Two summers ago I placed a phone call to a charity that gives books to hospitalized war vets. I told them I would be leaving approximately two hundred books in front of my house, tied in twine, ready to go. “We’ll be there in the morning.” they said.
I had decided to get rid of a large portion of my personal library out of combination of laziness – we were moving and I didn’t feel like packing and unpacking them – and a sense that I wanted to unburden myself from objects as much as I could. It was during this period that I parted with a few crates of old records (they went right into the eager appreciative hands of a record collector friend) and three large binders full of CDs (I left them by the side of the road and they disappeared. but in this age of streaming everything what does it matter?) I haven’t regretted losing either. The books on the other hand, I have regretted plenty.
Not all of them. Not my double copies of Dostoyevsky or my copy of the Outsiders featuring movie poster art. But there are others – weirder, rarer birds that I still think of from time to time. My novelization of Buckaroo Banzai for instance. Or my beat-up water warped copy of David Bordwell’s Film Art. Hopefully they’ve found homes on the shelves of recovering vetrans somewhere. Hopefully.
Now it’s just over a year later. We’ve moved. And the place that we’ve settled into is old and creaky and classic. And if all stays on track and goes according to plan, we’ll be staying for very long time. This means setting down roots. Committing to the place. And part of that commitment is creating a working library again. This time however I aim to be a bit more curatorial. I want the final product (or what amounts to the first 90% anyway) to feel selective, thought through, continually engaging.
This has gotten me thinking about the purpose of a home library in general, and mine in particular. A home library is not about storing and collecting books. That’s what public libraries are for. Rather, a home library should be a repository for books that can be picked up over and over again. Creative references and tools that not only provide entertainment or enlightenment (or in the best cases both) but add a sense of soul and personality to the house. These should be quality tombs. Recline-on-a-sunday-and-flip-through-able. And yes, they should have bookplates.
Not because they are old. Not because they are official. Not because book nerds like me go crazy for them. But because they convey a sense of purpose and a sense of fun. And those are the two things – especially the last – that a library should be about.
Finally, The bookplates should have cats on them. Jean Cocteau said, “I love cats because I love my home and after a while they become its visible soul.” And a library – well stocked and cared for – serves much the same purpose.