Books Do Furnish A Room


One of the greatest gifts my parents gave me was a love of books, reading and language. I remember being read to as a small child and then when I had mastered the art of reading, my nose was forever in a book. One of my all-time favourites was Kenneth Grahame’s wonderful Wind in the Willows which I still dip into from time to time and whose qualities I am forever ready to proclaim.

Some of my juvenile reading material was questionable in these so-called more enlightened days. The exploits of Captain W E John’s creation James Bigglesworth aka Biggles were a particular favourite as he and his small band of heroes took on the might of the Bosch battling against formidable odds to secure liberty and maintain the Empire. Politically incorrect as they were, they were rattling good stories.

My bibliophilia continued throughout my student days and into my working life and as a result I have amassed quite a collection of books which sprawl across book cases in two of our rooms as well as many more boxed up in the attic. I haven’t the heart to throw away a book, perhaps because as a classicist I appreciate how thin the thread of fate was that preserved some works of literature and despatched to oblivion many others when times and tastes changed. My adoption of the e-book has relieved me from having to thin my shelves to make way for the new acquisitions.

As Anthony Powell so rightly observed, there is nothing like a room with well stocked shelves. I find I cannot resist walking into a room and surveying the contents of a bookshelf, picking up the odd volume and skimming the pages as if being reacquainted with an old friend. A bookshelf shines a light into the person themselves.

So it was with some interest that I read the result of some research published in the ever popular Economic Journal and conducted by three economists, Giorgio Brunello, Guglielmo Weber and Christoph Weiss, from the University of Padua. They studied 6,000 men born in nine European countries during the period between 1920 and 1956 when school-leaving ages were raised. They found that a man’s lifetime earnings increased by 9% if they had an extra year’s education.

What was more interesting, to me at least, was when they subdivided the group between those who at the age of 10 lived in households with fewer than 10 books, with a shelf of books, a book-case load of around 100 books, two book cases or more than two book cases. The economists found that those who grew up in households with less than half a shelf of books, even with an extra year’s education, earned just 5% more compared with the 21% increase earned by those with access to a lot of books. They also discovered that those with access to more books not only were likely to have a white-collar job as their first source of employment but also were more likely to move to better paid jobs in the cities.

Why is an interesting question. The researchers posit the theories that access to books prompts children to read and that an abundance of books may point to advantageous socio-economic conditions. A home with books may encourage the development of the sort of cognitive and socio-economic skills necessary for economic success later in life.

It worked for me and for that, heartfelt thanks.

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