10 August 2013

On having a personal library

from Yahoo! Answers

Open Question

I want to start a mini library- where do I start?

Something in between $150-200 is my price range for buying books.  What size of bookshelf do I need?  Is it easy to find bargain books?  Is it cheaper in Indigo/Chapters or online?

Jonnie Comet

I can't answer this question because I didn't 'plan' my 'library'.  I just acquired books I wanted to read and read them. Now I have probably a thousand books, mostly paperback versions of major literature (chiefly 18th-C novels of manners), young teens' lit (because I taught it), young and self-published authors' works (because I encourage them), and philosophy and history works (because it is tangential to my major). Shelves came because I needed them.  This collection, including several hundred antiques, is probably worth six or seven thousand US dollars.

That said, in the 18th C. it was common for people to 'plan' household libraries. In a great house, a gentleman with no particular desire for reading would come into a room called 'the library', and he would have to furnish it. People bought books by the running foot-- 'I need 147 running feet of books for these shelves' --and then hire a guy to go into the city and procure them. The gentleman didn't care what they were-- he would never read them. They were just wall dressing.

Flash forward to The Great Gatsby (1925) in which Owl Eyes is wandering about JG's great library and takes down a few volumes, observing that the pages have not been cut. Books were printed in multiples of 16 pages so that the paper of the pages could be folded first and bound into the book. Then someone would have to slice the folded ends that remained on the outside (which is why some 'old' books have rough-edged or ripped pages). Owl Eyes marvels at this. 'What thoroughness! What realism! Knew when to stop too-- didn't cut the pages.'  He applauds Gatsby, who was trying to make a great impression with this library of books he would never read, for being honest enough to have not cut the pages to make it look like he HAD read them. It was phony and Gatsby let it look that way.

It sounds to me you want a Gatsby library. The best libraries are NOT impressive collections of the 'right' books. They are just collections of what we readers like to have about us, so we can savour seeing these books over and over, and savour reading them over and over. Get the books YOU like, ignore everyone else, and don't call it a 'library' at all. It's for only you.

(That reminds me-- as I am moving onto my boat I can no longer keep all my books. Anyone want to peruse MY library and take home a few? --wink)

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