Books, Nooks, and Looks–Unpacking Your Library
I’m nosy. Total confession. When I am visiting I tend to check out the my host’s books. Of course, I’m subtle and discreet, although I figure if it’s in open view, it’s open season on snooping. This, what could be considered a habit of questionable good manners, began in college. Ah, college days. Where all the believe-we-have-the-answers crowd congregated at one another’s flats, apartments, dorm rooms, and houses to sip upon cheap brews and crushed grapes and nibble on snacks and talk, talk, talk. Being a gregarious hermit by nature, I would chat enough to leave an impression and then slip away to surreptitiously inventory the host’s or hostesses’ bookcase. Sound like a book stalker, don’t I?
Actually, the habit developed out of the need to remain anonymously conspicuous within the crowd. Though I like conversation, I do get overwhelmed with a room full of it swirling about me. Slipping off to study books is acceptable crowd avoidance behavior, at least this is what I came to believe. Contemplating book titles allowed me remain a part of the assemblage, yet gave me space. It also gave opportunity for other hermits to find sanctuary while we scanned books. Books make great conversation starters.
You can tell a lot about a person about the books they keep on their shelves. On the other hand, that wouldn’t be so true of my bookshelf. After years of lugging books from place to place I began to understand that books, while a treasure in my life, took up a lot of space. And I began to stop buying them, collecting them, and hoarding them. Instead I am a frequent flyer at the library. I go so often that I am on first name basis with the librarians and counter folk. True story: I grabbed the wrong key chain and did not have my self-check out scan card (my Fred Meyer card doesn’t do the trick), so I stepped up to the counter and hoped one of the friendlies would have compassion on my card-less state. I didn’t know her but she knew me and checked me through. She whispered, “We don’t do this for everyone,” and confirmed my regular patron status.
This is why my local library rocks. This is also why they are my bookshelf. I do, of course, I have books on my home bookshelf. I review books and have my keepers. I also have my set of reference books. I have books from parents inherited, forgotten children treasures waiting for new eager hands, and books that I know are there for yet another read. To Kill a Mockingbird is one of those books. There are also gift books, I probably won’t read, but respecting the giver too much, they nestle among the other keepers.
All that to introduce this little book I picked up on the way out the library the other day.
Unpacking My Library: Writers and Their Books edited by Leah Price features the personal libraries of Alison Bechdel, Stephen Carter, Junot Díaz, Rebecca Goldstein and Steven Pinker, Lev Grossman and Sophie Gee, Jonathan Lethem, Claire Messud and James Wood, Philip Pullman, Gary Shteyngart, and Edmund White.
Some people delight in People, National Enquirer, and other celebrity peep sheets. I am curious about the to-dos of the literary crew. Unpacking My Library was a grab and go and admittedly it proved a bit disappointing since I did not recognize any of the featured writers. Maybe you will. What I did get out of the book was the delicious lookey-looks at about dozen different private libraries. Ooh, I did indeed enjoy doing so.
In this age of Kindle, Nooks, and phone app capabilities, books and bookshelves might become more of an anomaly than a requisite in homes. Although it wouldn’t take much to pack up my own home library these days, I still root for the book on the shelf. Here is a fun video about bookshelves.
Oh–there is still plenty of room on the Book Boosters page if you haven’t yet exclaimed your love of books.