Lake House Library

Back in September I wrote this post on curating the perfect beach house library.

Well, another month, another season and another friend’s renovation project (my friends are big into tearing down walls!) has just wrapped up.  This was a special project in that it’s a house I practically grew up in, owned by a woman who had a huge role in shaping the person I am today.  The house is completely changed – all for the better – and this friend, too, is planning to dedicate an entire room to books.  While a beach house is obviously a place for summer reading – the lake house has always made me think of Fall and changing leaves and the romance (though not the practicalities!) of a wood burning stove.

This is definitely the library for large, heavy hardcover door-stopper novels.   And knowing the tastes of the people who’ll be using it, it’s also a place where I imagine edge worn sci-fi paperbacks by Jack Vance & Fritz Leiber side-by-side with contemporary examples of narrative non-fiction.  A whole row of cookbooks and a stack of…. enough.   Let’s do this right.

  • A subscription to The New York Review of Books – perfect for Saturday morning reading between sips of coffee.

  • Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall & Bring Up the Bodies for all the obvious reasons.
  • The Complete Annotated Short Stories of Sherlock Holmes (W.W. Norton) – They’re huge, unwieldy and don’t make for the most comfortable reading, but I’m partial to the annotated volumes in this boxed set.
  • Jack Vance, Fritz Leiber, Douglas Adams and that guy who wrote the Conan the Barbarian series – classic American sci-fi and fantasy.  I always feel nostalgic in the Fall.
  • Murakami – not 1Q84 so much, though I don’t rule it out of hand.  I’m thinking of his earlier books with their themes of isolation and loss.
  • I know Cloud Atlas is EVERYWHERE at the moment so I won’t insult you by recommending it. A novel by David Mitchell is perfect for this (or really any) time of year.   I wonder if they were written while the leaves changed color?  The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet or Black Swan Green… reader’s choice. 
  • The Hangman’s Daughter mystery series from Germany – decidedly middle-brow, but well done and a lot of fun for all that
  • I still haven’t discovered cookbooks I like better than The Canal House Cookbook series.  New books come out twice a year.  An added (and, admittedly, obvious) benefit is that you can read them while cooking up a fabulously delicious meal.
  • Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume One should have a permanent spot on the table next to your favorite reading chair.  Just waiting for you to dip into on a long, cold night.  A cat and a snifter of brandy is recommended but completely optional.
  • Any book from the collection of authors born out of the imagination of the French author Antoine Volodine.  I’ll be reviewing We Monks & Soldiers by Lutz Bassmann later this week. Atmospheric and strange and more than a little bit creepy.





 

Do you have a favorite book for this time of year?  Something you recommend for when the nights begin to turn cold?

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

The “Private” Library

Reading has been slow these last few weeks.  So my apologies, dear readers.  More reviews are in the works – promise.

I’ve been thinking a lot about personal libraries of late, and not just my own (though I do have design drawings for bookshelves I’m planning for the living room).  It started with Phantoms on the Bookshelves, which made me reconsider the value of a working over a collector’s library.  Now a friend is renovating a beach house and plans to dedicate an entire room to books.  Doesn’t that sound brilliant?  She loves to entertain, travels a lot and has friends from all over the world who will be coming to enjoy the ocean.  My solution?  A library built almost entirely of paperbacks that can be taken back and forth from the beach – with an emphasis on international and translated authors. Nothing to cerebral or precious.  Here’s a version of the perfect beach house library –

  • complete works of John le Carre & Ian Fleming,
  • rows of New Directions and Open Letter paperbacks
  • Philippe Claudel
  • Cesar Aira
  • Haruki Murakami
  • Roberto Bolano
  • Umberto Eco
  • some nonfiction books on World War 2 (because, for some unexplainable reason, even people who aren’t interested in history will read about WWII).
  • a copy of HhHH by Laurent Binet, perhaps?
  • back-issues of The Paris Review
  • every Calvin & Hobbes paperback collection ever published.
  • Alain Mabanckou
  • anything written by or about a Mitford sister
  • Moby Dick

The library may just exist in my imagination, but I’m working on a personalized bookplate (with a note on where to return lost books) as a surprise housewarming gift.

If Dan Simmon’s Drood is to be believed, and I can’t imagine why not, Charles Dickens would leave specially chosen books on the bedside tables of overnight guests.

Continuing on with the theme – on my journeys through the internet I discovered THE PRIVATE LIBRARY and Jumel Terrace Books.  Kurt Thometz curates and develops libraries for the rich and famous in NYC, with a client list that includes Diana Vreeland, Calvin Klein, Fran Lebowitz and Diane Sawyer.  His blog, though not updated as much as I’d like (pot meet kettle!), is filled with fascinating insights on books, book collecting and the inexhaustible topic of cataloging and organization.  Any bibliophile worthy of the name should have this page bookmarked.  As for Jumel Terrace – it’s a bookshop in Harlem that specializes in local history (by which I think they mean Harlem), African and African-American subjects/literature.  It’s also a Bed & Breakfast that shares an entrance with the bookshop.

The guestroom at our house has a fully stocked bookcase.  I’m in trouble if someone ever starts a book and then *shudder* wants to take it home to finish.

I know it’s an oddball topic.  Still.  Have you ever stayed at a hotel, inn, b&b or just a friend’s house that had an amazing library?

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Phantoms on the Bookshelves by Jacques Bonnet (translated from the French by Siân Reynolds)

The phantoms on the bookshelves probably aren’t what you think.  Page 110 of Jacques Bonnet’s book of essays defines fantôm as a “sheet or card inserted to mark the place of a book removed from a library shelf, or a document which has been borrowed.”  The chapter, from which the book takes its title, discusses the dismantling of libraries.  It is something the author takes very seriously.  Not surprising, as he is the owner of some 40,000 books.

What is unusual about his collecting mania is that, by his own account, he’s not really a collector.  He identifies himself primarily as a reader and, other than its sheer scope and the quantity of books it contains, explains that his library is neither special or valuable.  In fact, he appears to be striving to achieve the exact opposite.

… a monstrous personal library of several tens of thousands of books – not one of those bibliophile libraries containing works so valuable that their owner never opens them for fear of damaging them, no, I’m talking about a working library, the kind where you don’t hesitate to write on your books, or read the in the bath; a library that results from keeping everything you have ever read – including paperbacks and perhaps several editions of the same title – as well as the ones you mean to read one day.  A non-specialist library, or rather one specialized in so many areas that it becomes a general one.

Am I the only one who sees Jacques Bonnet is a role model?

Phantoms on the Bookshelves is a petit trésor that I recommend to anyone obsessed with the physical object which is a book.  It’s an elegant translation – written in a conversational style, discussing in depth the minutia of owning, caring for and housing (never over the bed!) a personal library.  Bonnet peppers his own experiences with stories about literary and historical figures who share his compulsion.  He explores the quirks and issues which only the book obsessed bond over.  Throughout the book his sharp sense of humor is on display.

These are the subjects that booklovers will discuss for hours (if not days, weeks and months).  My favorite chapter is called, simply, “Organizing the bookshelves”.  It contains a funny excerpt from the novel The Paper House which describes the main character, Carlos Bauer’s, aversion to placing two authors together on one shelf after they have quarreled in real life.

‘…for example, it was unthinkable to put a book by Borges next to one by García Lorca, whom the Argentine writer once described as “a professional Andalusian”.  And given the dreadful accusations of plagiarism between the two of them, he could not put something by Shakespeare next to a work by Marlowe…’

Bonnet also provides George Perec’s list of 12 methods of classification.  He then reviews their pros and cons.  Over the years I’ve attempted 6 of the 12.  My books have been shelved by category, alphabetically (at different times) by both author and title, and by color.  I’ve wrapped them in rice paper to create visual uniformity.  I’ve created completely personal systems with shelves dedicated to specific areas of interest: pandemics/disease (containing both fiction and non-fiction), philosophical (where Franny & Zooey cuddled with the Dalai Lama), and Sherlock Holmes (Doyle’s original stories, scholarly articles and pastiches).  To this day Faulkner still has his own little kiosk in my bedroom.   I’ve put series together and organized my art books by size.  The one classification I’ve yet to attempt is by geography… and I don’t foresee myself doing so in the foreseeable future.  Too much potential controversy.  Do you distinguish based on the setting of the action, the original language a book is written in or the author’s physical location (should I use her birthplace, where she spent her formative years or her current country of residence?  Should I care about dual citizenship?).

The fun doesn’t stop at organizing!  Once you shelve the books a whole new area opens: that of cataloging… *goosebumps* ….

(OK, I feel it necessary to state here – despite it being a collateral piece of information and adds nothing to this post – that I use Goodreads to track what I read, but for the actual cataloging of a personal library LibraryThing has, in my opinion, the slight edge).

…This 125 page book contains 9 delightful chapters on topics ranging from the internet, the act of reading, the accumulation of books and “Reading Pictures” (I love that!). At the end is a bibliography of all the titles mentioned and at the beginning is an introduction by James Salter.  Jacques Bonnet has something here to suit every bibliophile’s taste, regardless of whether you write in the margins or not.

Phantoms on the Bookshelves will appear on the bookshelves of a shop near you Thursday, July 5th.  Until then – I’m curious – what’s your favorite way to organize your books?

Publisher:  The Overlook Press, New York (2012)

ISBN:  978 1 59020 759 8

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine