Thursday, May 08, 2008

Keeping Books

I've written frequently here about our love of books and reading, and about the trials and tribulations of having to store the thousands of books we own. No matter how often I cull through the books stacked everywhere in the house, no matter how many boxes of books I donate to the local library, no matter how many books I loan or give away to friends, the total number never seems to go down. Just as nature abhors a vacuum, so do our shelves abhor empty spaces - an open slot on a shelf cries out for the purchase of another book to fill it ... two, if they're thin enough. The possession of large numbers of books leads inexorably to many serious questions for a dedicated reader: How do you store your books? How do you sort them? How do you arrange them so you can find the one you want to read or refer to again? How do you decide what to keep and what to turn loose when the space runs out?

Last month I read a review in the Washington Post Book World that promised the answer to those awful questions ... or, at least, a pleasant discussion of them. Of course, it involved the purchase of yet another book, but it's one that I can strongly recommend to each of you who is also a Dedicated Reader.

The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel is a wonderful collection of essays on libraries and the collection, care, sorting, and reading of books. This review by Michael Dirda captures the magic of a book that will entertain, instruct, and delight all lovers of good books everywhere.

The book is divided into fifteen essays of varying length that look at the various functions, uses, and arrangements of libraries; they include: The Library as Order, Space, Power, Shape, Survival, and - my favorite - The Library as Workshop. Mr Manguel describes the study, the working space of a personal library, "not (as) a pared-down version of the larger structure - the library - which sometimes contains it. It has a different mission: it provides a practical space for self-reflection and conceit, for belief in the power of objects and reliance on the authority of a dictionary." He goes on later to note that, "A study lends its owner, the privileged reader, what Seneca called euthymia, a Greek word which Seneca explained means 'well-being of the soul' ... Every study aspires to euthymia. Euthymia, memory without distraction, the intimacy of a reading time - a secret period in the communal day - that is what we seek in a private reading space."

It makes me think ever more fondly of the poor, cluttered, messy (and yet cozy and comfortable) study where I crank out this blog every day.

If you are interested in books, reading, and libraries, I encourage you to read The Library at Night. While all of the essays may not be of equal interest, the overall delight of the book and of Mr Manguel's flowing prose make it a grand investment of time spent in thoughtful reading. Particularly in the library. Or the study. At night.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.



KKTSews said...

Step 1: Read Bilbo's blog.
Step 2: Click on local library catalog on "my favorites" tab.
Step 3: Request book (I'm number 2 on the wait list and the book's still "in transit")

See, while I love books, I don't love to pay for them or store them. We have many, many books, too (bookselves in literally every room except baths in the house), but almost all are Mark's or Grace's since I prefer the public library bothers with buying and storing.

Maybe this book will change my mind.

The Mistress of the Dark said...

We have probably thousands of books in my house. I used to give my smutty ones to my gran, cos she loved them too. We've always said we have to have another room added to the house for our reading material.

John said...

We also deal with the problem of "what to do with all of the books?"

This sounds like a book that we (Chris In particular) would enjoy. I'll put it on the list.

Amanda said...

I love books and I'd love to OWN books but all through childhood, my mother made us borrow books from the library instead. She drilled it into our heads that its so much cheaper to borrow books, especially since we'll only read most of them once.

So these days, I find that no matter how much I love new books or how tempted I get at bookstores, I rarely buy any. So, I don't have the storage problem :)

I just have a problem here in Palembang where there are no libraries....

zero_zero_one said...

I have big storage problems, not just with my books but also with my comics (but that's another story). I have one bookcase (six shelves, each about three feet wide) and that got filled up long ago... Now I have a wardrobe, and as much as it pains me to store them this way, half of the wardrobe is now filled with books (luckily I own very few shirts, and they are all kept in a side cupboard of the wardrobe).

I have promised myself that when I move out of home I am going to ensure that I have room for bookcases, and soon after I will buy bookcases with shelf space for years to come... :)

Jean-Luc Picard said...

I have a lot of books too. I love them.

Bilbo said...

Katherine and Amanda - I spend a lot of time hanging around the public library, too. I'll usually try to borrow fiction books from the library, unless they're by an author I really like; most of the books I buy are nonfiction (mostly history and social sciences). Even so, I long ago ran out of room in my study. Agnes doesn't like to borrow from the library...she prefers to own the books she reads, which helps contribute to our vast collection.

Zero_zero_one - I used to collect comics years favorite series was "Magnus the Robot Fighter," set in a future world where men are dominated by the robots originally designed to be their servants. It was a great series.

Andrea - maybe we can hire the same contractor to build that extra room on each house, and get a quantity discount!

John & Jean-Luc - we're obviously brothers under the skin!

Great comments, everybody! I can always count on a big response when I blog about books and reading!

Mike said...

I know I'm late but .... I had a Funk and Wagnalls encyclopedia set from 40 years ago. I couldn't give it away. I finally threw it away. It just seemed wrong to throw a book away.