Book Review: At Home With Books

At Home With Books:  How Booklovers Live With And Care For Their Libraries, by Estelle Ellis, Caroline Seebohm, and Christopher Simon Sykes

I will be the first to admit that I read books sometimes as aspirational reading.  As someone who greatly loves books and has far too many of them, this sort of book presents where I would like to be in the future.  As a book that combines a love of books with interior design [1], this volume has a lot to offer to readers.  It also has a fairly obvious audience–namely people who love books and who are intrigued about how best to live with them and, if they are more showy and less private than some of us, show them off to others.  As someone who is interested in both interior design and in books, although I do not consider myself particularly proficient in that part of the design arts, I found the book to be immensely lovely, and likely anyone else who loves both books and interior design would likewise find much of interest here as well.  And this book does not disappoint, being excellent in both its words as well as in its images, of which there are plenty of both.

The roughly 250 oversize pages of this book are divided into seven sections with occasional other material.  After a short introduction to the book, the authors show 40 homes of cultural elites, some of them well known–Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones, the Duke of Devonshire, Paul Getty among them–and some of them more obscure.  The home libraries in question are divided into six sections–the grand passion, beautiful bookscapes, designer stacks, wall-to-wall books, literary lairs, and private pleasures–based on their artistic and design principles.  Some of the people involved paint their books to make visual statements, others are clever in terms of how the books are organized, some people are involved in book publishing or book-selling or collect certain genres or have worked hard to create book-friendly homes in unfriendly environments like Florida.  The seventh section of the book consists of a resource directory that includes rare book dealers/shops, book fairs, bookbinders/restorers, providers of book furnishings and lighting, as well as comments on suppliers of various book ephemera and a listing of the great libraries of the world.  Intermixed with the various sections are brief discussions of English country house libraries, the town of Hay-on-Wye, how to organize one’s library and start a collection, lighting and the art of the bookshelf, bookplates and conservationists, the enemies of books as well as ladders, and so on.  For book lovers who either have aspirations or the reality of having their own libraries to deal with, this book has a lot of worthwhile content.

The urge to collect is strong in many of us.  Books are items that are rather talismanic about the people who have them.  Someone can, for example, understand a great deal by looking at the books that are in my collection, including my fondness for military history, my love of beautiful art, my reflections on politics and philosophy and religion, my love of music, my concern about biographies and memoirs, and much more besides.  As reading is usually a fairly solitary activity, it is often difficult to know the community that one is a part of as a bibliophile.  In places where I have lived, one is made to feel a bit odd for liking books as much as I have, and to see the love that so many people of great wealth and power and influence have in books is a source of great comfort when one considers the far worse ways that one could be spending than reading and collecting great books.  In a somewhat ironic but appropriate way, this book about books is itself a worthy book to collect for those who enjoy reading for substance as well as appreciating the beauty of books and the need to ensure good lighting for one’s efforts, lest one ruin their eyes as I have.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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10 Responses to Book Review: At Home With Books

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