I read a great article in Vogue magazine about a designer whose speciality was bespoke libraries. I absolutely agree. Personal libraries should be custom libraries. I would even go as far as to say that the library shelves in your home should hold books you have actually read, not just cut the pages, (see the Great Gatsby) but read.
It used to be that a person’s library was a compendium of information that you could consult: an OED, the bible, poetry, research books in your field. Fifty years ago a copy of Socrates or Gibbon wasn’t likely to change from year to year. It was possible to even collect all the information available on a subject and hold it on the shelves, evergreen and ready for consultation. The library collection not only made you look smart, it actually made you smarter and better informed.
Of course, that is no longer the case. Information changes so much that the OED publishers have given up hard copy production exist exclusively on-line. When I pick up a book, I frown at the publication date, if it’s old, how can the subject matter possibly be relevant? It’s harder and harder to capture current events into a solid book. By the time the book is released, the information is elderly.
It is clear that we should eschew books entirely and work and read exclusively on-line. Buy a Kindle or iPad and look up what you need, when you need it. Download a book because that is faster than even the fastest Amazon delivery.
We don’t need books ever again.
Why then, did I just install a wall of bookshelves into my hallway?
Because I have a bespoke library. I love lining up my books and albums, all there to see. I love books more than I love my iPad or computer. Books engender love. Books engender passion. We don’t pass down our Kindle, we do pass along the first edition collection of Louisa May Alcott’s works.
Like a sophisticated search bar, all I need to do is look at the spine of a book to remember the content. Which is probably why I don’t like to cover all my books with the same jacket – for that designer look. Doesn’t help. Not the point.
Speaking of designer book shelves. In all those HOUZZ photos, where are the ratty, spine cracked paperbacks? Those small paperbacks, so radical in their time, often carry more memories than their more impressive predecessors. That copy of Down and Out in Paris and London and Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man we carried to Paris in a back pack. The copy of Wild Mind wrinkled by a red wine spill. The beat up books purchased for a dollar at the Friends of the Library sale. The books we find and mean to read any day now, when it rains, and of course, it hasn’t rained in three years – but the books wait patiently for us.
In my family, books are considered cherished gifts. My son buys me books, my husband buys me books. I Love those books and yes, keep them forever on those bookshelves because they now represent the giver as well as the subject I was particularly interested in at the time.
I keep autographed books. I keep books written by friends. I keep copies of my own books (two feet of shelving – cause for celebration).
Books from college – books from childhood.
Books bought at famous book stores: the Strand, Powells, Shakespeare and Company (they have a stamp so you really can prove where you purchased this book). Those need to be kept and displayed.
Books give you a chance to run your hand over their spines and remember. You can open the yellow/brown pages of first edition Nancy Drew and are not only transported by the story, but transported back to who you were when you read it. Who you were when you carted that Jansen History of Art around campus? Who you were when you discovered that particular book in the school library (remember school libraries?)? Remember the thrill of a Scholastic Book Club delivery? I kept those books as well.
You could say that a wall full of books is much like the family photo gallery in the hall. But unlike the family pictures, a book can actually take you back to your childhood, back to your youth. Like time traveling for the soul.