Objects of desire

A bookcase isn’t merely a storage unit. It’s an expression of self, belief and ideals, a daily reminder of who we think we are, and a little information for our visitors. Many people in the UK do not own books, so being one of the ones who does have a shelf or bookcase automatically sets you aside. People who read tend to favour the company of other people who read, and will scan your books to check you out.

It’s not just about the reading. I own a lot of books that I probably won’t read, or won’t read again. They have stories about where they came from; when, why, who bought them, or bequeathed them. I had, during the first thirty or so years of my life, accumulated a lot of books and I lived in a house that clearly marked me out as a book person. There was no room for bookcases on the boat, we had one book box, and the rest were in storage. Books ceased to be objects of display for a while.

Now we’re settled in a flat. It isn’t a big space, and I like that – easier to heat and clean, and innately greener as a consequence. I want to live lightly, to consume less. I’ve let go of a great many things, and now I’ve started thinking about my relationship with the books I own. Why am I keeping them all? Do I need them? Would they be better off in other hands, being read? The author gets nothing if I give books away, but at the same time I’ve been converted to fandom by book loans plenty of times.

Giving away books is a very odd process, and runs counter to feelings and impulses I’ve had my whole life, and that run in my family. Even though my people have been resoundingly working class for some time (there are some distant figures, but that’s a story for another day…) we’ve long been book people. I own a bookcase which, from the date chalked on its back, was clearly my great grandmother’s. She liked Tennyson. Did she own more books than would fit in that bookcase? I don’t know.

In the early days of books, they were not just methods of communication, but objects of power and desire. You had to be wealthy to own a book, and the book itself would be gorgeous. To display a book was to display learning and disposable income. While mass production brought cheap paper that yellows in a decade or so, and unremarkable covers, that urge to display seems wired into the book owning mindset. That’s the trouble with kindle – no one can casually scan it and appreciate your taste, wit, erudite-ness, style etc. Books you just read and do not use to adorn rooms are only serving some of the functions of books.

Most things I now find it easy to let go of when I’ve ceased to have any use for them. Most things can flow through my hands, no trouble at all. Learning to overcome all the cultural and emotional layers I’ve built up around book owning, is a process. I started with the books I didn’t much like: A tricky process of admitting there were books that I hadn’t much enjoyed and didn’t mean to read again, but still had not been able to part with. Why? I’m not sure I can answer. Learning to recognise books that I won’t re-read and that no one else in my family would read, and letting them go. Why keep them? And yet, sometimes when I can’t sleep, I recall their covers like the faces of lost friends and wonder if I made the right call.

Made of trees and filled with inspiration… perhaps it’s no wonder I default to treating them like sacred objects.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

13 responses to “Objects of desire

  • whakkanghugi95

    Reblogged this on whakkanghugi and commented:

  • Sally

    ‘They have stories about where they came from; when, why, who bought them, or bequeathed them.’ Which is exactly why I’ll never own a Kindle. Beautiful piece which I totally relate to. When we moved house I managed to take 50 boxes of books to the second hand shop, which broke my heart, and still had 150 left over. I don’t have too many books, just not enough shelves. And yes, every book is sacred in its own way.

  • Blodeuwedd

    I think this is why I struggle so much with Kindle!

  • Alison Clayton-Smith

    I manage to give away some of my books on a regular basis, much as I would love to keep them all to create a huge library room with armchair, fire, port, you know, that sort of fantasy 🙂 Anyway, when I decide to have a sort through of anything, I ask myself why do I want to hold on to this. Sometimes the emotional reasons are strong enough to outweigh the rational, and sometimes not. Books for me often convey hope, possibilities, memories, and I just don’t get this from e-books. In fact, I’m going to stop buying proper e-books as I forget I have them.

  • Cianaodh (Key-Ah-Knee) - a.k.a. Troy

    So true. I can’t begin to tell you how many people have visited our home, scanned our bookshelves and commented “Oh, you own many of the same books as I do. You must be my kind of people! ” 😊

  • Liz Ward

    I own a Kindle, but mostly for practical purposes and because sometimes I just can’t ‘wait’ to buy a book. Having said that, I have lots of bookshelves. My living area is full of books. Like you – I find it hard to let go of them, even the ones I know I’m never going to read again. Maybe it’s because we spend some of our time on a book, that the book somehow represents that history of yourself, even if you didn’t like the book. I can’t imagine a house without a book, and find houses without books a little sad. I find people who don’t read – at all – to be a little perplexing, even though I understand why (no time, other priorities, etc)!

  • Karen

    fabulous post, Nimue! It just popped up here on the LinkedIn newsfeed. Excellent points. Ironically, your ‘timing’ is exquisite, as the other day, I just took some books over to the local library, for all, i.e, rather than an antiquarian book shop, for instance.. when doing a bit of further spring cleaning. I grew up with quite a few books around, and much of what you say is so true. Also, ‘what’ we read, ‘why’ we read it, or even ‘when’ it was most important in our lives can often symbolism various ‘chapters’ in our lives, too — perhaps like music, too, where going through the remaining CDs, for example, the ‘chapters’ and times of our lives, the gifts and challenges they brought, can also be quite symbolic! Awens all around, and blessings to you/yours /|\

  • wren

    Your first two sentences really made me smile, Nimue… Having been without a bookcase for a number of years, I finally got fed up of my precious books being confined to a couple of shelves in a cupboard, and went out and bought a bookcase, several months ago. Oh, the joy I had bringing those sacred books back out into the light! I spent a great deal of time just appreciating them; flicking through the pages, appreciating the energy of them, the feel, and the smell. But more than that, I spent a good deal of the time choosing which books to display because, as you so rightly wrote, the books on the shelves of our bookcases, are an expression of who and what we perceive ourselves to be. I chose the books that I wanted displayed very carefully indeed, and am happy now that whoever might scan my bookshelves in the future will see ‘where I’m coming from’…regardless of whether they ‘get it’ or not! 😉

  • Gracie

    This resonated we me so much! Growing up in Ireland books we’re cherished in our house and nor were bookcases – they were a functional piece of furniture.
    I adore bookcases as a rooms of imagination, curiosity and opportunity. I like you have many books that I will never read but I collect and gather for their uniqueness. As I write this, I’m in Sydney and its lashing rain outside. I’m sat here with a cuppa and a stack of reading material. I shall never own a kindle and subscribe to magazines as I want to see them survive and thrive. There is nothing better than flicking pages with intensity to see what happens.

    Love your blog


  • Raven Seven

    I have a book for every occasion; the deep ones like yours on ancestors and meditation; the ones from my local book club which are usually a light read and can be read on the bus to work or in a waiting room and the one I read before I go to sleep. They all have their role to play. Kindle is OK to take on holiday but how could a Kindle ever fill that book spine on the bookshelf that says ‘Read me’.

  • Kimber

    Growing up I considered books to be my “friends”- there are certain ones that helped build me as a person. I could no more get rid of them as I could my child, however with that being said I also have loads and loads of books that I will never (probably)re-read.

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