02 November 2016

"Marrying libraries"

This summer I received an unexpected phone call from Charlie, my roommate of 40 years ago, who
called to tell me that he was getting married.  He was a bit startled when one of my first questions was whether he and his new bride had considered the question of "marrying their libraries."

My question arose because I had recently been reading Anne Fadiman's delightful 1998 book Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader.  I'll let her explain:
A few months ago, my husband and I decided to mix our books together. We had known each other for ten years, lived together for six, been married for five. Our mismatched coffee mugs cohabited amicably; we wore each other's T-shirts and, in a pinch, socks; and our record collections had long ago miscegenated without incident, my Josquin Desprez motets cozying up to George's Worst of Jefferson Airplane, to the enrichment, we believed, of both. But our libraries had remained separate, mine mostly at the north end of our loft, his at the south. We agreed that it made no sense for my Billy Budd to languish forty feet from his Moby-Dick, yet neither of us had lifted a finger to bring them together. We had been married in this loft, in full view of our mutually quarantined Melvilles. Promising to love each other for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health—even promising to forsake all others—had been no problem, but it was a good thing the Book of Common Prayer didn't say anything about marrying our libraries and throwing out the duplicates. That would have been a far more solemn vow, one that would probably have caused the wedding to grind to a mortifying halt. We were both writers, and we both invested in our books the kind of emotion most people reserve for their old love letters. Sharing a bed and a future was child's play compared to sharing [our books]...

By far the hardest task came toward the end of the week, when we sorted through our duplicates and decided whose to keep. I realized that we had both been hoarding redundant copies of our favorite books “just in case” we ever split up. If George got rid of his beat-up copy of To the Lighthouse and I said goodbye to my genital-pink paperback of Couples, read so often in my late teens (when Updike’s explorations of the complexities of marriage seemed unimaginably exotic) that it had sundered into a triptych held together with a rubber band – well, then we would clearly have to stick together for good. Our bridges would be burned.
Charlie's response to my question was that he and Susan had blended their libraries long ago, so I knew then that their marriage was destined for success.

The embedded photo, btw, is of a bookcase in my home office.  I used that image in the introductory post for the series of about 40 posts I wrote featuring bookcases and libraries in the homes of readers of this blog.  It is a wonderful collection of eclectic libraries, and well worth your perusal.  Maybe I should fire up that topic again with more photos and stories from recent readers.


  1. My beloved, @shelogian on Twitter, is responsible for this organized by color beauty: https://goo.gl/photos/WzJL9qp3mvhosE4K9

    I'm content to leave our offices/libraries distinct when/if we marry. I couldn't bring myself to sully that bookcase, nor to organize my own books by color. It was such an absurd idea that I thought she was joking until she showed my that picture. But it turned out to be an awesome display. Dewey be damned. :)

  2. Reading this made me realize we (my wife and I) have never consolidated our book collection (we've been married 17 years) and I feel really guilty about it. As clarification, any books bought by her or by me have been put together, it's only her pre-marriage books that live on their own case.

    1. Colby, you might enjoy reading the entire chapter in her book; you should be able to get it from your local library.

  3. All my books were at public libraries when we married, he had some books. He's encouraged me to buy books of my own, something I'd rarely done before. Although his tend now to be clumped together, and mine as well, we do mingle on some shelves. The books are truly *ours.*

  4. I really enjoyed the bookcases of readers series you did.

    I have been married sixteen years, and we have never married our bookcases. I believe the only book we have a duplicate of is "Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius," by Ray Monk. Wonderful read, by the way. I believe one of the things that originally attracted me to him was that he was just the kind of person who would love that book.

  5. I long ago gave up collecting the books I read. Being a miser, I tend to shop at used bookstores and return what I read for credit on other books. The library is my favorite hangout, and I probably spend as much in fines as another may in brand new books, a fault I'm working to rectify. Now with my Kindle app and public domain downloads, I'm living the bibliophile's dream. Plus, for the past 30 years, I've maintained a record of what I read on file on my computer, who wrote what, and what I thought about it. Ideal for chronicling your autodidactical pursuits and setting annual reading goals.

  6. Our books are married where are interests overlap, but some segregation has resulted from non-shared interests. Our sci-fi and fantasy books are all mixed together. There's a single shelf of art books belonging to him, with only a couple small ones belonging to me. And we ended up buying one of those 9-cube bookshelves to house all my science and history non-fiction in the office/craft room, of which he has only a couple small booklets.


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