I am sat in our dining room with a nice mug of strong tea having feasted on baked beans on thick cut toast, yummy, comfort food, whilst I listen to Radio Sheffield and surf the web. My ears pricked up when I heard there was a feature on ‘free books’ on air shortly, apparently they are giving away free copies of Oliver Twist today outside Sheffield Central Library, I loved that book when I read it, we have a full collection of Dickens novels in the dining room on a bookshelf opposite where I sit now and I have read most of his novels. A couple of weeks ago I noticed on Facebook  that Michael Keys, one of the instructors at Ronin Self Protection Systems, is giving away free copies of ‘Touching the Void’ by the climber and author Joe Simpson as part of World Book Night, another fantastic read. Then on Tuesday just gone, during a chat with Andi Kidd of Genjitsu Karate Kai, we ended up talking about what we read, and laughing our heads off at some of the titles on our bookshelves and what a visitor may think if they see them, that conversation left me thinking………

Reading is something I do every single day, it is a passion for me, I am a regular at the local library and await two new books I ordered from the internet being delivered today. I have trained with the British Combat Association  and heard Geoff Thompson say more than once, “Not all readers are great men, but all great men are readers”, as he strives to encourage everybody he teaches to read, read widely and how this will enrich not only their martial arts but their whole life, Geoff is a powerful advocate in every way.

If I have noticed one thing as I engage with martial artists from around this country and abroad it is how many of them love to read. But what do they read? Yes books on martial arts, combatives, self defence are the obvious ones, clearly thats the main focus of the martial arts community. But we are an incredibly diverse bunch, if I take the club  I train with, Abbeydale Ju Jitsu Club, where we have a policeman, civil servants, an accountant, a vet, a doctor, a head of sales, an IT Manager, a chartered surveyor, a groundsman and many others of different occupations. We do lend each other books and discuss them, principally around our common interest and it is great that this opens us up to new ideas and different ways of doing things that we experiment with. I am deliberately excluding other media in this blog because I want to come back to my central point. What is on your bookshelf?

I ask this question because Andi and I were laughing at what other people must think when they look on our bookshelves. Our conversation started with some of the logistics around Sgt Rory Miller’s imminent visit to the UK, (we are both hosts along with Mick Franklin in Edinburgh), and our thoughts on ‘Meditations on Violence’. We then listed some of the other stuff as we started to laugh at the impression on ‘others’ who do not share our interests. I will list some of the titles on my bookshelf:

OK, you get the picture. I also have a decent collection of books on football violence as well as a diverse collection of novels and textbooks on subjects as different as mountain leadership and economics, socio-paleoanthropology to first aid. The thing is when people have looked at my bookshelves it is the killing, violence, cruelty and fighting titles they spot. Even though they are the minority of titles, still.

Its obvious that there is a bias at work in that they know my background and primary occupation, the room is also full of martial arts equipment. However, I now want to go to my previous life studying and teaching sociology. I was greatly influenced by Erving Goffman’s ‘The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life’, where Goffman examines how individuals dress and act and the performances they act out as they play different roles for different audiences. Its like theatre really, life is a drama, and in that theatre we use costume and props to make our performance of ourself more ‘believable’ to our audience.

As I said earlier I am a great user of the library, I read at least 2 novels a week often more. I borrow them, they are in my life for a brief period, they do not make it onto my shelves for long, not all books stay there. So what is the criteria that determines what makes it onto our bookshelves and stays there? Well I suggest that our bookshelf is a window to our soul, or at least a window onto the version of our soul we want others to see. Some people react against this view as they do not like the idea that our presentation of self is such a conscious act, if we accept this view we accept how manipulative we may be and it threatens how we think of ourself and our actions. But look at what you wear, what you drive, what you do, then tell me its all random and unplanned. look on your bookshelf and tell me the books that live there are not saying something, ask why they are there, once read why do we keep them? What is the use value of a ‘spent’ book?

My thoughts are they must be saying something, often  shouting something and possible screaming their message. I gave around 700 novels away some years back, they were living in boxes and annoyed my wife by their presence. It hurt, they were like friends to me, each one had entertained, enlightened and educated me. They went to a library, a good and loving home and will be read by many I hope, but I kept back those I could not possibly, ever part with, I loved them too much. I then stealthily began restocking my shelves. I have a much smaller collection now, its is like  different strata in the earths crust and just like those strata it tells a story of my lfe and my interests over the years. What is your bookshelf like, does it tell the story of your life? Does it say, shout or scream who you are? Stand back, take a look, reflect.

Here is a bookshelf tour video, take a look.

Bye for now, Garry, Proud to be a Bibliophile!