Shelf Life: Writers on Books and Reading Alex Johnson

51yT4QHPgqL._AC_US218_Pub: British Library Publishing

Books; reading, collecting and the physical housing of them has brought the book-lover joy and stress for centuries. Fascinated writers have tried to capture the particular relationships we form with our library, and the desperate troubles we will undergo to preserve it. With Alex Johnson as your guide, immerse yourself in this eclectic anthology and hear from an iconic Prime Minister musing over the best way to store your books and an illustrious US President explaining the best works to read outdoors. Enjoy serious speculations on the psychological implications of reading from a 19th century philosopher, and less serious ones concerning the predicament of dispensing with unwanted volumes or the danger of letting children (the enemies of books) near your collection. The many facets of book-mania are pondered and celebrated with both sincerity and irreverence in this lively selection of essays, poems, lectures and commentaries ranging from the 16th to the 20th century


My Review

I was really interested by this book, and my first thought and observation was that the author Alex Johnson has chosen just men for this anthology.

It is a fascinating insight on the thoughts and all things bookish of several writers and key figures.

Book collections of the famous are always of interest, and Shelf Life is filled with the anecdotes and often humorous advice and ideas of people like Rudyard Kipling, W.E.Gladstone and others.

My favourite piece was right at the end where J.C.Squire talks of ‘Destroying Books’!!!! he points out that ‘it is a public duty’ but of course you will have to read for yourself what else he has to add.   I absolutely loved it.

Shelf Life is well written and brilliantly researched. I found myself googling other writers thoughts on the same subject and hopefully there will be a follow up to this edition.

It is an easy read, and an enjoyable one. Book lovers will find it amusing and a little tongue in cheek, but there are some really good narratives, along with essays and poems that I found rather fabulous.



The Author


81PoSboZHJL._UY200_.jpg Alex Johnson is a freelance journalist and part of the digital team at The Independent. He is also the author of four books, including Improbable Libraries, Bookshelf, and Shedworking: The Alternative Workplace Revolution. His title, A Book of Book Lists, was published by the British Library in 2017.






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