When I moved home just over four years ago, abandoning the familiarity of a city that I was born and raised in, London, to live in a former textile factory built in 1875 in the East Midlands of the UK, a key reason was access to space. In cities space is a premium and we all live with a level of compromise, led mostly by economics. I had already reached a point, not even at an old age, where I could not buy another book, another record, another object, without wondering where it might actually sit within the apartment. Packing up boxes and boxes (and boxes and more boxes) of books, carefully numbering each and every box to ensure they remained in order, was an utterly exhausting task but also a weighty one, quite literally. A total of one tonne of books in hundreds of boxes summed up my life, and that’s not counting the vinyl and CDs.
The agony of finding everything
In my travels a bookshop is always a key focus for a place to visit. In my early twenties I visited Berlin for the first time, a very different city to the one today, with the Wall standing prominently seemingly wherever I turned. I visited several dedicated art book stores, unlike anything I’d ever seen back home in the UK. Finding a single publication on German artist Joseph Beuys would have been a challenge in London, whilst here there were quite literally row upon row of books. Absurd as it may sound, I can still vividly remember tears falling from my eyes as I marvelled at all the joys before me.
And then I had to make possibly the strangest decision of all. Do I buy all these beautiful books or do I eat? I didn’t have very much money from my job, but decided that for just a week I could starve myself, since I could catch up on meals once home, and the books would only be available to me right now. So I spent almost every penny I had on books, had them packaged up and mailed to me because I couldn’t physically carry them with me. And yes, once home I fell horribly sick. So ill in fact that I needed to visit the doctor and was painfully run down for weeks afterwards.
As to the books? Unfortunately the postal gremlins lost my parcel and it was never to be seen, so there was no opportunity to recover in bed whilst at least admiring my new purchases. I wrote a letter to the shop in question in Berlin who then very kindly sent me a replacement package some weeks later, every book beautifully wrapped up in brown paper and sealed. And I still look at those very books today.
The sheer joy of books
Now I’m at a place where limitations in this sense have little meaning, where I can sit in front of my library of books and marvel at my history, remembering, replaying where and when I acquired each and every title. There is an insurmountable joy to be found in simply scanning across the spines of the books, from hundreds of artist monographs, through photographic collections, poetry collections, books on film and music, and so on. Opening up at random a book and finding a postcard with my notes inscribed all over it, inspired by the words and images within the book, is a source of constant surprise and magic. I cannot live without books. And yes I will never have the time to read everything by the time I slip off this earth, but even holding them bring such joys that I would never question their ownership for one moment.