Borrowing the bookshelf: lessons in [virtual bookshelf] husbandry

I came across a meme recently “You know you’re a bookaholic when…” One was “when the first thing you look at in a friend’s house is the bookshelves”.  I identified.  I house sat for another Africa in Words writer recently, and as I looked at the shelves wondered if I could stay until I had read all the new books.

The electronic version of this book nosiness, simply expressed on the ‘share your shelf‘ tumblr or in a more serious fashion at @librarything is seductive.

Who else has your books?

Which books do only you have? (pity the poor author, crying over the remainder pile)
Librarything even has a page ‘which books should you borrow?’ where you can compare your collection to that of another person. The site then calculates (via magic elves, I have no clue) what books you might like from their collection, kind of a remote version of poking around someone else’s shelves and spotting that book you always meant to buy / loan / read.

I like how librarything seems to have expanded, going past a chance to review and critique books to forming bookish support groups for each other. People think I read a lot in my home town  said one comment I read recently but compared to the members of this group, I’m about average. It’s not quite lifesaving in the way sites like postsecret aspire to be, but still.

Even Amazon is in on the act (owning goodreads, but also via a kindle notes site) .  You can avoid Amazon and do this just for your ebooks on sites such as Readmill, where I’ve also found other readers of “African interest” amongst the majority reading tech and design guides.It turns out that there are groups reading and discussing African fiction too, and I’ve found several new (to me) books this way.

It has also been a nice to find tangible evidence of how wide ranging readers’ tastes are in 2013. One of my favourite ‘books about books’ is Jonathan Rose’s “The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes” which despite the dry title is actually a well written account of digging in old library records, and so the lives of others.

Rose looked at logs kept by private circulation libraries in Welsh mining villages. He found that rather than sticking to a particular genre, people jumped between political theory and westerns (for example).  It’s funny to think that this kind of research in ‘real world’ libraries is going to be difficult in years to come due to the Data Protection Act. Also kind of sad. I don’t want the historians of the future to think that my blogging (for example) is representative of what I read. Perhaps these amateur library sites offer a way through that legal maze.

Not content with nabbing fiction from others bookshelves, and as not all fiction published in South Africa overlaps here in the UK,  visitors are often asked to stick a paperback in their bag.  Returning from South African book related travels, Katie Reid has mailed me two of Umuzi‘s list. I was supposed to start with a novel about South African veterans. However, I read Marli Roode’s ‘Call it Dog‘ last month.

It turns out in the wake of Roode’s account of unresolved, but officially sanctioned, violence, “Lessons in Husbandry” was much more appealing. 

This is not just because of the gorgeous cover on Shaida Kazie Ali‘s latest, already a prize winner.

Rather than hide the workshopped, writing programmed nature of the contemporary novel in the acknowledgments to Iowa or Anglia faculty, here the writer uses creative writing prompts to push her character’s autobiographical account of losing a sibling, a family, a sense of entitlement to her own life. Ali’s novel also seems very much of the time, reflecting recent discussions of the Caine Prize focus on migration.

She sidesteps one grief a little too tidily at the end for me, but the humour and vitality in the novel means I’ll be putting an order in to the next traveller for Ali’s first novel. Although I hope that it will be published in the UK soon.

Categories: Reviews & Spotlights on...

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

5 replies

  1. On Sunday I heard someone saying that hard copies are becoming a luxury item. Only rich people would read books holding the book. I am very pro e-books. The shelves in my house are empty. They all are in my hard drive. I don’t have space (or the money) to carry my books with me when I travel. So I need them to be downloadable anywhere, anytime. Some people say they miss the smell of books. Others the feeling of holding it. Well, I don’t miss taking a train, a bus, walking, to get to a library just to find out they do not have the copy the online catalog said it was available.
    But since I went total electronic, bumping into new (for me) stuff became a rare experience. I do miss checking on the shelf of a library the book next to the one I was looking for. And the next one, and the one on the other shelf, mmm what an interesting title, what is this? hey, I know this author, I didn’t know she wrote about this….social networks, even the specialised in books, do not reproduce (yet) this browsing the shelves experience.

  2. Bookshelves are always curated, somewhere at some point, no? I made note of a Wall St Journal article last year, ‘A House to Look Smart In’ – home libraries, ie rooms dedicated to books and reading, were a) on the rise, b) increasingly built as intellectual/cerebral status symbols, and c) also and obviously symbols of affluence.
    Here, browsing the shelves might include ‘coming across’ rare and out of print copies, that are displayed as a form of conspicuous consumption, for their symbolic value in terms of how much they cost at purchase, which also exclude those brilliant and serendipitous finds of the bookshelf you can get sometimes that Nara is talking about…

    • reading is me. I started reading since I was about three to five years when my late father showed us( my siblings) the light. Without reading we are dead never mind all the films people spend their time watching. Because I followed the path of my father, I have garnered a store of valuable information which has put me ahead of thousands if not millions of other people my age.
      Frankly, I read anything: from scraps of papers I run into, or wrappers, or magazines, or books , or whatever. rthat’s why I say reading is me.
      It’s my greatest hobby but I think writing is trying to overtake the reading because I want to write as many books as possible.

      The first two I have writte, “When the axe swings” and “Looking for Tanana’ have been so inspiring that I can’t wait to continue. Of course, I am already on my third novel which is the biggest of the three I have written
      Thanks to Amazon books where my fiorst two books are advertised under my pen name Fred Soneka.

      Well, that’s for now I’ll keep following you.


      • Is this the brother of the late Arika, on Pademba/Brook Street junction in Freetown?
        If so I will be delighted to be in touch again after four decades


  1. South African authors (and more besides) at the Edinburgh International Book Festival -10-26 August, 2013 « Africa in Words

join the discussion:

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: