Saturday, February 6, 2010


Cozy, warm, good reading lamps, overstuffed chair, the perfect library!

For you book lovers out there, do you usually buy your books or do you get them from the library or borrow them from friends? If you own the book, do you keep it or pass it on (or - shudder - toss it out)?

I have a lot of books, to put it mildly. When our previous home burned, the firemen remarked on how many books we owned, and that was only a fraction of what we have now. Many people coming to our home for the first time mention in a semi-shocked voice at how many books there are.

I have mainly chosen to buy my books and, obviously, keep them. At one point, I belonged to half a dozen book clubs and bought  new hardcover books at bookstores. But as my coffers emptied, I started buying books at the used bookstores and on Then I started purchasing them only at thrift shops (although some of those charge as much as used book stores do.) Now, I am reduced to borrowing them from the library.

This could be a bookshelf in my house.

I know, reduced is too strong a word. But I actually don't like the library. Not the Bismarck Public Library, anyway. (Hope no one from Bismarck reads this!) I like the public library in Mandan, Bismarck's sister city across the Missouri River. Although it is not in its original building, it is still in an old brick building and is warm, inviting and comforting. Bismarck's Library, however, is too modern, too cold, too sterile, and has too many books.

Yes, too many books. Whenever I try to browse for books there, I feel overwhelmed and give up. So unlike my first library, the Crosby, ND, Library, just a small building with a couple of rooms. I would go straight to the fiction section and start browsing. There weren't too few books, and there weren't too many either. It was just right, as Goldilocks would say.

I bet the old Bismarck Public Library was a cool place. I love old brick libraries with wooden reading tables and chairs, and librarians who stamped the books by hand. I was a librarian at Columbus High School in my junior year (during study hall) and loved it. I was extremely angry when the new English teacher took "my" job away from me in senior year and gave it to another girl. I'm surprised I didn't turn out to be a librarian. (My daughter did, though!)

Oops!  Time to get a new bookcase!

But the main thing I dislike about our library is that it never has the books I want! Yesterday is an example. I went with a list of 15 books and came home with four. They didn't have a copy of "The Winter House" (Nicci French), nor "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian" (Sherman Alexie), nor "Howards End is on the Landing: A Year of Reading at Home" (Susan Hill), nor "The Sonnets" (yes, they had Shakespeare's sonnets but not the Warwicke Collins' novel). They didn't even have a copy of "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie" (Muriel Sparks)!

Six of the books I wanted were checked out (this happens to me all the time). So I went home and went online to reserve them. There is just one person ahead of me on the list for "The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop: A Memoir, a History" (Lewis Buzbee) and also just one for "The Blue Tattoo: The Life of Olive Oatman (Women in the West)" (Margot Mifflin). There are two waiting for "Remarkable Creatures" (Tracy Chevalier). That's not bad. But five people ahead of me for "Wolf Hall: A Novel" (Hilary Mantel) and six people for "The Swan Thieves" (Elizabeth Kostova) is a bit much. And 26 in line for "Half-Broke Horses" (Jeannette Walls). OMG I'll never get it!!!

What books did I end up with then? 1. "The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story" by Diane Ackerman. 2. "People of the Book" by Geraldine Brooks. 3. "Travels With Charley" by John Steinbeck. It's for an on-line book club I've joined. I had read it years ago and was pleased to get the chance to re-read it. 4 . "A Brief History of Montmaray" by Michelle Cooper. I learned about this book from Loretta on the "Pomegranates and Paper" blog. Thanks, Loretta. It was a ripping good yarn, as they say. I started it last evening and already finished it this morning. It will be reviewing it soon on my book blog.

That beautiful bow-window is what sold me on this
comfortable, intriguing-looking home library.

It shouldn't take me too long to read the other three. After that I'll have to put my patience cap on and wait for the others to come in. Or, I can do as the author of "Howards End is On the Landing" set out to do. Her aim was to read only the books in her own home for a year. "Howards End" is of course the famous novel by E. M. Forster. (P.S. For you grammarphiles out there, there is no apostrophe in Howards in either book title.)

This is what says about Hill's book: "This is a year of reading from home, by one of Britain's most distinguished authors. Early one autumn afternoon in pursuit of an elusive book on her shelves, Susan Hill encountered dozens of others that she had never read, or forgotten she owned, or wanted to read for a second time. The discovery inspired her to embark on a year-long voyage through her books, forsaking new purchases in order to get to know her own collection again. A book which is left on a shelf for a decade is a dead thing, but it is also a chrysalis, packed with the potential to burst into new life. Wandering through her house that day, Hill's eyes were opened to how much of that life was stored in her home, neglected for years. "Howards End is on the Landing" charts the journey of one of the nation's most accomplished authors as she revisits the conversations, libraries and bookshelves of the past that have informed a lifetime of reading and writing."

I certainly could do that. There are so many books I have meant to re-read, beginning with "Rebecca" and on to "Jane Eyre", "Wuthering Heights", "The Grapes of Wrath", and so many, many more. And then there are the books I bought at thrift shops or used bookstores because they were cheap and looked interesting. There are those I discarded after a few pages or a chapter. I should give "Wicked" (Gregory Maguire) another try. And "Gentlemen and Players" too (Joanne Harris - I usually love her books.) Then there are the second and third books in a series (like Rosalind Miles' Isolde trilogy). But it's been too long since I read book one and I'd have to re-read that too! Kristen has left books here also, like "Pope Joan" (Donna Woolfolk Cross).

But no! 2011 will have to be my Year of Reading From Home. This is going to be my "Year of
 Reading From My 'A' List". And hopefully I'll get "Half-Broke Horses" by Christmas!

Here's an interesting link from a post on Cornflower's Blog Blog which discusses the pros and cons of patronizing the library:

This looks like a library in an English country home.
I adore this look. I especially love putting as many
pictures on the walls as you can fit in. I do that!


ADDED LATER: Janet's comment reminded me that I had wanted to add a bit more to this post. I wanted to describe my ideal home library. I have often dreamed of putting an addition on to the back of my house. It would, of course, have wall-to-wall, floor to ceiling bookshelves, made of some darkish but not-too-dark wood with lovely trim at the top. I would give my library an English cottage theme, with forest-green walls and accents of dark blue and burgundy. The chairs would for the most part be leather club or overstuffed chintz, so I could tuck my legs up underneath me while reading, but there would be a smallish table with wooden chairs for breakfasting, perusing the morning papers, or, Jane Austen-like, writing letters.

There would, of course, be a fireplace flanked by wing chairs, a big wooden antique desk and lots of floor lamps. (I can no longer read in the evening without my reading glasses and a good standing lamp.) My prized Scottish castle oil painting would hang over the fireplace. There would be a vast oriental rug and big hassocks on which to sit or prop one's legs, or for use as a coffee/tea tray.  The TV would be banned but certainly there would be some sort of sound system for soothing classical music. Any wall space that was not filled with bookshelves would be jammed with paintings, botanical prints, hunting dog prints and my etchings of buildings. There would definitely have to be a real dog lolling about on the carpet for company. And to be sure, there would be accessories like statuettes, some lovely pieces of china, a globe, perhaps an armillary sphere and other interesting bits and bobs.


Joyce said...

Oh I LOVE libraries...and wish I had one of those huge English libraries in my home.
I have a nice one and we have books galore...even packed up in the attic.
But there's just something about a "library" room or office.
I do buy new ones on occasion but hate to because I generally only read a book once...unless it's a historic or reference book, etc.
So then if I don't want to keep it in my library...I lend them out to everyone I know. Forgetting who has them usually. HA!
I also use the library.
But seem to return books late at times...ugh. Hate that part. I'm a fast reader...just like to take my time though.
My friends and I often meet in the local bookstores to read or to chat over magazines and drink tea.
I was in a book club but it turned weird and I got out.
I wish I was in another one though.
I would have loved to be a Librarian...or a Travel Agent!!! HA!
I loved this....

Janet said...

The only books I buy anymore are artsy books and I usually have a coupon when I buy them. I have always used the library wherever I've lived. Some have been better than others but I love going to the library....did it today! Ours is fairly small but I can request books from the Los Angeles Library so that makes it great.

JoAnn ( Scene Through My Eyes) said...

Have you tried inter-library loans? I get books like that all the time - there is a small charge, but still a lot cheaper than buying a book. I adore books, but when we moved to our new house I had to choose - books or a studio - and of course I went for the studio. I still have one bookcase full of books that I couldn't part with - and Don has one bookcase - we really pared down

I adore the library - I go online and make a wishlist and then make my reqests from that list - making sure I don't have too many books checked out to reed in three weeks. I am still number 50 on Half Broke Horses - down from 97. One time I was number 72 in line for a book and when it finally came it I had forgotten that I had reserved it, it had been so long. Our library notifies us when a book is in, by email, also if our books are going to be due soon - I love that feature.

Our DIL is a reference librarian and she is a big help in finding a book when I can't find it - she's amazing.

Annie Jeffries said...

I scrounge books wherever I can - bookstores, libraries, Good Will, yardsales, online. I beg, borrow, and "steal" them. The "steal" means I walk off with a book at the faculty library at work but of course, I always return it.

I loved the top picture Julie. I would make that my own in a heartbeat.

Julie said...

Hi, Joanne (Pieceful Afternoon)!

Regarding our library's online service, there are books available that may not be in Bismarck, but are in Mandan or in small public high schools in the area. I feel bad taking books from their libraries! I really should check out the North Dakota State Library's Interlibrary Loan Service. The library itself is a wonderful old building on the State Capitol Grounds here in Bismarck, and it's just a few blocks from my house.

I just signed up for the BPL online service. I, too, will be notified if a book that I reserved is in and available for me. Yeah, that is a nice service. I wish that I felt more comfortable in our library, and I am sure that many people love it, but I just don't have that feeling. And when I went in there on Friday I learned that the coffee shop is closed until they can make arrangements with another vendor.

Colleen - the AmAzINg Mrs. B said...

I've always wanted floor to c eiling bookshelves and one of those laddes on wheels to get from one section to another! I find it almost impossible to get rid of even one book - and I don't like borrowing them either - but I'm happy to lend..go figure. Great post..and I saw another book I must look inot "Cheeries in Winter" a cookebook for hard times with stories of her grandmother's cooking..

Loretta a/k/a Mrs. Pom said...

Julie, I completely share your feelings about libaries of today! Just last week, friends and I were discussing "old" libraries and how all the charm and mystery of reading have been ripped out of them in favor of bright colors, open staircases that transmit noise, and the hum of banks of computers.

I would take any of the reading rooms you have shone. I am currently nagging my husband to give me dibs on a spare bedroom to turn into my study/reading room. For some reason he objects to me having ALL of the spare rooms!

I have something I think you need. Would you send me your address??

Autumn Leaves said...

Fabulous entry, Julie. My dream has always been to have a huge library in my own home. My look would be a bit like the library in the movie "Journey to the Center of the Earth" - the original with James Mason. What walls you could see would be a beautiful forest-y green. The furniture would be leather - a rich reddish brown. A fireplace is a must have, and yes - paintings too. A beautiful oriental rug, antique desk and that furniture would be two large wingback chairs. I see it a bit like Sherlock Holmes, a bit like wealthy sea captains.

And I personally have never seen a library that had "too many" books. The more there are, the happier I am. I like buying books as well. About 5 years ago, I donated tons of books to the library where I used to live. I realized I was never going to have my library as I envisioned it and carting them around as much as we move got to be really tough. Now if I buy a book, I keep it, but I am careful in my choices. I keep all hardcovers, all classics, all reference. I have kept a few soft covers as well but only those that I find truly fabulous. One of my favorites was "The Devil in the White City."

Julie said...

Autumn, you have described the perfect library. Yes, an antique desk, wing chairs by the fireplace, some leather chairs and an oriental rug. I most go back and change my post to include those things!

gma said...

My library experiences have always been good.It never fails,I always find books that interest me. I do believe that part of the library experience should be an inviting atmosphere. They should have friendly helpful librarians who will assist in locating a requested book and offering their services such as inter-library loans or perhaps even ordering it. For sure a good one will have multiple copies or a waiting list for much requested material.
I also buy books and have books overtaking my home too.

Shopgirl said...

Arney loves to read and his books are mostly in boxes waiting for some shelves. We had a large home when we moved to our cottage farm house. Everything seemed to have a place including our books. But that has not been true here. Our plan is to build shelves on the wall where the T.V is. We are getting a flat screen and building around it. I think it will be really nice since Arney is so good at building things. I love to go to B&N here in Boise. It is done with all cherry wood and the seating areas are so beautiful. I love to get a hot drink and enjoy the music while I look for a book.
I really like the pictures. I like the one with the big window.
I am so glad you could get into my blog, I had missed you so much. You are a good friend!!
Love, Mary

Judith A . Bates said...

Julie, I love your dream library and your real one too! Right now I have to admit to a bit of "library envy" :) We had a library at our old house, but when we moved out here to the country, I too, had to choose between a library and a studio... But if we ever succeed in building my dream studio as a separate building, what is now my studio would become a very small and cozy library.
I've been on a book buying binge of late, I love to look at them and know that they are all mine! But if I'm ever going to be able to afford my dream studio, I had better start visiting our newly renovated library :)

Naturegirl said...

Julie my one special"Celtic Warrior Woman" who I know was in my corner throughout my healing!I am so grateful for you caring and for your friendship!! xo
I loved reading your comment to me!
YES go ahead with your request!

I was NOT able to read during my treatment due to chemo brain fog..couldn't focus!!
Now I'm reading every spare moment I have..2 books for week. I'm reading everything..well books that have been on hold for some time.
Love the images of the perfect libraries..can you imagine..I can't choose one they are all inviting!
I usually buy my books but now am considering going to the library.
If I do give away a book which I've read it's usually to a book exchange.
love and light aNNa xo

Joyce said...

I like your "addition" ...great visual! I think I would like a library like that as well.
Let's keep dreaming!!
That doesn't cost a dime...
Hang in there!

Mary said...

When I walk into our local libraries, especially the main one, I cringe when I see the rows of people on computers!!! It's almost as if reading books are secondary to job hunting, school work and surfing the net. Yes, those things are important for many. I'm sorry that people are having difficulty finding jobs, and that some kids don't have access to the Internet at home, but what happened to real libraries where books came first - where we sat in hushed silence instead of clicking keyboards, devouring literature and being transported instead of annoyed by all going on around us. I miss seeing teens turning pages and writing, yes writing, in exercise books at old worn wood tables.......I miss the old days, the old ways.

I loved this post Julie and your images of books and shelving. You have given us some good titles here but I too must read what I have before adding more. My recent purchases (using Borders buy one get 50% off the second coupon) were Alexander McCall Smith's "No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency" and "Tears of the Giraffe" because they are set in Botswana. I'm ripe for reading/viewing everything I can get my hands on regarding the African countries I'll be visiting soon!

Thanks for this wonderful post and I hope you are able to get all the books on your list in the coming months......even if you have to wait to build your own comfy library!

Hugs - Mary.

Rowan said...

I'd love a libray too but few houses have enough room for a dedicated room these days. One wall of my little dining room is shelved from floor to ceiling and includes a built in desk for my PC and printer, this is as near as I'm ever likely to get. I do, of course!, buy lots and lots and lots of books both new and secondhand but I also use the local libray mostly for fiction, which I rarely buy, and for audio books which I listen too while cooking or ironing. Apart from a couple of fiction authors whose books I collect nearly all my books are about things I'm interested in - history, genealogy, gardening, crafts, cookery and so on. I love that photo of the roses and the old books, I've been craning my neck trying to read the titles of the books on the shelf:)

Michele said...

I have a lot of books, too, but have run out of space so have forced to pare down. *sigh*

I purchase most of my books from thrift stores or pre-owned from ebay but occasionally I can't wait, break down and order from Amazon. I became disenchanted with my public library a while back but now that we're living part-time in a new locale I have given it another chance. This library is so much warmer & cozier, I enjoy visiting.