On books and bookshelves – The Hindu

As a family of readers, our collection of fiction is quite eclectic, ranging from comedy to murder mysteries to fantasy and science fiction to feminist writing – basically the whole gamut of themes.

We have tried to keep books of each genre together, though not entirely successfully as I found out last week. While hunting for an Alexander McCall Smith book, I realised that some of our books have found some strange shelf-mates, probably depending on which family member placed it.

I finally found the book tucked away between two Tom Clancy books. Alexander McCall Smith normally shares shelf space with Margery Allingham, Agatha Christie and Dorothy L Sayers and other mystery writers, given our belief that Mma Ramotswe would get along famously with Albert Campion, Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple and Lord Peter Wimsey. John le Carré’s Smiley is also to be found here.

An entire shelf is dedicated to Tom Clancy, Wilbur Smith, John Grisham and Jeffery Archer. Maybe this was planned as the ‘fast-read’ shelf; this would explain why I found Markus Zusak’s Book Thief nestled between two of the Courtney series books. The really weighty Tibetan Book of the Dead is also on this rack – the only explanation I can imagine is that someone tried reading it, and gave it up very fast.

P.G. Wodehouse shares space with Erma Bombeck. James Herriot and his wonderful books on life as a veterinary doctor in rural England also find space in the same shelf, as does Gerald Durrell. This must be our ‘Humour’ shelf.

A little further up the rack is Bill Bryson with Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat tucked in between two of his books. Kazuo Ishiguro’s Remains of the Day also found its way next to Wodehouse — one of us must have felt Stevens would be happy next to Jeeves, talking ‘butler’ matters.

The ‘women’ shelf has Jane Austen, and I am sure she is proud to be sharing her space with Simone Beauvoir and Erica Jong. Erma Bombeck, one of whose books I found here next to Pride and Prejudice, with her irreverent sense of humour, would have got along beautifully with Jane Austen. Amy Tan would also be proud of her place next to her country woman Jung Chang, Jane Austen and Margaret Atwood. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie occupies this space.

Several Indian authors could have found their place here and, Shashi Deshpande, Arundhati Roy or Anita Desai would surely be quite comfortable holding their own in such enlightened company, but I guess one of us decided they are Indians first.

The erstwhile Indian shelf has Samit Basu rubbing shoulders with Amitav Ghosh and Chitra Banerjee Divakurni. R.K. Narayan would have not minded being placed next to V.S. Naipaul, who once paid tribute to the author, saying he was ‘immediately enchanted’ by his early works. Ruskin Bond has Khushwant Singh as a neighbour, possibly because of the ‘Himalayan hill-stations’ connection. I am glad he is in this section rather than with ‘English’ authors.

With Pakistani authors Khalid Hosseini, Bapsi Sidhwa and Kamila Shamsie becoming favourites, the Indian shelf has become more of an Asian shelf. Now with Elif Shafak and Orhan Pamuk joining the list of favoured authors, Turkey will need a place — maybe these will be the Asia-Europe link on our shelf, just as the nation straddles eastern Europe and western Asia.

Thanks to the size of each book of Amitav Ghosh’s Ibis trilogy, the Asian shelf is filling up very fast and has started encroaching into other shelves – something like the way Indians themselves are permeating societies everywhere in the world.

A young friend has solved the dilemma of making decisions on whether books should be segregated geographically or thematically by arranging shelves by colour. While this is visually appealing, I’m not sure how one would go about locating a book unless you recalled the colour of the cover!

Thanks to books going ‘walkabout’, we do spend a while locating one, but then browsing along the racks is a pleasure too! Maybe colour-coded shelves are a good idea, something like the Shuffle option for music. You never know what’s next.

sandhya.srinivasan@gmail.com

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