I was thinking of my old bookcase today — a wood-worm-riddled, junk-shop find that I got from outside a shop up near Leeds just after my last year at college. Somehow I'd managed to hang on to it through countless moves over the years. Until the year before last, when all my belongings in storage were sold-off without notifying me when I could no longer pay the bill. I didn't have an address for them to get in touch to let me know - as you know.... Everything from diaries to cutlery to washing machine to a triangular piece of the Berlin Wall I'd hammered off myself, to every photograph and every greetings card, and every keepsake I'd ever had, to that lovely, dark-wood bookcase, went.
Some things you miss more than others. Like people.
It was wider than most bookcases, mahoghany or a dark, dirty oak I never knew how to tell, with four shelves. A larger one at the bottom for dictionaries and atlases and all my old Law textbooks, the three others bowed under the weight of an ever-changing hoard of paperbacks that I loved taking out at random, sometimes just for five-minute reads, one after the other, tuning into the sound of all those distinctly different voices while pasta boiled or toast burned, unconciously getting the rhythm of the voice in my head before snapping them closed, blowing the dust off another and spending time in other company in another world. A wooden pelmet, with three carved spirals along it, grey with clogged dust, came a few inches down over the top shelf and one of the front legs was shorter than the other requiring a wad of wedged-under paper to stop the wobble. And it smelt of the dark oil I occassionally used to clean it and the damp Woods from where it once must have come.
In January every year, as close to the New Year as I remembered to do it, I used to clear all the books from the top shelf, wipe it down, and only fill it again with any book I'd read from that date on. It was immensely satisying from month to month watching the top shelf fill up again, as much as the ones beneath it, almost like watching a child grow. And seeing it so empty at the beginning of the year was always a good incentive to get to bed early to crack the spine of a new book, and form a good habit for the rest of the year.
I thought of that today, because I just did it here on the unwonky Ikea 'Billy' bookcase I bought as a replacement last year. 'Billy' I can't believe I replaced it with a bookcase that has a name. So far there are only six books on it, not good for April. But hopefully passing it every day on my way out the door will shame me into reading more.