As a lifelong book-lover, when I visit the home of a friend I love the opportunity to glance at their bookshelves. I believe the contents of your bookcase reveals your personality, your interests and often reflects the life past or current. Now I am no psycho-analyst or philosopher, but I firmly believe that, although they say the eyes are the windows of your soul, your bookshelves reveal much of your true self!
When I first escaped my marriage of 18 years, I left the marital home with little but several boxes of my precious literature and some house plants. As my new life nudged me from one rented resting place to another, these volumes became cumbersome to pack and unpack, so gradually my bookcase contents were whittled, the less loved and no longer relevant being cast to the most convenient charity shop.
Nevertheless, when it came to moving my belongings from building to barge it was still a big step, even for one who preferred simple, if not quite minimalist, surroundings. The freedom of having the excuse to rid myself of various unwanted gifts and unnecessary items was soon tempered by a realisation that a library had not been one of the selling points of my new home. Even the relative comfort of the living space of my Dutch barge had few shelves.
Books would have to share the precious shelf space with a variety of other living requirements. And so, only the favourites, and those offering to teach me vital knowledge for my latest steep learning curve, survived to see this precious space. As I look along my untidy line-up, I wonder what that expert would read into the titles on these spines.
Predictably, the newest and most prominent, lying around for quick reference, are those related to sailing and historic barges and anything nautical in general. Despite the ease of internet search, marine know-how and Dutch maritime history is often best found on traditional paper pages. Having lived within sight of ships most of my life, I realise now how little I ever knew of the familiar vessels and am filled with mid-life haste to learn as much as possible of my latest subject.
Sitting prominently along the upper shelf sit the literary classics I enjoyed as a mature, university student. I consider myself privileged in having had the late opportunity to pursue my love of the English language and am proud to retain, perhaps as a kind of badge of honour, in the works of great writers and personal, classic favourites. Beside these works, in contrast but also compliment, sit wildlife reference books and those non-fiction volumes that are a fusion of interests.
The lower shelf is a different story altogether. Here you will find humour, lifestyle and travel. Cartoon compilations of Simon’s Cat and Thelwell rub shoulders with cook books and Rough Guides. This motley collection may tell more of the chaotic, restless mind that rests beside these shelves. Long gone are the shore bound interests of architecture, design, gardens and horticulture, but the hungry mind still has room for new files!
Now I have divulged the dusty, inner workings of my literary memories, perhaps this will prompt you to analyse your own hallowed collection. Despite predictions of the death of print, the rise of e-readers and downloads, our romance with paper and hardbacks still thrives. The independent bookshop, almost strangled by the global, online monster, may still be found quietly fighting back. So why not find a comfortable corner, pour a cup of your favourite beverage and revisit old friends. Who knows what they may inspire. I hope you’ll share your findings with me.