Well we’ve moved in to our brand spanking new renovator’s delight but the boxes are anything but unpacked. Not even the books. I’ve realised how out-of-character this is. The first thing I do when I move into a new rented house is position the bookshelves and start unpacking the books. I make up a new categorisation system every time. Well, that’s not technically correct. I use the same categorisation system (vague Dewey grouping with no real attempt at alphabetisation) but I position the books differently.

It has become more and more difficult to position things as the book collection has grown but the shelf space has not. I usually have an internal argument about which books should be in ‘public’ areas – like the loungeroom – and which books should be in the ‘private’ areas – like the study. I remember reading an article about Kim Beasley a long time ago that discussed this very argument: he had it with his wife. Kim felt that non-fiction and ‘serious’ books should be publicly displayed, his wife felt that fiction looked better to visitors. When I think about my parents’ reading habits I can see them having the same argument. Maybe it’s a gender thing. I don’t know. It’s obviously driven by how we conceive of our book collections and how we think others see us, in light of it.

I remember that article every time I unpack my books.

I’ve been swayed by aesthetic concerns in my recent unpacks, the ‘prettier’ categories of books get to go public. So art, with its big hardcovers and swanky dustjackets, gets to stay. My hardcover/dustjacketed fiction collection has grown in recent years so I usually pick out the best-looking books that I consider to be of quality (ahem) and they stay. Dodgy paperbacks are automatically relegated to private or backrow stacking (I double pack everything these days due to space restrictions) but if the book is Australian or I particularly love it, it goes into consideration for public/front row status.

In years gone by I would have put philosophy and cultural studies (aka teh theory) out there to be seen but the last few moves have seen me squirrel away my Foucault, Deleuze and Guattari, Nietzsche et al. Why? I have no idea. Sudden shame? Boredom?

Lit Crit is sometimes public and sometimes private, depending on what I am working on, or pretending to work on. If I am really into it, it’s more than likely in the study because it’s practical. So if you ever come into my house and see it in the loungeroom you can guess that it won’t be at the front of my mind.

Groups of books that I see as being at odds with other groups – my collection of football books for example – get to go public because I feel I’m being honest in displaying them. It says: “yes, I am a literature girl but I love sport and hell, I know more about sport than most people and if I’m going to be honest with you, you have to know that not only have I read Nick Hornby (pfft) but I’ve read a plethora of rubbish books about English football, once bought a book about darts because of one page of stupendous description and place Football Against the Enemy and Muscle as two of my favourite books of all time”.

One section that I make no apologies for making brazenly public – and much to the disgust no doubt of Mr Beasley – is poetry, specifically Australian poetry. I just think it’s something that needs to be done to maintain good health, like eating weet-bix every morning from here to eternity, but with perhaps slightly more enjoyment. (And that’s not a slight on poetry, I happen to enjoy weet-bix).

Right now I’m sitting in a room with a bookshelf that has very few books on it. (We’re waiting until the floors are polished to unpack the books). There’s a few library books, a book borrowed from my mother that has been finished and is waiting to be delivered back up the road to her. There’s a Scrabble box, a bunch of recipe books, a tool kit and some newspapers, amongst a whole lot of other crap. I’m starting to really miss my books. (I went to the library at lunch today just to breathe the pages). If the floors aren’t polished soon I don’t know what I’ll do.

(Cross-posted at Sarsaparilla).


  1. I hear you. We ended up putting the art and the biographies in the loungeroom, keeping the fiction in the bedroom, and the reference books and poetry in my study. I’m rethinking the poetry, though, because they’ve outgrown the space. I think you’ve persuaded me to go public with them.

  2. Yes, I think poetry deserves public exposure, not least because there are less and less people who have it as part of their collection. It’s perfect for pulling off the shelf and dipping into quickly. Or at some length.

  3. I like to have serious (biochemistry, genetics etc.) texts, Bible commentaries *and* fiction (mostly fantasy and SF, but other genres too) all jostling for space on the one, gloriously over-crowded bookshelf. I’d like more bookshelves of course, so they wouldn’t need to double-park.

    Recipe books have a small free-standing set of 4 shelves to themselves near the kitchen. Asterix, Calvin& Hobbes, other cartoons and travel guides and stuff are on another similar set of shelves in the dining room (I say ‘room’ but it’s all open plan). The huge ‘Times’ Atlas of the World, the Calvin & Hobbes boxset and the Footrot Flats collection are all on the oak chest in the lounge.

    The COD, the Oxford Thesaurus and my sadly too-few poetry collections are on my desk in my study; out of public view merely because that’s where I use and read them.

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