Sunday, October 14, 2007

Shelfish pleasures

I’ve got wood – and I can’t wait to tell everyone. I talk, of course, about the antique oak bookcase of monstrous size which is the newest occupant of my bedroom. Why, what did you think I meant?

There are so many pleasures to be derived from a bookcase, yet they are certainly overlooked most of the time in favour of their contents. Far too often, in fact, bookcases can be afterthoughts, mere planks pinned together to support the far more carefully chosen books they bear; I suspect that sometimes bookcases may even be more interesting than their books.

And now I am the possessor of a proper piece of furniture, a 1920s oak bookcase with a dark stain, taller than most of the population and at least twice as wide as an All Black prop forward. Even as it sat waiting to be filled, it was already generating pleasure, the kind that comes from appreciating any well-made item.

As I started to unpack my boxes of books and install them, I got much too distracted flicking through them. There is a positive nostalgia which comes from all the memories associated with each volume, like the gargantuan Classical dictionaries I bought before going up to university or my first edition Dorothy Parkers located pawing through antiquarian after antiquarian. This dallying delight is inherent in the purchase of a bookcase.

Once I had got them all on and sorted them into semi-respectable order, it was time to sit back and look at the finished article, which sent shivers of aesthetic pleasure around my nervous system. Just to see the shelves laden with all different hues of dust-jackets, abutting one another like a very blocky and beautiful abstract painting, is joyous. There is room for all media too – my Vanity Fairs are piled up a couple of shelves beneath the DVDs.

It’s a reflection of all that I have accumulated over the years (not too many in my case, but it’s a start), which in turn reflects my personality and my interests. A bookcase is like a body, the physical container for your self – my bookcase, c’est moi.

A tree died to make my bookcase and I feel sure it would willingly have sacrificed itself if it knew the pleasure I would get out of it.

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