Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Building a library

I grew up in a home with hundreds, if not thousands, of books. I used to think that it was sacrilege to throw a book out, or to 'deface' them by making notes in the margins. GCSE English Literature was two years of hell for me, being forced as I was to scrawl interpretive notes in the margins of some of the finest works in the English language.

I have changed my tune in the last few years. I have sold many books that I had never got around to reading, not least because it earned me a few much needed pennies. Now I am at the stage where I am editing my bookshelves to reflect the person I am hoping to become and the the lifestyle I want to lead. The magazines have already gone, now its time to get started on weightier tomes.

Whilst we have a collection of good fiction books that we will read again and again, the main focus of our shelves is non-fiction.  I always considered myself a bit of a scholar and these shelves used to house a lot of theory and discourse on politics, environment and science, many of them from my university days. I couldn't bear to part with them. I now realise that it is all well and good, but a shelf full of theory and discourse is useless until you have a couple of shelves dedicated to the nitty gritty of everyday life - cleaning, cooking, sewing on a button, growing a garden, building a community.

The tone of those books has to be take into account too. There is a lady, lets call her Martha, who has made a career out of teaching people how to make a home and garden and an awesome scrapbook of holiday memories, whilst waiting for the cupcakes to cool and the hand dyed silk gift ribbons to dry. Which is cool. It is good that one of the TV icons of the modern world is basically a TV homemaker. I have bought a few of her books and enjoy perusing her website.

But now I am considering selling them. Because in a lower energy future, the kind of domestic  organisation and tweaking that Martha advocates isn't going to survive the cut. Not everyone can maintain their house as a boutique hotel when unsupported by cheap energy and cut price imported wicker baskets and Dymo labellers. I am sure that Martha will adapt. She may even lead again.She is keen on Organic gardening, real food, natural cleaning products and handicrafts. All essential skills when we (the developed nations) don't have every other continent furnishing our rapacious appetites. But the tone and the ingredients and the energy inputs will have to be adapted to a lower consumption reality.

And so my bookshelf is adapting. It looks rather a lot like the bookshelf we had when I was a child - knitting, crocheting, sewing, cooking, foraging, brewing, wine making,baking, DIYing and gardening. The cookbooks have been whittled down to a mere dozen, with a focus on seasonal, nutrient dense (and low down the food chain) foods with low-energy prepartion methods (none of that, by the way, translates as 'tasteless' or 'inedible' or even 'boring'). There are some 'theory' books - a few permaculture texts, a few books that give the 'why' as well as the 'how'. I am looking forward to reading all of these with fresh eyes and scribbling my own thoughts in the margins...I might even take some post it notes, or even a highlighter to some of them!


  1. "I am sure Martha will adapt."

    Too funny! Sam x

  2. I remember nosing at a photo of one of her bookcases and seeing permaculture books amongst all the expensive art folios! There is indeed hope for Martha...