As a passionate reader I have always been surrounded by books. Their presence on my shelves makes me feel at home and even when renting flats and moving every six months, my books were the last boxes packed and first unpacked each time.
There was a quote, originally penned by Ancient Roman Statesman Marcus Tullius Cicero, posted in the front window of my local bookstore recently: ‘A room without books is like a body without a soul’. It resonated but also got me thinking. What is it about books that can give a house such a feeling of soul?
And, what better person to ask than Lucy Clark, the Books Editor for the Sydney Sunday Telegraph and Brisbane Sunday Mail.
“To me books are integral to the idea of home and the people who live there:when I walk into someone’s home I am immediately drawn to the books on their shelves because they tell me so much about those people – do they read political non-fiction and social commentary? Romances? Crime thrillers? Do they have endless reference books, or mainly volumes of poetry? In a way, those books compose a story of their life. These are the important books that have meant something special to them, the ones they have decided to keep and place upon a shelf, and this communicates much.
In my own living room I have two walls filled with books that I have been collecting since teenagehood. In most areas of my life I am a fairly haphazard sort of person – I certainly couldn’t be called a neat freak – but I am very organised with the arrangement of books in my living room (my office is another matter). I have a reference section, where I have all my dictionaries and writing reference books, then I have a journalism section, a history section, a poetry section, a feminist literature section, biography and memoir, politics, a parenting section (which bears my most-thumbed books), and then – my largest section – I have all my literary fiction organised alphabetically.
I have another shelf for the overflow, because I can’t stop accruing books and of course there is limited space. Every few years, or every time I move, I go through a brutal process of culling books I don’t love as much as newer books which deserve a spot on my shelves. There are a couple of duplicates; for example there are two copies of The Book of Laughter and Forgetting by Milan Kundera because one belongs to my husband and one belongs to me, bought for ourselves long before we ever met. I can’t throw one out because it says something about our shared love of literature.
Every now and then I’ll get lost looking at the spines and I’ll see a book that takes me back to a certain place and time in my life because I can remember where I was when I read it. I keep only the books I have loved, but also I have books there that I have bought because I want to read them but haven’t got around to it yet. So, on my shelves there is both memory and possibility. One day I’ll read Boccaccio.”
Photo © Lucy Clark