Bookshelf (Object Lessons) by Lydia Pyne

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Bookshelf (Object Lessons) by Lydia Pyne

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Category: Lifestyle
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: Proof positive that Pyne Bookshelves are the best.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 152 Date: March 2016
Publisher: Bloomsbury Academic
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9781501307324

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Could you imagine a whole book dedicated to a single lump of wood, or a few sections of metal? I can't assume it would be great – with or without said item being an object with physical, historical and psychological components. But shove some distorted tree by-products on to said wood or metal, and lo and behold you have a bookshelf. Now you're talking – but could you even now imagine a whole book dedicated to it?

OK, this isn't the biggest book out there, but it does strictly convey opinion, knowledge and educational aspects of the title subject. And aren't bookshelves worthy of such attention? You'd demand interesting ones of your friends, you'd probably expect one on your chosen cruise ship, even if you never used it properly, and you can even, with the examples here, expect them to be carried on Ethiopian donkeys, in their mobile library scheme. Other extraordinary bookshelves factor here – Franklin took a combined 2,900 books on the two boats with which he sought the North West Passage – I make that getting on for sixty full removal men's boxes.

All of which doesn't hide the fact we now have completely new bookshelves the average Victorian explorer, Ethiopian or even Mr Dewey could not recognise – the digital bookshelf, whereon sits whatever downloaded books we pretend we 'own'. These are here, as are the chained library that Hereford and other places can boast. Dewey is here, in a wider look at how we organise books on shelves – and indeed what else we put on them; archivists need to store non-book items on (book)shelves, school librarians need to pepper their collections with other study items, and (semi-)intelligent people have been known to decorate their shelves with fluffy animals and cuddly toys (guilty as charged).

Secret libraries, mobile libraries and the attempts of New York City Public Library to move the shelves that were actually holding up the reading room above them – all are here, in five petite essays, all engaging so wonderfully with the subject in ways you would not fully expect. Only in small instances did it lose its ground – for me, it was in switching between the various kinds of moving shelving that are discussed here. But by a country mile this is the best book in this series I have encountered, at the fourth attempt. I have seen a decent book belonging under this 'Object Lessons' umbrella before now, but also one that was ridiculously personal, singular and off-kilter, and another that was just an ultra-leftist screed. There is a sense this book doesn't deserve the full five marks, in that I doubt I will turn to it again – meaning, of course, it will engage with its own subject matter somewhere. But damn it, this is one of those non-fiction books that do what I expect the better examples to do – talk so interestingly about what is so unexpected or unknown to me in so clear and crisp a fashion as to make me aware the subject has found its best possible author. And while this does have all the trappings of an academic book, chances are it will talk to you too, even if by being here you kind of are a pre-established audience for it. Book bags are never mentioned in these pages, but this Bag can certainly recommend this Bookshelf.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

This is Not the End of the Book; by Umberto Eco and Jean-Claude Carriere will also preach to we that are already converted.

Booklists.jpg Bookshelf (Object Lessons) by Lydia Pyne is in the Top Ten Non-Fiction Books of 2016.

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