THE modern word ‘shed’, I’ve discovered, comes from the Anglo-Saxon for ‘shade’. And over the years it has certainly developed many shades of meaning, but was essentially an intellectual pantry, haven, workshop or hideaway.
My shed is my library at home in A’ali.
However, it is rather more elaborate, being the culmination of a long-held ambition.
Most lovers of literature dream of a book-lined study, a room that can serve as an oasis of calm and contemplation, every wall covered with the collected wit and wisdom of generations of civilisation.
From Austen and Coleridge, to Wodehouse and Zola, with everything else in between.
I began amassing books seriously 40-odd years ago, and they now make my floor-to-ceiling brown walnut shelves, all fashioned by a Bahraini carpenter, groan in patient submission.
Every single one of my more than 5,000 books is part of my life’s history, and it’s not just the contents, but the covers, the size and shape of the volumes that give pleasure. Many visitors to my study ‘shed’ in A’ali ask me if I’ve read them all.
I always joke that I believe in ‘literary osmosis’, and that just by sitting in the middle on my Queen Anne chair, knowledge magically flows into my head!
I feel lucky to have had the chance to fall in love with books, in a way that perhaps today’s youngsters may not fully experience, being born in the internet age.
Books were a finite resource for me growing up in Northamptonshire, England – when thankfully Kindles hadn’t been invented, and my Dad was an amateur bibliophile, always browsing in second-hand bookshops at every opportunity.
Being a journalist also helped, with access to newly published review copies.
For years my books accumulated in large numbers, with shelves and makeshift bookcases in every room, nook and cranny.
Then we moved to a bigger house in A’ali, close to the GDN’s printing press, and it had one vacant room on the ground floor. Brilliant!
The compound carpenter Mohammed offered to help, and after several weekends and evenings of his hard labour and a few hundred dinars, the room was surrounded by almost 300 feet of shelving.
Two coats of mahogany stain soon transformed it into something with which Kipling or Churchill would have been more comfortable.
Volumes are arranged in my own idiosyncratic system, and I furnished the room in the way I had always dreamt. It has become my quiet haven away from the maddening crowd and Bahrain’s often harsh climate. Not a telephone, computer or TV in sight to destroy the tranquillity!
Perhaps it’s an escape thing. Most blokes are ‘sheddists’ at heart, and as they should have said on ‘The X-Files’, the truth is in there!
Electronic books are no substitute for me. I’ve tried them, but always lost my place, both actually and imaginatively, while scrolling down pages. Nor did I like having no sense of where I was in the book. It is hard to skip ahead in an electronic book to see where the chapter ends, or to look back to remind yourself of who a character is.
Perhaps such complaints will or already do seem like nonsense, but electronic books need to feel a lot more like the real thing for that to happen. What has happened is that electronic books co-exist with the traditional form.
A century ago, Victorian writer George Gissing wrote, “I know any book of mine by its smell, and I have but to put my nose between the pages to be reminded of all sorts of things”.
I wonder what he would make of the eBook.
Publishers will hopefully continue to publish books that look good on shelves and tables. And people will want to display those books, not merely as items that warm any house, but as proof of the reader’s learning and intelligence.
Let’s face it, as soon as the eBook is switched off, there is no way of showing others that you have been pretending to read ‘War and Peace’!