Friday, May 1, 2009

Ex Libris

I was born into a book family, and married into one, and have spent my life surrounded by books, thousands and thousands of them. We acquired them, we welcomed them into our family, we hoarded them. And we continue to do so to this very day.

My most important memories are connected to books--some of the first words I was able to decipher, as a very very little girl, were "Langland: Piers Plowman," for the book stood on a lower shelf in the front entryway, I can remember exactly where, and the pale blue color and smooth feel of the dust jacket, and I would find myself, in my aimless perigrinations through the house on a dull Sunday, face to face with it until suddenly one day the strange code came into focus.

When I was growing up, our most exciting times together as a family involved the acquisition of books. We would stop at stoop sales on weekends, and find treasures--old hardcover Babars, only-slightly-torn pop-up books, and most memorably our first Tintin--"Red Rackham's Treasure," a battered hardcover for a quarter. In the weeks after that magnificent coup, my dad would come home from work bearing more and more Tintins, until we had them all; and then he began with Asterix.

One afternoon, when I was an adolescent, my parents heard from their friends that someone in the neighborhood who owned a strange, musty, dark used book shop, housed in a basement nearby, was liquidating their poetry collection. We didn't ask for details, but ran, all four of us, to investigate, and my parents ended up purchasing all of it--with boxes and handtrucks, we hauled it home to the safe haven of our apartment--hundreds of books of poetry, we had to rearrange and rearrange our already overflowing library shelves to make room for them, but the feat was accomplished and the immeasurable treasure was ours for a song.

When I married Sarge, we each brought an extensive book collection to the deal. This was the single most significant change, for both of us, from single to married life, much more significant even than the merging of our bank accounts. In the beginning, we kept our books in separate bookshelves. I would go to Sarge's collection if I needed to check the Septuagint for something, or had a sudden craving for Heinlein, or The Art of War...Sarge would venture into mine for religion, fiction, poetry, and sociology. The first and most obvious, natural merge was our individual graphic novel collections. Tintin, Sandman, bandes dessines, came together in one bookshelf. It was a major step in our own marriage, and one that led ultimately, albeit many years later, to a full-fledged consolidation. Now, together, we own thousands of books, housed in shelves and more shelves in livingroom, bedroom and kitchen, but overflowing into every room of the house; indeed every last cranny that can be filled, is filled with books. And we feel finally, truly, married now that we can say "our books."

When we made our most recent move, we had to warn the moving gents ahead of time that we had a lot of books. "How many? Ten boxes? Twenty?" asked the foreman. I was actually embarrassed and a little afraid to tell him, lest they back out of the moving deal...

Books were the first thing out of the boxes in our new place, before clothes, before plates and forks. It was too strange, too lonely without them, the shelves echoing, empty...

When my father died, he left us very little in the way of, well, anything of worth...but his books. His apartment was, of course, a library. When the will had been probated, we came into a huge collection of art books, a fourth complete set of Tintins, a second complete set of Patrick O' adopted into my mother's, my sister's, and my own library.

Just recently Hedgehog came to me after an unusually quiet hour spent alone in her room. "Mama!" she announced, standing before me with an excitement in her eyes that I recognized. "Mama. I was counting my books. I stopped at 500."

All this is to say. There are people who love to read, and there are people who collect books, and there are people who read and collect. Then there are those who amass. We are of that last, peculiar, breed. We live with books, we need books, we look at our shelves with proprietary pride, we rearrange them, we take them out to find a passage, to reread, just to look at the familiar covers, to remember our loved ones, to quote aloud to one another. It is the look, the feel, the coziness, not just what they contain, but the artifacts themselves.

People will say, "Thousands of books! It's too dusty, it's cluttered to the eye. Cull them, cull them!" Dust is dust, there will always be dust. And would I cull my own family, my best beloveds?


MJ said...

As a fellow book lover (the walls are lined with bookshelves), I am shocked to go into homes where there is not a single book in sight.

Shocked, I say!

Books, along with music, food and plants/flowers, are what make a house a home.

Leah said...

MJ, I hope I don't offend anyone by saying, me too! It is absolutely alienating to enter a home with no books! Or even just one tiny little out-of-the-way book shelf. I think people think it's neater that way. Or something. I agree with you on your assessment of what makes a house a home. I have to add pets to the list, too.

MJ said...

Pets? Oh yes, absolutely.

I'm stroking my pussy now, as we speak.

Hey, "What makes a house a home?" would be a good topic for you to blog about.

Hint hint.

Leah said...


And yes, that is a great one. I will.

Once again, we have come perilously close to twittering...

Cece said...

I must add one other thing to this compilation of what makes a house a home. Pictures. And not just the ones taken in a studio under fake pretenses. Real candid shots of life as you have lived it. I have books. But only one book shelf. The rest is scattered here and there in closets, on tables, in drawers, ect. Well, you get the picture, but do you get the pictures? I have two huge collages of my family on the wall in my living room. Every table has framed photos of my family. The mantle above the fire place is filled with pictures, I even have a charm bracelet with phots adorning it. So pictures must be included in what makes a house a home.

MJ said...

Okay..we must get back to the BOOKS topic and all save ourselves for the upcoming post!

*frantically tries to turn the conversation back to books*

PI said...

As a child we didn't have much money but we had 'The Volumes' - twelve red books that Dad used to read from - containing everything that any child would need to know.
Our house also is stuffed with books and the most precious are the ones associated with the past. 'Stalky and Co' given to me when, as a small child the father of the local mill owner let me have the run of his library in the school holidays.
'Mountaineering in Scotland' given to me as a teenager by MTL before he dumped me and we parted for 30 years. Excuse me whilst I just go down stairs and kick him:)

MJ said...

*runs over to bookshelves and randomly picks a book*

*runs back to Leah's blog*

TITLE: 'The Intimate Sex Lives of Famous People'

High brow stuff.

Gig said...

I love books too!! I am always reading something. Got the love from my Mom and her sister. My Mom has books in every room, plus one bedroom is referred to as the "bookroom".

The very first book I remember reading is Little House...Laura Ingall Wilder. What memories!!

Really enjoyed you sharing this love of yours with us.


I took so long with this, I am not number one, oh well...
So therefore I will add more on the subject, that I did not think of...I love to read anything, could be a cookbook. I have a very large collection of them. Oh, don't forget magazines. There is not a room that does not have something to read in it. Mr. Big does not read like I do, but has his maps and hunting "stuff" by his "chair". lol.
I also agree with a home needs pics and pets. Ok, I am done for now!

Leah said...

Cece--definitely photos. Absolutely, definitely. Our books are both shelved and scattered...

MJ--yes, back to books! I'll see you one "Intimate Sex Lives of Famous People" and raise you one pale-pink-jacketed "How to Make Love to a Man"!!

PI--I love to hear book memories. I wonder whether the Volumes were sort of like the Children's Book of Knowledge.

Leah said...

Gig!!!--we have TONS of magazines too. Hedgehog has subscriptions to four different ones, and we have "Country Woman," (love that mag, even though I'm not really a country woman), "The New Yorker," "Martha Stewart," and various knitting and modelling mags...I keep buying more and more of those cardboard magazine holders at IKEA to contain them...but the collection just grows!


MJ said...

*pulls 'Sex in the World's Religions' down from shelf and turns to Judaism chapter to see what Leah is getting up to*

Leah said...

MJ, I'll just tell you, everything but the hole in the sheet...I draw the line...

*gets out DSM IV and flips to the chapters on sexual deviancy, just to be sure*

MJ said...

I should like to try the hole in the sheet for the sheer bizarre deviancy of it all.

Anyway, I read both fiction and non-fiction but I give away the fiction books after I read them. After all, I seldom read a work of fiction more than once.

So my shelves are lined mostly with non-fiction as I use them as reference books.

Some of them are rather esoteric. For example, "DRUG ANTIQUES: A Photographic Look at Old & Unusual Drug Artifacts and Rarities".

Leah said...

MJ--"Drug Antiques"? Now, that is fabulous. Seriously? I need it. I'm going to look for it. We do give away fiction from time to time too, although it's hard for me to part with any book. All except our time-honored faves, Laura Ingalls Wilder and J.K. Rowling and Proust and Austen and sci fi and and and etc. etc.

We're very heavy on the reference books as well. We're a family that likes to make references.

MJ said...

I seem to have a lot of sex and drugs and rock 'n' roll books.

Combining drugs with sex, there's "Drugs & Sexuality".

To summarize...

"In the pages of this far-ranging anthology, the reader will come across accounts of the use of many different drugs in many different sexual contexts. From the ecstatically lyrical love-songs and poems of Ancient India to the bizarre and sometimes frightening further reaches of twentieth-century sexuality as recounted by some of the greatest taboo-breaking writers of our times, DRUGS & SEXUALITY contains an unsurpassed wealth of revelations, ecstasies, warnings and entertainments."

MJ said...

Oh, and I can quit commenting any time I want.

Just like I said I could quit blogging.

Just sayin'.

Leah said...

"an unsurpassed wealth..." so alluring. My sister and I have a weird collection of '60s sex and drugs and rock n' roll and commune publications. Most of it is at her house, more's the pity, but then I think she uses them more...

I also have lots of morbid sorts of reference books. My favorite is the always classic "Wisconsin Death Trip." Have you seen that one? It's magic, absolute magic. Well, for a certain type of macabre person, anyway...

Leah said...

hee hee! It's like being on the phone and saying, "I'm hanging up now, bye!" "no, I'm hanging up!" "no I am!" remember that from the teenage years? Or more recently depending upon how arrested one is...

MJ said...

No, I haven't seen "Wisconsin Death Trip."

But I've been to Wisconsin and couldn't wait to get out so it's no wonder death is equated with that state.

*awaits Wisconsin residents' backlash*

As for my level of "arrested" I think you know the sad truth.

savannah said...

it's saturday and i am moving very slowly, but i have to say: I LOVE YOU GUYS! i swear, darlings, we are really cousins or something!but, back to the point, yes, we have a library now! a room for some of our books. of course, every other room in this house has an assortment of books and magazines stacked neatly (yeah, sure...) and artfully (ok, now, i'm really lyin!)

nick said...

God yes, how can anyone survive without a house full of books? A bookless house gives me the shudders. We have bookshelves all over the house, plus piles of books everywhere. A huge range of subjects from urban regeneration and political theory (Jenny being a planning lecturer) to travel guides, fiction, feminism, biography and art.

We do have a rule of buy one, dump one, which sort of works but I think the total is slowly growing.

There's something deeply comforting about being surrounded by all these esoteric facts and imaginary worlds and philosophical ruminations. A sort of treasure trove of human thought I can keep dipping into for inspiration.

We don't go in for pictures or pets though....

Emerson Marks said...

Dear Saturday Leah & MJ show.

I can see where you're both coming from. Books are pretty relaxing to look at when they're all stacked up together.

I've always been a bit of anti-horder. I don't tend to have much stuff. I've got a pretty good library about 5 mins away and tend to use that alot.

But, I've got a quite a few of my own books that I promised myself I'd get round to reading.

How many books do you read a month or say a year?

I've got slack. Very slack. I've been reading the same book since Christmas! Whereas in previous years I'd read loads.

Perhaps you can nag and maybe I'll finish for whom the bell tolls some time in the next 20 years.

Brian Miller said...

love to read. seeing the pic of the bookshelf gets me excited. i go through 2-3 a week. love the little bookstores, paperback exchanges, and finding oddities. have numerous bookshelves around our house and have to watch because i will get lost in them...

Auntie, aka Dog Girl said...

Hey girl,
Most of my students don't have any books in their homes (except for the phone book and/or the Bible). I thank God I've learned to read, and that I love books.
That MJ blogger has the wierdest comments...I'm afraid to go see his blog...

Skeeter said...

Hi Leah,

Me too! I've got books galore. Love 'em. Great post.

Best wishes,


Karen ^..^ said...


My soul sister. I adore books. I crave books. I rarely go to the library. I spend most of my favorite times in Barnes and Noble, and the brilliant little used bookstore in downtown Melbourne. I even brave the flea markets in order to find the perfect books.

Your collection is much more intellectual than mine, but I did see the complete works of Laura Ingalls Wilder on that shelf.

I have two sets.

I love books, they saved my life growing up.

I loved this post. LOVED it.

merelyme said...

...what Karen said!

Suzanne said...

Well you know I have thousands! I actually wrote a post about a months or so ago I never posted. I should because it remains in the "archives!" I had an idea. Show one bookself a week!!! You know how I've agonized about editing my book collection (oh, and I didn't even mention my magazine collection...thousands and thousands!!!!). I've started you know. They're in the garage. I haven't found the courage to move them from the garage to Good Will. Isn't that just silly? They're like dear friends. How am I supposed to just give them away?

When we moved from LA back to the Bay Area Mom flew down to help. I remember her words exactly, "Why do you need all these books and magazines?" I thought she's gone crazy on me!!! And the movers were so pissed having to lift all those boxes. Oh, and then the movers from the Bay Area to Sacramento were so pissed they threw our sofa pillows and very expensive comforter cover off the truck on the drive up. Bastards. Oh, and then the movers from Sacramento back to the Bay Area were so pissed they never paid for the refrigerator they purchased from us. Then when we moved to our current house in Carmichael from the Bay Area, Mom said "You still have all these books and magazines? When are you going to get rid of this stuff?" Hugh? Like, NEVER!!!!

I grew up loving books. My younger sister loves books so much she didn't have a TV in her home until recently (she's 46)! We grew up surrounded by them. Buying them, going to second hand shops looking for "good" ones. Buying new, buying old. Enjoying the process, and enjoying the words. You know me and my family by now! We get on the phone and talk about, what else? Books! Look at Mom's major coup a few months ago!!! Books, books, books. Ya just gotta love um! Dusting? Who cares. Every few years is good enough.

You know it's funny because any room can be a library. I love libraries and saw a gorgeous dining room in a British magazine. Three walls were floor to ceiling bookshelves because a dining room is rarely used, but a library is used every single day. I designed mine the same way. HGTV tries to imply books are "clutter." I disagree. When people enter our home the dining room is the first place people relax and enjoy. It's warm and inviting, and most important...multifunctional!

Darling, this post was delicious. I love it. I'm going to edit my library post and get it up and running in the next few days. You've definately inspired me. And you know what? I think we should start something like Theme Thursday for book lovers. Show a shelf a week and discuss one book you love or, whatever!!! You and MJ are smarter than me, come up with something clever. And by the way, the banter between the two of you is really precious. I mean that.

Love you darling. Thanks so much for this post. It's wonderful.


Ronda Laveen said...

Hi. My name is Ronda. I'm a bookaholic. My addiction needs constant feeding. I am bad. I admit it. BUT, my lovely Leah, you make me look like a rookie. Yeah, I can only aspire. All hail the Book Queen (and King).

Walker said...

I have books, heaps of them. To many and in fact i gave away all my paper backs becuase i needed the space,
About 4000 of them.
But i did keep the Louis LAmour, I have them all along with another 500 or so westerns.
If you read enough books and search among their pages you will find who you are and how you lived along with all your dreams an desires because we all share those in some small way.

And if you collect enough books and pages, one day you will have the story of your life to pass on to the next generation to read.

Suzanne said...

Walker, that's really beautiful. I never thought about my collection in that way, but it's true. Every book in my library reflects my jouney. Perhaps that's why I find it so difficult to part with any. I was recently rewriting my will and of course the books are high priority. But I realized if I die in CA my family won't be able to afford to transport my entire collection back to the North East. So I chose one book for each sister, brother, niece, nephew and mom and dad. It was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. I instructed everyone to get rid of everything except the animals, the books I selected and my art. I even wrote instruction for removing the canvases from the frames, how to ship them and how to rebuild the frames! Also which rose to dig up and transplant in my sisters yard. It's funny what's important when you come right down to it. And I can honestly say, I don't think my will is very ordinary!!!!! None of my sisters will dare challenge how to dig up, transport, then plant a rose bush in court!!!! Which reminds me, I should probably make a video too!!!

Love you honey. I'll stop by to see what you're "up" to.


P.S. Leah. I agree with you. A house without books is PURE INSANITY!

Hi Leah! XO

Suzanne said...

They also reflect my "journey." Good Lord!

Suzanne said...


One more thing. My grandmother used to read to us every night, or have us read to her. She loved westerns and had the complete Zane Grey collection. I was 5-6-7 and reading Zane Grey!!! That's too damn funny. God I loved that woman. My little sisters and I would sit in her library and take turns reading pages every single night until we'd completed the book (usually in a few days). It was something we looked forward to every day. That's a beautiful memory. Thanks for reminding me.


P.S. And Leah, thanks for this post.

Mrsupole said...

First before I forget, yes that was one of my poems. Thank you for liking it.

Now as to books, I love books, and I have to say love not like. There can never be too many books. I have books in every room except one bathroom. The other one has about 10 right now. Boxes of books, bookshelves of books, stacks and piles of books. How can people live without books is beyond my comprehension. I think I have close to a hundred cookbooks alone. I nest with books beside me, but I have discovered the book with the most is my notebook laptop. I can read and read and read for hours. I love to take a bath and read a book. The only bad thing is that then I do not want to get out. Two hours later and I could still be in there relaxing and reading the book. I was doing that today. I touch books, just to touch and feel them. It is like a love affair with books. I have always been this way and am not sure why. I seem to be the only one in my family who does this. My mom would catch me up late at night reading books when I was a child. They could not stop me. I would rather read than sleep. I cannot explain how I feel about books, maybe you know and understand.

I have had to give away hundreds of books in the past years, but it is okay. I still have hundreds more. Even in my garage there are books.

Okay I better let you go and stop writing about books. It is hard not to, I must say.

God bless.

I_am_Tulsa said...

As a fellow book lover I just had to say hi! I love how tidy, warm and welcoming your bookshelf looks!

books,coffee,etc.... said...

Hi! Leah,
I really enjoyed reading your post and I agree with you, wholeheartedly, when it comes to your opinion about books.
Btw, Leah, your bookshelf do look very welcoming!...

Overheard:Living with Books: A stack of well loved books is far more than a summary of your interests~it's a declaration of your passion for reading.and I also have a paperweight with this quote: "A house without books~is like a room~without windows."Take care!
Deedee ;-D

Madame DeFarge said...

I remember the momentous moment when we joined our book collections. It was almost as big a milestone as obtaining a joint bank account. I still judge people by their books, much like MJ. No books is a very bad thing.

Anonymous said...

Books ... nasty suckers do the bad thing in the night and then there are more of them in the morning, books make books, I wrote about it, only an article but it will grow ... terrible. Had to get rid of some when moving in here, tried to keep at least one room free of them because of the dust, no way.

Saw how the local university library dealt with them, disgusting, a new director ... bought some, made others buy via some institutions [where's the fucking money when needed?], these blokes believe that digitalization would "re-place" books and other printed materials, it's just ridiculous.
Next thing is pictures, silver films, glass plates, various "dia" materials, ah it makes me cry ... books.
No way out of Babel.

The Idle Devil said...

Such a wonderful time I had lapping this up like a warm mug of hot chocolate! :) Lovely!

Marianna said...

Hi Leah!

I tagged you on my blog! It is for a blog game :)

take care

Dakota Bear said...

I could never live without books. They have always been my best friend. I understand why you have thousands of books.