I wanted to love this book. Because look, it has an interview with Keith Richards and a shot of him reclining in his library:
And there were lots of pictures of other even wealthier folk in their even more luxurious libraries. And then there was a big chunk of the introduction devoted to a rant/appeal to snobbery that books would never be replaced by technology (never mind that books are a form of information technology, ahem) because you can’t take a “CD ROM to bed with you.” Cue the knowing smirk. But little did the writers know (the book was published in 1994) that Amazon was just round the corner and while you may not be able to take a CD ROM to bed, you sure as hell can take a Kindle, or an iPad or audiobook to bed. Put your smartphone in a ziplock and you can take your book in the bath too. Beat that, you paper-sniffers.
Where was I? Oh yeah, I wanted to love this book because I too do love having paper books on shelves and I would love to have my own bookshop like the Duke of Devonshire does just to stock his own private library in Chatsworth House, or my own mock-castle extension to my Oxford second home because my weekday home in London couldn’t accommodate all my new books, like Paul Getty does and, and and…
And I suddenly wanted to fling the book across my 4.5-tatami-mat spare-bedroom of a library… but didn’t.
Partly because At Home with Books was very nearly the same weight as the typical ornate coffee table that it was designed to nestle unread upon, but mainly because I had to admit it had hit a nerve.
Why do I aspire to grow my own library? Is it the noble goal that the private library owners say of being in love with knowledge? If that was the only reason, they’d be better off stopping reading paper books and devoting their pursuit of knowledge to the internet. That they don’t and I don’t must be down, a little at least, to ego. Some people want the fastest car, some the biggest TV. Me? I want the best collection of English books in Japan. It’s not necessary. It’s not reasonable, it’s not altruistic, but there it is.
So, by all means read this book if you dig gawping at other folks’ personal libraries. To be fair, it has other bits of information too… like how to look after your books (dust them; don’t set them on fire or pour water on them) and how to arrange them (by alphabet, chronology, subject, or room — cookbooks in the kitchen, books on books go on the coffee table in the lounge etc). But let me just whisper this: books are only bits of paper, ink and glue, it’s what’s written in them that counts.
No. 24 of 100 books I intend to read and review in 2019.
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Patrick Sherriff publishes a monthly newsletter highlighting good fiction about Japan and featuring an original painting or sketch. He lives in Abiko, Japan, with his wife and two daughters.