My library is not a single beast but a composite of many others, a fantastic animal made up of the several libraries built and then abandoned, over and over again, throughout my life. I can’t remember a time in which I didn’t have a library of some sort. The present one is a sort of multilayered autobiography, each book holding the moment in which I opened it for the first time. The scribbles on the margins, the occasional date on the flyleaf, the faded bus ticket marking a page for a reason today mysterious, all try to remind me of who I was then. For the most part, they fail. My memory is less interested in me than in my books, and I find it easier to remember the story read once than the young man who then read it. — Alberto Manguel
Isn’t this picture of Manguel’s collection gorgeous? I’m so jealous! And look, he even has Harry Potter on his shelves! (You can guess all you want what that might mean about him, but instead read this. It’s excellent. Manguel is a man after my own heart and I feel sure he and I would get on famously.)
For a while I had a page on this site where I had planned on posting pictures of readers’ bookshelves. Unfortunately, I haven’t received any photos and I decided to scrap the page to conserve space. That may change as more readers visit this site, though, or if I find a better theme. The voyeur in me really wants to see your photos!
Since I’m into my own library and books, I’m incurably curious about what others are reading and particularly what their own collections look like. When I visit someone’s home, that’s where I gravitate to: their books. I take note of their bookcases, whether shelves on milk crates, Billy configurations from IKEA, antique shelves, or contemporary and unconventional shelves. Then I peruse the collections. I can spend hours doing this, I must confess, though I have only been rude enough to do it at my sister’s house in England.
BBC News Magazine has an article today called “What Does Your Bookcase Say About You?” Apparently, I’m not the only one who’s had the idea of posting people’s personal library photos. I’m also not alone in being interested in other readers’ libraries, of course. Peter Sandico is a bibliophile who feels the same way I do. He has a theory, as well, about what our books say about us. While I wholeheartedly concur that books are an extension of the self, I can’t agree that I display my books because I want people to think a certain way about me (that never occurred to me!)—I display my books because I’m in love with them and enjoy being surrounded by them, and adore looking at them and browsing through them, and because I firmly believe that books make a room. I also agree that our books and the way we shelve them say things about us.
I display my books neatly; they line up nicely at the edge of the shelves. This might be from my Chapters or library days but I think I’ve always done it. It tells you that I like order and neatness, which is very true—er, in most cases. But I also have let go of the control a bit (as in life in general) and whereas I used to organize my books by nationality (Canadian, American, Indian, and so on, though children’s were just all together, and then even alphabetically), I’ve become more lax.
Generally, all the books an author has written are together, but otherwise I pretty much put the books where they fit best on the shelves. Sometimes I care about how they look beside each other; thus I have a bunch of beautiful fat novels together (Kristin Lavransdatter, Anna Karenina, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, The Historian, etc.). No matter what, though, my little library is completely for me. I feel so strongly about my books, my dear friends, that I couldn’t care less if anyone judges me or my choices negatively. I like what I like for me, not for anyone else—books are after all highly personal belongings—though I admit it is lovely when people compliment me on my collection. It makes me happy.
What do your bookshelves look like? Are they neat and organized or piled willy-nilly on top of each other? Do you have uniform shelves or mismatched ones? Do you put other things on your shelves besides books?