Writer Lynne Tillman has an unusual idea for how she might solve the Too Many Books problem facing most life-long avid readers:
As a kid-reader, I thought a library was the great thing to build in life. Now, unless you have a huge house with enormous rooms, this desire leads to mayhem and depression. Now, I give away books I didn’t particularly like or will never read again or can easily find. With digital, with online and actual libraries, do I need to keep so many books, though I have a small hoarder in me. Once, I believed, apart from my love of books, having a library meant I was intelligent, well read, etc. Now I know that is absurd. I will never ever part with many books. Maybe I’ll have them cremated with me.
Essayist Joseph Epstein, back in 2000, published an account of his decision to sell most of the books he’d accumulated in a lifetime of reading and writing.
Epstein’s essay, “Books Won’t Furnish a Room,” published by the Washington Examiner, is probably the most interesting description I’ve ever come across of this daunting and psychologically challenging process of downsizing one’s personal library.
What’s unusual about Epstein’s story is how specific he gets about what books/authors he decided to keep, and which ones he parted with – and why.
If you read Epstein’s moving and often humorous essay, you’ll probably be spurred by his comments to add some titles to your own “Books I Want to Read” list.
Hat-tip to one of my favorite bloggers, Patrick Kurp (a great fan, as I am myself, of Epstein’s collections of essays), for recently providing a link to Epstein’s essay. He did that at his always excellent blog Anecdotal Evidence, on July 16, 2022.The painting pictured above is “The Bookworm” (1853) by Carl Spitzweg.
The interesting review includes ten photos from Byers’ book (mostly of rich people’s personal libraries), but it’s the hundreds of comments from Times readers (mostly not rich people) that you might want to sample after reading the article.
Here’s the final paragraph in an excellent blogpost by someone recounting his discouraging attempt to get rid of the hundreds of books he’d stored for years in his cousin’s attic:
There is a very real sense in which [books] ruined my life. At twenty-five I believed that by absorbing their contents —or, short of that, by hauling them around with me from place to place— they would somehow redeem me. At forty-five I found myself still unredeemed, worrying about money in a way I never imagined possible, angry at the false advertising by which mere learning is said to lead to happiness. These books destined me to an unbalanced life, like a poorly packed U-Haul that leans too far to one side; like a cheap Ikea particle-board bookshelf, bought only as a temporary and partial solution, sagging under the weight of its books.
Justin E.H. Smith’s entire blogpost is well-written, thought-provoking, and sobering. Even booklovers whose collections aren’t so large as to require remote storage will relate to Smith’s mixed feelings about how he now feels after a lifetime of accumulating books.
A hat-tip to “Damian,” who on July 24, 2021 provided a link to Smith’s blogpost at his own blog, “A Sunday of Liberty” (previously “Obiter Scripta”). “Damian’s” blog is so consistently interesting that I make sure I periodically catch up on everything he’s recently posted.
My brother Michael has long believed there’s a YouTube video for every conceivable unfamiliar task you might want to accomplish, and so far his advice to seek out a YouTube for any of the do-it-yourself projects I’ve reluctantly undertaken has proven useful.
What I didn’t realize until today was that the YouTube universe is also a source of delight (as well as for instruction) for booklovers! I discovered this while catching up on the some recent blogposts of one of my favorite fellow biblioblogers, Thomas Otto at Hogglestock.
During the COVID pandemic lockdown, Thomas Otto and his partner John (who live in Washington, DC) spent some of their screen-gazing time trawling through YouTube videos featuring tours of people’s home libraries. As Thomas warns, library tour videos, like those about almost every subject, constitute a very deep Interenet rabbit hole, so you may find exploring this area of the Internet (a) unexpectedly time-consuming (although these videos tend to be rather short) and (b) unexpectedly addictive. The sheer variety of collection priorities, narrators’ voices, and the different looks of these home libraries is what makes these videos addictive.
I look forward to using the sidebars of “related videos” from some of these tours to do my own version of this time-consuming, addictive – and delightful – peek into other people’s libraries. If you decide to merely partake of a single sample of these often querky excursions, you might start with this one that Thomas embedded in one of his library tour YouTube posts:
In thirty years of trying to identify – at first for myself and then for readers of this blog – the best “Books about Books,” I’ve been able to find fewer than a dozen titles devoted exclusively – or almost exclusively – to advice about how booklovers can arrange and/or display their book collections. (I’ve listed those books here.)
One of these book-centric interior design books, Novel Living: Collecting, Decorating, and Crafting with Books by Lisa Occhipinti, was published in 2014, but I stumbled upon a copy only recently.
Occhipinti, a visual artist, is more eloquent than most when writing about her life-long love affair with books. My favorite excerpts from her four-page hymn to the multi-layered magic of books:
“Books are symbols of knowledge and are meant to be read, yet they are also physically experienced; they are tactile and engage our senses. We open a book, hold it in our hands, and are aware of its scent, and when we read we hold it close to our bodies, near our hearts, in fact. We cradle books at our cores as we would an infant child. We curl up with a good book. When partaking of a bound book we are required to interact with it by the tender, nearly silent turning of pages, like tucking a lock of hair behind an ear. It is an intimacy that is grounding and a counterpoint to the swipe of a screen.
All books . . . allow us to learn about things we may never experience first-hand or go to places we may not otherwise reach. We can span time, going back in history or propelling ahead into the future. They provide platforms from which to experience nearly anything and therefore broaden our perspective of the world. We gain a greater understanding of humanity and therefore a deepened sense of compassion. . .
Books transport us not just through their stories, but through recalling where we were when we read them. . . . The emotional connection to books is undeniable.
. . . The style of [book’s] covers, the choice of font, the surface of the paper contribute to the experience of reading. . . . [Books] are aesthetically [as well as] intellectually compelling. And the notion that these rectangles of paper, comprised of ungirded potential, can fit in the palm of my hand and withstand decades, even centuries, never ceases to amaze me. . . .
. . . Though acquiring and reading books is a solitary practice, we connect to others through books. Liking the same genres is akin to liking the same music.
. . . There is no denying the role books have as aesthetic objects; even when their covers are closed, they visually engage us. The books on our shelves – our libraries – are geometries that frame our personal histories. . . . To live with them reminds us of who we are and where we came from. . . .
. . . When we engage with a book we practice creativity because we interpret what is being presented and visualize images in response. We imagine what a character might look like, we speculate on a setting. As we absorb the pages, which are outside our ourselves, they act as a portal inward. We respond to what is being presented and identify with it (or not). As much as we get lost in books, ironically, we can find ourselves in them as well and having them situated in a library invites discourse and conversation; it is a space for community. . . .
. . . Books are something we can return to again and again to nourish an idea or recapture a notion. Their sequence remains; the order of pages and chapters is reliable. Physical books are part of a meaningful life. . . . Plus we never have to recharge their batteries.”
A decluttering fad created by the publicity for Marie Kondo’s 2014 book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Uphas been re-ignited by the recent debut of a television series featuring Kondo.
But wait, say many booklovers. The people who unconsciously or addictively “clutter” their houses with books are far outnumbered by people who treasure their books and resent anyone regarding their books as “clutter.”
For non-hoarding booklovers, Kondo’s methods and criterion for keeping or disposing of household objects are too simplistic to apply to one’s books.
So write a host of offended book-loving journalists and bloggers. Some recent examples: