The BBC magazine website has a rumination on the subject of bookcases, why we might use them, and what inferences can be drawn from them.
The writer poses a (mildly) provocative question:
But why are we so keen to show off our books – necessitating all these shelves and swelling the already bursting coffers of Swedish furnishers? Books aren’t essential – you don’t need them to sit on or eat off (unless you are a student). If you want to read, or check a reference, there are libraries.
And all those bonnet busters by the likes of Jane Austen and George Elliot – they can be called up at the touch of a mouse thanks to the numerous websites which reproduce out-of-copyright books. It’s not the same as curling up with a paperback – but how often do you really re-read the old classics?
It’s one of those things I’ve never really asked myself. You have books ∴ you need bookcases to store them in. Boxes are ok for temporary storage (although my parents have boxes of books that have been in storage since our first move when I was three years old), but books belong in bookcases. (Or in piles beside the bed, but that’s another story.) I’m going to have to start boxing some of my poetry magazines (to make space for poetry books), and even that idea makes me feel somewhat guilty … the outdoor shelving area for the Cinema Bookshop in Hay-on-Wye was quite a trial. I used to have to stare at the ground and beetle from the street to the front door without looking around.
As for the whole rereading thing – yes, I do reread my books. Repeatedly! My Pratchetts, Ffordes, and Christies would all have been read at least five or six times (most a lot more than that). Lord of the Rings I’ve reread at least once a year (on average) since I first read it at age 8. I’m what some BookMooch people refer to as a “book hoarder”. (Say it loud and say it proud!)
For those who are interested in the history of bookcases (which is inextricably tied up in the history of books), Henry Petroski’s The Book on the Bookshelf is a pretty interesting (and comprehensive) survey of how such things came to be. (If you require further titillation, chains are involved …)
To return to the original question: what do my bookcases say about me? I have no idea. (Other than the dust saying that I’m a lousy housewife, and the mess that I’m not a tidy person.) That I have eclectic tastes and a small house?