Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Owning Books

I just got back from the library, having armed myself with items for a long train ride home tomorrow. I was browsing in the magazines when I heard a middle aged man speaking to his wife. "Look at this", he said, holding up a magazine, "Oprah's private library. No wonder she got all them books, she's so rich. This is what her book club's about". I waited until they left and went to the cover, expecting to see one of those libraries with the spiral staircase and the ladders on wheels to get to the high shelf. Instead, I see this (if the photo doesn't get moved or something, this is the internets after all), the cover from the Fall 2008 issue of the now defunct "O at Home". It is almost a close up, a couch and three floor to ceiling bookshelves, about four visible shelves on each. I was really surprised. I grew up in a house covered in books, for a middle class family in a rowhome, I suppose it is odd that we have a room we call the "library". Those 7 or 8 floor to ceiling bookshelves only really carry the non-reading books, my Dad's collection of Sax Rohmer books, lots of stuff on guns, etc. We all had bookshelves in our rooms with the 'books for reading' and the living room is also covered in books.

So I can see that having an entire room set aside for books might be odd to most people, and sure, the picture indicates that there are more books in the room than those just shown, but really, THAT picture doesn't make me think that Oprah is a billionaire book collector. What bothers me more is the uniformity of the books in color and size. I can understand buying a publisher's line of classics that may have matching editions, but the text discusses Oprah's collection of first editions. This looks like those fake books Ikea uses in their displays. They definitely don't have the air of being lovingly discovered from used book stores over the years, like most of my and my parents' books do.

I adore the library, and rarely buy books right now, partially because I can't afford it, and partially because there aren't too many books right now I feel like I will want to reread on a whim. If I want to reread, I can usually wait the time it takes to order it from the library. Books I own include my collection of every Agatha Christie, which I often pick up randomly when bored, books I adore and just want to own for its own sake, and books I suddenly desire to reread at 9 pm and I HAVE to have at my fingertips. For everything else, I depend on the library. When I buy a house, will I have a set aside library? Probably yes, if I can afford a big enough house. A room full of shelves, maybe doubling as an office, nice lights and organization. Will I buy my children books? Yes. I think it's really important for a child to own books, to bond with the concept of books as well as read lots of different things through the library. Do I think this picture of three shelves shows that Oprah adores books and should be lauded for having a room set aside for them? No. Do I think it means she's rich to own this many books? No. Do I think it means Oprah is promoting another silly and barely reachable ideal, then using her interior design magazine to promote herself as well read but able to have white carpeting and couch even though she has a dog? Yes.

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