lot about someone. They are maps, or maybe artworks, that collect together the circumstances under which each book came to be there, whether they were gifts, or deliberate choices, or are ‘borrowed’ books that are still making their way home. They came from this airport newsagency, or that birthday, this lover, or that rainy day in an unfamiliar city where getting lost ended up on a street with a bookstore. Thank God. So all this made me realise how very personal bookshelves are. They’re almost intimate! If you take a look at my bookshelf, you may as well pick up my soul and have a good look through while you’re there, because there won’t be a lot of secrets left. The chapters of my life are very clearly there, just in separate volumes. If I’ve read it, something about it (however small), stayed with me. If I haven’t read it yet, it’s there because I really want to – I’m trying to grow into the person who will have read that book one day. As future considerations go, it got me to thinking about where I will put the library in the home I will have one day. I always thought it would be right by the front door, so visitors know exactly where it is. That way they will know where to seek solitude in a comfy chair with a cuppa when needing to escape company (which will always be perfectly acceptable at my place). But now I’m not sure! Perhaps a little more reserve and privacy. Perhaps in the back room (much more relaxed), where family and close friends are welcome. If you don’t mind me being in my PJs when you arrive and you feel comfortable making your own tea, you are welcome to browse and take from the bookshelf.

Secondly… I don’t just look at nice covers and interesting titles when I’m browsing a bookshelf… I wonder about the authors. Was this their first book? Where did they write it? What are they doing now? I have wondered out loud before about how the authors on my bookshelf felt about the neighbourhood in which I had put them. Of course, this is less of a hassle when one doesn’t bother ordering their bookshelves at all (ahem, DAD*), but it occurs to me – incontrovertible proof that I am an excruciating overthinker. Perhaps it is the consequence of having quite a few history and theology texts on my shelf – whole wars have been fought over the contents, so perhaps those two might not like to live next door to each other. But perhaps novelists deserve the same consideration. He wouldn’t get her sense of humour at all and she won’t understand why he is taking so long to get to the point.

Thirdly… Books are my greatest weakness. I have been given many lovely gifts in my life, but books have almost always been my most treasured (with a couple of exceptions). I have been won over instantly by that little leap that comes of recognising one, two, three books on their shelf that are also on mine. I would forgive just about anything if the offender had a good enough bookshelf. This lovely piece, on why you should fall in love with a girl who reads, is just about spot on. When life gets tough, make tea. When it gets really bad, go for a walk, preferably up a mountain. When it’s heading toward unbearable territory, lose yourself in a bookstore.

* Dad – at least put all the Margaret Atwood in the same room, if not next to each other. Honestly!

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