So Now I Live In A Library

Last Sunday, my brother and I built a library.
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For some time I’ve had a covetous eye on new, bigger bookshelves. Because, of course, one does not downsize one’s library. One acquires bigger bookshelves.

Well, on Saturday I found the shelves. Six feet tall. Bank Alder finish. Some assembly required. Drool, drool.

I brought them home in my little car. So for a little while, I was the Bookmobile.

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When an engineer and an author build things together, they read the directions. (Only one of them understands the directions. I’ll let you guess which.)

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But first, I moved ALL the double-stacked books off my old bookshelves. There’s nothing to make you happy like handling every book you own in one day. It was like a party for old friends. Dust and words everywhere.

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My whole family helped to hammer in approximately 144 nails. (I promise I helped too. I just took a break to snap this picture.)

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There was a quick episode involving extreme wobbles, and a few debates about earthquakes and fires.

But finally the shelves were done. Big. Empty. A smell like my summer job at Barnes & Noble.

But what good are empty bookshelves?

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Absolute beauty.

Anna Quindlen is quoted as having said, “I would be most content if my children grew up to be the kind of people who think decorating consists mostly of building enough bookshelves.”

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So now I live in a library.

Well done, Mom.

Beautiful British Library Mania!

It’s Friday! I’d say it’s time for some beautiful libraries, wouldn’t you?

Let’s take an armchair trip to Britain to visit 5 beautiful libraries. (While the Republic of Ireland is not politically part of Britain, it is geographically part of the British Isles…it’s a long story, better expressed by a YouTube video than by me.)

1. The Bodleian Library, Oxford, England. No library tour would be complete without the Bodleian, which houses 11 million printed items in addition to thousands of other materials. It actually consists of many different library buildings as well as a subterranean storage labyrinth. (Mystery novel, anyone?) The fan ceiling is renowned as one of the most beautiful in England.

Photo credit: redjar

2. The Wren Library, Cambridge, England. A small gem, tucked away in Trinity College, this library was designed by Christopher Wren, one of England’s most famous architects. Containing first editions of works by Tennyson and Byron and the handwritten manuscript of Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne, the library also has a walking stick and lock of the hair of alumnus Sir Isaac Newton. Love the checkerboard floor, too–makes me think of Alice in Wonderland.

Photo credit: Photodesk.at

3. The Long Room, Dublin, Ireland. Two stories, marble busts of thinkers, and sliding ladders, oh my! Also located at a place called Trinity College (different from the Cambridge one), and sharing a building with the inimitable Book of Kells, they raised the barrel ceiling to accommodate more books! 200,000 of the college’s oldest, rarest books, to be exact…

4. The Chester Beatty Library, Dublin, Ireland. A little-known gem I discovered quite by accident, this library is resplendent more with inner than outer beauty. More than a simple collection of books, it’s a curiosity cabinet of antiquities from all over the world, including some incredibly old manuscripts. Imagine illuminated texts, an ancient copy of Augustine’s City of God, and fragments of Bible papyri from as early as AD 150–yes, people, that would be an almost 1900-year-old book. Er, scrap of a book.

5. The British Library, London, England. Last but not least, a classic among libraries. Along with the Library of Congress, the British Library is the second-largest library in the world. Yes, world. It’s a legal deposit and research library containing over 150 million items. Contemporary architecture (including a bench shaped like a folded-open book) pairs here with a mind-blowing collection of some of the world’s oldest manuscripts. Inside you’ll find everything from Beowulf to Jane Eyre, from Handel’s Messiah to the Magna Carta, from a Gutenberg Bible to Anne Boleyn’s copy of the New Testament. It’s the Louvre of libraries.

Oh, guess what? It’s a…

Bonus #6! The Strahov Monastery Library, Prague, Czech Republic.

This one may not be in Britain, but it sure belongs in a tour of the most beautiful libraries. Tucked away in a hilltop monastery in Prague, surrounded by whitewashed walls and the waving stems of yellow roses, is this little-known gem. After a climb up a steep hill, one is rewarded with this sight:

Globes, illuminated manuscripts, a book wheel, and a painted ceiling! It became an important point of inspiration for my novel. And made me think of this scene from Beauty and the Beast: 


Photo credit: Jessica Ta


Happy Friday! Which of these libraries (the Disney one included!) would you visit if you had the chance? 

Someday I Will Be The Library

I’m pleased to report that the old-books shelf in my personal library is now double stacked.
My mom has autumn cleaning fever, so I’ve inherited more books! It’s extra exciting, because these are old books. Rebecca belonged to my grandmother, and the other three were my great-grandfather’s in Mexico. 

I guess keeping a personal library has always been a byproduct of my obsession with books. Not to mention that my only motivation in interior decorating is finding more ways to store, display, and curl up with books.

Ok, maybe not the antlers.
photo credit: …love Maegan via photopin cc

But little did I think when I started collecting books that one day they might be a novelty. Before there were museums, people used to keep “curiosity cabinets” in their homes. I saw one in Prague, containing things like model ships, coats of chain mail, and petrified sharks.

Except that mine will be full of books. 
This week I read a blog post (thanks for forwarding, Michael) by Seth Godin predicting 7 things that will be lost as our society transitions from paper to electronic books. Godin doesn’t predict that paper books will disappear entirely, but that the infrastructure surrounding them will, including bookshelves, bookstores, and libraries. 

Or at least, libraries as we know them. Have you heard about the nation’s first “bookless library,” set to open in San Antonio, TX, in the fall (thanks Hannah!)? No books. Just desktops, laptops, and e-readers for checkout, as well as remote-access materials.

Sad.

I mean, don’t get me wrong. The really important things are that people keep reading, that one idea keeps leading to another, and that stories keep teaching us how to live. Those things can happen just as well on electronic devices as on paper. I have a Kindle, and I like that it allows me to keep one-glance track of all my highlights and notes and even share those with others on the Internet.

But…but…libraries.

To think that someday I might have to tell my kids a fictional story about a magical place where endless shelves of paper books sat waiting to be thumbed through, perused, checked out, brought home with you for a glorious three weeks. Not just to read. To admire, carry around, smell. They have histories. They start conversations. Sometimes they even start relationships. As you’re putting one back, another catches your eye. And you realize you’ll be spending the rest of your life reading. So many books, so little time.

Well, here’s one library that’s not going anywhere.

Someday, I can imagine giving tours of my curiosity cabinet like a museum docent. When bookshelves, bookstores, and libraries have gone out of fashion, I’ll take down my old books and let people smell them, sneeze on the dust. This one was my great-grandfather’s.