I remember being surprised when I realised it wasn’t normal to visit the library at least once a week. Not all my friends had bookshelves in their bedrooms and buying fourteen paperbacks over the course of a family holiday wasn’t what other people did. I began to check out friends’ houses – I still do – to see whether they have Books. Books with a capital B. Cherished books, odd books, shelves of battered, loved and much re-read paperbacks – not just the latest Harry Potter, or a coffee-table tome, or some classic that has clearly never been opened but whose presence is merely designed to convey the appearance of culture and literacy in a house.
Over the course of my life I have collected a lot of books. I’ve done a bit of semi-professional reviewing and I edited British Fantasy Society publications for over ten years, so was on a lot of mailing lists. I got lots of free books. I buy books too – paperbacks, ebooks and the occasional hardback. I have regular clearouts. I still have what most people would call a large book collection, although compared to many of my friends I am but an amateur at the book-collection game, which is all fine until you start thinking about moving house or reconfiguring your living space.
Last time we moved house was over 20 years ago. We came up to Cheshire from Surrey on a golden-ticket government move. Somehow, for once, we managed to do it right and cash-in on a civil-service transfer from the 1980s – back then, in our early 20s, we were all promised two years in London and we’ll pay for you to move out. They changed the rules of course, but Andy managed to retain his rights and we cashed them in in 1995. Moving house was easy with a relocation company, a removal company to pack and move everything and even extra money towards new carpets and stuff.
This time around it’s different. And it comes down to books again. We nearly moved last month – for a variety of reasons it never came to fruition, but the moment it began to look serious, I was buying huge crates, packing up books and shipping them to the back of my parents’ garage. When he came to give a quote, the man from Pickfords looked relieved when I told him we’ve be moving the books ourselves. Of course I then had to move them all back again when the move fell through…
|Unpacking after the move that wasn't|
So we start thinking what else we can do. Reconfigure rooms, maybe. My lovely large study would work wonderfully as a big family kitchen (our Victorian cottage kitchen is small – perfectly formed, but small).
But where would I put my books?
Turn the existing kitchen (which is also the main entrance to the house – it’s an unusual back-to-front property) into a hall/study/library? Tape measure out. Yes, it’d all fit, but it’d be cramped and poky and not the wow-this-house-has-loads-of-space impression we want to convey. The house does has have loads of space and it works for us, but it’s not at its best for selling and we do want to downsize and move on at some point.
Downsize? Where will I put my books?
We look at other houses. There’s a lot of new building around mid-Cheshire and poking around show homes is always fun. But they’re laid out with minimal furniture and they never ever have any bookshelves. I look at houses for sale on Rightmove and the smaller 3-beds we’re looking at have one lounge and nowhere to put any books...
Is it me? What do booklovers do?