Posted By DMB

The plague, having imposed isolation, now includes our TV news people demonstrating the décor of their homes, which I’ve been studying in my ongoing social study of how our society uses books.

Commentators like to use books as a backdrop so we see a section, mostly containing paperbacks on Ikea shelves, the worst modern aberration invented to store our sacred relics. Outsized for books, they have almost everything wrong with them relating to the storage of books. I have come to loathe them. They insult the books most, just as we would feel insulted if we were forced to wear clothes in sizes much too large and in styles which made us feel ugly and distorted out of all proportion.

When I moved my huge storage last year I had lots of extra shelves (very expensive to build especially for young new dealers) and I tried to give some away. I had a dozen or so of those Ikea monstrosities which I had stupidly accepted for free over the years when I bought the books they contained. They are too heavy to move easily due to the weight of that obscene pressed board and the shelves are too deep – for no sensible reason – and ludicrously spaced (as though standard book size was uniformly 18” tall, and prone to chipping easily, making them even uglier. In all, the wrong size, too heavy, ugly white, when books demand the deep shades of browns that lend dignity – an obscenity and an insult to the true booklover. I couldn’t give any of these shelves away so I took to leaving them outside the doors of my storage every day, along with other useful things no longer wanted. Everything free was taken, except the Ikea shelves, which I ended up throwing into the garbage bin. The lesson is that even the garbage scroungers have a greater aesthetic sense than our cultural guides.

Notes about our broadcaster’s libraries will be added to my long ongoing study of how our society really views books (not how they think they do) which I shall eventually publish, at least in part.

With our business shut and me locked up for two months now I have been absorbed with sorting old messes, trying to establish the order I’ve been planning to impose for several years. This has resulted in a couple of remarkable results.

First is, naturally, finding all sorts of books I forgot I owned which has resulted in much reading of the browsing sort – pamphlets, articles – ones I hadn’t read and ones I’d read and kept for eventual rereading – which I now did. All these things caused much searching for other details mentioned in other books, which meant I spent much of every day reading in every direction. Great fun of the sort which ends with everything messy, the day has disappeared and your mind is swirling with ideas and you had a great time.

And the second thing is that by all this sorting and searching I also sorted to file all the emails I’ve printed out. Afterwards I realized I had in fact relived and reappraised the last ten years of my life. I’ve had renewed conversations forgotten, and encountered people who’d disappeared. I sent overdue emails to neglected friends and colleagues, even phoned some and start again lapsed dialogues. All in all it’s been – again – a wonderful example of things and people discarded or misplaced by time and our modern obsession, with getting more of everything while ignoring and enjoying what we already have.

I’m looking at the world and many things in it differently and I’m sure that lots of other people are doing the same.

We all know this pandemic is changing everything, some things irrevocably, but it’s now clear to me that some of these things will be to the good – to our great profit – if we are wise enough to see. For all of us the first trick is to say alive. But for many small businesses including us booksellers, the next is to survive. I will speak more of this in my next blog.

We have sold nothing in two months, not surprising. Books are seen as a luxury by our society it seems. In all the news items I’ve seen about amusing ourselves in isolation I saw not one suggestion about reading until finally a morning talk show host exclaimed, “I might just crack a couple of books. Reading, you know.” Only someone who hasn’t read a book within his memory would talk like that, but his was the only mention I’ve heard. None of my friends who I talk with has experienced the slightest boredom, nor has mentioned any activity – except sorting and clearing old messes like me. Readers are never bored because they have thousands of worlds to enter and explore.

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