People’s Libraries: Are They Used?

I know there are homes without books. I doubt if I’ve ever been in one. In fact, I can’t imagine what it would be like to live there.

Books are here as my friends: to relax and bring me pleasure, to stimulate and, frequently, to educate. At the moment I have four stacked on the table beside my chair, all in some degree being read now (or, one in particular, waiting for more free time which, I assure myself, will eventually return).

I confess I do take books for granted.

Considering books in their entirety would probably not have occurred were I not in possession of a picture torn from a recent home magazine I subscribe to. (It’s inexpensive and provides some pleasures, if few acceptable ideas.)

I’m looking at a wall which could be in a dining room in a house (or maybe apartment, I really don’t know) in, I’d guess, this country. Neutral paint, furniture I could live with (if those thick pillows were removed from the backs of the chairs at the table), agreeable if a bit much wallpaper (wouldn’t be my choice), and a narrow wall of shelves. Bookshelves.

My eyes were drawn to the books. A few could be familiar, old tomes, perhaps the Indian history I have upstairs. Only these are obviously not there to attract a curious visitor. They are simply “antique books.” Purchased as such by the well-paid decorator.

Ever wonder what happens to books you donate or place in a yard or rummage sale? I hadn’t. Now I know — if they’re vintage. “Antique” is a must it seems.

I assure you I have never bought books as decoration. I promise that idea never entered my mind. All right, I do have a few “coffee table” books. They definitely aren’t on the coffee table. I’ve looked through each at least once and guess it’s time to move them along. Only most were gifts and there’s a chance I might enjoy revisiting. Maybe.

I do have books I’ll never read. Two sets from my parents’ home pop to mind: six volumes of Gibbons’ The History of Rome and nine of what must be all the poetry of John Greenleaf Whittier. I am not much of a poetry person. I’ve read excerpts of The Rise and Fall. These are there for their looks with pages I’m certain have never been slit. I did not inherit the Dickens which was equally attractive (and old) but had no compunction about slitting those pages when I wanted to read more.

A full set of Encyclopia Britannica, dated I believe 1917, takes up a shelf and a half in my den. The other half is books on art and various artists. I’ve looked at all but not much lately. The Encyclopedia was used in earlier writings but the leather binding is brittle and, to be honest, makes a terrible mess. Discovered deserted in an earlier home, these have little value to me or anyone else. (Yes, I did check.)

Which still leaves many shelves of books I’ve read — or intend to if I can only live forever. When I started the Durant series about sixty years ago, I read the works he talked about so those are interspersed between the Durant volumes: Greek tragedy, all of Shakespeare (twice plus), even Thousand and One Nights. (Nobody said classics couldn’t be fun. In fact, one of my early discoveries was finding out the “classics” are there for a reason. They’re great reading.) Also books written by people I know. Ian Fleming’s James Bond and a lot of Rex Stout (prefect for a day when you’re under the weather).

Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, Tom Swift, Horatio Alger — do I really plan to reread any of those? I doubt it. A shelf for Patrick O’Brian and the volumes that supplement his sea stories. I will get back to those soon. I never tire of his descriptions of being on the high seas or the marvelous Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin.

There is a messy shelf for my wildflower album and the accompanying guidebooks, spare papers, even a few dried plants.

Nearest (and just above) my desk are all the ones I pull out so frequently. Dictionaries of course, Thesaurus (new and old), grammar rules, Bartlett, a hodgepodge of useful information. Some are close to falling apart from good use.

I don’t dust these. I’ve no need for all are well-used.

But purchase antique books just for their looks? I don’t think I’d even care for the people who eat in that dining room with their decorator books.

That’s just not for me.

Susan Crossett has lived outside Cassadaga for more than 20 years. A lifetime of writing led to these columns as well as two novels. Her Reason for Being was published in 2008 with Love in Three Acts following in 2014. Both novels are now available at Lakewood’s Off the Beaten Path bookstore. Information on all the Musings, her books and the author may be found at Susancrossett.com.


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