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Furnishings of a literary life


How often do we think about our books as physical objects, part of the essential furniture of our homes?

the former library of Icelandic novelist Halldór Laxness, photo by Qtea (flickr cc)

the former library of Icelandic novelist Halldór Laxness, photo by Qtea (flickr cc)

The Elegant Variation has a lovely little post about the joy of setting up one’s library again after a move:

So now the arduous task of refilling the books begins. First, we need to douse the whole collection to protect against silverfish (also at Mrs. TEV’s insistence). Then I need to incorporate new additions to my library into the boxes packed more than a year ago, and figure out exactly how to order the whole thing. (The previous arrangement could politely be described as half-assed, though I could always find anything.) Finally, the actual placement on the shelves, which is always delayed by the very pleasant act of browsing through beloved titles.

Meanwhile, Roger Ebert meditates on his (over)abundance of books in his essay “Books Do Furnish A Life”:

My books are a subject of much discussion. They pour from shelves onto tables, chairs and the floor, and Chaz observes that I haven’t read many of them and I never will. You just never know. One day I may — need is the word I use — to read Finnegans Wake, the Icelandic sagas, Churchill’s history of the Second World War, the complete Tintin in French, 47 novels by Simenon, and By Love Possessed. That 1957 best-seller by James Could Cozzens was eviscerated in a famous essay by Dwight Macdonald, who read through that year’s list of fiction best sellers and surfaced with a scowl. It and the other books on the list have been rendered obsolete, so that his essay is cruelly dated. But I remember reading the novel late into the night when I was 14, stirring restlessly with the desire to be possessed by love.

And then there’s this.


Join the Discussion

  • Charlotte

    One of my students was just telling me that her parents recently sold their house, and a main feature of the living room was its huge built-in bookcases. The buyers negotiated for 2/3 of the parents’ books to be included in the sale, since they themselves didn’t own many books and didn’t want the room to look have lots of empty shelves. I don’t know what’s weirder, the fact that they wanted to own hundred of books they hadn’t read, (and probably don’t intend to) or the fact that the sellers went along with the request. Although I guess it is pretty hard to sell your house these days…

  • Celeste

    Charlotte, you reminded me of a used bookstore near my hometown that, in addition to selling books in the usual way, offered “books by the yard” as decorations for offices. You told them how many yards of shelf you wanted to fill, and they provided hardbacks (old leather-bound ones, often) in the approximate color scheme of your choice. I always found this odd, but also intriguing, in a mystery-bag sort of way: what kind of books WOULD you get?

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