In an article written by someone who seems more interested in bookcases than the things that go on them, it’s suggested that people use bookshelves to show off how well read they are. After all there’s no other point in keeping all those books cos, like there’s libraries and the interwebs and, like, classic literature is SO 18th century.
Of course, I’m a bookshelf exhibitionist, but trust me, they’re not there for show. They’re there because books are good things to have around. Sure you can find plenty of information on the internet, but the quality control still isn’t great and it’s hard to separate the useful stuff from the crazies – it’s always depressing to get halfway through a page before realising the writer thinks the Queen is a lizard person. Cory Doctorow hit the nail on the head, I think – the internet almost hypnotises you into multitasking ("I’ll read a book online, whilst carrying out a virus check, downloading Journey’s greatest hits, checking my email, playing Minesweeper and Wikipeding the Bloop!"), whereas books don’t like you multitasking – they’re offering you another world or fresh knowledge, they don’t want you getting distracted by how you can become a millionaire due to a Nigerian politician spontaneously combusting or something.
And so we keep our books, because we like having them around, because they’re readily accessible (I know where to go on my shelves for pretty much anything I’d need to look up, largely by instinct), because they’re symbols of permanence in the face of New Media’s instant gratification. And you know, I’d rather that didn’t change, even if I have picked up a Sony Reader (for reasons of space and the ability to carry around hundreds of books IN ONE PLACE!). Do they make me look well-read and socially acceptable? Well, let’s see…
Those are my Doctor Who books, collected over many years of trawling through second-hand stores. Note also the Health-and-Safety-Executive-defying wires and the strategically placed Ducktor Who perched atop the collection. I would argue that this little library means I’m well-read, as everything I know about the Laws of Thermodynamics, I learned from Doctor Who. Admittedly that isn’t much. And it may be wrong.
These are all my other books, admittedly less impressive than Neil Gaiman’s. Note the filing system that would make Melvil Dewey weep with joy. Note also Kal and Jor-el sitting next to the Terry Pratchett books, the vacuum cleaner (without which no home library is complete), and further evidence of literary sophistication in the form of two longboxes and a mountain of comics, some of which have plots.
Okay, so I may have proved the article’s point by posting those pictures, but most of those books aren’t going anywhere. I don’t really care who sees them – they’re there because I love books, think reading is important – heck, vital – and because you can celebrate the anniversary of the Billy Bookcase all you want, what counts – what really counts – are all those amazing worlds that sit on those shelves and make a difference to our lives. Lock them away in boxes because it’s more convenient? Not a chance.