Looking Glass Language

a word bird reflects on life & language

#shelfie, #26xmas

Twitter #shelfie

#shelfie, a glorious, literary take on #selfie (this year’s word of the year, according to the Oxford Dictionary), has been trending on Twitter for the past couple of weeks.

It’s the kind of trend I’d normally be right on top of (see Wordy Wednesday: Selfie), and the fact that I’ve been reluctant to add my bookshelf pic to the mix doesn’t reflect the busyness of the season, instead demonstrating that ego plays as much part in a #shelfie as it does in a #selfie (in fact, since I’m no longer a teenager, possibly more…). Ok, I admit it: I want a #shelfie that suggests erudition and hidden depths of character – who wouldn’t?

We’ve just moved house, and though the shelves at our new home are filling up, it’s with random books picked up on the fly, such as collections on special offer, charity shop finds and airport selections, with quite a few books on Dorset and Devon walks, plus books that I’m rather ashamed of, such as the copy of Fifty Shades of Grey my partner picked up at Welmar Hospice. [Though it’s not the rudeness of the content that makes me blush, as my friend Nicola Powis will testify – she reminded me recently that when we first met, I had a passion for The Story of O (and I remember having the same passion for Les Liaisons Dangereuses).]  Even when I try swapping books around and mixing and matching genres and authors, the resulting #shelfie (see single image, below) doesn’t – to my eyes – properly reflect my reading or my interests.

My inadequate shelfie

(Incidentally, I joined Goodreads earlier this year, but after week 1 I forgot to post my reading matter – usually around 4-5 books a week – to it. As a result I’ve just received an email from them saying ‘Congratulations, you’ve read 3 books this year.’ I’m mortified…)

The bookshelves on my houseboat in London span from floor to ceiling, over two floors, and are stocked with an eclectic collection ranging from the classic (Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn to Italo Calvini, Dickens to Dostoevsky) to contemporary (Claire Vaye Watkins to Meg Rosoff, Patrick Rothfuss to Nick Harkaway), via poetry (Carol Ann Duffy to Alice Oswald, Seamus Heaney to WH Auden, Maya Angelou to Ted Hughes) and non-fiction (Alan Bennet to Andrew Marr, Richard Dawkins to Barack Obama). I’d have happily taken a #shelfie there, even though many of my favourite books are missing – if I love a book, I’ll usually lend it to a friend as soon as I’ve finished reading it, and such books rarely seem to find their way home.

I have nightmares where our under-funded libraries end up abandoned (though unfortunately if they did they wouldn’t all end up looking as hauntingly beautiful as this – i.imgur.com, image submitted by Hala92) and books, having been replaced by iReaders, tablets and Kindles, are no longer read but are left to fall apart or are recycled (not always as creatively as the Christmas Tree table decoration shown below.

Abandoned library

book tree

But I hope and believe that there will always be libraries full of proper books, and that there will always be those who prefer the tactile experience of reading a book and excitedly turning its pages, to reading on a device.

At a party last night, our hosts had a proper library, complete with double doors and a cosy fire. I spotted a teenager looking at it longingly, and he reminded me of me when I was his age, when I’d often sneak off to read in an alcove rather than socialise at parties, and I’d read in bed till the small hours, the pages illuminated by torchlight, static cracking off the bri-nylon sheets. When we left the party and headed out to our car, I noticed a light on inside the car next to us, and there was the boy, hunkered down in the back seat, book in hand.

If you have a moment or two to spare on Christmas day, please visit 26storiesofchristmas, where you’ll find my sestude (a poem of exactly 62 words), The Mysteries of Christmas, based on this lovely drawing  by a young cancer sufferer, as the poem of the day, in support of Teenage Cancer Trust and It’s Good to Give, great charities who need our support (and cash!). Check out the twitter action by searching for #26xmas.

The Mysteries of Christmas

Merry Christmas, everyone, and a very happy new year of reading in 2014.


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