Domestic bookrooms

If you have enough physical books, enough money, and enough space in your residence to have a “domestic bookroom”, you may well find How Many Books Does It Take to Make a Place Feel Like Home? fascinating:

Mr. Byers1 coined a term — “book-wrapt” — to describe the exhilarating comfort of a well-stocked library. The fusty spelling is no affectation, but an efficient packing of meaning into a tight space (which, when you think of it, also describes many libraries). To be surrounded by books is to be held rapt in an enchanted circle and to experience the rapture of being transported to other worlds.

I can think of people I know who will love this article and might aspire to this, but for all sorts of reasons to do with my finances and my circumstances – and how close technology has brought us to possession of2 a “personal library” I can hold in the palm of my hand – I just don’t aspire to have my very own “domestic bookroom,” so this sort of article leaves me slightly cold.

[Via Memex 1.1]

  1. Reid Byers, a computer systems architect who set out to build a private library at his home in Princeton, New Jersey and eventually published a book called The Private Library: The History of the Architecture and Furnishing of the Domestic Bookroom about that project which was the inspiration for this article. 
  2. I nearly wrote “ownership of”, but Amazon and Apple and the majority of book publishers and their legions of lawyers are very clear on the fact that we don’t own our ebooks unless they say so. I could own the room (but don’t) yet I still wouldn’t own the books in my personal library. 


Susan Orlean tells a tale that starts out much like that of many bookworms, of Growing Up in the Library, but her story ends with her reconnecting with libraries later in life, after a long spell when she had both the money and the inclination to buy most of her reading material and ends up taking her to a very different place than I’d expected.

I grew up in libraries, or at least it feels that way. My family lived in the suburbs of Cleveland, about a mile from the brick-faced Bertram Woods Branch of the Shaker Heights Public Library system. Throughout my childhood, starting when I was very young, my mother drove me there a couple of times a week. We walked in together, but, as soon as we passed through the door, we split up, each heading to our favorite section. The library might have been the first place that I was ever given independence. Even when I was maybe four or five years old, I was allowed to go off on my own. Then, after a while, my mother and I reunited at the checkout counter with our finds. Together, we waited as the librarian pulled out each date card and, with a loud chunk-chunk, stamped a crooked due date on it, below a score of previous crooked due dates that belonged to other people, other times. […] I deliberately didn’t quote from the end of her article because it needs to be read in situ to have the impact it does. Trust me (or, much more to the point, trust Susan Orlean), it’s worth the read. [note]The strange thing is that I feel that way despite my early personal experience of library visits having been a much more solitary affair and even though I’ve never really reconnected with libraries in later life. Neat thing, that whole writers-communicating-their-life-experiences-to-others-through-the-magic-of-words trick, isn’t it?[/note]

Of course, all this is nonsense because once we lose our attraction for all these strange notions about the usefulness of publicly-funded provision of access to reading materials then surely Amazon (or Facebook, or Apple) will have out best interests at heart and can be trusted to care of all our[note]Which is to say, all of us who have sufficient funds, plus access to the appropriate online payment systems, and to devices that have the appropriate up-to-date DRM software installed, and access to the internet.[/note] content needs. At worst, perhaps there may be some need for charitably-minded citizens to organise themselves to make access to content available to the indigent. The UK government thinks that the increasing role of Food Banks in feeding a small portion of the population is a good thing, so who could possibly object to extending that idea to the content market? Before we know it, we’ll have these things called “Book Banks.” Oh, hang on a minute…