At the weekend, I read an article about the author Hanya Yanagihara and her New York apartment, which is home to 12,000 books. She discusses her home and its décor and how she feels about her books.
One line in particular stayed with me:
“Anyone who arranges their books by colour doesn’t truly care what’s in the books.”
I couldn’t disagree more.
My bookshelves are arranged by colour. They have been since we moved into our house about three years ago, but it’s something I’d been planning to do for years.
Before my books were organised by colour, they weren’t in any order at all.
But I still knew where each book lived on the shelf.
Organising my books by colour was partly motivated by aesthetics – how could it be anything else?
I’ve always loved seeing pictures of other people’s shelves sorted in this way. It looks striking, makes the bookcase a central feature in the room.
But that doesn’t mean that my feelings about my books exist only on the surface.
I don’t buy these books because they’re pretty. I didn’t buy them as a status symbol, or to make myself look intelligent.
They might be ordered by colour, but I know where each book is. I can tell you that The Dark Road by Ma Jian has a dark green cover and it sits on the middle of my three bookshelves, on the second shelf from the bottom. I haven’t read it yet, but I know that it has been on my shelf for just over two years, after I bought it in Waterstones in Northallerton one day on my lunchbreak from work, when I was having a hard day.
All the books in my home have stories, outside of their pages.
I own books because they fascinate and inspire me. I find it comforting to have shelves of books in my home, always within reach. The possibilities they bring are endless; so many worlds to explore within their covers.
Books provoke a spiritual feeling in me. They calm me, they centre me, they even open my eyes to parts of the world that were unfamiliar.
Are my books worth less because they aren’t arranged by author?
Is the experience I had when reading them somehow devalued?
Does their presentation make me a lesser reader?
I care passionately about my books. Sometimes that means I care about appearances: I don’t fold the pages or crack the spine. I like to keep my books pristine.
Sometimes it’s the cover art that attracts me to a book, but I won’t buy unless there’s something more. A book is a package, the doorway to a journey that is often unexpected and moving.
But however I feel about the book’s cover, it’s always the words inside that stay with me.