The thing is, I should actually own about three hundred, but each time I’ve moved (12 homes in 12 years) I can’t face packing them. Have you ever tried to lift even a small box packed with books? It’s damn heavy! So charity shops in Crouch End and Chiswick and East Finchley and Stoke Newington have all been bequeathed with barely read books on everything from philosophy to gluten free baking, with a few vampire novels mixed in too. Sometimes, I go to the shelf to get a book and then remember I’ve given it away.
It’s Nice That – a company championing creativity in the art and design world – have a weekly feature on their blog peeking into other people’s bookshelves and profiling five favourite books that have ‘inspired, excited or educated’ them. I recognise a few people: I was lucky enough to work with Wayne and Jack Hemingway on a school design project a few years back, and I once went on holiday to Heathrow airport with Alain de Botton, the School of Life, and 14 slightly star-struck fans.
It’s a cute concept, but what I kept wondering was…are these choices really their absolute favourites? Have they read these books cover to cover, do they re-read them, recommend them to friends, dog-ear the pages where their favourite bits are? Or are these chosen books each a symbol of the people they aspire to be?
The Books(h)elf series on Lost Story Found will show you an upfront, honest collection of books sitting on shelves that have not been read – at least not all the way through – and in their untouched newness or unturned pages show you who a person thought or hoped they would be, what they felt they’d gain when they bought the book, and whether they found what they were looking for somewhere else.
Below are five unread books on my shelf. Below that, you’ll find my honest round-up of why they’re unread, and what that says about me.
Here are five unread books on my shelf:
1. Confessions of an Entrepreneur, Chris Robson, 2010
Every six months, I decide I am going to start a new business. Writers’ office! Creative writing workshops! Leather bags! Etsy vintage clothing shop! Having all these ideas can be tiring, so I can only imagine how exhausted my friends are listening to each new scheme. Sometimes, I get as far as a five page business plan, contacting suppliers, almost convincing accountant type friends to get involved. I do not – yet – have a business.
Confessions of an Entrepreneur is by Chris Robson, described on the back cover as a “battle-hardened entrepreneur, expert in the twenty-four hour madness”. I have no idea what the twenty-four hour madness is. I didn’t get that far into the book. And I wonder why, upon reading that description, I didn’t immediately put the book back on the shelf and quietly walk to the ‘self-help and meditation’ section of the store.
2. Room, Emma Donoghue, 2010
I got this book in 2010, at the Man Booker Prize Readings event at the Southbank Centre in London. It’s held every year and is an opportunity for Joe Public to hear the talented shortlist writers read from their books. When I heard Donoghue read an excerpt, in the voice of little Jack who is locked in the Room he was born in with his Ma, I really needed to have this book. Donoghue captures the innocent voice of a child raised in unspeakable horror so exquisitely.
But like many a prize-nominated book, I always want to read it and I know I should read it, and somehow knowing I should read it makes me want to read it less and then it gets pushed further to the edges of the shelves until another ‘must-read’ takes its place. The same thing is happening on my shelves to the monumental The Luminaries. Both are now being made into films (actually, The Luminaries is going to be a tv series as tv series are now way more fashionable than films). I need to hurry up and read both these books before this happens. If I go to see them first, the stories as books will be forever ruined for me.
3. The Reason for God, Timothy Keller, 2008
My Christian cousin L loaned me this book about two years ago and has either forgotten I have it, or knows I have it but have not read it and is biding her time until this atheist converts back to Christianity. Whether you believe in God or not, there is most definitely a reason why He is here amongst us (either literally, spiritually or in people’s minds and conversations and actions). But a book on the topic written by a pastor is too inherently biased for my tastes. I am so non-spiritual that I couldn’t even get through the first chapter of The Artist’s Way despite a wonderful friend buying it for me and being in severe need of focus and motivation in my writing.
I have kept this book on my shelves because Christianity is like my culture. My father is a reverend and I ‘grew up in the church’, which means my secular life was limited to one school disco, ever, and weekends working at the local health food shop for a 30-something married man who talked dirty about cucumbers to my vastly more worldly high-school aged colleague. I have kept the book because it would be nice to be part of the community again. For now though, the missing link for me is the actual existence of God bit.
4. A Woman in Charge: the life of Hillary Rodham Clinton, Carl Bernstein, 2008
I bought A Woman in Charge because Hillary Clinton is one damn cool chick and one day she is going to be President of the United States of America. I haven’t read this book yet, but I keep it visible on my shelf because it reminds me of the time a few years ago when I was really smart. I used to obsessively follow American (and world) politics – initially to be able to hold a conversation with a BBC producer who I really fancied, and then because I found I just couldn’t stop. I’d spend at least two hours a day reading the news, and I’d buy the Economist and feel very smug that I could simply flick through the first four pages – a run-down of the previous week’s news – because I already knew it all.
However; when you’re writing a novel and working three jobs almost seven days a week because you have to go freelance after being made redundant, something has to give before your sanity does. I made a conscious decision that it would be politics.
5. Seventy-nine Short Essays on Design, Michael Bierut (ed.), 2007
This is the last shred of evidence I have of a short-lived relationship with a Canadian film-maker in London. He bought me this book in that lovely design bookstore in East London’s Broadway Market. I really wanted it because my news year’s resolution at the end of 2012 was that each month of 2013 would be themed: January for graphic design; February for fine art, March for ceramics, etcetera. I was planning to go in search of exhibitions and events in London around each theme.
“You will never be able to keep that up,” he said. “You always have some crazy new idea.”
“But I will!” I protested. “And this book will help me in my quest.”
He sighed and bought me the book. I didn’t read a single essay, and January 2013, rather than being graphic design month, ended up being break-up month.