Books do furnish a room*

It was a wee bit disconcerting on Tuesday to see my name pop out of Patrick Barkham’s diary piece on Guardian’s op ed page – but then it turned out to be a reference to my namesake, who likes to dress as a badger, live in the woods and eat worms. Chacun à son goût.

Barkham’s piece was a nice article about how he likes not only to tidy and rearrange his own shelves but also to nose around other people’s. ‘Displaying the books we love or the books that made us, or even books to impress, is a civilising impulse,’ he says. And who could disagree?

 My own books now flow through shelves in five separate parts of the house. The main living room has four shelves of what you might call general stuff, a theme which is repeated in a large bookcase in what we loosely call the ‘dining room.’ Upstairs in the spare room, four floor-to-ceiling fitted shelves contain most of the fiction. This was once arranged A-Z by author, but has become hopelessly disorganised over the last 15 years. Another small bookcase is in the main bedroom, filled mainly with novels which Jacqui has already read. I plan to get round to most of them someday.

Then there is my office. It’s a small room, only about ten feet square, but it has shelves on all the walls which are completely full. The books overflow onto the desk, table and floor. These are mainly my working books: once mostly design, typography and printing history, but now with so much stuff on the RAF and the Second World War that the less used material has been displaced into boxes in the dining room.

I once cut out a picture of John Updike from a magazine, and still have it in a plastic wallet. It showed the great man hard at work at his typewriter in a room full of books. (This picture of him looking up from the typewriter, which I found online, must have been taken at the same time but the one I have is from a different angle.)

Pic: © Jill Krementz

This is the ideal writing life I imagine for myself. It may come to pass one of these days, but I fear that I am more likely to reach the being-eaten-by-worms stage first. Perhaps my namesake will gobble them up afterwards.

* The title comes of course from another writing hero, Anthony Powell. I also have another picture clipped from a magazine, showing him in his book-lined study.


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