Skip to Content

Joz Norris

  • Tape 18: Bookshelves

Hello! And welcome back to the Fruit Salad Therapy Tapes, a weekly interactive sketchpad/notebook project from friendly nuisance Jog Noggins. If you’ve enjoying the newsletter I’d love it if you shared it with a friend or encouraged people to subscribe! Alternatively, if you decide you’ve had enough of it and it’s no longer for you, you’re very welcome to unsubscribe any time you like. If you’re still with me, then read on for this week’s Tape!


This week I’ve been thinking about bookshelves. As ever, it’s always a pleasure reading through your replies and thoughts to this newsletter, so this week’s question, if any of you feel like replying to it, is this:

What do you keep on your bookshelves? Do you care about what’s on them, or does it not matter? How often do you do a “refresh” on them to get what you want out of them?

I’m applying this specifically to bookshelves here, because that’s what I’ve been sorting out this week, but the essence of what I’m trying to explore with the question applies equally to record collections, DVD collections, and so on – keen to hear any thoughts you might have that spin off from this basic prompt!

Last week I went to visit my mum and stepdad in Wales for the first time in months (also popped in on a Covid denier who lives in a church full of porcelain dogs, fascinating stuff) and among the walking and the hanging out and catching up, one thing we discussed was the fact that Mum was planning on doing a big cull on her bookshelves because she browsed through them over lockdown looking for something she wanted to read and realised there was nothing on there that she wanted to re-read. This got me wondering what my own criteria are for keeping things on my bookshelves, and in turn, what this tells me about my own attitude to the accumulation of stuff.

I’m a very old-fashioned soul when it comes to consuming any form of media. I still insisted on listening to music on an iPod classic until about two years ago (still got about four of them in a drawer somewhere, the big chunky 128GB ones, a design classic). I’ve now reluctantly shifted over to listening to music on my phone, but I only listen to stuff I’ve downloaded and stored on a memory card, rather than streaming from Spotify or anything like that. I guess this is because of some sort of odd, synesthetic feeling I have where I like to feel that the music I listen to is tangible in some way, even if that just means that it’s an MP3 file on an SD card rather than something I’m streaming. I like the feeling that the music is, in some way, an object that I can locate in a specific place, rather than simply being something I’m experiencing. This I suppose makes me a bit of a “traditionalist” in terms of 21st century music, even though, as David Byrne talks about in his excellent book How Music Works, for thousands of years music was a purely experiential thing rather than being anything that could be located, held or commodified – the idea that music could be an object that can be “owned” in any way is entirely a product of the last century, but it’s one I’ve taken to whole-heartedly, to my shame.

I no longer feel very strongly about DVDs or Blu-Rays and am perfectly happy watching films on Netflix or Amazon, so that’s one area in which I’ve let go of my collector’s mentality. But I can’t get my head around why people enjoy reading on Kindles, despite recognising the obvious practical benefits. I love a good bookshelf. But it wasn’t until what my mum said that I started to wonder why. Keeping things on your bookshelves because they’re something you might one day want to reread – my mum’s criteria for why she should hold onto things or get rid of them – makes a lot of sense. Why keep hold of something if it’s fulfilled its function and you have no desire to revisit that function? But hand on heart, there are very few books on my shelves that I’d want to reread – I generally prefer reading new stuff over revisiting stuff I’ve loved in the past, so by Mum’s logic there really is no reason for me to be holding onto any of the things I’ve read, I may as well take them all to a charity shop and just get my books out of the library from now on.

(These are not my bookshelves, I found this on Google to break up the newsletter and just inject a bit of colour and pizzazz into things, y’know?)

For Other People?

The next option to consider logically is whether I keep hold of things on my bookshelves in order to show off what I’ve read to other people, because I do think there’s often a perception that there’s a performative element to any collection, be it books, records, DVDs or whatever else. But even if a part of my brain thinks of my bookshelves as being a visual representation of things I’ve read that have meant something to me that other people could look at and make sense of, realistically the only person who ever looks at them is me. And more significantly, the only person who could possibly look at them and know what each of those books means to me and what they say about me, is me. And yet when I look at them I often find that I’m holding onto things that mean almost nothing to me. I hold onto books that I read when I was 14 that I didn’t love and can remember nothing about, purely because I read it when I was 14 and have had it ever since, so surely I have to continue to hold onto it. I hold onto things I studied at uni and didn’t particularly enjoy, but I’ve got to hold onto them because I studied them. I hold onto books that I hated but are famous, so I feel I ought to have there because they mean something to other people, so maybe if I hold onto it it will start to vicariously mean something to me.

The new criteria I’ve started to apply this week is that I have to look at it and be able to instantly recall what it was I took from it that was meaningful – whether that’s a particular moment or scene that really landed, or a certain idea that was really interesting, or something that really made me laugh, or a feeling it helped me to make sense of. It can be anything, but it’s got to come to mind more or less instantly. So by that logic, a good bookshelf is a sort of visual shorthand to myself of important lessons or developments or ideas I’ve had over the years, condensed into the small fragments I’ve held onto from each book. I find that the same thing comes much more naturally with albums, via another almost synesthetic feeling where an album’s artwork comes to contain all the feelings I associate with that album, so that all I need to do is look at it and I can immediately feel the music physically, and re-experience all the things I associate with it. I’d like to come to curate the same kind of experiential library with my bookshelves as I have done with my favourite music, rather than just looking at it and thinking “The Five People You Meet In Heaven was ok, I guess.” I think applying this sort of logic to the stuff I accumulate also allows it to be a living record of what currently matters to me, that responds and reacts to my life rather than trying to represent the entirety of it, because any attempt to do that with the things that surround you is ultimately impossible and, crucially, pointless.

I think there’s a much, much wider lesson in here about our relationship with objects in general, and about how our feelings and experiences and emotions intersect with the stuff we surround ourselves with, but I’ve wittered on for long enough now, so over to you guys! Do any of you have a rules system with your own collections, be it books, records, films, games, etc? Do you try to curate the way the stuff around you makes you feel, or do you just try to hold onto stuff, or do you try to hold onto as little as possible and go a more Marie Kondo route with this stuff? I’d be interested to hear what systems you all use!

A Cool New Thing In Comedy – John-Luke Roberts’ podcast-of-podcasts, Sound Heaplaunched last week and encompasses every podcast trope and genre under the sun, so you never need to listen to another podcast again. It’s got a mammoth cast of comedy greats, and I contribute the odd bit of nonsense to it now and again. Give it a listen!

What’s Made Me Laugh The Most – Difficult to explain, but it was when I accidentally snapped a crisp in a very quiet moment.

Book Of The Week – Real Estate by Deborah Levy. This is the third in Levy’s “living autobiography” trilogy, following on from Things I Don’t Want To Know and The Cost Of Living. It’s fantastic, though possibly doesn’t quite reach the heights of The Cost Of Living. It sees her trying to catalogue all the things she dreams of one day owning into a sort of imagined portfolio of “unreal estate” in the wake of her kids finally moving out. It’s really great.

Album Of The Week – I’m not recommending an album this week because the two albums I’ve listened to are Is This It by the Strokes, which I thought was rubbish, and Gold by Ryan Adams, which I thought was quite good, but then I found out he was a sex pest, so I’m not recommending either of those. Hopefully back on track next week with something either good or, at the very least, not made by a bastard.

Film Of The Week – We watched Raya And The Last Dragon and it’s not fantastic, but it is quite good fun. The story structure might as well have been ripped straight from a video game (visit each of the five lands to collect the five pieces of the gem, etc etc) and I found the dragon a bit annoying. But it’s visually lovely, has an almost entirely South-East Asian cast, and also comes maybe as close as Disney have ever come to having an LGBTQ lead, and for those reasons alone it’s quite an exciting film.

That’s all for this week! I’m away again next week, for my dad’s birthday. Apologies that this newsletter is very on-again-off-again from week to week at the moment, I’m trying to make the most of the gradual lifting of restrictions by making long-overdue trips to see family, so hitting weekly writing deadlines becomes a bit trickier. I don’t really need to apologise for that, I suppose, but I tried to turn this newsletter into a weekly thing as a promise to myself, really, so I guess that’s who I’m apologising to. Back in a fortnight, and hope you all have a lovely time until then!

Joz xx

Here’s a picture of my mum’s cat.

Click here to go back

A weekly creative newsletter. The Tapes function as an interactive notebook/sketchpad exploring comedy, art, creativity, making stuff, etc.. More Info.