Sunday, June 28, 2020

What About My Bookshelves?

It is summer time and the life is getting easier when you have all your bookish plans settled for the coming months. In case that you are brave and lucky enough to afford thinking about your next holidays plans, outside your home/garden/lockdown location. Bookish or not, this year was like no other, forcing many of us to think and focus more on our immediate reality and environment priorities.
Like, paying more attention to decorating the house and the rooms, adding exotic ingredients to the pantry, experimenting more with recipes, returning to old hobbies like visual arts - both painting and photography -, handwork and jewelry making, and once in a while even with some interior design ideas. With money saved from my weekly travels, I added a piece of furniture here, another tablecloth there, new cooking tools for the kitchen. Just wanted to feel comfy enough to better enjoy my long reading list, nothing more, nothing less. 
However, in-between two interesting books, I´ve decided I need more movement. Thus, most of my parcimonious free time I´ve also spent organising and re-organising carefully my closets, shelves and other corners in the home that for various reasons were left untouched for at least one year. 
As someone who rarely enjoyed more than a year or so in the same place - or the same country - I am very conservative when it comes to reorganising my rooms. I like my mind free and my schedule full of activities, but I prefer my home environment to be safe, predictable without dramatic changes or frequent furniture removals, unless necessary. Under ´necessity´ being filled: the damage of the piece of furniture, the need to accommodate the space for welcoming new residents in the house. In over ten years of living in the same place - an outstanding success given my previous long list of addresses - I only changed twice the outline of the rooms, the last time almost five years ago, when my son was born.
An adept of minimalism - except when it comes to bags and shoes - most of my house space is taken by books and notebooks. I love my e-books and to read on my Tablet, but the physical books are still part of my life, especially those that accompanied my life journey for a long time already. They are survivors therefore they deserve to stay with me. There are books autographed by people as diverse as Henry Kissinger and Salman Rushdie or books authored by people I count amount my closest intellectual friends from all over the world. There are books - very few of them - that I grew up with and belonged to my family, like an old Larousse which is filled with a lot of outdated information however it reminds me of those few times when I was sharing learning time with my mother of blessed memory. I have books in an impressive amount of languages, I am playing with once in a while, with different levels of knowledge: dictionaries, handbooks, short stories and novels. My son started his own library, as for now, in his three languages he is starting to read the world through. In addition to this, I have a shelf which is dedicated to the books I regularly loan from the many generous libraries spread over Berlin that I visit regularly.
When it comes to organising my shelves, I am again an example of plain simplicity. There are, indeed, people who are organising their books using various criteria: the colours of the book covers, the edition houses, the styles and historical periods of time, the alphabetical order, the topics covered. I refrain from criticizing or judging some of those choices, that may not be necessarily intellectually relevant. Sometimes, the choices for an option or another depends at a great extent of the amount of available space for the books. I envy my childhood times when we used to have a room dedicated exclusively to books, a library with books from the floor until the ceilings, organised, according to the wishes of my grandfather on my mother side, alphabetically, with the name of the books and authors carefully written in a Répertoire, eventually with mentions to whom and when books were loaned. An admirable work of library planning that does not make too much sense though for my everyday 21st century habits.
As many other things in my material life, the organisation of my shelves is following a very low level sophistication and the criteria are based on different topics of interest: a couple of shelves for my history and political science books, a couple of shelves for my languages´ books, a space for Central and Eastern European literature, another one for the Middle Eastern authors I love, another one only for the French-language books, anogther one for English books - the largest so far -, neighbouring another hosting the few books in languages as diverse as Spanish, Portuguese, Italian or Hungarian. A big shelf, with double rows, hosts my new collection of German books. In the last years I added a shelf for all my travel books which counts only few guides, besides an increasing number of travelogues and diaries. I haven´t read all of those books, and once in a while those who are not interesting enough, I give them away or sell to the English-speaking bookstores in Berlin. The topics of my books are as diverse as my interests: from cooking books to theories about philosophy, mathematics and poetry, feel good and mysteries, prayer books and historical topics. 
This variety of choices is nothing compared to the over 1,000 books well stocked on my electronic devices. In a physical format, I would need at least three more rooms only for books, or at least a little castle with a dedicated library covering a space much larger than my current apartment. 
Last Sunday, I had enough time and energy to completely reorganise my shelves. Took all them out of their shelves, cleaned the dust, rearranged everything in a more orderly way. Surprisingly, I´ve found a couple of books I completely forgot I purchased that were instantly added to by TBR of the next days and weeks. Especially the books from the languages shelves motivated me to be more organised with my foreign languages maintenance, therefore, a modest plan for more grammar exercises and easy reading was set. 
Reorganising my shelves was one of the best time investment I´ve done this month. Nothing fancy, minimal physical activity, a lot of inspiration for my next reading and intellectual chores. As for now, there will be nothing fancy happening with my bookshelves, except that probably in a couple of months I see some new shelves, maybe a complete new library setting, coming my way. Until then, I will keep being busy with my books and happily blogging about it. 

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