Alan Bennett once said that “a bookshelf is as particular to its owner as are his or her clothes; a personality is stamped on a library just as a shoe is shaped by the foot”.
An unkind observer would take one look at my book collection and deduce that I am messy, disorganised, erratic and flaky: that I struggle to stick to a genre, an author, a trend or even a shelf. They would be absolutely right. There is no system - there are no rules or regulations - and books are free to roam where they like: under the bed, into the bathroom, tucked into a jumper in the airing cupboard. As much as I love the calm order of a library or a bookshop, I run a kind of crazy book safari. I like my books all over the place and mixed up. It feels like it gives them a chance to breathe and get to know each other.
I read anything that sparks my imagination, and my bookcase reflects huge inconsistency (although I moved house recently, so a lot of my collection are still in boxes waiting to find somewhere to go). I am not sentimental about books I don’t care about, and frequently cart them to charity shops. It’s like relationships: if I don’t love them, I take pleasure in knowing somebody else might. I have an MA in Shakespeare, so I over the years I have collected an unecessary amount of his work. I also adore travel guides. When I need a break from stories, I’ll often just settle down with a Lonely Planet guide and pretend I’m somewhere else.
As higgledy-piggledy as I am, though, I know exactly where my favourites are. Breakfast at Tiffanys is always within grabbing distance in a pile next to my bed, as is To Kill a Mockingbird, Anne of Green Gables, Matilda, Where the Wild Things Are, 1984, Works of Shakespeare, The Bell Jar. I’m generally free and easy with my books, but if they’re particularly precious to me I would rather lend a stranger my underwear.