There is a photo of Roger Ebert in his library that paints the picture I thought I wanted to be in some ten or twenty or thirty years from now. I always figured that someday, when I make my fortune, I would have enough money to throw around that my home would include a room with a large projection screen for movies, and another with shelves built into every wall to house my collection of books.
And then there’s Rands’ essay from last summer, The Book Stalker:
Where’s your bookshelf? It’s this awkward moment whenever I first walk into your home. Where is it? Everyone has one. It might not be huge. It might be hidden in a closet, but in decades of meeting new people, I’ve never failed in finding one and when I do I consume it.
See, I don’t really trust you until we talk a little shit and then I see your bookshelf.
My bookshelf held that kind of importance to me. It was a snapshot of the literature that was important to me, and similar to what Rands said, one could suss out some extra information from the books. The worn-out ones had been well-loved; the ones with unbroken spines hadn’t been read yet, and perhaps said more about the kind of books I felt like I should read than what I actually read. My bookshelf was carefully arranged by author - except for technical books, which tend to be larger, and were thus arranged by topic on the bottom shelf - and the books were all lined up to the edge of the shelf, as I had once done endlessly as a library employee in college.
The first major blow to my meager library was the move into my fifth DC apartment. It was my second move with Erin, into the apartment we share now with our dog. It’s hard to maintain a reverence for the things after schlepping heavy boxes of them again and again. I gave half of them to a used book store that donates their profits to charity.
The second blow came when I got a Kindle a few months ago. It’s hard to make the case for amassing hardcovers when I can take a dozen books to the gym and read what I’m in the mood for, and at a lower cost per book.
My bookshelf today is a lot smaller. Instead of the wide, six-foot tall bookshelf I had for years, I’m using a small DVD shelf for the half that made the cut. The OCD side of me feels like a sham for this mishmash of read and unread books mixed together with no organization, but the rational side of me is OK with it. What I take away from the books is a lot more important than keeping them as trophies anyway.
And now, when I make my fortune, maybe I’ll just knock the wall out of the would-be library and make my private theater twice as big.