Saturday, 2 April 2016

Bookshelf envy

Last year I had shed envy (for Dawn McMillan’s writing hut overlooking the Thames coast). Now I have bookshelf envy.

I have just finished reading Annie Proulx’s memoir Bird Cloud, about the years she spent building what she hoped would be her ‘final home’ at the base of 400 foot cliffs next to the North Platte River in the midst of the Wyoming prairies.
I had been looking forward to the read, as I enjoy nature writing that weaves together elements of the human and natural worlds, and I knew that Proulx had chosen the site for her home partially due to the abundance of wildlife she had spotted.
The book did not disappoint, as it contains some fantastic descriptions of Wyoming birdlife, as viewed by Proulx as she tries to bring to life her housing dream. I found it an odd juxtaposition of elements though; at times, it was as if she had collected a handful of bright coloured pebbles, chosen because they interested her, then tossed them down to see how they would fall. The connections between the various stones was not always obvious (or perhaps even there).

As a result, some strands I skimmed over (the chunks of local Wyoming history for example), whereas others have remained to mind.
Foremost among these is the bookshelves. Proulx says early on in the book that when thinking of her future house, a fundamental requirement was that there should be bookshelves for thousands of books. Imagine that!

In our very crowded, rather small house there are lots of children, lots of clutter, minimal space and thousands of books. Unfortunately there is nowhere adequate to put them.
I have always considered books the ultimate furnishing. I think a wall full of books lends warmth and texture to a room. By comparison, minimalist houses where books are not displayed always feel bereft to me. But when you have too many books for the spaces where books can comfortably sit, it becomes a problem. It is, I imagine, a bit like having too many cats; every time you turn around you trip over one.

So I have bookshelf envy. And I was thrilled when I found these lovely photos of Proulx’s library on the website of the architect who designed the site.

 

 
Here is how Proulx describes her writing space on page 52 of the book:

“It has taken me half a lifetime to understand that my habits and work do not tally with clean minimalism. By default, complexity and clutter are my style, and I move from projects and paper piles on one table to different projects and paper piles on other big tables. Books are open on every surface next to bins of papers to be filed. Boxes of old photographs, manuscript drafts, correspondence and receipts crowd shelves and floor. Incoming and outgoing mail piles up. This is not a svelte, minimalist look. One large room was what I thought I needed for the tables, file cabinets, map case, desks, shelves for books, office supplies, book accessioning station and bill-paying desk.’

Sounds divine doesn’t it?
Here, by way of comparison, is one of the bookshelves in our living room. You can see the problem!  For a start, there's no longer anywhere to balance a cup of tea...