Books. They’re a problem.
Yesterday, I put together my Billy bookshelves and managed to unpack only two boxes of books, before making an executive decision to spend the rest of the evening (the whole hour left to me) on the sofa with my knitting. This evening, my chore is to finish unpacking the books and to somehow get them on the shelves.
My books will not be all in one glorious library room, unfortunately. The only room in the house that would unambiguously be okay for built-in bookshelves was also the room that should without doubt be my sewing room, and not my study. I have instead decided to keep attractive light literature in the guest room, craft books in the sewing room, and whatever is left over in my study, on the Billy bookshelves.
The books in my sewing room. Problematic because most of them are knitting books, which my mother likes to look through when she visits, but these shelves are in the closet. I will have to direct her to them… and even then she may be too shy. Or too disgusted by the “mess” to go into that room.
The books in my guest room, or some portion of them. I have three 3′ wide book cases in here. Problematic because I can’t decide what is the dividing line between “light” and “serious” literature. My Agatha Christie Blue Bantams definitely go here (I have 88 of them, oh joy), as do my children’s books and my back issues of Martha Stewart Living. Then I get into the sticky territory of illustrated books (Edward Gorey, some random assortments of comics), advice books (Genevieve Antoine Dariaux, What Not To Wear), collections of random facts (Essential Militaria, The Boy’s Dangerous Book), books by lesser-known twentieth century female authors (Rumer Godden, Margaret Drabble), and finally the real sticking point, collections of short stories and essays which are “serious literature” but which also make excellent bedtime reading (Charles Lamb, Roald Dahl, Washington Irving).
What is left over are the Leaning Towards of Reading, living temporarily on my living room floor. Most of these books will unambiguously go in my study, but there is then the problem of sorting them. I bought Billy shelves because they were advertised as being fully adjustable, so that I could maximize the used vertical space–although confidentially, there is a fixed shelf in the middle just like every other book case in the world, and the shelf bracket holes do not go all the way up and down.
I am faced with the task of organizing my books, first by category and then by author, but also of grouping them by size so that I will have ordered the Billy shelves, and waiting a month have them delivered, for a reason. I am feeling a little faint.
I cannot think about personal libraries without thinking of my favorite personal library, George III’s, which is housed in the British Museum. The Museum’s millennium project was to restore and open the original library room as an exhibit on the enlightenment. Last summer when I was in London, I spent two hours in the British museum, of which one was spent in this room. I’ve never seen anything that makes me so happy. Thousands and thousands of gorgeously bound books live behind glass doors, and besides this, cabinets full of medals, coins, intaglios, gems, pottery, prints, etchings, biological specimens, and every sort of good thing an Enlightenment gentleman could want.
We are a long way past the time when children were educated by governesses based on the contents of the house’s own library. We are a long way past the time when one of the major attractions of visiting friends was to see their collections. It is in fact easy to argue that the Information Superhighway (ha! do you remember when that was only a dream?) and state-funded museums have done away with all need for private collections and libraries. I don’t need to have Proust on my shelves when I can get him from the public library (and I won’t read him, either way round). I don’t need to have Roman coins in my possession in order to learn about the Roman Empire. All I need is a laptop and broadband. Books and collections are a yoke around one’s neck when one is moving, as we do so often these days and as I am recovering from at the moment.
And yet… I cannot argue that we shouldn’t have them, and I won’t curtail my own acquisition of them, and I find it hard to love people who aren’t interested in them. Ah, folly.