My bookshelf wants to know why books come in so many different sizes

My Bookshelf

There are few sights more pleasing in your home than that of the neatly arranged bookcase. It is our own personal library, our tiny little bookshop; a place we can peruse and browse for adventures and new friends. Even if you don’t get around to reading all of the books on your bookshelf (a task that would be a lot easier if you stopped buying more) a bookshelf is like a display cabinet, the spines are its ornaments, a feast for the eyes, titillation for the imagination.

There is, however, one slight problem. Even the most untidy of us has our own little way of being organised. Someone whose floor is obscured underneath a hundred takeaway pizza boxes can still get angry at people squeezing the toothpaste tube in the middle. The person happy to eat crisps in bed would have an aneurysm at the mere thought of doing so in their car. And myself, not the tidiest of people as my fiancée will happily testify (as soon as I can remember where I put her), loves making sure my books are displayed neatly.

Book manufacturers, however, appear to be the original trolls. Forget the internet, book printers have been winding us up for generations. Because they have decided that, rather than having a few standard sizes of book, absolutely anything goes. Why not get the latest fantasy epic in A4 format? Let’s print one Terry Pratchett book in one size and the next in the series a few millimetres bigger. And all those rectangular books are looking a little too uniform. Let’s re-release The Lord of the Rings with triangular pages.

And even when you do find books that are the same height, there’s no guarantee they’ll be the same depth. Because book manufacturers couldn’t possibly have you arranging a nice shelf of even books who’s spines are all flush against each other. I feel sorry for bookshop owners. Us at home may only have to struggle with 50 or so books. They have thousands to work with.

Even self-published books hold the same problem. It took me a hell of a long time to decide what format to go with for Fallen on Good Times. Amazon gives you a choice of about eight different sizes. Incidentally some of the sizes are unrecognised by other printers. Lulu has its own sizes as well, I believe.

Of course there should be different sizes of book. Personally my favourite format is a hardback, and I like these when they are bigger than their paperback counterpart. But hardbacks still come in many different sizes, as do paperbacks. It’s a wonder anybody tries to organise their books at all. Why, printers, why?

I’m hoping someone out there has a clever workaround to this problem. Share solutions (or tales of organisational woe) in the comments section!

What is it about us readers buying books and not reading them?

Four books were added to my TBR pile over Christmas, although in terms of pages it's more like ten.
Four books were added to my TBR pile over Christmas, although in terms of sheer number of pages it’s more like ten.

Many people say their hobby is reading. But maybe it isn’t. Maybe reading isn’t how we should be describing ourselves. Because most readers have the same weakness – they love buying new books. They buy books even when they have a pile of books already waiting to be read; books they know will likely never get read.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Maybe our hobby isn’t ‘reading’. Maybe our hobby is ‘owning books’. Perhaps we are more collectors of stories than we are consumers.

It is not entirely a nonsensical practice. People collect an awful lot of different things, from shoes to memorabilia to antique toasters (bet you this is a thing). If anything, buying books and reading even a fraction of them makes us a step better than most collectors, who never use the items they have hoarded. (‘I don’t care if you are having a heart attack: that defibrillator is valuable and only for display’.)

Or does the fact we actually use our collections just make us rubbish collectors (as in collectors who are rubbish, not council employees who are highly undervalued by society)? We’re collectors who play with our toys. That’s not how it’s meant to work.

But in our defence, think about how much a book offers us. It’s a wealth of opportunity. It has unlimited potential; potential to take us on an emotional rollercoaster; potential to introduce us to new friends, love, and enemies; potential to take our breath away. And when all that is on special offer? Well, we’d be fools to resist.

Also, unlike, say, historically important tampons or antique spoons, you can never have too many books. Do you know what too many books is? A library. Having too many stories is better than having too few. We fanatical book buyers are simply stocking up for a rainy day. Who knows what might happen? Who knows when we might suddenly require twenty unread books with the price labels still on?

Tell me – how many unread books do you have in your collection? When was the last time you bought new books?

Look: it’s my book in a library!

I’ve had this photo for quite a while, but a combination of being unorganised and busy means it’s been sitting abandoned on my computer. That doesn’t mean I’m not excited about it. I’m very excited that Fallen on Good Times is in a library.

FOGT in Library

An actual library. Where all the books live. And someone’s already took it out. The photo shows the New Releases shelf which, considering the book came out in May, shows you how long I’ve had this photo for.

It’s amazing when you think about it. Fallen on Good Times has been out now for four months. That’s a third of a year. That’s a really long time. You could grow half a baby (if you are a woman) or a 6th of an elephant (if you are a woman elephant) in that time.

There’ll be lots more news in the next four months, that’s for sure. Sign up to my email newsletter at the bottom of this page and you won’t miss any of it.

Why isn’t my quiet important?

* Specifically yours. Image credit: Wiki Commons. Click image to be taken to source page.
* Specifically yours. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons. Click image to be taken to source page.

There are but few havens for those who like a bit of peace and quiet in today’s busy world. Silence is very important. You can’t think properly when there is a lot of background noise. It’s like trying to make ice cream in a burning house. I need time in the day for a good old ponder, and the modern world is making this rather difficult.

Assaulting the senses

If you could sum up today’s world in a single word, it would probably have to be ‘Busy’. Personally, I think that this is a faux-busyness, but that’s a topic for another day. Everyone’s rushing around, because otherwise there won’t be any avocados left in Waitrose, or you’ll miss the beginning of that presentation on why the beginning of presentations are really important. And as any assassin will tell you, moving quickly is noisy.

But it’s not the ambient city or life noises that bother me. I like those noises. I like the sounds of life, of people and cars, of existence. What bothers me is when people try to bring them into the last few sanctuaries of quiet, mainly waiting rooms, quiet carriages, and libraries.

All the signs are there

Join me for a moment in one of my many memories of train travel. Nope, not the one where the drunk homeless man with the black Labrador which he had named after a racist insult threatened to mug me and the rest of my band (yes, a true story). One of the many times I have been sat in the quiet carriage while some trumpet-faced buffoon tries to melt everyone’s ears off.

Empty trains are the best for quiet. Unless they're on fire. Image source: Wikimedia Commons. Click image to visit source page.
Empty trains are the best for quiet. Unless they’re on fire. Image source: Wikimedia Commons. Click image to visit source page.

What does that sign on the door mean? They must wonder. What on earth is a ‘quiet carriage’? The perfect place to discuss X-Factor, work, or your STIs, clearly. Hurray, it’s green and bulbous! I’m so glad I chose to sit in here.

No, what the sign actually means is that this is a place for people who want to sit quietly and cogitate. There’s nothing wrong it’s having conversations with your friends – occasionally I talk to mine – but would it be so hard to do it in one of the ‘loud carriages’, which make up the other 80% of this train? That’s around 400 other seats you could be sitting in to discuss the fact that Sandra got passed over for promotion because they caught her making out with the coffee machine at the last Christmas party.

It’s not like we’re asking a lot. There’s one carriage on this train where you have to shut up. Just one. No talking, no music, no phone calls, and for the sake of every god under the sun, no picnics.

Oblivious is not an illness

If you won't shut up, I'll go home and get these. Try sleeping tonight then. Image: © Superbass / CC-BY-SA-3.0 (via Wikimedia Commons)
If you won’t shut up, I’ll go home and get these. Try sleeping tonight then. Image: © Superbass / CC-BY-SA-3.0 (via Wikimedia Commons)

What everyone wants to do in a doctor’s surgery waiting room is sit quietly and hope that whatever they have isn’t fatal. There are thousands of innocuous explanations for a host of ailments (with the exception of a leg falling off), but the internet has told us it might be cancer. Not only that, but a doctor’s surgery, with its ban on mobile phones and enforced quietness is one of the

last places on Earth in which people have to shut up and think. It’s not optional like a Quiet Carriage. Using your mobile could cause someone’s head to explode, and talking to each other just isn’t British.

So please, person in the corner texting on their smartphone, put it away. The world can survive without your ‘LOL’s and ‘OMG STFU’s for twenty minutes. You, on the other hand, might have something really bad. Quietly consider that like the rest of us, please. What if it’s not just a regular check up? What if they’ve called you in because you’re the first person in the world to contract Possum Flu? So please, a moment of grave quiet and personal reflection.

Oh, and those people who have kids? I’m not saying you should have to gag them or anything. Although, I hear gags aren’t that expensive the days…

 

Libraries

Libraries used to be the one place where everyone knew to be quiet. Only the librarian was allowed to be noisy, with their freakishly loud stamp that went KUDDDUNNG every time someone wanted to withdraw a book. You’d even get ‘Shhhh’ if you ran into the building on fire. Just because you want to be extinguished doesn’t mean other people aren’t trying to read.

Even these sacred bastions of quiet are now being assaulted by the loud people. The oafs who have no perception of things that don’t directly involve themselves. Stuck for a book, are you? By all means tell the entire library. Like crime? Try solving the mystery of who beat the loud-mouth to death with ex-display copies of the Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Just a little quiet, please

Knowing how to be quiet can be an essential life skill in certain situations, such as finding one of these in the bath. Image: Alifeyzullah at Turkish Wikipedia
Knowing how to be quiet can be an essential life skill in certain situations, such as finding one of these in the bath. Image: Alifeyzullah at Turkish Wikipedia

Whether because it’s a designated quiet area, people are trying to read, or because you should be reflecting on your potential upcoming hideous demise, there are reasons for being quiet in these places. I’m not being unreasonable, am I? I’m not being like the obnoxious old man in my student local who shouted at us for having a conversation in a pub. Who goes to a pub to read a newspaper and expects quiet?

These are designated quiet areas. There aren’t many places in the modern world where you have to be quiet, so it’s not exactly like we’re enforcing a strict regime on people. It just means that the quiet people want somewhere to go to be quiet.

Just to balance it out, and to show I’m not a crusader for uniform quietness, here’s a list of times it’s definitely not OK to be quiet:

 

  • When someone says good morning to you
  • When you answer a phone call
  • When, at the scene of an accident, someone asks ‘Is anyone here a doctor?’, and you’re totally a doctor
  • At your own wedding, when the person performing the ceremony asks you if you take your other half to be your lawfully wedded wife/husband
  • When you see a tiger charging at Stephen Fry and he hasn’t noticed
  • When at someone else’s wedding, and the person performing the ceremony asks if anyone knows a reason why the couple at the altar shouldn’t get married, and you know that the bride is a killer robot sent back from the future

What other traditionally quiet places and times do we need to protect? Comment me your thoughts.

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