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The Library*

February 13, 2010

I have a lot of books. Probably more books than I can or will ever read in my lifetime.  Even if I did nothing but go to work and read my books, I don’t think I could ever finish all of them. (Realistically, I would still have to schedule in time for my RSS feed, “The Bachelor,” “Survivor,” “Jersey Shore,” and “The Real Housewives of Wherever.”)  Here is one set of bookcases:

Here is the other:

Here is my bedside table (note the stack of unread back issues of “Vanity Fair” magazine as well):

I love my books.  I continue to purchase books even though I have so many already that I have not read.  I never get rid of books after I have read them: they are milestones to me.  I think my favorite books are the ones I have already read that I can look back upon and remember what they meant to me and what stage of life I was at when I read them.  I also like how books look aesthetically.  We call the room the books inhabit “The Library.”  That probably sounds pretentious, especially since we live in a 2 bedroom condo and not an 18 room English manor, but, it’s our little inside joke.

I honestly intended to read each of the books I own at the time I purchased them.  I often get obsessed with certain topics and go on a tear buying books about them.  For awhile it was George Balanchine and ballet dancers.  Before that it was “outsider art.”  I am really interested in “muses” and influential women who inspire artists and writers so I bought a bunch of books on that subject.  I am fascinated by creative minds so I have multiple  biographies of Jean-Michel Basquiat, James Baldwin, Sylvia Plath, Frida Kahlo,and Beauford Delaney.  Psychology and mental illness have been interests of mine since college so of course I have tons of books on Sigmund Freud, by Irvin D. Yalom, as well as memoirs of writers telling their tales of depression or addiction.  One summer I was intrigued by modern musicians so I bought books by Pattie Boyd, Pamela Des Barres, and Nikki Sixx.  When I like a particular writer I will purchase all the books I can find by them: Barbara Kingsolver, Richard Ford, Louise Erdich, Anne Lamott, Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, Edward P. Jones, Dave Eggers, Wally Lamb, Kaye Gibbons, Alice Munro, Ian McEwan.  I have a ton of books on slavery, African-American history, and Indian-American history.

When I was in my 20’s and belonged to one of those mail-order book clubs, I ordered sets of books by writers I thought I was supposed to read: John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway, Charles Dickens, William Faulkner.  I have books on evolutionary psychology, dog training, plays, feminism, the Supreme Court, civil rights, domestic abuse, Shakespeare, religious thought, MENSA puzzle books, and even a history of the Barbie doll.  I love finishing one book, then retiring to the library to peruse my collection while I ask myself what I am in the mood for: a classic?  Fiction? A biography?  A memoir?  Sometimes I am not in the mood for any of my books and I invariably end up scanning Amazon.com or the New York Times book review for a new suggestion.  I am running out of room to store all the books I have not read but love having around, just in case.

I know some people think showing off your books is an attempt to give visitors the idea that you are oh-so-well-read.  Perhaps that is true for some, but I would keep my books even if it meant storing them in a rarely visited basement room.  It is more that if anyone were to see my collection, they would know all of the things I am interested in and that might spark a conversation if they hold the same interests.  More importantly, my books give me options: seemingly endless options to fill my brain with all of the things I wish I could know, while I hold on to the hope that I someday will.

What are your book collecting habits?  Am I a pretentious asshat for hanging on to all my books (do not answer that)?

*Must be read out loud using an English accent

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. February 13, 2010 2:15 am

    My love of books and reading is overshadowed by need to get rid of all things that could potentially produce clutter. I donate old books to the library.

    • mjjaaska permalink*
      February 15, 2010 7:51 pm

      I hear you. I can’t stand knickknacks or other forms of clutter, and I hate having to dust my bookshelves, but I guess books are my one form of collecting.

  2. February 13, 2010 2:16 am

    The last time I moved (July) I finally broke down and got rid of all of my books. I, like you, had hundreds of them. It was a little bittersweet but I was tired of having to dust them – I kept a few favorites and some that were signed but I more or less got rid of them before I could second guess myself and I honestly have not regretted it.

    • mjjaaska permalink*
      February 15, 2010 7:54 pm

      I HATE dusting my books! I think our cleaning lady does too because she often doesn’t even bother with the bookshelves. I definitely do not look forward to packing them when we have to move again, but right now I can’t see getting rid of them. I’ll let you know if that position still stands when moving day arrives.

  3. February 13, 2010 4:44 am

    I’ve been on a book buying frenzy for the last few months. You’re obviously a bit ahead of me on that front.

    I basically want to maintain the same reading pace I’ve been in for grad school since I’m graduating this semester.

    I’m torn though. I like the idea of an e-reader (I don’t really feel the need for the aesthetics of displaying my books), but one of my favorite things about reading good books is loaning them out to people so that they can read them.

    • mjjaaska permalink*
      February 15, 2010 7:49 pm

      I agree: loaning out books is a must! I like your commitment to your reading pace, Elliott.

  4. February 13, 2010 5:25 pm

    We have our own little “library,” which consists of one huge bookshelf with probably about 150 books on it (I’ve never counted them, so I’m not sure on the exact number). We’re out of space and I’ve started stacking them horizontally on the shelves in front of the vertically shelved books. I’ve toyed with the idea of getting another bookshelf, but space is precious in our one bedroom apartment. We do have a den, but that is our “museum” room (Crystal and other inherited knickknacks and whatnots). I’ve bought a Kindle 2 within the last 6 months and have vowed to never buy a “real” book again due to the clutter, but it’s doubtful that I’ll fulfill that vow.

    • mjjaaska permalink*
      February 15, 2010 7:47 pm

      I just can’t see myself with a Kindle!

  5. February 15, 2010 10:06 am

    Just when I was getting over my separation anxiety, I read about your library and I am feeling sad about all my books all over again. You see, when we moved to our house out here in rural USA, we left a 5000 sq.ft, home and moved into a 1600 sq. ft. one. I had no room anywhere to unpack my books! I had just shy of 2000 (no kidding). I called the local library, which did not want them, suggesting I donate them to charity instead. So, I hauled them to the Goodwill store. The boxes were so heavy that the store employees brought several shopping carts out to partially empty the boxes so they could be carried more easily. The employees threw books by the handfuls into those carts and I watched as binders got bent and pages got torn and I fought to hold back the tears! I kept telling myself that since I made the decision to get rid of them, these were no longer my books and I shouldn’t care how they were treated!

    It has been eight years, and yes, sometimes I miss them, all of them at once or a particular one that I’d like to peruse again and no longer have.

    Having said all that, I’m still glad six days out of seven that I do not have them anymore. I can go to the library or book store anytime!

    • mjjaaska permalink*
      February 15, 2010 7:43 pm

      I didn’t mean to make you sad, Cindy! I’m proud of you for de-cluttering your life. I know I would feel the same as you did if I ever had to part with my books. I hope yours went on to enrich the lives of others!

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