Occasionally, offices, hotels and bars choose books as a decorative element in their communal and public spaces, particularly if they have such a suitable setting and furniture as the room in the photo.
Of course, such lovely old shelves require a certain standard or style of books and, all too often, these are bought for the bindings rather than the content.
Usually the main intention is to create a pleasant visual effect and there is little attention paid to whether the books are genuinely old or modern reproductions. The result is a strange mix, where Reader’s Digest Select Editions sit alongside discarded dictionaries, outdated atlases and bona fide classics.
That certainly seems to have been the case in the private library above and, although it’s true that the overall effect is not displeasing, I’m wondering how you would ever find a book unless you knew what colour cover it had.
Maybe I shouldn’t criticise: I clearly haven’t perfected the organisation of my own books as this photo of a section of one of my bookcases shows.
Although the two by Wendy Cope are next to each other, Roger McGough’s works are scattered fairly randomly; indeed, a closer look shows they aren’t even all poetry books, so there is definitely something wrong with my system.
A. A. Milne wrote an essay My Library, which begins:
When I moved into a new house a few weeks ago, my books, as was natural, moved with me. Strong, perspiring men shovelled them into packing-cases, and staggered with them to the van, cursing Caxton as they went. On arrival at this end, they staggered with them into the room selected for my library, heaved off the lids of the cases, and awaited orders. The immediate need was for an emptier room.
Unsurprisingly, the books ended up bundled haphazardly onto the shelves of his new library. Perhaps more surprisingly, they remained that way.
Aware that he should sort the shelves, Milne procrastinates, pondering the problems of alphabetising books that vary greatly in size: “If you arrange your books according to their contents you are sure to get an untidy shelf.”
His conclusion is that the library is “sufficiently ornamental as it stands.”
Any reassembling of the books might spoil the colour-scheme. Baedeker’s Switzerland and Villette are both in red, a colour which is neatly caught up again, after an interlude in blue, by a volume of Browning and Jevons’ Elementary Logic. We had a woman here only yesterday who said, “How pretty your books look,” and I am inclined to think that that is good enough. There is a careless rapture about them which I should lose if I started to arrange them methodically.
Next time I re-organise my books, rather than fussing about categories and alphabetical order, I shall seriously consider creating a rainbow.