how to build a home library

Katie over at cakes, tea and dreams published a lovely post the other day called a library of friends. She won me over by opening with a lovely quotation from Anne’s House of Dreams (one of the sequels to Anne of Green Gables, for those not in the know), which I recognized immediately – what fun. (Go read it over there.) And then she tells us about her home library, and asks, “How do you curate your library?”

Well. Unlike Katie, whose very ordered methods and selectivity I admire, I don’t have it all thought out quite that well. My home library consists of a few broad categories.

  • Classics and academic works from high school, college, and grad school. I have very few, if any, what you might call “textbooks” – they tend to be classic lit or philosophy. I confess that relatively few of these have been or will be reread, but I guess I like to have them there for reference or to remind me of what I’m supposed to know. Of course, a handful of these are among my favorite books and have enjoyed several rereads: the Iliad, the Odyssey, the Oresteia (all from high school). Others I’ve been pleased to reread, like Vanished Arizona by Martha Summerhayes, and The Courage of Their Convictions by Peter Irons (from college).
  • Classics, more generally. Shakespeare, Nabokov, Fitzgerald, Hemingway (of course), Austen, the Brontes, and Toni Morrison are all well represented, along with a number of singles. These aren’t going anywhere.

my Hemingway library

  • Genre fiction. I see no point in owning this sort of thing, really! I have very, very, very rarely purchased a mass market paperback copy of a thriller or murder mystery novel. These, in my opinion, should flow freely through the world, just as they do in the hospital where I work – share and share alike. Yes, human nature sometimes gets in the way of this. But mostly, I am happy with my mother handing me a book, or picking one up at work, and then leaving it somewhere when I finish – especially when traveling. My method of lightening the load is to carry many books at the beginning of a trip, and then leave them behind in hotels, train stations, or on trains, etc., as we go. For this reason I obviously wouldn’t take with me a book I meant to keep! But for genre fiction, I find this a good policy. I have tended to have trouble getting rid of these books (when not traveling), but working at a library has helped. I just donate them to my work library. Still have a number of genre paperbacks on my shelves, though; I think my problem is inertia. If a book has been on my shelves for long enough, it is unlikely to leave without good reason.
  • Special interest: I have books about beer and books about bikes, and just a few books about dogs. These are few, but important, and treasured.
  • ARCs? (Advanced Reader Copies – for review.) Not so much. I don’t tend to get attached to these unless they’re especially good, and generally they would have to be something other than genre fiction, too. I’m more likely to keep nonfiction/biography, because of the chance of referring back to it.
  • Good-looking older hardback books, either in beautifully good condition, or battered into an especially charming state. I have a weakness for these.
  • TBR!!! (to be read. you knew that, right?) As I’ve written before, I have a whole bookshelf of TBR books. :-/ These come from all kinds of sources. Some of them are given to me (physically) by friends (hi Fil, Amy) or my mother; many are given to me (as ideas) by friends, other book bloggers, bestseller lists, and (sigh) perhaps my greatest weakness, the book buying I do for the work-library. Also there’s my ever-expanding TBR list.

So I guess my conclusion is, I don’t have a terribly well-ordered method of deciding what to add to the library. Hypothetically, I like Katie’s plan of considering each book carefully as one that I will want to own, reread, refer to, and/or loan out. It should meet some sort of standard for inclusion on my illustrious shelves. In reality, however, I have a touch of the hoarder in me. ANY book is liable to end up on the shelf, at least until I find a good home for it. I recently purged: one book that had broken in three pieces and was only genre fiction in the first place, went into paper recycling, and I think I took another 8 or so to work to donate. How’s that for a purge? Single digits. Sigh. Of course, you could help me out by commenting on what to get rid of!

Katie makes an excellent point about bookstores and our need to support them. I don’t do very well at this. I agree with the principle, but don’t seem to get out there much. Mostly, this is because I work at a library, and have my city’s public library system at my fingertips (online). I just don’t find much reason to make new purchases, these days. When I do, I’m loyal to my local Half Price Books. Hey, it’s still a brick-and-mortar!

I think it might be a good project to try and have a more carefully curated home library. I love the idea of everything on my shelves being something I stand behind, found memorable, and could recommend. (Or, is still waiting TBR. This is why I like having a separate bookshelf. “See, these I know are good. These I’m not sure about yet.”) I have a ways to go. But this is a good project! And it would benefit my work-library, too.

How about you? How do you curate?

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