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CONFESSIONS OF A BOOK-WRAPTER

I DIDN’T HAVE a word for it, but I now believe I’m a book-wrapter. I learned this from Julie Lasky’s article in The New York Times, December 24, 2021, “How Many Books Does It Take to Make a Place Feel Like Home?”

Lasky’s article is about Reid Byers, author of The Private Library: The History of the Architecture and Furnishing of the Domestic Bookroom.

To quote The Washington Post: “Beautifully designed, Byers’s 500-page masterwork lays out how cultures from antiquity to the present created welcoming, comfortable spaces to house books.” 

Here are tidbits from Julie Lasky’s article, together with some happy snaps of my own bookrooms’ stuff.  

Why Collect Books? Lasky cites Byers: “In ‘The Private Library,’ Mr. Byers goes to the heart of why physical books continue to beguile us. Individually, they are frequently useful or delightful, but it is when books are displayed en masse that they really work wonders. Covering the walls of a room, piled up to the ceiling and exuding the breath of generations, they nourish the senses, slay boredom and relieve distress.”

In my bookrooms, books and other stuff rekindle memories: Wherever did I get this? And why ever did I keep it?

The Experience. Byers says, “Entering our library should feel like easing into a hot tub, strolling into a magic store, emerging into the orchestra pit, or entering a chamber of curiosities, the club, the circus, our cabin on an outbound yacht, the house of an old friend. It is a setting forth, and it is a coming back to center.”

Image from The Private Library: The History of the Architecture and Furnishing of the Domestic Bookroom.

The Term “Book-wrapt.” Lasky says, “The fusty spelling is no affectation, but an efficient packing of meaning into a tight space (which, when you think of it, also describes many libraries). To be surrounded by books is to be held rapt in an enchanted circle and to experience the rapture of being transported to other worlds.”

Book shelves can display other stuff. Including herds of sheep. 

How Many Books? It depends, of course, on the size of the room: Lasky says, “Mr. Byers cited a common belief that 1,000 is the minimum in any self-respecting home library. Then he quickly divided that number in half. Five hundred books ensure that a room ‘will begin to feel like a library,’ he said. And even that number is negotiable. The library he kept at the end of his bunk on an aircraft carrier in Vietnam, he said, was ‘very highly valued, though it probably didn’t have 30 books in it.’ ”

Alice Waters, chef extraordinaire and evident bibliophile. Image by Matthew Millman for The New York Times, December 24, 2021. 

I would not offer my own bookrooms as paradigms. Some people, politely, have called them excessively eclectic. 

But they certainly meet Reid Byers’s criterion: He says, “The ability to browse among your books generates something new. I like to think of it as a guaranteed cure for boredom.” ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2022

4 comments on “CONFESSIONS OF A BOOK-WRAPTER

  1. Jack Albrecht
    January 4, 2022

    I love the photos of your home library!!! It must be a challenge not to get sucked into a memory rabbit hole every time you peruse the shelves!

    I downsized my library about 10 years ago. I had several hundred books from a previous life segment and no good place to keep them. I had saved them for literally decades and brought them overseas with me. So I did a good thing, separated out a couple hundred I wouldn’t read again and donated them to a local charity.

    Nowadays I could add shelf space for them (a different story), but I hope that the charity made some money off them and someone got to enjoy them as much as I did. What’s gone is gone.

    • simanaitissays
      January 4, 2022

      I tend to knock the memorabilia about while pulling out a book….

  2. Jack Mason
    January 4, 2022

    Not as photogenic, but a collection of vinyl records evokes many of the same feelings. It’s the tactile, as wells as auditory, experience. Remember slitting open the plastic wrap on a brand new album?

    • simanaitissays
      January 4, 2022

      Agreed. I have several shelves of LPs. It’s difficult to identify an album.
      The record store bins were easier to use.
      “What’s a ‘record store,’ Grandpa?”

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