Forget neutral, my bookcase is going to be big, full and messy

The interior design idea was offered up innocently enough.

 “Lauren keeps the look neutral by stacking books back to front.”

The Twittersphere responded with a tsunami of ridicule and scorn (so it goes, to borrow the words of Kurt Vonnegut), as book lovers denounced Lauren’s method as madness. How dare she hide the spines of books, in the interests of interior design?

And while I agree with the sentiment that books are far more than just an aesthetic statement, I have to admit that I agree with Lauren that bookcases can be a striking feature in a room.

Bookcases have been on my mind lately, since my husband and I had one installed prominently in our newly renovated house. Just before Christmas, we moved back in, but the bookcase is yet to be completed. Awaiting a coat of white paint, so it sits in our living room, bookless. To me, it is like a huge skeleton, waiting to be filled and fleshed out by McEwan, Garner, Mistry and Lawrence; Holden Caufield, Jane Eyre, Rabbit Angstrom and Sheba Hart.

While Lauren might not mind the empty shelves (would she call the look ‘minimalist’?, I can’t wait to fill them. For me, there are few interior features more attractive than a messy bookcase, full of colourful spines vying for attention. I even baulk at the idea of colour-coding the spines of the books to create a more orderly effect. I want a jumble of familiar names and titles, of discoveries to be made and memories to reignite. Browsing should be an act of exploration and discovery, finding hidden gems tucked in behind a toppling pile of well-thumbed books.

But, the aesthetics of the bookcase are just one part of its appeal. Here are some other reasons why a bookcase is such an important part of my home.

A reminder of books past

A bookcase is a full of memories of past books, read in times of happiness and sadness, at particular times of life. Some might remind me of a past holiday, and long days stretching out on a beach under a foreign sun. Pages flicked over between lemonade squeezed freshly from sugarcane and $6 massages.

Reminders in themselves of moments of clarity – reading the Dalai Lama or Toni Morrison for the first time, and feeling your mind open and change.

Warmth in a cold climate

Can a texture and smell bring warmth to a room? For me, a cold, white wall is a far cry from one stuffed with books of different sizes and hues. Or perhaps the sense of warmth is physical, with books providing excellent insulation during cold Ballarat winters.

And no smell is as lovely as that of a book – old or new. I love the crisp, white, unread book as much as the musty, dusty old tomes with coffee coloured pages the texture of sandpaper.

I is for identity

Some people reveal themselves through their clothes or jewellery, their love of the outdoors or the huge poster of their favourite footy team plastered on the wall.

Just as revealing can be the choices of books that line readers’ bookshelves.

A row of Lonely Planet books speak of travel in an era free of (or deprived of?) the internet. Glossy cookbooks expose a love of food and cooking, while old textbooks refer to a past that may have played an important role in creating the present and future.

There are also less obvious signs of the person within the bookshelf. There are those books that shaped the person who read them – my teenage years reading SE Hinton’s books of teen angst are there, alongside Enid Blyton’s books which ignited my love of literature.

As writer Umberto Eco said,

“The contents of someone’s bookcase are part of his history, like an ancestral portrait”

Where is the green book?

The benefits for children of being surrounded by books go far further than aesthetics.

A Nevada University study revealed that having access to a wide range of books in the home significantly boosts children’s chances of remaining in education, with a child living in a 500-book library remaining in education for an average of three years longer than those with little access to literature.

I want my children to be surrounded by books, so they can pick and choose what they want to read, and when. And as they look up, they will see a life of reading ahead of them, from Dear Zoo to The Faraway Tree and The Bad Guys, The Bridge to Terabithia and Harry Potter to The Outsiders, and the world of adult reading beyond.

So, Lauren, yes – books can make a design statement, but they can also be far more.

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