I am drawn to bookshelves. Visit a new person’s house, find yourself in front of them, pulling interesting titles forward for a better look, skimming summaries, asking questions about favorites. The conversations these moments have started are wonderful; they are part of the reason I will never fully convert to e-books. Looking at a person’s bookshelf can be a little like peeling back a bit of skull and getting a good look at what is going on in a person’s head. We are what we read.
When I can’t get a look at a person’s book shelves in person, I’m happy to make do with a virtual tour (holy shit did you see Neil Gaiman’s personal library?). So the Shelf Stalkers series was born. Today we’ll be taking a look at the shelves of The Beauty author Aliya Whiteley‘s shelves. (Pssst, her latest title—The Arrival of Missives—was published by Unsung Stories May 9th.)
Aliya Whiteley on the Contents of Her Shelves
I keep all my books in one small room that contains a comfortable old armchair and my bookshelves.
The favourite part of my library is the bookshelf that my dad made for me. He’s a carpenter by trade and he made me a bookcase that’s perfect for paperbacks. It has a row of wooden candle shapes along the top shelf that remind me of Margaret Fuller’s words, “If you have knowledge, let others light their candles in it.” I’m not sure if anyone could light their candles in any meaningful way in my collection of Fleming’s James Bond novels that sit upon it at the moment, but I do have a soft spot for Bond and his adventures. I also love Graham Greene for giving us the exact opposite of Bond in his spy world, with boring conversations taking place between civil servants in pubs over a pint and a pie, while all the time wrestling with deep dilemmas of faith and morality that Bond never seems to suffer from. It’s not just spy thrillers in my library, though. I’ll read pretty much any genre and style.
Some of the books on my shelves go right back to my childhood. Mollie Hunter’s A Stranger Came Ashore is probably the book I’ve owned for the longest. The cover has always fascinated and horrified me. I had to keep my hands on it because it petrified me. I reread it every so often to scare myself stupid all over again. Diana Wynne Jones and Eva Ibbotson have stayed on my shelves, and in my mind, too.
I do own some digital books but I have to say I prefer physical ones, although the shelves are beginning to groan a bit. I’ve had to start being a bit more discerning about what I keep, particularly as I lost some of the shelf dividers during one of my many house moves and so some of the books are piled high in wobbly towers. That being said, they are almost in alphabetical order, which I attempted about a year ago just to see what it would look like. It does make it easier to find things at times.