Shelf Obsession: Irene Zonnevijlle

You’ve been invited to dinner at someone’s home. Your host is busy in the kitchen and you wait in the living room. What do you do to pass the time? Admit it: you snoop around their bookshelves don’t you? We know you love shelf snooping just as much as we do, and now you can check out all sorts of bookshelves via the ABC blog.

We were sent this wonderful photo by Irene Zonnevijlle. “In this picture you see my incredibly untidy bookshelves and myself with broken leg and wheelchair. Fortunately with lots and lots of books to read” she wrote in the email.

The picture might have come straight out of a Where’s Waldo book (Where’s Wally for you English folks)(or Where’s Bin Laden for you current affairs types) – the more you look the more you see!  It just goes to prove how one picture can give rise to loads of nosy questions, all graciously answered, and another satisfying peek at people’s books.  🙂


What are all those books – it looks like text books and files more than anything. Is this also your workspace?

Most of the books you see in the picture are indeed my schoolbooks. The colourful books on the right are my and my husband’s teacher’s agendas. If we need to know how many years we’ve been teaching we just count them (about a hundred years by now). This picture was taken when I had just broken my leg. Later lots of fiction was added by visitors (e.g. thrillers, my favourites: Ian Rankin and Dick Francis, and I hate to admit it: chicklit).

Does that Ski Atlas have anything to do with the broken leg? 😉

Unfortunately the ski-atlas has nothing to do with the broken leg. I would have preferred to have broken my leg while skiing; have a nice ride in a helicopter etc. I just fell down the stairs at home.

Are there more bookshelves in your house? Do they have the same kind of books or are they filled with different genres?

My whole house is full of bookshelves. Only the toilet and the bathroom do not have bookshelves. The English books are mainly downstairs, also literary background books which we used while studying English. The cookery books are also downstairs and the comic books. The Dutch books are in my study (where the picture was taken), as are the thrillers, children’s lit, fantasy, science fiction and books on architecture (my father was an architect so we have quite a lot, also about Frank Lloyd Wright), schoolbooks (I teach Dutch, English and computer science), travel books, dictionaries and the encyclopedia. In the attic where we sleep is more chicklit.

The pillowcase is from Plint. Does it say Carpe Diem – which is kind of funny for a pillowcase? Why that one from all the other wonderful ideas they have printed on things?

I don’t know if the pillowcase if from Plint. It seems like a good idea to print “carpe diem” on a pillowcase; just in case you don’t know what to do when you wake up. I don’t know about other things they have printed. Please enlighten me. [Edit: here is the link to the Plint website, featuring all their printed material and famous poetry posters.]

All those colorful books on the right seem to have bookmarks/pieces of paper in them. Are you a compulsive bookmarker? Did you stop reading the books there? Do you keep notes?

I have already told you about the colourful books (see the first answer above). The things that look like bookmarks contain info about the different groups I teach. Each bookmark refers to one particular group. So after many years I can still e.g. look up names and addresses and what I taught them from week to week. It’s better than having a good memory or brains (did you think teachers have brains?).

How many books do you think you have altogether?

I think I have about 3,976,361 books. Unfortunately I’ll have to get rid of quite a few because we are going to redecorate my study. Does anyone have any suggestions for getting rid of redundant books? Kees van Kooten (a Dutch Comedian) had a good solution. Each time he walked the dog he just pushed books through the letterboxes of people. I might settle for that. Or just leave them behind in trains and waiting rooms.

How do you organize your books?

Organizing books is difficult and the need to do so arises as soon as you have two books or more. In general we organize them by genre in alphabetical order. The English books left over from our study though are organized historically (so we start with the Anglo Saxon period and so on) until 1900. From then on the books are in alphabetical order. The poems are put together as are the plays.

Do you have any awful books in your collection – books you regret having bought?

I don’t think we have any awful books now. I have started to throw them away if they are no good. And I don’t finish books anymore if I find out I don’t like them.

Which book would you save from a fire?

I would save the collected works by Chaucer from a fire.

What was the last book you read?

At the moment I’m reading The Bestseller by Olivia Goldsmith.

Has your taste in books changed over the years?

My taste has changed. I used to be a great fan of fantasy and science fiction. Not any more, alas.

Which book from your childhood do you remember best?

The books from my childhood which I liked best are the Narnia Chronicles by C.S. Lewis.

If you could give one author eternal life so that they could write forever and ever, who would it be and why? (You can resurrect a dead author too if you like.)

My all-time favourite authors are John Le Carre and William Faulkner. Can I give both eternal life or would that be too greedy? John Le Carre because I think he writes literary thrillers; you really get emotionally involved with the characters. William Faulkner because of his wonderful description of the poor white (and black) people in the South. The point of view in his novels is always intriguing and so is the language used. And the books read like thrillers; only in the course of the novel do you find out what really happened.

If you’d like to show off your shelves, e-mail If we use your bookcase, we’ll give you a ten euro American Book Center gift voucher to say thank you!

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