5 Reasons Besides Being ‘Smug and Middle Class’ to Collect Books for Yourself
Since I started reading your Substack two months ago, this is the best post you’ve published (all the others were good too, of course). I started building a personal library in college over 17 years ago and I haven’t looked back. Now, I’ve got roughly 3,500 books, and I love them all. The biggest ongoing fight between me and my wife has been the amount of money I’ve spent -- and continue to spend -- on books. That, and the adjacent problem of not having enough space to keep them all.
What’s ironic about my obsessive love for books and reading is that, as a child and adolescent, I struggled to learn to read. My parents sent me to several special tutors as a child, but nothing seemed to help. Then, one day my freshmen year of college, I had this deep pull to pick up a book and start reading. From that moment 17 years ago until today, I’ve mostly lived with my face planted between the covers of a book. Books have changed my life. They’ve opened doors of opportunity I never imagined were possible for me as a struggling student. Looking back, I firmly believe reading was an unexpected gift given to me by God. I have no clue why He did it, but I’m grateful every day that He did. I can’t image my life without books.
Thanks for writing this; reading it has made my day.
What a joy it was to read this post! I am a lover of tangible books - one my favourite places was a recycling depot that had a wall of shelves filled with books that were destined for garbage, but were given a short reprieve in case anyone wanted them. As a homeschooler this was a treasure trove for our family; my children would joyfully return to those shelves every week and would come across incredible finds (one was an original1867 civil war poetry book, and my favourite was a 1st edition Count of Monte Cristo).
We continued to add to our library over the last decade from various book and garage sales and have 17 book shelves in our home. Each comes with a different flavour: classics, children's books, history, reference, modern classics, Tolkien and Dickens get their entire own shelves....
We also built a small library box outside our house, where people can take and bring books:)
One of the reasons for building a personal library I would add to your list is that tangible books do not change; they don't get altered, censored, or deleted. I noted that the selection in public libraries is getting more and more narrow, focusing in modern or trendy topics, leaving classics in the dust because they might contain a theme or phase that is fallen out of favour. Thus having our personal library preserves access to tradition and history that is fading away from public view.
Thanks again for your post!
You left one out: to make other readers jealous of your office!
Guardian writers live in a parallel universe. I take very little of what they seriously. My wife and I have a huge library and what we love about it is not only having information and enjoyment at our fingertips, but serendipity. Sometimes we'll look at a shelf and think Oh, I'd forgotten we had this, or I think I'll dip into this for a while. I like your office. I have to redesign my own once decorating has been completed. Looking at your shelves has given me ideas. Are the shelves custom designed, and is it a box design attached to the wall for stability, or shelves attached to the wall?
I grew up with thousands of books in my home, and one of my challenges with culling my own library is considering my children. My father kept a whole collection of classic literature (those black Penguin editions) in his library, in addition to copious nonfiction. I loved browsing and discovering those books in my house ... what if I culled a book that would interest my children, even if I decided I didn't need it for myself?
I need to count our books. I also need to install another shelf.
Schröder’s attic...amazing! I’m culling my library these days. There’s just too many, I’m out of space, and when I kick the bucket who’s going to deal with all of it. Of course I didn’t say that I am halting book purchases!😀
I bought a tall bookcase at a garage sale when I was in high school with the goal of beginning my own personal library. Now it stands in my 12 year olds bedroom completely covered with graphic novels and picture books and cook books. ❤️❤️ (my books are everywhere else in the house! Lol)
Thought you might enjoy this: https://literaryreview.co.uk/a-battery-of-bookmen
Wonderful essay. A keeper because it explains me. One I’ll share often because it is good to know others can understand you.
Wine connoisseurs, Master Gardeners, Art collectors and classic automobiles (ok, so I’m getting out of the middle class a little) but our passions expose our hearts and add richness to our lives.
I’m working on writing a small note to leave in each one...why I kept it, what it meant to me or how it influenced the world. I will keep only the very best in the interest of time and space. When I’m gone, I hope people will browse my library like photo albums at a memorial and then take home a little part of me...and pass that on to someone they love one day.
The small press magazine/fanzine Portable Storage published "The Library of a Lifetime," the story of my library of (now) about 4,500 books. I date the beginning of my library construction to February 4, 1967, when I was 11 years old and bought the Whitman Classic edition of The War of the Worlds. Because of some records I kept, I was able, around age 66, to estimate how much money I had spent on my library throughout around 55 years.
I hope some readers here will enjoy this essay. The Washington Post's Michael Dirda liked it, mentioning it in one of his columns.
Wait, what?! Is that *seriously* your own library?! OK, I’m officially crying 😢 - with envy. Holy smokes, that’s so awesome, and so beautiful (“a thing of joy...” ya know). Book 📚 goals! Shelf goals, too! 😍😍
Perhaps, I thought, friends and neighbors might begin by erecting an empty bookcase in their homes. Where shelves come first, books are sure to follow. Nature abhors a vacuum, we are reminded. Clutter and mail must be attacked like weeds threatening a garden for this to work. Experience the inevitable flourishing of the growing library. Trips to old bookstores become like visits to a nursery.
I enjoyed reading this! My husband and I will often talk about what we’ll do when we retire and one thing we are both looking forward to is organizing our home library. I think it’s at top of our list!