A week of books we own
Books as a mirror for?
Stefanie and I figured that surveying the books we own could tell a lot about ourselves. If we think about it, sharing our bookshelf is sharing a part of ourself: our travels, the things we’re more interested in, our aspirations, our pasts...
Still, my current bookshelf is unfortunately a small selection of the books I’ve owned in my life, since I shipped only the volumes I truly wanted to have with me from Italy and lately I haven’t bought many new ones, since I use to read fiction on my kindle.
Generally speaking, as much as I would love having all of my books in my apartment, a moving oversea and several subsequent movings in different apartments (and walk ups!) in New York taught me to truly appreciate living with less, a lot less.
In my postcard, each element is a book I have in my apartment, ordered according to their location in my bookshelf at the moment of my survey.
As I anticipated, the great majority (up to the 80%) of my books are back in my hometown, and we keep the publications that feature our work in our office in Manhattan.
I feel this book survey doesn’t really reflect my belongings, but rather talks about what I like to have with me, what is the selection of the publications I owned that still speaks to me these days.
Visually, elements’ thickness and height represents books real size, their color its the main genre, featuring drawing, illustration, art, catalogues of exhibitions, architecture-urbanism, design, data visualization, music notation, English grammar, other strange-experimental artsy volumes, publications about New York, non-fiction and only one novel (the red element) which belongs to my boyfriend.
As opposed to how I organize my closet, I don’t arrange my books according to their colors, given that my ‘bookshelf' is actually the internal windowsill of our living room, I just lay them down in order to make them stand up, trying to avoid a domino chain.
By surveying my bookshelfI came up with different attributes to classify them and to add little symbols to my drawings:
- books I didn’t finish, ones I haven’t read, and ones I had no idea I owned!
- books I really like and have an emotional relationship with,
- books that are filled with post-its and notes,
- Italian volumes,
- gifts, and publications that belongs to boyfriend,
- books I know the authors of,
- and ultimately, books that have been shipped from Italy, and their level of damage.
In fact, this week reminded me very vividly the painful process of selection of "what to ship and what to leave" while emptying our apartment in Milan (and I have to thank my boyfriend for censoring me very hard).
This week also recalled the funny (but also painful!) waiting time as we held on until our books arrived in New York: the 6 boxes we shipped at the same time arrived one after the other in a random way, more and more damaged as days passed. The last box got to us practically destructed, as if somebody had been kicking it step by step from Italy to here, and our poor books inside it weren’t really in a good shape!
This survey also offered me the chance to flip through my most beloved book of all times: “Lotta’s bike” - which is actually the only modern version I found of “Britta in Bicicletta”, an illustrated children book I used to read (well, look at) practically every day in the public library of my little town when I was a child.
How many memories around the story and from each single illustration, I am thankful to this week for this nice commemoration!
As for each of the surveys we made so far, I now am very curious to see Stefanie’s actual bookshelf. There is something magic in describing your belongings through a selection of their attributes, for who reads it, it is a open door for raising questions!
It was lucky this was the week that we chose to survey our books for each other, as it was the first time in two years that I've actually been able to access my bookshelf: normally it's dusty and inaccessible due to being surrounded by towers of two-year-old moving boxes (the usual story). Planning to have the room painted while on holiday meant that after some last-minute shifting of all the furniture around the house in preparation, my bookshelf ended up front and centre in my living room, having been dusted with all books organised by theme: ideal for some data-gathering.
The bookshelf is one of those annoying Ikea Expedit sets of shelves that are perfect for records but completely unsuitable for books, and every time I look at it, I give it a special glare… I hate this bookshelf. However, I’m willing to look at it this week for the task at hand and am always surprised at how few books I actually have, which is no small feat considering I used to work as a book designer. When I was young I would daydream having a massive library with shelves and shelves of books... but then I moved to London, the land of tiny box rooms, and my dreams were scuppered.
Still, many of my books are hidden away, though I would really call them my portfolio more than anything: I still save copies of the books and book covers that I designed, or books and publications that my work was featured in, just in case I ever have my own design retrospective (ha, yes, a very self-centred response, though a woman can dream, right? at least I can pore over these old designs when I am old and grey)
I enjoyed using this week of data-gathering to reacquaint myself with my book collection. So many of my books hold a special significance for me from different times of my life. For example, you can see evidence of past careers on this shelf, particularly because I still have so many books that I got for free when i worked in publishing (lofty classics that I keep meaning to read but never get around to). I’ve also saved so many books because I’ve judged them by their beautifully-designed covers instead of holding onto them for their intellectual depths.
And then there are the aspirational books: books that promise to make me more productive, or organised, or a better cook, or help me to learn how to code (still getting there, guys), generally read once and then left to gather dust. I also still save books that I particularly love or were important to me in various stages of my life, including novels by Jack Kerouac and Irvine Welsh (from my teenage years), Jane Austen (guilty pleasure but I don’t care), and one of my favourite classics I continually re-read: Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray.
As I gathered data on these books, I came across the battered paperback that I first read when I was 12 or 13, reading and re-reading it so much that I used to be able to recall where certain plot elements were by where they were positioned on the page: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith. This is my favourite book, and I still re-read this book whenever I would like the comfort of a well-known narrative. The story takes place in the early 20th century in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where Giorgia lives now: a nice coincidence for this postcard project!
Giorgia’s perfectly-measured drawing is another reminder of her architectural roots, though it’s also pretty evident in the type of books she has in her house as well. My favourite part of the postcard is how you definitely know that this is a ‘working’ bookshelf as opposed to mine (which is more of a time capsule, really): she has post-it notes in so many of her books for reference! I like how such a tiny data point can create such a vivid image in my mind of Giorgia flipping through books at home...