Reading rooms.


Want a little glimpse of the inside of our home? (Hint: that’s not our home in the photo above).

For a real glimpse – I am offering a peek into our personal library on Library Thing  – a project Brian has been working on for some time. I’m somewhat abashed to admit that between the two of us we’re pushing the 1500 mark. Still a little ways to go, but given our book-acquisition habits, I can see we’ll be there in under a year.

This project of cataloguing began when I decided to rectify the organization of books in our home – which we had hastily done upon moving in, but with the building of the bookshed two years ago we needed to update. This I did in the fall, relegating all the non-fiction to the office and bookshed, keeping poetry, fiction and drama for the bedroom shelves. In our dining area we have one bookcase of collectibles. There was nothing intentional about this decision exactly – the bedroom books just fit better on the bedroom shelves – but I have to admit that I like having all those stories crowding our private room, not to mention poetry quickly at hand for lazy mornings in bed, or bathtime meditations. It’s cozier to bed down with imaginings rather than facts.

I was thinking about this yesterday after reading this blog post at publishers weekly where the author admits to a large collection of 371 books, only about 80 of which he has read. Now I don’t consider 371 books much of a collection at all – at least not in any way problematic – but I don’t understand having a collection that is largely unread. Several commenters on the post go on to admit to their own book-collecting tendencies which involve (in some cases) rooms stacked floor-to-ceiling with books which have never been opened. Mostly these people have intentions to read the books they own, though some don’t even have that – one commenter admitting to simply being in thrall with the new ink and paper smell, he has a room in which his books are packed away as soon as they are opened, not even perusable in their crammed-together state.

Brian and I may have a ridiculous number of books, but between the two of us, most of them have been read. In the to-read piles at any given time are thirty titles which remain unshelved until they are read. Books that stick around in the to-read pile for “too long” without being considered for reading, end up in the discard pile eventually – and on it goes.

There was a time when I was getting into that dangerous territory of shelving books without reading them – back when I was subscribed to the Friends of AK Press who sent me tremendous volumes from the anarchist archives which I had little interest in – and so I put a stop to that. Books must be intentionally chosen if they are to come into our home – otherwise, the shame of the uncracked spine will forever stare out from the shelf accusingly. Ownership for ownership’s sake only cuts it in the world of collectible books – recent reprints of Rudolph Rocker do not fit in this category. Besides the collectibles (some of which are too fragile to read) – if I am not going to read it, I do not need to own it.

But once I have read and loved a book, I cannot let it go. I find myself plagued with the memory of books which I have let out of my possession in purges past. I am upset with myself over hastily-made choices when I reach for something to lend to a friend and it isn’t there. Though I recognize that if I held onto all the books I had ever read and loved, there wouldn’t be room for anything new to make it onto the shelves.

These days we take a lot of books out of the library first, read them, and then decide whether we need to also own them. So far that has happened with about 1/10th of the books we have taken out – research and political theory books mainly, though the occasional novel gets purchased via that route as well. This really works to quell some of the urge for acquisition – for instead of being on the opt-out model (whether I want to keep a purchased book or not requires a decision to part with something), we are forced into the effort of opting-in to acquisition.

Even so, there are books which I instantaneously covet, and which I know I will want a first-edition hardcover copy of in twenty years – and those get purchased without library vetting. Plus there are so many cheap and free books out there, and we bring an awful lot of those into our home too. Probably about half of the to-read pile at any given time is made up of free books.

At the moment I am reading The Berlin Stories by Christopher Isherwood for school. In the library pile are two books which must be read in the next week: Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being and Out of Character: Surprising Truths about the Liar, Cheat, Sinner (and Saint) Lurking in All of Us. Once I dispatch those, I’m onto Camus:A Romance and Voltaire’s Bastards which are both leering at me from the weight bench in our bedroom (a weight bench which has seen very little action beyond being a holder of books). Plus more reading for school – I have about six more readings to get through before the end of April. Oh, and then there’s the new Umberto Eco which just came in the mail last week – This is Not the End of the Book. I should definitely hope not!

If I could have the funds to start-up any project in Vancouver, it would be this.

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