“A bookshelf is as particular to its owner as his or her clothes; a personality is stamped on a library just as a shoe is shaped by a foot,” muses British actor, author and playwright, Alan Bennett, on the significance of the bookshelf. They say the eyes are the window to the soul, I say it’s your bookcase.
I have always been a voracious reader, and my mother encouraged this trait. I wore eyeglasses at the age of eight as it didn’t matter where I was, no one could pry my hands off the current book I was reading. I remember once, during one of our many travels together as a child (these would very often be in the form of gruelling bus tours where each day was a new city or attraction with crack-of-dawn wake-up calls) my mother was so angry at me because I refused to leave my seat and preferred to finish my chapter of Greek mythology rather than look at the actual acropolis. I look back and recognised how spoilt and ungrateful I was, but I was just so engrossed in the many glorious tragedies, salacious dramas, and heroic odysseys the Greek gods had to offer. I was nine years old. And the world of Zeus’s philandering, multiple love affairs and Athena cracking open his skull was made available to me. Today, at age seven, my eldest son and I are reading Daulaire’s rendition of these incredible stories.
I never had an age limit for any books. I suppose the theory was, if I managed to trudge through five hundred pages of a thick novel without photos, I deserved to read what was inside, no matter how age “inappropriate” it was. I practice the same with my children.
Over the thirty-seven years I have spent on this earth, I have amassed quite a collection, from existentialist Camus to What to Expect When You’re Expecting—my book collection is like a documentary of my life and a representation of the different chapters and storylines I have been through. Most of these were piled in a corner somewhere, some haphazardly stacked on shelves and others hidden in boxes. Just late last year, thanks to a suggestion of a loved one, I finally installed a bookshelf in the living room.
Rather than trying to put together something pretty for display, I unabashedly and unashamedly brandish the different tomes that are such an integral part of me. Kissinger sits next to Kwan, history meets pop culture romance, the stimulating profound co-existing with the deliciously superficial, the informative juxtaposed with the frivolous… There is no curation, it just is. Much like the different facets of my personality, there is no real logic, just an embracing of being.