SAINTS PRESERVE US
Tones on Tomes
Saturday morning I wasted three minutes of my life reading a column in the newspaper’s style pages. Its subject was built-in bookshelves, blessing or curse? It was all a bit twee, precious. Perhaps my mind’s become a bit frayed in these isolation days and so my emotional response to the sniffy, shallow dilemma raged from contempt to fury.
I know people who’ve hung pictures on their walls not because they appreciate the subject so much as its colours go with the paint and furniture. Now it seems that books have become like items of décor. I don’t know when this shift in perception occurred; I must’ve had my nose buried in my prose or someone else’s.
In the mode of the ultra-chic sorting and shelving books alphabetically by author and genre is a faux-pas. Books must be displayed according to size and tone - that is the colour of their spines. Some books must stand upright while others must lay on their backs in stacks and, dear me certain volumes are destined to be leaners. The proletarian paperback, whatever the merit of its content, is of course libris non grata. Best stowed in the basement or home office, don’t you know. Décor necessarily dictates its own peculiar Dewey Decimal Classification.
Once the shelves have been tastefully arrayed in colour wheel hues and treasured family mementoes have been added as stunning accents, appallingly there may yet be dead space to fill. Fortunately, that problem is easily rectified by a visit to a shop specializing in used books!
Over the course of the past year it’s been my incredible good fortune to spend time browsing in Powell’s City of Books in Portland, OR and the Waterstone’s location in London’s Bloomsbury district. And so, I’ve imagined a vacuous version of myself in one of those stores, on the hunt to populate my accursed built-in shelves:
“I’d like to buy some blue books, please. About eight inches’ worth.”
“Ah, the erotica section is downstairs, sir. In the rear.”
“And do you have any red books?”
“Ah, red? Ah, you’ll find the works of Marx and Mao in the philosophy section. You may also wish to investigate the history and politics sections.”
“Great. Thanks. What about white books?”
“White? Ah, do you happen to know the author’s first name, sir?”
“No, they’re just to lean against the blue and the red books.”
“Ah, well, I’m sure you’ll find something. Is there any other thing I can help you with? Any more questions?”
“What about large format books, oversized?”
“We’ve a lovely array on the main floor, just outside the bistro. What’s your particular interest, sir, fine art, photography, architecture, film, music?”
“About twelve to sixteen inches.”
“May I suggest the erotica section once more?”