Jump to content
Sign in to follow this  
Christian

Home Libraries

Recommended Posts

This is related to e-readers, but I wanted to start a dedicated thread about home libraries. I hope we don't already have such a thread. I looked. If I'm wrong, I'll transition this post to whatever thread others can turn up.

My wife has dreamed of having a library in our home for years. Someday, she hopes. After we remodel, build out, add on. All it takes is money, right?

Phil Kennicott wrote a nice piece in yesterday's Washington Post on, you guessed it, the pending disappearance of the home library. Or fear of such, as the world transitions to e-readers and e-books.

Not many of us can afford a library like that one, a designated room entirely full of books, arranged floor to ceiling on custom-made, built-in shelves capped by ornate molding. But while most of us would never claim to have a home library -- too pretentious -- we secretly think of some room in the house as . . . the library. A place to read, to store books, to confront the past and future of our own limited knowledge, staring down at us in all its complicated categories: books you will read, books you should read, books you read and remember, books you read and forgot, lousy books your aunt gave you and you can't throw away because she still comes to visit from time to time. ...

The library, alas, may go the way of the separate dining room and the formal parlor, not because we won't read anymore, but because we won't read books anymore, at least not books printed on paper.

And yet it seems I was posting on A&F not too many years ago about a revival in home libraries! Wish I could find the thread, but alas, I'm only a moderator. What sort of super-human traits do you expect of us? ;)

BTW, read the entire posted piece. I've quoted parts that are relevant to recent discussions here, but I think the best parts of the article were left unquoted.

Edited by Christian

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

One of the selling points (to us) about our house was the double built-in mahogany bookcases that flank the leaded glass windows in the living room. Only about half way filled with books, they're still statement makers in the room.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I find his categorization of his library quite fun - a little different than by genre.

books you will read - check
books you should read - check
books you read and remember - check
books you read and forgot - check
lousy books your [family member] gave you and you can't throw away because they still come to visit from time to time - check

add to that -

books you were assigned in college and read the first and last chapters of
children's books you want your kids to read someday
books you are ashamed of owning and will throw in the garbage next time you organize your bookshelves
books you've borrowed from a friend and fully intend on giving back to him someday, just after you read them
duplicate copies of books you love that you insist on lending out to everyone (so that you don't have to lend out your own treasured, worn, full of notes copy)
books you are reading, at least you started them a couple years ago, and you will finish reading just as soon as ...

E-reader, Kindle, or whatever that stuff is called that everyone that uses Blackberries or I-Phones for do not count as a real library. Good luck lending your favorite books to friends who are intelligent enough to read, but not geeky enough to allow you to send over an electronic e-copy of it to them.

Another joy of owning your own real library is taking a book-lover friend, or reader who is just discovering the wonders of good authors for the first time, and letting them peruse the shelves for conversation starters. Good luck trying to do that with an electronic excuse for a library.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I've been volunteering as an English as a Second Language teacher for more than a decade now, and I'll never forget one of the first ESL Christmas parties I attended. It was hosted by a great family from the church who have a large, beautiful home. They gave quick tours to anyone who was interested, and one of my all-time favorite students, a young woman from Belgium who became a fast friend after we discovered our shared love of Dardenne films, came up to me after her tour and whispered, "Where are the books?"

I think of that moment often. To me, books make the home. I don't have a dedicated library, but my house does have built-in bookshelves in three rooms, and they're so full that each time I buy a book, I have to decide -- with much agony -- which old book will be demoted to the closed-door cabinets beneath the shelves.

I'm agnostic about the much-discussed "death of books." I hope that, during my (long) life, I won't see the death of new-book bookstores because I love browsing the shelves. I assume that, even if they do become extinct, there were will be used bookstores for a long time to come. I hope so, at least.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm still very excited about e-readers but can't make a case for why I need one just yet. I'm just figuring out my iPod, so give me a few years. ;)

I don't want to romanticize the book, but I know I'm not alone in feeling a connection to those things on the shelves throughout my home. Yes, I've read most of them (LOVED those categories Kennicott lists in his article), and yes, they take up a lot of room. They take a long time to box up and carry when you have to move, as e noted. But they also, to a large extent, make a house a home. That's always been my experience. And they tell others -- visitors -- something about you.

E-books will never replace hardcover and softcover books, but they'll end up conveying data about is in different ways. I recently told a friend about Good Reads, and he signed up and later started talking to me about my reading choices. He had looked up my account and was surprised to discover that I read poetry! He might not have noticed those books on my shelves here, and although I see him every week, he rarely comes to our home. So having my reading list in electronic form created a connection.

I know none of this is deeply insightful, but I raise it to say that I'm not wedded to old ways, or to old books. I do worry about their disappearance from the landscape, but know that e-readers will bring new, unexpected joy and insights into ourselves and others.

Also, I recently finished reading Nicholas Carr's The Shallows, so the impact of technological change on how we think has been on my mind.

Edited by Christian

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Here's a nice piece on the impulse to accumulate books -- and jazz CDs, and whatever else you might think of -- and the freedom that comes from downsizing. It cites a Joseph Epstein article on the purging of books, then concludes with a reference to the author's CD collection:

I, too, once felt the mad desire to own every jazz record ever made, and to have them all shelved in chronological order at arm's length from my desk. Today I own just two racks, and whenever I acquire a new album, I get rid of an old one in order to make room for it. Not only has this imperative made me ruthlessly selective, but it has forced me to reconsider my priorities. Time was when I bought records in order to say that I had them. Now I keep them only because I love them.

No doubt the day is almost here when it will be possible for people like me to download the Complete Performances of Everybody to our computers...except that I'm no longer that kind of person. I love Art Tatum, but I don't want to own every record he ever made. I want to own the ones that matter to me, and let the others go. I want to be able to pull a CD or book from my shelves at random and know that it will please me, just as I hang on my walls only paintings and prints that move me deeply.

Why have I come to feel this way? Because I'm fifty-four. Life, I now know, is short, too short to waste, and the actuarial tables leave no possible doubt that most of mine has passed me by. As a professional critic, it's my job--my destiny, you might say--to spend a fair amount of time experiencing art that I don't like. Insofar as possible, though, I don't propose to waste any more of the days that remain to me consuming bad art than is absolutely necessary. Unless I'm being paid to do so, I won't even finish reading a book I don't like, or listening to a record that fails to engage me. I have better things to do, and not nearly enough time in which to do them.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Here's a nice piece on the impulse to accumulate books -- and jazz CDs, and whatever else you might think of -- and the freedom that comes from downsizing. It cites a Joseph Epstein article on the purging of books, then concludes with a reference to the author's CD collection:

I, too, once felt the mad desire to own every jazz record ever made, and to have them all shelved in chronological order at arm's length from my desk. Today I own just two racks, and whenever I acquire a new album, I get rid of an old one in order to make room for it. Not only has this imperative made me ruthlessly selective, but it has forced me to reconsider my priorities. Time was when I bought records in order to say that I had them. Now I keep them only because I love them.

No doubt the day is almost here when it will be possible for people like me to download the Complete Performances of Everybody to our computers...except that I'm no longer that kind of person. I love Art Tatum, but I don't want to own every record he ever made. I want to own the ones that matter to me, and let the others go. I want to be able to pull a CD or book from my shelves at random and know that it will please me, just as I hang on my walls only paintings and prints that move me deeply.

Why have I come to feel this way? Because I'm fifty-four. Life, I now know, is short, too short to waste, and the actuarial tables leave no possible doubt that most of mine has passed me by. As a professional critic, it's my job--my destiny, you might say--to spend a fair amount of time experiencing art that I don't like. Insofar as possible, though, I don't propose to waste any more of the days that remain to me consuming bad art than is absolutely necessary. Unless I'm being paid to do so, I won't even finish reading a book I don't like, or listening to a record that fails to engage me. I have better things to do, and not nearly enough time in which to do them.

Amen. This has been the Summer/Autumn of the Great Purge at the Whitman house. There are several reasons for that. Our kids are more or less on their own now, and we're planning to downsize in the next year or so, and we have to begin the process of jettisoning the accumulated dross that we will no longer be able to store. And I'm unemployed, and frankly the sale of some of that accumulated dross has helped us pay our bills. But in the Age of Everything, there is much to be said for making hard choices. Time is passing, and it cannot be replenished. So I've given away or sold hundreds of books, most of which I haven't even looked at in decades. It's possible that I'll miss that medieval philosophy text book that I haven't cracked open since 1976. But I doubt it.

And I'm in the process of unloading about 4,500 CDs, many of which I've simply given to friends who are interested in the music. It's not totally altruistic. In my case, I've backed up the music I'm interested in keeping on a 2 TB hard drive, and then I've backed that up on another 2 TB hard drive. I ought to be good to go forever. But forever, as always, is an illusion. You can't back up a life. It's been good to have that at the forefront of my mind.

Edited by Andy Whitman

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Very interesting article, Christian...thanks for posting it. And good thoughts, Andy.

This touches something in me, and I'm not sure what. For a decade that centered on my college years and bled out into high school and post-college life, I tried to have the CD collection. If I loved an artist, I wanted to own everything by them(my Frank Black and Matthew Sweet collections together took up an entire CD tower). A combination of events, including financial strife and several housing relocations, provided some much-needed lucidity. I sold most of my CDs, aside from a few albums here and there (plus a shoebox filled with CDs that no used record store wants, like REM's Monster or that one ubiquitous Dambuilders album that only seems to exist in promo copies).

That said, while I took the Andy root and kept (or re-purchased) some of the music digitally, I have no qualms with hanging onto an album or a book. This includes the book I read once a few years ago and kind of, maybe sort of, enjoyed. Lord willing, there's a lot of music listening, film watching and book reading left in my life — I'm only 29 and pretty healthy. But I realize that I've come to love and greatly appreciate some albums, books and films after giving them multiple chances, which is just how my brain works. I love finding the things that slip through the cracks, and — as much as I tend to agree with the traveling light philosophy — I realize that those sorts of things take a long time for me to digest.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

We don't have a dedicated thread about bookSHELVES, but I thought this might be the best fit.

Although we have no home library, no separate room, and although we already have several bookcases throughout the lower level of our home (mostly Billy bookshelves from IKEA), Sarah was tempted by the Borders offer of 3 bookcases for $100 (plus ... wait for it ... a 10% "finders fee," or words to that effect). So last night we bought three bookcases. Paid for 'em and put a sticker on the three we want. The shelves still are holding books during the store's liquidation sale. We won't be able to pick them up until 10 days before the store's final closing, at which point we'll receive a call telling us to come get them.

The store has shelves of different heights and depths (although width seems to be about 36 inches in all cases). The store had several empty shelves on the second floor storage area, but those shelves are a bit more shallow than the ones we chose.

We did stake out a few wall spaces where we can stick the shelves. Part of me thought, "Are we really going to fill another three bookshelves in the era of ebooks?" But we've filled the last three we bought, and that was just a couple (few?) years ago. I'm sure we'll fill up these others.

BTW, these shelves aren't straight-backed. They're angled. This is hard to explain, but the top of the shelves rests against the wall then slants out so that the bottom of the shelves are a few inches from the wall. Borders puts these shelves back to back, with an end cap disguising the gaps between the shelves.

Edited by Christian

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Interesting. We're actually planning on going in with another friend and getting the three (we only need one, but they're $50 individually). It's fitting, with us buying these; I probably put thousands of books on these specific shelves over the years working at the store (and my wife too, since she worked there for a few months after we got married).

I'll have to go in and actually inspect the shelves when I put the money down. I'm curious about the bottoms as well, since they're in a fixture of sorts. I remember watching them install the shelves when our store moved / was "updated" to a Borders Express from a Waldenbooks, but I don't remember the details of how the shelves were installed.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Here's our library (shelves courtesy of IKEA and Crate & Barrel). There are also two other book cases in the room which you can't see from that angle. It's a work in progress, but my wife and I are proud of it.

homelibrary.jpg

Edited by Ryan H.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm sure a lot of you have seen this pic on Facebook, but in case you haven't...

leoniestair3.jpg

Here's a brief article on the London apartment for which this bookshelf/staircase was designed.

Edited by John Drew

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The Paris Review features a reflection on the book Unpacking my Library:

As it turns out, for a great deal of their history, shelves were much more haphazard than they are today.Before they even displayed books, they supported piles of scrolls. In the first century BC, Atticus loaned Cicero two assistants to build shelves and to tack titles onto his collection. “Your men have made my library gay with their carpentry work,” Cicero reported. “Nothing could look neater than those shelves.”

But around the time the codex emerged in the first century AD, open shelves—which now housed two clashing forms, the long cylindrical scroll and the flat rectangular codex—began to be considered hideous. Texts were sent into hiding, stored in armoires and trunks, which were convenient for transporting books, but not for accessing them.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

We don't have a dedicated thread about bookSHELVES, but I thought this might be the best fit.

Here's a lovely article about how we come to know our parents -- and even a potential spouse -- better by scanning their bookshelves. And how that's changing.

 

Of the bookshelves I’ve inspected in my life, two stand out as particularly consequential. The first was my mother’s, which was built into the wall of the bedroom where she grew up. When I would visit my grandparents in the summer I would spend hours inspecting that bookshelf. The books were yellowed and jammed tightly together, as though my mother had known it was time to leave home once she no longer had any room left on her shelves. In the 1960s novels, the Victorian classics, and the freshman year sociology textbooks fossilized on the bookshelf, I got the clearest glimpse I ever had of my mother as a person who existed before me and apart from me, and whose inner life was as bottomless as I knew my own to be.

 

And then there was my wife, whose bookshelves I first inspected in a humid DC summer, while her parents were away at work. The shelves were stuffed full of novels—Little House on the Prairie, The Andromeda Strain, One Hundred Years of Solitude—that described an arc of discovery I had followed too. At the time we met, her books still quivered from recent use and still radiated traces of the adolescent wonder they’d prompted.

 

We have several Little House on the Prairie books on our shelves, but it's alarming to think of my daughters (11 and 10 years old) having them on their shelves when they meet the men they will eventually marry.

Edited by Christian

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Sign in to follow this  

×
×
  • Create New...