hornby.jpgI read Nick Hornby's The Polysyllabic Spree on a plane trip recently. It is built on a nice conceit: a month-by-month accounting of books bought and books read.

My eye was caught by the following on page 128, as he wrote about some new acquisitions:

But as I was finding a home for them in the Arts and Lit non-fiction section (I personally find that for domestic purposes, the Trivial Pursuit system works better than Dewey), I suddenly had a little epiphany: all the books we own, both read and unread, are the fullest expression of self we have at our disposal. My music is me, too, of course - but as I only really like rock and roll and its mutations, huge chunks of me - my rarely examined operatic streak, for example - are unrepresented in my CD collection. And I don't have the wall space or the money for all the art I would want, and my house is a shabby mess, ruined by children... But with each passing year, and with each whimsical purchase, our libraries become more and more able to articulate who we are, whether we read the books or not.
A nice thought, open to some discussion, but which I only picked up on a second reading. On my first, I was distracted by his remark about Dewey and Trivial Pursuit ;-)

Comments: 1

Jun 13, 2005
Simon Jennings

This calls to mind the notion of "upstairs books" and "downstairs books" which I recall being discussed in the context of reader development work I was involved with at the UK National Library for the Blind some years ago.


The notion is that, for some people, downstairs books kept in the lounge or dining area are those deemed suitable for public consumption. These volumes may even be selected to convey particular characteristics of our personality we might wish to project to visiting friends and neighbours. In contrast, "upstairs books" kept in the bedroom, the study, or the spare room may be those volumes better "able to articulate who we are" in the round, but may also represent both whimsical and not so whimsical purchases we prefer to keep to ourselves because they contrast with the public persona we might want to project.

An interesting theory which, if nothing else, can lead to some enjoyable and illuminating amateur psychoanalysis when visiting friends and family ;-)