A room without books…

Starting this blog has had me thinking about personal libraries.  More specifically, about what our books say about us.  Of all of my personal possessions, my library is undoubtedly my most valued.  The thought of not living surrounded by my books is anathema; my books are a very real and tangible extension of me.  One of the first things that I do when first going into someone’s home is take a quick inventory of the books that line their shelves, and although I hate to admit it, I judge.  Are they readers?  Do they have an active intellectual life? Is that Danielle Steele on that top shelf?  Is there any Huxley or Eco? I mean, lets face it, a home without books feels almost… soulless?  I know that I would feel naked without my books.

That being said, I’ve been reflecting on my collection, which at this point, after having to part with well over 500 books after a messy break-up, consists of somewhere around 2,000 volumes (and it still feels like a blow to my stomach every time I realize that any one particular book is gone).

A wall in my home. If only my finances would allow, every wall would be lined with books that I've read, reread, and have yet to read.

I was looking through them tonight, and it struck me just how representative they are of who I am, and who and where I have been.  As I have grown and changed, so too have my interests, and my personal library has become the memory-keeper and storyteller of my life.  I have old Dean Koontz and Stephen King books from my high school days alongside the feminist essays and postmodern novels of my college years. The physics books that captivated me in my early twenties sit next to the primatology books (Sex and Friendship in Baboons, anyone?) that nearly had me convinced that I should move to Asia to study langurs.  There are more philosophy and history books than I can count, and the shelves are crammed with my tattered and well-loved Eco, Skinner, Robbins and Huxley volumes.

I was reading a Spiegel interview with Umberto Eco yesterday (he casually mentions that his personal library contains nearly 50,000 volumes!)  where he passes on this bit of wisdom.

“By the way, if you constantly change your interests, your library will constantly be saying something different about you.”

There are few certainties in this life, but one thing I can rely on is that I will never stop reading, and my library will continue to grow and change with me, always providing a more accurate reflection than a mirror.

As an aside, while I was looking up photos of personal libraries for inspiration, I came across this article.  Consider yourself warned, this is frightening.