First of all, this is what happened at our house when I decided to colour block the books. And I mean thousands of them
The online photo archive, Flickr, is awash with people who colour code their books. Such a cohort had, Annie noted, given them cheerful, jubilant titles such as, ‘cornucopia of books’ or, ‘rainbow books.’ It appealed, so she had a go at doing the same. Thus orange began by making towers of Penguin texts. And then – serendipitous!- she saw that the Wisden Cricketers’ Almanacks were already done. With a frisson of excitement, she turned to other colours. Hmmm: a subtle change: how might one grade and sequence pink and purple books? Let’s have a look. So, we ended up with William Faulkner next to a googly-eyed children’s book on strange birds (actually: now I look at this shelf in the picture – I am almost charmed by the company books keep in our house – author) and texts by Sylvia Plath and William Empson. Annie felt niggled, though. The shelves and their arrangement did not have the neat appeal of the rainbow books on the Flickr gallery. But she ploughed on, breathing in a shallow way; pushing onwards too fast: the whole process was tinged with anxiety, but once started, she could not stop.
On came the Black books. Penguin Classics, naturally, for the most part, but Annie observed with pleasure that a few others would fit in here. Malory’s Morte D’Arthur
next to the late Benazir Bhutto’s first autobiography, Daughter of the East
. The pleasure was quickly soured by the memories of a myriad love affairs gone wrong, with only the book for company.
‘That first one – the Malory – captured me when I was twenty one. Then I got chucked by a brilliant man, a medievalist, and couldn’t look at the knights again. That second one was read in Pakistan, after I’d got chucked in the foothills – and I spent new year alone and snivelling under a scratchy blanket in Muree. Spoiled memories. I spent a lot of time getting chucked by clever man and sat there shivering, for the loser I was.’
Now, Annie was running out of time and put the rest off until tomorrow. Twenty shelves were done. Productive work, though a shame about those name-calling memories of being ditched and dumped and laughed at.
Later that day, Annie’s friend Susie happened to come into the study.
‘That thing with the books. We’ll have to get you out of that: it makes you look like you’ve lost the plot’, she said.
Not, then, ‘What lovely colours! Let me join in the rainbow adventure!’ Instead Susie sniggered quietly and left the room.
But our book shuffler was determined to stay on top of things; such arrangement of hue and tinct made the environment seem controlled; coordinated – despite nothing being quite as neat as the blueprints offered by the internet rainbow artists.
Then Dixie Delicious came home; he looked but said nothing. He looked again. And said nothing very loudly.
And the following day, there it was. A dark purple book in the midst of a sort of sea colour melange (because, as she went on, the urge to think in areas of the colour spectrum rather than pure tones became more compelling). She had not put it there, a book by the Southern author Robert Penn Warren, against a diary and a book on Methodism; cocking a snook, she thought, at the green of Lord of the Rings. It went on.
He said, ‘I cannot fucking find anything.’
‘But don’t you think they are ….pretty?’
‘No. Are you trying to get chucked again and spend new year snivelling under a scratchy blanket?’
She stood back. It was true. No-one could find what they were looking for. You don’t go to bed thinking, ‘I’ll read a pink one tonight.’
And thus it was that a lesson was learned. If you have a lot of books, adopting this approach is not befitting. It’s also not, as a general rule, clever, funny or remotely sexy. With apologies to the keepers of the rainbow books, it is not for Annie – however much she might like it to be so: because dusty, stacked up, higgledy piggledy books are what slake a thirst and animate a life.
The colour is within.
Here are links to various pieces of writing. It’s a fair range!