Building a Home Library

I grew up in a house of readers and when I was young I read all the time. We went to the library every Friday and every Friday I took home seven books because that was the limit. I carried them up to bed and down again in the morning. I can still feel the pleasure, the comfort of those books and of carrying them everywhere. This was from long before I could read.

My first no picture books were Enid Blyton’s ‘Those Dreadful Children’ and ‘First Term at Malory Towers.’ After that no one ever saw me again. After that, I was reading.

dreadful ch

Even though I still have these and some of my other childhood favourites, most of what we read came from the library. While we share a love of reading my mother never felt the desire to keep a book once she’d read it and in that we differ. The books I still have, I treasure. They are more than memories, they are the dearest of friends. I love them.

little women
I wanted to be Jo, I still do and will you look at this cover! How amazing is it?

To be in the company of books, just to see books, makes me feel good. And why are they so good to hold, and to smell? It’s as if we can absorb something even without reading, of the writer, of the wisdom, of the trees perhaps? No surprise then that I’ve always thought books to be one of the nicest, most interesting and decorative thing you can have in your home. When I was dreaming this house into existence I had a list of desirable things, two chimneys, red windows, and right at the top, a dream floor to ceiling no end to it library.

In 2007 the dream became real. I wanted to bring together all the books I had ever loved. I admit some titles might not be so welcome. I don’t think I’m a full scale book snob, it’s just I believe everything in the house and the house itself should reflect who we are.

In the early days of the ‘Fifty Shades’ phenomenon a friend brought me a copy. I didn’t want it out of the bag never mind on the shelves. I knew I would hate it but also I have this aversion to all things popular. In book terms I felt the same about ‘The Da Vinci Code,’ I couldn’t read it because everyone was. I couldn’t even watch the movie.

Oscar Wilde said, ‘Everything popular is wrong,’ and those words speak to me on a deep personal level. My aversion to popular could be my aversion to the great herd in general, or it could be my affinity with the unpopular, the acquired taste. I fear the crowd, the herd, in physical and mental terms, perhaps more than anything in this world. Conformity, popularity, provoke in me a violent response that feels like a duty.

I should add that this same friend introduced me to ‘The Distant Hours’ by Kate Morton, suggesting it was the kind of book I would write. This was before I had written a book, isn’t that interesting? It affected me let me tell you. Thanks Edel.

But I digress, the problem is since we’ve a library books materialise out of air. In our case it was a ‘build it and they will come,’ affair. I had no idea how some books had found there way here and what can I do? I can’t very well burn them. To throw them out would be just as bad. To think! Especially now as someone who has written a book I have utmost respect, whatever the book, I mean that.

lib red

In truth by the time we moved in here my reading had slowed down to a few books a year, pregnancies seemed to lay further waste to it. I still loved reading but was finding it increasingly difficult to find new books to love. From the mid nineties to the mind noughties I did find a few books and writers I loved like Margaret Atwood, Joanne Harris and Isabelle Allende, just not enough to satisfy. I need to love a book, I won’t finish one that doesn’t grab me. I will just assume it isn’t for me, that life is too short. Having said that I read fast so I’ll give it three to five chapters. That’s reasonable I think.

The slow down caused me some distress. I wondered if you have to do your reading while you’re young? Were my reading days behind me? Nine times out of ten if I was reading it was re-reading. Family conversations still always came round to books but for me it was to the books I’d already read. I felt the library was important as a living thing, but I was sad too.

yellow book hall

I tried recommendations and browsed book shops. I bought an epic ‘Books to Read Before you Die,’ tome as a guide. I was searching but nothing gelled until I read Ernest Hemingway’s ‘A Moveable Feast’ and fell head over heels in love with it. I’d found the feast via ‘The Paris Wife’ a book I really enjoyed but ‘A Moveable Feast’ restored the reader in me.

A turning point? I think yes, this and funny enough, the internet. Not known for it’s support of the reading world the internet has led me to new writers and a new reading phase. But how disturbing is it that someone actively seeking should find it so hard to find relatable writers? I suppose a lot are women, that could explain it. But you know for years if you asked me, or anyone, about women writers we’d say, Jane Austen, the Brontes…ehm…Virgnia Woolf perhaps!

Eight years and our library in the hall has grown and evolved. It has the children’s books, old and new, movies, jigsaws, magazines and books of course. Visitors pause always and linger often. Turns out a library is as captivating as anything you’ll find. The visitor might discuss or handle the books or wish to, but they always pause, nursing a small secret hope perhaps, an assurance of some kind. They might find something as any of us might, something they haven’t found before that tells us everything’s alright, or they might find just the presence enough. To be still and pause, in the presence of books.

And me? I am reading again. Wondrous women, May Sarton, Doris Lessing, Karen Blixen, Dorothy Parker, Anne Lamott, Anais Nin, Susan Sontag, Sara Teasdale, Mary Oliver. Now the dream is different, now the dream is to build the library, not just for the sake of its wonderful presence, though I do think that is enough, not for comfort or memory, another good reason, but as a reflection. It will be of me more than Adrian, who reads at a one shelf for a lifetime pace! It will say, ‘she really used to think this way,’ and my own books in the middle, the ones I have written, just to confirm things. And it will stand, for a time, as a help perhaps, to someone, a creative, most likely a woman, striving to be.

me in hall

10 thoughts on “Building a Home Library”

  • Loved this post,Jane! Would you believe that Olwyn is currently reading ‘First Term at Malory Towers’ and loving it.

  • I really enjoyed this post Jane, as a a lover of books for all of my life so far, I know how you feel, I too love being surrounded by books, and confess that it is the first thing I look for when being in someones home for the first time, if there is no bookshelf not even a small one somewhere, I feel a little disappointed. How interesting that your friend gave you a book you were not at all interested in, but on the other hand knows you so well she knew you would write books one day, maybe the little differences in our taste, is what makes us interesting to each other.

    • Thank you Madeleine, that’s true but I don’t think it was particularly her taste either, meant more as a bit of fun 🙂

  • Lovely post, brings back memories of my own childhood library trips. I still remember the excitement and scariness of being admitted into the “grown-ups librabry” whilst my sister was still only allowed into the childrens as back then Galway library had two distinct rooms, one for each.
    We also had a small room in our house which was sometimes called “the library” and sometimes called “the study”. I guess with five kids my parents were hoping to provide each of us with a quiet place when it was our turn to face big exams and it was a good plan.
    The room was large enough for an old kitchen table with one chair and the wall behind the table was lined floor to ceiling with book shelves, another set of book shelves being over the study table.
    I took it upon myself one summer’s day to properly organise the library and I think that was when I realised that there was no real censorship in our house, other than the more adult books being on higher shelves which were easily reachable by standing on a chair or, my personal favorite, climbing on the shelves themselves.
    Ah, books…

    • Your comment is a lovely post in itself Miriam, you should share it further. Love the sound of your library/study, a big table is always appealing and the lack of censorship even more so 🙂 Thanks for commenting

      • Thanks for the encouragement Jane, it had not occurred to me that there might be a longer story in there. Keep an eye peeled, it might happen 🙂
        Oh and by the way, now that you are driving (and congrats), feel free to zoom up the hill to visit any day that the urge takes you…

  • Wonderful as always Jane! I have likewise memories of reading, what a wonderful gift! We had an entire room dedicated to a library (before we decided to move!!) we didn’t think we would fill the bookshelves even halfway, and it was like “nature abhors a vacuum” as armload and armload of books were lined up on the shelves… Until they were filled to capacity and we still had piles of books 🙂 They are now in storage, and I’m bursting a gut, feeling complete loss of my precious books…

    • Thanks Emily 🙂 I have you to thank for Anne Lamott but tell me, have you moved? I mean recently? I will have to message you!

  • I miss reading so much. I figure when I am in my 60’s, I’ll spend that time on reading to make up for all this time I’ve lost. Do save your list of good ones for me please Jane. And I commend you for having the vision to house that lovely library in your new home and life. The children’s books have all stayed but I let go of the rest. The public lending library is right across the street from me so no need.

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