But where will I put my books? Debbie Bennett

I grew up with books. I remember my dad bringing home a Famous Five book every Friday – I used to be ready and waiting for him to come home from work and I’d have finished the book by the end of the weekend. The newsagent would deliver my comic on a Saturday and I’d lie in bed listening for the clink of the letter box; I’d scurry down and take my comic back to bed to read. These were the days when kids’ comics and magazines contained serialised picture stories – these days it’s all fashion and make-up and gossip. Do ten year-olds really want to “read” that kind of thing? Or do they have no option these days?

I remember being surprised when I realised it wasn’t normal to visit the library at least once a week. Not all my friends had bookshelves in their bedrooms and buying fourteen paperbacks over the course of a family holiday wasn’t what other people did. I began to check out friends’ houses – I still do – to see whether they have Books. Books with a capital B. Cherished books, odd books, shelves of battered, loved and much re-read paperbacks – not just the latest Harry Potter, or a coffee-table tome, or some classic that has clearly never been opened but whose presence is merely designed to convey the appearance of culture and literacy in a house.

Over the course of my life I have collected a lot of books. I’ve done a bit of semi-professional reviewing and I edited British Fantasy Society publications for over ten years, so was on a lot of mailing lists. I got lots of free books. I buy books too – paperbacks, ebooks and the occasional hardback. I have regular clearouts. I still have what most people would call a large book collection, although compared to many of my friends I am but an amateur at the book-collection game, which is all fine until you start thinking about moving house or reconfiguring your living space.

Last time we moved house was over 20 years ago. We came up to Cheshire from Surrey on a golden-ticket government move. Somehow, for once, we managed to do it right and cash-in on a civil-service transfer from the 1980s – back then, in our early 20s, we were all promised two years in London and we’ll pay for you to move out. They changed the rules of course, but Andy managed to retain his rights and we cashed them in in 1995. Moving house was easy with a relocation company, a removal company to pack and move everything and even extra money towards new carpets and stuff.

This time around it’s different. And it comes down to books again. We nearly moved last month – for a variety of reasons it never came to fruition, but the moment it began to look serious, I was buying huge crates, packing up books and shipping them to the back of my parents’ garage. When he came to give a quote, the man from Pickfords looked relieved when I told him we’ve be moving the books ourselves. Of course I then had to move them all back again when the move fell through…

Unpacking after the move that wasn't

So we start thinking what else we can do. Reconfigure rooms, maybe. My lovely large study would work wonderfully as a big family kitchen (our Victorian cottage kitchen is small – perfectly formed, but small).

But where would I put my books?

Turn the existing kitchen (which is also the main entrance to the house – it’s an unusual back-to-front property) into a hall/study/library? Tape measure out. Yes, it’d all fit, but it’d be cramped and poky and not the wow-this-house-has-loads-of-space impression we want to convey. The house does has have loads of space and it works for us, but it’s not at its best for selling and we do want to downsize and move on at some point.

Downsize? Where will I put my books?

We look at other houses. There’s a lot of new building around mid-Cheshire and poking around show homes is always fun. But they’re laid out with minimal furniture and they never ever have any bookshelves. I look at houses for sale on Rightmove and the smaller 3-beds we’re looking at have one lounge and nowhere to put any books...

Is it me? What do booklovers do?


Wendy H. Jones said…
Five years ago I moved back to Scotland. All my books came with me. I deliberately bought a house with a humungous office so I could keep all my books. I feel your pain
Chris Longmuir said…
Oh, this strikes a chord. I too had a childhood with books and comics, and I used to read a book a day. My one gripe with the library was that they only allowed kids 1 book at a time and you couldn't change it the same day you took it out! Thankfully, things are different now. And when we downsized to a bungalow with virtually no cupboard space, the books were a problem. Multiple bookcases were bought (we had walk-in book shelved cupboards in the old house), and the summerhouse outside was converted into a library. I must say it didn't do the books much good, though.
JO said…
My lovely widowed neighbour decided she needed a new bed. Double or single, she asked me. Oh double, I told her, you never know ... And she said she'd probably get a double because if she had a single she didn't know where she would put her books!
Susan Price said…
This will probably sound a loud, loud chord with every writer.
I learned from my parents. When you run out of book-case space, you double park the books, then pile then on top of the bookcases, then pile them in stacks up the stairs, put them on windowsills, put them under beds like Jo's neighbour, stack them in corners, pile them on the end of the kitchen counters... There's lots of space for books, really.
My mother was a reader in a non-reading family. She came home from school one day to find her mother had given all her books away because 'you're too old for them now.' She never really got over this trauma and would never willingly part with a book, even ones she never intended to read. My father used to have to sneak out books. Things like 'Masonic Speech Making' and a Latin primer (none of us were interested in being primed in Latin.) Mum would never have let them go if she'd known. Because they were books.
Bill Kirton said…
Yep, add me to the list. Lots of the old books I have are the equivalent of those time travellers' portals. You flick through the pages and remember the various times you read them - not necessarily the first, but subsequent times, when you re-read them and realised they were saying different things from those they'd said before. And if you deface them the way I do, with little pencilled bits in the margins, you're confronted with a different you as well. I suppose there are some I could get rid of - but not many.
Fran B said…
If you feel like moving to Scotland, our next door neighbours are selling up. Big old spacious house, four bedrooms, two ensuites plus big bathroom, fab kitchen, all mod cons, big rambling garden PLUS - wait for it - a huge studio and office ( recently converted barn). All for £400,00!! Just outside Edinburgh. Wonderful neighbours! Only two houses in our wee lane. Email me if interested: franbbrady@aol,co.uk
Brian said…
To slightly misquote Eden Phillpotts: "You don't know you're born.' Try moving from a two bedroom to a single with nearly 3,000 books, lovingly collected over nearly 50 years. Pain? You don't know the meaning of the word...
On my first move, I managed to carpet my walls with shelves. It was like living in a second-hand bookshop (not an unpleasant feeling, except that my pictures sulked because there was no room for them...)
The second move, however, left me with book-carpeted walls AND another six great cartons, about and over which I stumbled for five years. I had managed to divest myself, with very real pain, of about 600 books, until the nice lady in the local charity shop told me gently: 'We really can't handle any more books...' They wanted best-sellers, not books on psychology, philosophy, computing, theatre (it was Essex...)
I've just gone through the incredible pain and trauma of what I hope will be my final move. This time I found a different charity shop (Hackney), who took another 500 or so, as well as getting a theatre group to take approx 800 plays and other books on theatre. But still, but still...
Sitting in my new little flat, smaller than the last, I ponder what I am to do with the other 12 boxes of books, crowding my small lounge... This time I have given in to the dark looks of my pictures, leaving some lovely, clean wall space for them.
I will be inviting friends to come around and choose and take away. I will, of course, have to sit crying in my bedroom, ferociously protecting my most beloved books.
One final thought: had the Kindle existed all those years ago, I would be travelling with those four or five hundred most-treasured books - the 2500 others contained in a small piece of plastic in my shoulder bag. I had already figured out that the vast majority of my books were for reference - and that, whenever I really needed them in my classes, they were at home somewhere in my chaotic cataloguing system...
Pain? You don't know you're born...
madwippitt said…
Goodness, so many kindred spirits here ... it is of course one of the great things about ebooks: infinite space for infinite numbers of books. But there is nothing quite like browsing shelves of real books. And all my real editions are old friends who have been - or will be - read again. (I was the only one standing in the book-signing queue for Artemis Fowl 2 clutching a well-thumbed copy with turned over corners to mark pages when I couldn't find a bookmark, and a creased spine - everyone else had pristine copies and parents were muttering about hoping it would be an 'investment' a la Harry Potter first editions) My Kindle tends to be for one-time only reads - although there have been times when a book I've wanted has only been available as a digital download, such as Lindsey Davis' Falco novella. I think most of us here do dream of a book-lined library room complete with a set of those little steps with a ladder attached for the really high up shelves ...
Enid Richemont said…
Oh me too, me too. Quite apart from my own books, I live with David's precious collection of Fantasy and Science Fiction, alphabetically arranged by author, and when I snuff it, I want it to go complete, as it is,
to people who'd really appreciate it, not scattered through miscellaneous charity shops.

I'm thinking of downsizing, too, but most properties I've looked at online have blank walls and designer kitchens. One turned up recently which would have been perfect except for location - local, yes, but a long, lonely walk downhill from the nearest bus stop, and I don't drive. Walked about a third of the way, then decided it really wasn't on the menu, but walls perfect for bookshelves - aaaargh!
I feel your pain, Debbie! I have been fairly ruthless with my books over the past few years - fiction now does not stay in the house much longer than it takes to read it, unless it's been signed by the author, or a book I really loved and think I might read again, or it has some other sentimental connection. That fills about 5 boxes... they're all in the attic in preparation for putting the house on the market, except my absolute teenage favourites (which are under the bed in case I need them during a sleepless night).

Non-fiction is harder. Some of the books I used for researching my historical fiction cost a lot because they're so specialist and would be difficult to replace. But having done the research and written my novels, do I need them any more? Not really... so most of those have now gone to charity shops (not so fussy in my town) and the rest are decorating my half empty bookshelves, along with the usual statuettes of Anubis and unicorns and other things that find a home in amongst the books.

I suspect, though, that our generation might be one of the last to have so many surplus books in our homes and treat them like a pain? Over-printing is surely set to become a thing of the past except for celebrity books and best-sellers, and POD technology means only those books that already have a home to go to will get printed. That should reduce the number of print books (especially since people are also reading ebooks), which will increase the value of the secondhand book market.
Unknown said…
Oh for the golden years of British comics, and the excitement of seeing the newspaper delivery arrive with a Beano, Dandy, Bunty, Mandy, Valiant, Buster, etc, and the like tucked away inside, plus all the latest superhero comics.

Girls comics back then - especially DC Thomson's range - did serialized fiction and weekly story fiction well.

Beating my sister to the door to get to read The Four Marys first in Bunty was a weekly challenge.

I looked on in horror as British comics slowly descended into glossy pseudo-magazines. Girls comics led the way with photo-stories, but the boys range wasn't far behind.

I look forward to the day when all those old comics are available digitally. DC Thomson must have the rights to them, and all the original work tucked away somewhere.

I think they'd be a huge success, not only for nostalgia-trippers like me that stopped having birthdays at twelve because I had no desire to grow up, but also among young readers today denied these wonderful pleasures we had as kids.

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