A Personal Library
I do not think enough people have a personal library. A library with real wood shelves, not boxes under the bed and a library that has to be dusted (once in awhile). A library where all your treasures are placed... just the way you want them. I think that anyone who has the space and loves books should invest in the proper care and feeding of this idea.
I knew a lady who collected cookbooks, 200 at last count, and she treated them like the queens they were. With the best meal in town, the shelving of her cookbooks give a nice touch to her kitchen, so placed, that guests could browse while she baked.
I knew a man who collected Star Wars and within the center shelving was a huge poster of the good ship Enterprise. The shelving was placed around that poster so there was no questioning what his collection was all about. All the main 'original characters' had a separate glassed photo-frame place on this shelving and the books were cared for and in excellent condition. A few paperbacks were placed for friends to encourage the reading of a favorite.
Then there are the booksellers who collect Books About Books (like me) and that list is unending. "The beat goes on" as Sonny & Cher said and there will be no way that every book about the trade can ever be found. My personal collection is such, old books about old books, photographs of the various people, and their shops, like 84 Charing Cross Road and Frank Doel's little hole in the wall shop. Also those who write or the readers who read to critique... it is a space that is treasured and certainly gets out of order when more books are found.
I always encourage my customers to establish a place for their own personal library. And then they pick it up from there and encourage their children to find a place in their rooms for their collection... which changes from year to year, but good... that is the whole idea... read what you love, at the time you love it.
I enjoy reading books about those rich men and women, who buy a whole estate for only one leather-bound book by one author... but never reads it. I rarely understand this, but it is not my thing to question why anyone buys a book. There is another story where a man is set upon the search of a fine book or a manuscript such as in the The Ninth Gate with Johnny Depp, American actor. He finds himself the investigator and he gets in way over his head. Also do not leave out Ex-Libris by Ross King. Books like these are like looking at the Mona LIsa and you never tire of reading them or watching her.
So this is just a little reminder to booksellers who have time to talk to their customers about a personal library.
One of my clients in Rhode Island (USA) made such an effort in placing his prized books to rest in a proper home of wood that he established more than just a place of storage. He added lovely pieces of furniture as well. He had to do a great deal of craftsmanship himself to get them just as he wanted.
But for this gentleman he found such pleasure in it, it was almost like finding a rare and expensive book.
As Leona Rostenberg and Madeleine Stern would tell you “their books are rare friends” and while they, at one time only had 200 books to offer on one of their first catalogs, you can bet they were placed in the glass fronted cases.
Or as John Dunning, American author, can tell you, his rare ones get locked up and Mr. Dust had better stay away. Also John's idea of his personal library and bookstore is one thing, but his colleagues (in his novels) peddle huge volumes of books, some in good condition, some falling apart, and some rare. But you must read his novels about booksellers in at least two of his books: Booked to Die and Bookman's Wake. His characters were also booksellers who operated from old dingy, off the main street shops, or a collector of fine firsts (where lies the mystery here). Don't forget that lady who collected all the paper notes, personal letters, book orders and statements gathered for 25 years, found later in her attic. She was secretary to a famous book printer and bookbinder ...these are all part of this world of books too.
Mrs. James T. Field wrote a book entitled A Shelf of Old Books. She relays the accounts and experiences of her book-selling husband. Her idea was to set aside unique thoughts and ideas of why we find a famous person's private book collection so important to us. Why would we want to hold in our hands a book that was read many times by someone like Leigh Hunt, John Keats, Percy, or Walt Whitman? I guess that is why Boswell followed Johnson around all the time. If you have to ask, then you need to take up feather collecting.
If sentiment of just holding such a book, observing a personal notation in the margins, or a check mark of importance, if these are important to you, then of course, it is the wordsmith in you that you are letting out. It is in all of us. It is a way we somehow manage to become a part of the writer’s world. We keep this feeling by nurturing this attachment to our own guidelines by reading and collecting. Book lovers are all crazy for the printed word and if it just so happens to come with a signature of a famous person, so be it.
Old books written by old book collectors and booksellers told us a great deal about themselves. They taught us how they selected and what they collected, why they purchased this or that book by author or subject. Sometimes they gave us the opportunity to become an assistant and carry the accounts book, or ponder how we would 'report back to the master' what we found... so it was more than reading about their lives. These old booksellers taught us a way of life and how to establish a business to last a lifetime. By listening patiently we became a part of that world which can set us all on fire and make us pay attention to value.
So I urge people to collect a favorite writer, even if they start first in obtaining paperback/mass market copies... that is okay. I encourage constant reading and to always continue the habit of reading.
America has become a country of illiterate humans and now children are urged to read more. Public relations organizations are gearing their advertising to books and reading, can you believe that? Famous movie stars are asking parents to read to their children.
I believe it is time for the statement: “Who knew?”
Libraries are creating more and more areas for children, enticed , yes, with fuzzy bunnies and huge bears on tall shelves, but it is an atmosphere of a lovely place to be. Bookstores have long tried to welcome people with a separate coffee area or a computer area, screened off from the main stacks. Bookstores in some towns are staying open longer. Book signing has always been popular, timely for the owner yes, but it brings people through the door and once they are there, they just might buy a book.
I can only wonder, in 50 years, what our world of books will or will not be. Of course there is this terrible fallacy to consider... if the electric goes out, we can always go back to reading, as Abraham Lincoln did, by the flame of the wood-burning fireplace.
I cannot image a world without books or not having books about me.
Bon Summers, Ancient City Booksellers, St. Augustine, Florida USA
The article was published in Sheppard’s Confidential No. 123, September 2009, and is presented here, with our thanks, by the author and Sheppard's Confidential.