Last month there was an article in The Daily Telegraph written by Shane Watson on the subject of our bookshelves as an important personality indicator. This Shane Watson is not to be confused with the other Shane Watson, the Australian cricketer, and who may not know much about bookshelves, or books, for that matter. This Shane Watson looks like this:
Her Penguin Books biography says: “Shane Watson writes regular columns for the Sunday Times Style magazine and is a contributing editor to Easy Living magazine. She is also the author of two novels, The One to Watch and Other People’s Marriages.” There is also a third book: How to Meet a Man After Forty and Other Midlife Dilemmas Solved. Presumably, this is non-fiction.
Turning now to her column in the Telegraph, she said: “This week a lifestyle blogger called Laura Coleman, whose house was featured in the latest issue of Ideal Home magazine, has been wishing she never revealed her tastes to the world. Ms Coleman has bee vilified on social media, not because she has a stuffed bear in her front hall, or the world’s largest collection of framed butterflies, or a walk-in wardrobe that could accommodate six families. No, Coleman’s crime is having arranged her books on her shelves, with their spines facing the wall, so as to keep the colour palette of the room a creamy, book page neutral.
“The incident of the backward books, apparently a decorative trend, has evidently struck a nerve – and the haters are out in force. What kind of person arranges books in this way?
“The kind of person who doesn’t read books, that’s who. The kind of person for whom books are just shelf fillers! Shelf Candy! A bad person who sees more value in the parchment colour of a page end than in the printed word! How low is that?!
“This shelf hate seems to be driven by two impulses: one, outrage at disrespecting books and reducing them to shelf padding; and, two, contempt for the sort of people whose homes are pristine, neutral environments, all about the surface with nothing genuine behind the facade. Poor Laura Coleman has found her shelves being held up as the epitome of style over substance and the shallowness of ‘lifestyle’ trends. . .
“Still, singling out these shelves and their owner for death by social media seems rather unfair. It is true that unless Ms Coleman cunningly photographed all the books in situ before reversing them, she would have a job locating a specific title. We can safely assume that these backwards books were never intended to be read again. But in her defence, she says these are all chick lit sorts of paperbacks which (my observation not hers) you might otherwise leave on the train, or throw away to make room for others. Books with loud covers and title like Maisie’s Fat Day Out, which don’t have much of a shelf life anyway, not to mention typically being bound in garish covers that clash with anyone’s colour scheme.
“But more to the point, who among us is not guilty of shelf rigging? Who doesn’t have a guilty book presentation habit? If the books on your shelves were slammed up there with no thought whatsoever for the impression they were going to give . . . then we would be very surprised indeed.”
Ms Watson then goes on to mention several ‘shelf stuffing’ techniques:
- Hiding books that might put the owner in an unfavourable light
- Substituting a prominent author or title for one less fashionable
- Arranging books according to size or colour
- Displaying books with beautiful covers at the top of a coffee table pile
- Treating books as decorative objects (Is this bad?)
As for me, one wall of my office has floor to ceiling book shelves, and I have to admit that most of the books are arranged pretty randomly, so I have to search for a particular book. However, there are two shelves full of business reference books (from a prior life), one shelf of religious books, and three shelves of novels. One of my problems is how to dispose of business books to make space for new novels. Libraries don’t want them, and it seems wrong to just throw them away.
My bookshelves: partial view