An Interview with Alex Johnson, author of Bookshelf
Alex is a professional blogger, journalist, author and half decent snooker player. He is part of the online team at The Independent where he also blogs daily about property issues, helps the national charity Crohn’s and Colitis UK with their online presence and edits their members’ magazine. His main blogs are Shedworking (a daily updated lifestyle guide for people who work in garden offices and other shedlike atmospheres) and Bookshelf, a collection of unusual modern bookcase designs. Both have been turned into successful books, Shedworking: The Alternative Workplace Revolution (Francis Lincoln, 2010) and Bookshelf (Thames & Hudson, 2012).
Questions on Bookshelf.
CD. First, the most obvious question: why did you decide to write a book on bookshelves?
AJ: I write about interior design a bit on Shedworking and in 2007 I noticed that there seemed to be an increasing number of clever bookshelf and bookcase designs, too many for Shedworking but enough to be worthy of an even nichier blog. Then a couple of years ago when I was talking to publishers about the Shedworking book, I thought I'd sweeten the deal for them by offering them first dibs on Bookshelf. Not a single one jumped for it but then I contacted Thames & Hudson and they were immediately red hot keen, the wise folk. Also, I love books (proper books, not the weirdy e-thingies) and the idea of writing a book about them was immensely appealing.
CD: How did you find your bookshelves? Were there any in unusual places?
AJ: I spend all the ding dang day on the interwebs for my jobs so largely it was a case of trawling through design sites, Google image search, etc. But in the last couple of years, readers and designers have been sending me more suggestions which is great, a crowdsourced curation for the benefit of all. I think the bookshelf shower curtain and bookshelf dress were fairly unusual but I particularly like the ones which are free open public libraries which various people have just set up to spread the good words in various spots around the world.
CD: I've seen some of the bookshelves on your website and thought yes, very pretty, but how would that work... What is your favourite non-functioning bookshelf? And why.
AJ: I really like the one we've chosen for the cover, Archive by David Garcia, a huge revolving one that you can walk about inside like a giant hamster's wheel. David says the books don't fall off and I believe him because he's a decent chap, but even then, you'd still need a rather substantial room for it to be able to really work properly. Why do I like it? Like the best designs, it takes the basic premise of a bookshelf and moves it on a stage. It's ingenious.
CD: What do you consider to be the features of the 'ultimate bookshelf' And why?
AJ: Storage is the main problem for most bookish people so it would have to address that problem, maybe with some kind of clever mechanism that allowed you to double/triple stack books but still kept their titles visible. And it would be white because I like white bookshelves.
CD: Bookshelves seem to be tied to the old technology of books - but do you think there is a place for bookshelves in the virtual world?
AJ: Absolutely. All the web-based reading sites use a 2D version of the bookshelf because it's a proven design that works. And once they make ebooks 3D, then you can bet your bottom peseta that there will be 3D bookshelves there too.
CD: Have you come across any space-saving models? I am very interested in this because I have too many books and have had to resort to the piles on floors type of bookshelf.
AJ: There are a couple in which the bookcase is part of a wider design concept e.g. the bookshelves can be tucked away to become tables. One of my favourites is the Bibliochaise which is a comfy armchair with 15m of book storage space built in. It's interesting that you mention the 'piles on the floor' type as there are a few examples in the book which are designed along exactly those lines....
CD: In your research for this book did you come across any funny bookshelf stories?
AJ: Not a single one. Book storage is a very serious business indeed.
CD: Do you have any connection with snails?
AJ: I used to throw snails over the back wall of our garden (not into somebody else's, it was a kind of car park). I told my then very young sons that the snails were 'going on holiday'. Later that year when I told them we were going to visit Grandpa in Spain for our holidays the eldest said: "Great, we'll get to see all those snails again."
CD: What is your proudest moment?
AJ: A Spaniard once asked me if I was Spanish after listening to me talk to my young children. I'm not Spanish and would never normally be taken for a native but even to have been considered for membership was very gratifying. And of course my wedding day, birth of my children, etc.
CD: Have you ever had a life-changing event - if so what was it?
AJ: We moved house when I was 12 and I went to a completely different kind of school. It had a profound (in a good way) effect on almost every part of my life.
CD: What is the saddest thing you’ve ever heard of or seen?
AJ: There are too many properly sad things in the world, but the film of The English Patient always makes me weepy.
CD: If there was one thing you’d change about yourself what would it be?
AJ: I'd like to own a full size snooker table
CD: What is happiness?
AJ: Owning a full size snooker table
CD: What is the first thing you do when you get up?
AJ: Put on my slippers