These Books Go — Or I Do!

My friend Jon Lellenberg likes to tell the story of how he and I once drove back to Washington together after the annual dinner of the Baker Street Irregulars. En route, we stopped for a very pleasant lunch and visited an equally pleasant used bookshop. I remember buying a handsome large-paper edition of Frederick Rolfe’s Chronicles of the House of Borgia, along with several other worthy tomes.

Finally, though, we pulled up to my house in Maryland and there on the front porch were neatly stacked a dozen boxes, each packed with books. I don’t remember the actual reason they were there, but Jon immediately concluded that my Beloved Spouse had finally had enough. He was convinced that had I arrived an hour later the Salvation Army or Amvets would have carted everything away.

As I say, I’m fairly sure there was some other reason why the books were on the porch — though for the life of me I can’t think what it could have been. At all events, the boxes were duly moved back into the house, along with the new acquisitions from my road trip.

Still, the incident did remind me of many stories about book collectors and their spouses. Years ago, a guy I knew came home one day to find all his books gone. His soon to be ex-wife had “finally gotten rid of them.” For years he would occasionally find a title from his library at local bookshops and book sales. On the other hand, I also know a couple who share a passion for Lewis Carroll. In their instance, they have found that collecting, researching and sharing their pleasure in Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass has enhanced their life together.

Still, I daresay that in most instances tension exists between collectors and their families. Living rooms look like libraries, basements are full of cartons of new acquisitions, money is spent on storage units, piles of books spring up in corners, next to the bed, on the steps to the second floor or attic. If the collector is male and his wife grew up believing in a spotlessly clean and tidy home, trouble is bound to erupt.

Most of the members of the Reading Room are collectors too, or at least accumulators of books. How do your spouses, significant others, children, parents or siblings feel about your book collection? Have you ever suffered serious family upset because of your book-buying and reading? Do you ever feel guilty for having inflicted your hobby on the living space of others? How will your survivors deal with your books once you’re gone? Please share your thoughts, memories and anecdotes.

— Michael Dirda

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