Thursday, June 14, 2012

An Examination of the Home Library

I’m working on a “summer reading” post. This is a pre-summer reading post examination of home libraries. It’s adapted from a post I wrote a while ago for No, it’s an interesting post. Please don’t go.

The Wonder Dog has ruined the carpet in the “library,” which means we will soon be tearing up the carpet and replacing it with something more dog-friendly. And child-friendly. And John-friendly. Packing up the books and the bookshelves is going to be a pain- I will have to choose what to put aside and what to stow away in the basement. Who knows what I might feel compelled to read? It’s summer! Time for reading in the sunshine and screaming at your kids not to splash you as they jump into the kiddie pool! (Which is just one of the reasons I don’t frequent the library that often.) I am a firm believer in the “whoever dies with the most books wins” mantra. Unfortunately my husband is, too. I think we’re “collectors.” Others call us “hoarders.”

As I was deciding what to pull from the shelf, I was astonished how many of the books I hadn’t gotten around to reading yet. I wanted to read at least 50 books this year. I believe I am up to 13. If I don’t step up my game this summer, I’ll feel sheepish. In other words, my home library, as expansive as it is, is not an actual representation of all the books I’ve read.

A couple of years ago, we went with friends to the enormous book sale in Ithaca. While perusing the kids’ books, I overheard a college student say the following to his friends:

“Guys. You don’t know how important this is. We’re going to graduate soon. This is the time we need to really start thinking about our home libraries. Did you know you can walk into someone’s house and learn more about them by looking at their library than by talking with them?”

I bet he was a Cornell student.

While I suppose there’s some truth behind this statement, I would submit that it’s mostly malarkey. Here’s are some misconceptions and potential truths that hide behind a person’s library (or lack of a library):

1) This person has a lot of classic literature. He or she must be really smart. Very possibly. Or this person buys up classic literature and displays it on his bookshelf to appear smart or just because he’s an especially pretentious human being. He has, however, read the first two paragraphs of Decameron, Middlemarch, and The Art of War.

2) This person has a lot of romance novels. A person who reads such garbage must be really stupid. These women would beg to differ.

3) This person has no books in his house. He hates to read. Or he takes advantage of his local library. Or, he listens to books on tape in his car during his long commute to work. Or, he buys books and immediately gives them away. Not everyone believes that “whoever dies with the most books wins” mantra. Some believe that you can’t take them with you.

4) This person has so many books! She must read all the time! It is more than likely that this person has a book-buying compulsion that she has a hard time curbing, and that she buys a lot of books because she thinks “the covers are pretty!” This person is NOT me. Nope. Not me.

If I had the chance to take this kid aside, I might have suggested to him that perhaps he should keep trying to talk to people rather than just looking at their collection of books. And I mean really talking and not just gazing into the distance until the conversation drifts back to the subject that interests him the most- himself.

What does your library say (or not say) about you?


Kim said...

My library says, "I have small children." It's currently mostly Dr. Seuss, Eric Carle, and other various cardboard and Golden Books. I also have the entire Chronicles of Narnia, Lord of the Rings, Lifetime Encyclopedia of Letters, and The Worlds Best Bathroom Books. I'm really not sure what any of that says about me.

Toaster said...

What a timely post--I just had to pack up my own books this week! My small collection is just a single old Ikea bookcase in the basement (our official house "library" is almost all Bob's books) and is only partially reflective of me: it consists mostly of yoga/other fitness books and Stephen King novels. :) But although I'm a reader, I'm not a book hoarder at all; I'm more the library reader/donator that you described.

Julie Allman said...

As a fellow book-hoarder, I read this whole post, and didn't not click away, what with your plaintive request and all.

My bookshelf says: doesn't know how to get rid of textbooks, thinks she's gonna read some important novels (but hasn't), likes to have some poetry on hand (just in case), thinks real problems can be solved with books, and still wants the freedom to procrastinate heavily on research papers (so has to have enough decent stuff on hand to cite at the last minute)

Julie Allman said...

...and guiltily hides her Beverly Lewis books....

...and will probably never read 'War and Peace' in the original Russian, but darn it if it doesn't look good on the shelf!