Blogger: Wendy Lawton
Location: Books & Such Central Valley Office
Books as disposables. Nothing could be sadder.
In our minimalist age people are not collection books like they once did. It’s another trend I’m mourning. Books are such treasures. when I did research on the life of Pilgrim’s Progress author, John Bunyan, a poor tinker by trade, I was amazed to find that he had a small shelf of books. Volumes in those days were very expensive compared to our books of today and yet he had several, including Foxes’ Book of Martyrs which his wife brought into their marriage. Poor as can be, but they treasured books.
I’ve been actively collecting fine books for nearly forty years. Nothing pleases me more than my collection of books. I’ve always longed to have a large room dedicated to books– a personal library– but as the years have gone on my books are in several rooms as you can see from the photos below.
I used to run an ad in our denominational magazine seeking books to buy. I found that retiring pastors have some of the most wonderful books and often no one who wants them. I often got real treasures. Some had notes in the margins that are every bit as insightful as the text itself.
But in our day of minimalism we can’t help but ask the question, is collecting books just a different version of hoarding? I don’t think so. Here’s why building your own library is important:
- It is a reflection of you. I love to walk into a book collector’s home and browse their stacks. I come to know them without a word shared.
- Your books become old friends and you can revisit them throughout your life. My mother used to ay that the best thing about her forgetfulness was that all her old books were new again. She could remember the characters but she never exactly remembered the plot and she could enjoy them as if they were new all over again.
- Books do not take up much space. There’s a whole world packed in about two inches of shelf space.
- I’ve tried to convince my husband that, if nothing else, books are superb insulation. If you could cover each wall with books (and store boxes of them in the attic) you would cut your heating bill significantly.
- When the time comes to downsize the volumes from your library make exquisite gifts.
Your turn: Tell us about the books you treasure. Do you collect special books? Does it ever make you feel guilty?
I have too many books for my space right now. I whittled them down a lot before we moved here, but still have some in boxes. I recently got a Kindle, which makes book storage even more efficient.
I’m slowly going through them and letting the less “valuable” ones go. Valuable because the story means something to me our my children, not the actual monetary replacement value.
What I’m doing with some of them is listing them on paperbackswap.com. I have a wish list of books I want on there and a list of books to offer. When the books I want pop up, I have credits (from me sending my books to others) I can use to get the books that are more valuable than the ones on my swap list. I’m giving some of the others to Goodwill (where I also like to book shop!)
So, I’m trying to swap “up” in a sense. As some lose value, others gain.
We moved two years ago to our current home, a limping two-story country house miles from civilization. Its best feature (aside from the bug-snacking bats, obviously) is for the first time in my life I have my own office–which to me instantly translated into wall-to-wall bookshelves. In fact, just a week ago I added a fifth bookshelf, and in reorganizing my books (grouped by genre) I’m finding myself Christmas-giddy.
I treasure all my books. Having never lived in a single place longer than three years, I have discovered my books are my roots. When I read The Color Purple, I’m transported back into my tiny apartment in Texas my first year of teaching. Or when I pick up Robin McKinley’s The Blue Sword, I remember falling in love with deserts even while living in a tropical rainforest in Asia.
I do feel sorry for my family, however; now I have this room, we can never move again.
Morgan L. Busse
Hahaha! That’s great! Convincing your husband that books make great insulation 🙂
I cannot feel guilty for hording… I mean … treasuring my books, ha! My very favorites are history books. I am history buff! Anything that takes me back in time is a must. I also enjoy Christian fiction that is a time period piece. I am in the process of getting my own space to write and a home for all my books is top on the list. When I am writing I do a lot of research and having my books easily accessible is very important to me.
I grew up in a home with books. We had floor to ceiling bookshelves in several rooms of our various houses, and no matter how many times we moved, all the books went with us. We were a big family so there was every genre imaginable.
I have books overflowing my bookcases in my house now. Books in every room. Many I’ve never read. I like to have them so the kids and I have plenty to browse from. A lot are paperbacks I bought at library books sales for a quarter so I’m not really collecting books–though I do have a couple of first editions that I’ve picked up along the way. I love beautiful old books, but I buy books with ripped covers and food stains on the pages too. If the book can be read, that’s good enough for me.
I’ve never understood why people feel guilty for having too many books. If everyone read more books we’d live in a better world. Books are food for the mind and heart and are as important as food for the body. Books stop bigotry and promote understanding. I’ve read books written by people from all over the world and from many different times, and the reading makes me less willing to hate my neighbor.
Rebekah, I love your description “Christmas-giddy.” That perfectly describes my feeling toward shelves of treasured books.
I agree with you, Wendy, that books have far more attributes than we may realize. With the invention of Kindle, I find myself envisioning the day when book trading or lending is a thing of the past. I am currently surrounded by fellow book lovers at present who still prefer to cozy up with bound paper and ink. Just last night a friend darted into our writers group with book in hand. “Here.” she said, “You have got to read this…but you can only BORROW it because I want to pass it on.” Where will I be without moments like that?
Wendy, your idea of insulation made me laugh. That’s what I’ll tell my husband so I can buy more books.
I don’t collect as much as I used to, but I still save books I love, books I know I’ll reread.
My husband listens to Louis L’Amour’s “Sackett” series on tape in the car when we travel, and in one of the stories, Barnabas Sackett prepares to travel from England to the new continent and talks of one of the necessities being a collection of books — even though they were heavy to carry in the wilderness. In the same series, he wants a special manuscript that someone has to HAND COPY for him so he will have his own. Made me think a lot of how books are treasures. I do pass novels that I buy on to my local Friends of the Library, keeping the ones that have special meaning. “Special books” still take up shelves and shelves in my home and one mover commented he’d never moved anyone with so little real furniture and so many books and bookshelves. I like it that way. Deb Wuethrich
I currently have a stack of books between bed and chair that has been there long enough to leave a mark on the carpet, and there they’ll stay because the available shelves are full. My husband understands and doesn’t mind. Half the books are his. My extended family, though, has teased me for years about our volume of volumes. “Think how much money you’ve wasted buying and moving all those.” Not a penny. I have few other vices. “How many of those do you ever actually re-read?” Many! And loaning them to friends who might also enjoy them is a particular pleasure.
Having majored in architecture, if I’m ever fortunate enough to live in a home I design, in addition to bookshelves in all the “normal” places it will feature one or both of the following :
Instead of an infrequently used formal dining room, a library/music room with walls of bookshelves and a large table for dining or study. Of course, there’ll be a place by the window to curl up where the light is good.
If there must be a hallway, why not make it 1′ wider to allow for shelves to display books and art? If these fit under the stairs, so much the better.
When I was researching my first books about ancient Alaska, the Internet was not available. I had to rely on interviews and books, but to try to get hold of those books…. Yikes! I was praying very hard for a specific National Geographic book, which was several years out-of-print, when I received a letter from a minister friend who had been assigned to a new-to-him church in the state of New York. This church was trying to “rid” itself of several boxes full of books from a previous minister whose father had been raised in an orphanage in the Aleutian Islands (the location of my novels). Soon I received several boxes of rare books about Alaska, some from the early 1900s, some signed by the authors, all packed with information I desperately needed. And right on top of the first box I opened? The National Geographic book I had been praying for – never opened and still in its shrink wrap!
While in Vegas this summer, my husband and I stumbled into Bauman Rare Books in the Palazzo shops while waiting for our show to start. How strange to find oneself in such a place in the middle of Vegas, land of all that is disposable. First editions of C.S. Lewis’ Narnia books, Twain’s Huck Finn, and so many more. I thought I might have died and gone to book heaven. But, while my kids are little, I’ve decided not to collect rare books, as I couldn’t guarantee their safety around my house. 😉 Instead, our sheleves are lined with hundreds of middle-grade readers, YA novels, history and science texts, picture books, and the like. Sometimes there is room for one or two of mom’s books.
Deb, so funny– my husband and I listened to the same audio book on our recent North Dakota trip. Was it To the Far Blue Mountains? Warrior’s Path. (We love Louis L’Amour.)
Yes, that is the way books were meant to be treasured– not as disposables.
That said, I do have a KIndle and love it.
Lynn, I agree with you about designing a house around books. All those ideas and stories lining the walls! I want to see your house pictures when you finally get to build your own house.
What a story, Sue! I buy tons of research books for every book I’ve written and I can’t seem to ever part with them afterward.
When I used to do school visits I would take all the books I researched for one of my middle grade books and stack them on the table to a height of about five feet and then put my slim novel next to it. The kids loved the visual.
Right now, I’m in the process of finding more bookcases (and places to put those bookcases) for the piles of books I have laying around. Books are one of the few things I buy “for me.”
The written word has such power. I agree with you that you an learn a good bit about a person just by looking at their bookshelf. I think about how much conversation and learning can occur from books. Our bible studies use books to spur discussion and growth. Book clubs are centered on reading and then discussing. And in doing all of this, we learn more about the subject matter, more about each other, and more about things we may not have known about before.
I used to collect “classic” from used bookstores so I have a few in that genre. Much of the rest of my book stash is either Christian fiction, Christian nonfiction, or family-related/kids books.
I’m ready for Lynn to design all of our dream houses or office to accommodate all of our books!
D. Ann Graham
Books are lives. They let me have personal relationships with great people. They allow for mental traveling to any time or place in the world or its history, without having to fear floods, famines, or wars brought on by evil tyrants. I am thankful that so many people chose to write personal accounts of their times, and that so many tremendous souls have woven life’s truths into such beautiful fictional tapestries. Books allow me to absorb richness from the lives of others in a way that keeps them alive.
I like how — at any moment I choose — I can peek over the shoulder of Churchill, standing up at his specially made desk at Chartwell, still hard at work at three in the morning, writing anything and everything that would sell, in order to keep family bills paid. Or ride an over-crowded train across the Russian steppes with Nobel laureate, Sigrid Undset, in the summer of 1940, when she and her son were fleeing Hitler with barely the clothes on their backs. I especially like that I can still match wits with my own father (from whom I got my love of history) because he jotted down many of his stimulating thoughts in the margins of books he gave me, even though he is over ninety now and doesn’t always remember who I am.
Through books, I have lived secret lives and done countless adventurous things. I collect them like gold and would not trade my “gems” for mansions. In various travels over the last ten years, I have been stricken by the discovery that libraries all over the country are dumping vintage books by the thousands in trade for multiple copies of what is currently most popular. How sad to deprive the next generations of the serendipity discoveries of all the “extraordinary ordinaries” that previously inhabited some of that shelf space. Heavens — I couldn’t buy them up fast enough. Another one saved, and another, and another. Until my husband had to buy a trailer just to cart them all home with us, build more bookshelves, and then graciously agree that “Books do make fine home decor!”
Insulation? Yes — oh, yes, I agree! Not only for our houses but for our souls, against all the stark, confusing, tummult of our own present times. And how encouraging to read through this post (thank you, Wendy) and these comments to see there are actually others like me out there, and find I am not the only one that has books even in the kitchen. Thank you for the little glimpses into each of your libraries, everyone. It’s been a real pleasure to meet you today!
How wonderful to hear about so many book lovers and their collections. And Wendy, you’ve given me some ideas for collecting in the future (keeping an eye out for retiring pastors). My little room where I’m currently staying with my sister is overflowing with books, and my house back in Colorado is also shy of book space. I’m currently cataloguing my little library onto the computer and in doing so, I’m finding volumes that I long to go back and read.
I was once in a lovely home. The living room had a beautiful fireplace with built-in bookcases on either side. Not a single book. Only photos and nicknacks. It was the saddest thing I ever saw. Our house has books in every room including the bathroom.
I’m going to have to try that argument of extra insulation.
We are oozing with books. Just yesterday, I was wondering if I should filter through all our children’s books…there is a stash in almost every living space since we have 3 boys.
My favorite books are the ones I have found from my childhood, and have had the chance to pass on to my 8 year old who loves to read. I lived in England for part of my childhood and fell in love with Enid Blyton, C.S. Lewis, and other British authors whom I can’t recall now, twenty plus years later!
I also love collections like William Shakespeare, The Bronte Sisters…having the complete works of a classic author makes me happy!
I am not a packrat but I come from a family of packrats. I’m very into minimalist mode when it comes to my apartment. EXCEPT for books. I may have the internet, but I still prefer books for research, and love to collect books on Arizona history in particular. Acquiring a new book just makes me giddy with happiness!
Can’t do nearly enough of it though since there’s usually nothing extra to spend at the end of the month. 8-(
Rev Ed Hird
I loved your comment about books as insulation. People pay a lot of good money to obtain more sound privacy from their neighbours. The thought had never occurred to me. 🙂
Yes, it is sad to think of our personal libraries disappearing. One of the most valued gifts my craftsman father gave me when I moved into our townhouse five years ago was his building one eight-level and another four-level bookshelf to contain the books in my home office.
Blessings in the Word made Flesh,
Yes it was To the Far Blue Mountains that had the reference to bringing books to the ‘Raleighland’! My husband never tires of hearing it. I think he has a pioneer’s heart. We found the second CD set to hear on a future trip. Deb Wuethrich
Crystal Laine Miller
I used your book and your visual when I talked to kids. What a great illustration!
My mother revered books and she had a bookcase in the dining room stacked with her personal books. My aunt, her sister, was the same way only she used bricks and slabs of wood! I remember getting to choose my very own books with Scholastic orders at school. I still have some of those books.
I long to have a library room, but my husband does not share my love of “having” books. I have given away to libraries (church, school, public) so many volumes, but still have stacks. I love my Kindle but like you say, there is something wonderful about seeing those stacks or shelves of books to make you feel blessed! I love being able to pull a book from the shelf and relive the joy of that book.
You would think I’m a fractured personality if you saw my selection of books on my shelves.
Love this topic and love seeing your photos.
I always dreamed of floor to ceiling bookshelves and here in our Tehachapi home, my husband covered our living room walls, around windows and doors and corners with bookshelves. There is no more wall space in the living room, but there are books shelves or magazine racks in every room but the kitchen. The cookbooks are in the LR. I too would build hallways one foot wider for art and books. If there is a flat surface, it has art or books or easles with my painting on it.
I am an omnivorus reader, researcher for my novels and if I want to know something, I read a book. internet is not first in my house.
I love to share books and it is about time to sort and pack a box to give away. No more room on the shelves.
No more room for new shelves.
ah,perhaps above that window…
What a great post. Looking at the pictures of your bookshelves makes me sigh and smile. I love books. The feel, the texture, the smell, and the words. The alternate realities they hold. I do collect books, not as many as you, but I have a few authors who entice me to buy everything they’ve written.
That said, I collect classics. Well, classics in my mind. Two from my childhood–Trixie Beldon and Nancy Drew. I grew up immersed in their lives, wishing I could join their families. They are like my best friends. I had all of the books when I was younger, treasured friends taking up a prominent place in my heart and my bedroom. Then they were tossed aside by my mom. Thrown out. I can’t explain how I felt but it was terrible.
So, today, I scour used book stores looking to replace my friends. Trixie books are tough to find in good shape.
I’m such a goon, I’m planning a trip next summer to the Catskills to visit the area where she “lived.” And since I’m in NY, I’ll squeeze in a trip to see my son in NYC, too.
Thanks for the wonderful post, Wendy. I’ll be thinking of it all day.
Eileen, I think there may be a resurgence of sorts. The Betsy Tacy books have all recently been reprinted and I just saw a boxed set of Volumes 1 – 4 of Cherry Ames, Student Nurse, in The Vermont Country Store catalog (along with a boxed set of The Hardy Boys.)
Speaking of hard-to-find books, have you tried http://www.abebooks.com? Booksellers all over the world list their books for sale on the site. I’ve never looked for a title and not found several listed. All the books I’ve bought have been exactly as described.
I treasure my Nancy Drew series, they are old and faded and perfect. I wish I had my old Ramona the Brave! I have the a few books from the early 1920s that I would not part with for the world. They sit on the top shelf.
Tennyson, Frost, and Emerson sit nearby, treasured as well. Each page is brittle, browned, and delicate, and I’d never part with them for a million dollars.
The next row is all plots, poisons and weapons [which made my hubby shudder], places, character traits, and info that I never skim anymore but I will not throw out. Never! I’ve not written a murder mystery but I ‘needed’ that poison book -just in case. It was too cool to refuse.
I treasure my collection. Row after row, I am proud of my collection. I can’t imagine life without a full shelf. Even though I never open them, my books are somehow my life.
I have one row dedicated to bible history, facts, lifestyle, etc. That’s just to name a few of my treasures.
Do I feel guilty? No way. I’d feel guilty if I ever lost one! I collect old books, old, old books. I don’t know why. However, I do have a section of books where I draw inspiration from … my favorite writers. The best book of all is the one I read when I was 14, which is the book that inspired me to write my own YA novel. I still read it.
I grew up watching my dad build countless bookshelves for my mom. She had every book imaginable. I loved that. Once, we moved to a house where the owners had left an entire library of books in a basement shelf. It was pure heaven.
Now I’m off to search the link you gave on finding books!