Last year I wrote a post about Creating a Home Library, which was mostly about book cases and space for the books. It has been the most popular post on this blog by far; so popular that my husband Ron has said that at some point in the future, he may contribute to this blog more detail about actually constructing and installing wood book case units. I’m not sure why this has been the most popular post, or what information readers are actually looking for when they click on it. I like to believe it’s because people are still in love with books. So I thought I should touch on the real heart of a home library, and that is the books.
I know, I know…we are now living in the age of e-books, where the printed word is stored neatly inside a hand-held device. These cool, hard devices serve a convenient purpose, but will never rival a room full of favorite handsome books that belong exclusively to you. Call me crazy, but I believe the knowledge, experience, pathos and adventure lining the walls of a real library seeps out and enters our hearts and minds, opening a world of new possibilities to us when we enter a room full of books. They also define the personality of the inhabitants, and their passions.
One should furnish the books that go into a library according to one’s own interests and with ones which are particular favorites of family members. Forget about impressing others — a home library should be very personal.
Basically, I’ve built mine by adding books that have made my critical list over the years and have brought me immense pleasure–from my youth to the present. My restless younger self moved my books across the country from Minnesota to California to New York. I parted with many things, but not my precious books. From time to time, some have been given away or loaned as circumstances warrant, and this also gives me great pleasure. Some are books that I have treasured since I was a child — favorites I like to revisit or share with other young people in my life. Many are books I’ve enjoyed so much I have to have a copy on the shelf just to bring back the feeling it gave me when I read it…like Out of Africa and West With the Night. Whether I need laughter, solace, escape, or thought-provoking reading, I know where to reach. I also keep signed and inscribed copies of a variety of fiction and non-fiction by some of my favorite authors, and authors I have interviewed, which bring back pleasant memories.
Being a book seller and collector, another section that is always growing is books about books, authors and book collecting. These are books that I read and re-read to learn and find inspiration for my work in the book trade. Any area of my life which I am passionate about, from gardening and cooking to literature, can be found on my shelves and I derive great pleasure in having excellent books on favorite subjects close at hand. Just seeing the books reminds me of the things I care about.
I’ve also kept the books that were special to my son as he was growing up. I think it will be a treat to share them with my grandchildren when they make their way into the world. In future generations, will one be able to take a well-read copy of Red Tag Comes Back from the shelf and place it in the hands of a grandchild, telling him it was the favorite book of his father when he was five years old? And say, “Look, here is where he printed his name on the front fly leaf, and smudges from when we read it under the apple tree out back.” Or will we just say, “Oh yeah, we read lots of stories (can’t remember which ones) on a thing we used to have called a Kindle”?
I have a copy of my Dad’s high school history book in my library…he did a beautiful doodle on the page edges, sort of a fore-edge work of art! On another edge of the text block he penciled “Clear as Mud.” My Dad is gone, but I treasure his book. ( Somehow, he really learned his history well, too, in spite of his doodling.)
In today’s world we pay so much for fleeting things we can’t even keep or grasp. We pay for access to cell phones with lots of apps, cable TV, internet, satellite radio, e-books, GPS, and all kinds of things that suck our bank accounts dry but never leave us with anything real.
Books stay with us through the years. They reflect the beauty of a fulfilling life. They can be enjoyed again and again, shared with others, and can rekindle memories of various eras in our lives. A library helps define who we are, where we have been, and where we are going. The very presence of books enhance our ability to bring warmth to a home and make it truly our own.
In many ways, all you need to know about book collecting can be answered in a simple question…what books bring you joy?
I would be most content if my children grew up to be the kind of people who think decorating consists mostly of building enough bookshelves. ~ Anna Quindlen, “Enough Bookshelves,” New York Times, 7 August 1991