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The final frontier of intimacy
February 11, 2014 10:01 AM   Subscribe

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.
posted by Chrysostom (101 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite

 
De-duplicating our combined library was a big step in our relationship but we didn't wait for ten year to do it. They either don't have very many books or have a lot of extra wall space for bookcases.
posted by octothorpe at 10:05 AM on February 11 [4 favorites]


Dividing a library in divorce is heartbreaking. Nothing could be a clearer metaphor for how one life is being torn in two. Suddenly you need to decide whether a book that formed you is really yours.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 10:09 AM on February 11 [26 favorites]


To this day, my husband and I still end up with two copies of the same book upon occasion. And keep them.
posted by anastasiav at 10:09 AM on February 11 [2 favorites]


My wife and I combined our large collections as soon as we moved in together (in a new place for both of us), but our close friends have been married 20 years and still have both their books and large LP collections separated. Strangely they have no problem mixing their CDs though.
posted by acroyear at 10:09 AM on February 11 [1 favorite]


What's really shocking is that a co-workers recently moved and he didn't have any books to pack. Can you imagine???
posted by GuyZero at 10:11 AM on February 11 [29 favorites]


I remember fellow students like this being deeply uncool when I was doing English at university.
posted by colie at 10:12 AM on February 11 [1 favorite]


My wife and I bought two matching bookshelves and just put them side by side. We figure the books will mix thru diffusion and general churn. We're not packrats, so we are always giving away or donating our non-favorite books. But then again, my Neal Stepheson and Terry Prattchet books form a pretty sturdy wall against invasion .

My Good Omens book keeps going missing and that annoys me. I'm on my 4th copy now.
posted by Cog at 10:16 AM on February 11 [1 favorite]


The true tragedy will be joint accounts with digital media. At least with iTunes splitting is impossible.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 10:16 AM on February 11 [1 favorite]


Yeah, my wife and I went through this with our CDs when we moved in together. I joked that merging them (which we didn't do until we'd been together for a few years) was a bigger step than getting married.
posted by The Card Cheat at 10:16 AM on February 11


Can I just chime in with how much I absolutely loathe 'Travels with Charley?' Way to phone it in, Steinbeck.
posted by kaibutsu at 10:17 AM on February 11 [5 favorites]


I cannot even imagine. My precious and well-selected volumes - my first edition of Always Coming Home, my priceless sixties radical publications, my fascinating collection of minor feminist novels of the eighties - commingling with someone else's foolish, crass and middlebrow book collection? I do not think so. And it would break up all my beautiful shelving arrangements - how all the Freud is banished to a bottom shelf in the corner and how Centuries of Private Life gives way to the Arrighi and then to my various social histories, and how I have a special shelf for authors whose prose I like and whose politics I deplore, and my bookcase full of vintage decorating books...no, I don't think I could love someone enough to combine book collections.
posted by Frowner at 10:19 AM on February 11 [19 favorites]


Way to phone it in, Steinbeck.

Be fair. When he wrote Travels with Charley, Steinbeck knew he was dying. It was his last journey to see America, and he took the time to share it with us.
posted by SPrintF at 10:19 AM on February 11 [10 favorites]


We have been married for 27 years and the books have ALWAYS been mixed together, but we both know whose are whose and always will.
posted by briank at 10:21 AM on February 11 [7 favorites]


And further, by this FPP, my children, be admonished: of the making of order of many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh.
posted by MonkeyToes at 10:23 AM on February 11 [6 favorites]


When my wife and I (now at 14 years) moved in together we carefully marked our CDs. That didn't last long. We are so married.

We both have boatloads of books, but if we split them up there wouldn't be much contention. I'm always amused where our reading loves overlap. We intersect at Barbara Kingslover, and Martin Cruz Smith for some weird reason. We also both think King Leopold's Ghost and Nickele and Dimed should be required reading.
posted by cccorlew at 10:23 AM on February 11


For years and years my girlfriend and I talked about how amazing our CD collection would be once we combined it. When we married, we somehow never got around to actually interleaving the discs.

Which made it easier, a few years later, when I packed all my media into boxes and carried it out the front door into a waiting U-Haul one hot Houston summer afternoon, as my then-wife waited upstairs for me to leave, and never return, per her stated preference.
posted by Sokka shot first at 10:24 AM on February 11 [8 favorites]


My wife and I have largely got round this by buying entirely different genres of books. She buys mainstream fiction, travel, photography and art. I buy non-fiction, political, business and economics, design and humour. The books of her youth are thick, often unreadable science textbooks. Mine are thin, often unreadable philosophy and modern French fiction. They are, in theory, mixed together.

She considers it an offence that I buy so many books I don't read. I consider it an offence she discards so many books she has read.

We have an uneasy peace now. My books are slowly taking over the shelves: she has a kindle, her reading habits are hidden from view. Her books are bytes. But she dislikes the idea of more space being given over to my books and talks darkly of a cull.
posted by MuffinMan at 10:26 AM on February 11 [13 favorites]


I spent the last few years since my divorce acquiring all of my 2000+ books electronically and left them all with the ex. I've moved with them like 10 times, and it's made every move a total trial. I miss them sometimes, but I don't miss the thought of having to pack them all up again, heft them, etcetc. The real killer is that she barely had any books to speak of before that.
posted by nevercalm at 10:27 AM on February 11 [1 favorite]


The only thing we might fight over if we had to split our books is the Sandman series, or ok, any Gaiman. We don't actually overlap much anywhere else.

Same for CDs. We'd fight over Aimee Mann, but he's not going to want my ABBA, and I'm not going to want his early Genesis.

It's not going to be a problem much longer anyway; by the time our kid has to think about this stuff, it will all be digital.
posted by emjaybee at 10:28 AM on February 11


The true tragedy will be joint accounts with digital media.

Just import to Calibre and copy the database.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:28 AM on February 11 [6 favorites]


I don't really own that many books (get out your pitchforks!). I have a small collection of beloved favorites, but other than that, I don't buy books; I read everything from the library. This could be another reason my marriage works out well; my husband's family doesn't do holidays so I get them all, and I don't own books so my husband gets all the bookshelves.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:29 AM on February 11 [5 favorites]


My wife's a librarian, and we pick up a lot of used books from library book sales. Often I'll get a book she already owns or vice versa. But our collections are about 95% distinct from each other. We're not always sure whose copies of Tolkien are whose, and we kind of have joint custody over some of the Neil Gaiman stuff.

Oddly, I'm the more organized of the two of us, so the main reason we keep our books semi-separate is so I know where mine are and that they're not in the clutches of our villainous cat.

Theoretically we were going to share the Kindle. In practice, I got it and she got a better tablet.

CDs are mostly kept separate except the ones of mine we put in her car for a road trip and have somehow been lost. (How things manage to get lost in the small space of a car, I"m not sure.)
posted by Foosnark at 10:30 AM on February 11


Since I started collecting books in about the 5th grade I've moved at least 15 times, most of those moves were during the college/army/early married years, but 3 were in the "settled down" era. And, for all those years, my books were never commingled with my partner's. With the first move of the settled era I threw away all the boxes of paperbacks that had been in the attic for 20 years. The next move was due to a divorce, and most of the books stayed behind as I left, I took maybe 4 boxes with me. The last move was from a larger house to one with no storage... I divested most of my books prior to that move... I donated almost everything, including my high school yearbooks and the family bible. I kept about 10 books... And, at this point, I've acquired about 10 more, I doubt that I'll buy even ten more during the rest of my life.

But, my internet...my internet is vast and unending...
posted by HuronBob at 10:31 AM on February 11


My Good Omens book keeps going missing and that annoys me. I'm on my 4th copy now.

Good Omens (along with Catch 22) is my definition of a book to be repeatedly bought and given away. I've dine it at least three times now. It's really good. It wants to be free...
posted by Omission at 10:33 AM on February 11 [6 favorites]


I have always endeavored to keep the number of books I own to the bare minimum, because they are both dense and space-taking and I have moved 4 times in 3 years. Then I came to graduate school and it became impossible to manage.

Hail to the e-book/pirated scanned PDF!
posted by Hollywood Upstairs Medical College at 10:34 AM on February 11 [1 favorite]


That's my deal with A Confederacy of Dunces. The book has granted me a magical power: if I loan it to someone, they will move away and I will never see them again.
posted by adipocere at 10:35 AM on February 11 [4 favorites]


The Steinbeck that I found unbearable was "The Pearl". And I really, really loved Steinbeck when I was a teenager.

I have a paperback of "In Touch" by his son, John Steinbeck IV. It contains the real scoop on Vietnam, pot, acid rock, and the youth culture in general. It's better than "The Pearl"
posted by thelonius at 10:36 AM on February 11


octothorpe: "De-duplicating our combined library was a big step in our relationship but we didn't wait for ten year to do it. They either don't have very many books or have a lot of extra wall space for bookcases."

The writer is Anne Fadiman. I'm pretty sure they have a lot of books.
posted by Chrysostom at 10:37 AM on February 11 [2 favorites]


Ha, when I saw the title of this post, I thought, how funny, Anne Fadiman wrote about this very thing years ago!

She's a terrific writer and that book is terrific. So is her amazing book "The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down."
posted by janey47 at 10:38 AM on February 11 [1 favorite]


Mixing my books with my wife's was easy. Because 99% of the books are mine. She reads, but she isn't a READER, I guess. By which I mean, she is not the kind of person who will get emotionally invested in a book and stay up until 6 AM because there's only one chapter left, or plow through an inches-thick volume because it's there, or tackle one of the old classics with it's archaic sentence structure or Victorian sensibiity because it's a great book and she hasn't read it, nor will she lovingly grab a volume she's read three times before and read it again, savoring the ending or that one favorite chapter.

She isn't a READER. But she doesn't want to be a non-reader, either. She reads much slower than I do. It's more WORK for her. Just the way her brain is wired; she can't do anything about it, no matter how much of a desire she has to read, she just can't get to the mental place I go to when I am in the middle of a book. Almost all of her books are on her Kindle, which has been a godsend for her, because she no longer feels self-conscious when reading, no one can look at her during her morning commute and judge her for her choice of books, or think "She is still reading that? She isn't done yet?"

So she lets me take over the shelves. My esoteric organization makes no sense to her but it does to me. My favorite "heavy" novels stay upstairs, there's the science shelf, and the pleasure reading stuff; the fantasy and sci-fi I consider "junk food" reading mostly live downstairs. My shelves, my books. She has managed to intersperse some decorations here and there, which I begrudgingly admit breaks up the blocks of books and makes the shelves more interesting visually. But I still think of them as my shelves, and my son knows those are "Daddy's books." Because my wife isn't a READER.

But... she did read the very first book to our son. She started reading to him before I, the serious reader, ever thought to try. She has been reading to him ever since. We trade off nightly, with her reading the children's books he picks out and me of late mostly reading chapter books to him, a bit at a time (who says 4 is too young to listen to The Hobbit?). And our son LOVES books. Always has. There's me, and my obvious interest in reading. But I feel a huge part of his interest is because of his mom, the woman who doesn't have her own pile of books. My wife isn't a READER. It made integrating our libraries easier. But living with her has given me a new appreciation for everyone who doesn't read as much as I do, and forced me to recognize that one needn't be a READER to inspire a LOVE of reading.
posted by caution live frogs at 10:38 AM on February 11 [8 favorites]


We have many many bookshelves in our home. The one that runs close to the ceiling in a precise L-shape in the bedroom, the wall of the study which is nothing but a bookshelf, the one which forms the railing/wall of our downstairs staircase...and while not precisely higgledy-piggledy in terms whose books are mine and whose are Shepherd's, there tends to be a quiet order. The bedroom shelves are mostly me, what with all the books I insisted upon packing up and hauling all the way from Georgia to Canada (to be fair, I did give a lot of them away before I moved), the study shelves are mostly his, loaded with odd/vintage/poetry/longform fiction--I commandeered one bit of the study shelves to keep my ever-growing reading queue in check, and also because there is nowhere else now to put them--and the living room staircase one is truly a mix of ours. Two rows dedicated to our indulgence of Folio Society editions, one row dedicated to my favorite authors that I reread constantly, and the bottom row is his motley collection of comic trades, bande-dessinee, and super old falling-apart books.

It works.
posted by Kitteh at 10:39 AM on February 11


My husband and I shipped our co-mingled books and, gasp, LPs and CDs to Sweden when we moved. when I returned to the US without him, most of my books stayed behind. That made me sad. It still does. But I get to visit him and them from time to time.

I would like not to care about books as physical objects. Hubby has mostly switched over to ebooks. That is practical and wise but not as much fun for me.
posted by Bella Donna at 10:44 AM on February 11


My library would look odd with my Cthulhu mythos mixed in with Will and Grace DVDs. Wifey don't read.
posted by Renoroc at 10:46 AM on February 11 [1 favorite]


Just import to Calibre and copy the database.

Romance died ages ago, now we've killed off post-romance.
posted by colie at 10:47 AM on February 11 [2 favorites]


Ah, Fadiman, Fadiman, so, so bloody twee about her books and book reading.

But she did have a point about merging libraries. My wife's and my own are still separated.
posted by MartinWisse at 10:48 AM on February 11


MuddDude isn't much of a reader (quite exactly like caution live frogs' wife), so when we moved in together the only books we had in common were textbooks. I have always regretted de-duplicating there because we keep lending out our textbooks and never getting them back.

One of the pleasures of not living with another reader is that I alone get to decide how we organize the bookshelves. I couldn't handle having that kind of intensely personal disagreement with someone I loved so much. If I tell 'Dude that the books of poetry go with the books of essays and fairytales, then that's where the go.

...but after reading the article I'm thinking about taking them all down and re-arranging completely chronologically...
posted by muddgirl at 10:50 AM on February 11 [2 favorites]


My Good Omens book keeps going missing and that annoys me. I'm on my 4th copy now.

Good Omens (along with Catch 22) is my definition of a book to be repeatedly bought and given away.


"Never lend books." Bill Adama
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 10:53 AM on February 11 [6 favorites]


I married a non-reader. Which was something that took getting used to, but we do muddle along although he gets cranky when we move and my books are the majority of the things.
posted by sciencegeek at 10:55 AM on February 11


Can I just chime in with how much I absolutely loathe 'Travels with Charley?' Way to phone it in, Steinbeck.

20 years on from the first time I read any Steinbeck, Travels is the only one I still think about with any regularity.
posted by Dr. Twist at 10:57 AM on February 11


Omission,

Copies #2 3 of Good Omens were bought together. One to specifically lend out and another to keep at home when I want to read it. They both went missing at the same time. Probably because I lent both, thinking that I still had a spare.

I need to just find a nice hardback copy and chain it to the bookshelf.
posted by Cog at 10:57 AM on February 11


"Never lend books." Bill Adama

Agreed. Just give them away.
posted by So You're Saying These Are Pants? at 10:58 AM on February 11 [7 favorites]


I quit loaning books. Now I give them away and sometimes they come back.
posted by Lemmy Caution at 11:00 AM on February 11 [1 favorite]


What's really shocking is that a co-workers recently moved and he didn't have any books to pack. Can you imagine???

I realized one day that I didn't need to own them. There is a library branch nearby. I rarely reread books. I move a lot. I have a small place. I'm actually kind of amazed that people choose to store words on yellowing paper in their living spaces these days. Plus John Waters won't fuck me. Win Win.
posted by srboisvert at 11:05 AM on February 11 [3 favorites]


Dr. Twist: "20 years on from the first time I read any Steinbeck, Travels is the only one I still think about with any regularity."

Me too. I think, "Man, that book was the WORST."
posted by Chrysostom at 11:07 AM on February 11


She told me to leave and not return to the house until such time that she had moved out. It struck so hard... no longer coming home to what I thought I had been building. The division of books and movies became a major point of contention.

For months she wouldn't make time to return a most precious gift to me. The last gift that my brother had given me for Christmas... just weeks before the accident that would in time be the death of him.

She didn't even take the time to find the packaging... it was, afterall, a Criterion Collection disc set.

It was a movie that my brother and I had talked about quite a lot. Both of us we're complicated men. Not because we ever asked to be... it's just what had happened.

He had known love... real love... very few times.

Every time they walked away from him.

It's also become a theme in my own life... somehow not being worthy of staying in love with... not worthy of being remembered. Being just a fading echo...

We would walk and talk at night under star speckled suburban skies... and talk about all the things that we wished we could forget... just so that we could really... REALLY get a chance to move on and start all over again...

Be better this time. Be stronger. Be more worthy.

Not just fade away.

The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind...

She eventually returned the discs in the cardboard case for a kids dual disc music collection... scuffed and damaged from where she had just stacked the discs after having watched the movie... and carelessly flitted them about. She never took care of physical objects...

It wasn't about money... she killed a laptop I had bought for her after numerous drops. It was about the fact the physical objects can carry far more meaning than just what that object is. I worked my ass off to buy it for her... because I loved her. It's also why I had taken it apart numerous times to fix the LCD connector and A/C power port.

Things matter.

They carry meaning.

Sometimes they matter more than the person that grants them to another.

Sometimes the person that gave it too you means everything.

I can never forgive her for taking it in the first place.

It was NEVER hers to take.

I love this film so much.

I haven't been able to watch it since he died.

I want to start over.
posted by PROD_TPSL at 11:08 AM on February 11 [18 favorites]


Due to too many long moves and not having all that much space my wife and I have a single bookcase. It is a stuffed bookcase but it is just the one. The rule is pretty simple, as new books go in old ones go out - either being given away or sold. I've pretty much moved to ebooks anyway, and Toronto has a pretty good library system, so it is more for books with some sentimental value, art/comic books that need to be printed on paper to be properly appreciated, or Infinite Jest (the footnotes just don't work right in an ereader).
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 11:08 AM on February 11 [1 favorite]


The true tragedy will be joint accounts with digital media. At least with iTunes splitting is impossible.

"Oh yes, we drifted apart years ago; but we were staying together for the apps."
posted by The Bellman at 11:09 AM on February 11 [6 favorites]


cog: Chained libraries
posted by aniola at 11:09 AM on February 11 [2 favorites]


When we first moved in together, my wife would mark the spine of each of her books with a little gold star sticker. That way, if we split up, she could rapidly separate her (much smaller collection of) books from mine. She stopped doing that a couple of years later and it was a pretty strong signal that we were both in the relationship for the long haul. A combined library is a fantastic disincentive to breaking up.

Of course, upon seeing my room for the first time all those years ago (two vastly overstuffed floor to ceiling book cases, paperbacks stacked along the walls up to the windowsills, multiple floating shelves with current reading, etc) she said she'd keep me for my library and has to this day.
posted by Lighthammer at 11:11 AM on February 11 [1 favorite]


Maybe Fadiman is twee sometimes but I chuckled at this line:

"...the flawlessness of our new system was softened by the forces of entropy and my husband, which are closely allied."

Heh. Appreciated.
posted by Wretch729 at 11:20 AM on February 11 [5 favorites]


When my ex moved out, I was a little upset as I slowly discovered records he took with him that were mine. But I decided they were just objects taking up space, so I didn't care. He recently reminded me of a DVD that he has that originally belonged to me, but I gave up on DVDs years ago, so he can keep it, no matter how pretentious it is.

I had a couple of what I felt like were being-my-own-self-again, washing-that-man-right-out-of-my-hair rituals. I went through the somehow massive pile of randomly mixed socks that just appeared in my life when he did, and matched all the pairs (still matched, years later) and threw out the lonely ones. I spent an afternoon going through my Netflix account and un-rating all of the movies he had seen but I hadn't, and re-rating the ones he had rated but I disagreed with.

But no, we never mixed up the books. No. Never. God. I can't really imagine such a thing.
posted by jeweled accumulation at 11:36 AM on February 11 [1 favorite]


The true tragedy will be joint accounts with digital media. At least with iTunes splitting is impossible.

Isn't even iTunes DRM-free now? (I know maybe Audible still isn't, but if you can afford Audible books you can probably afford not to care.) I thought that the files were watermarked to identify you if you uploaded/shared them, but they weren't strictly device-locked in the same way that they were in past years.

If you have a shared Amazon account for Kindle books instead of separate ones... now that could suck a lot. AMZ seems to have the upper hand against easily de-DRMing their books right now (AFAIK you can't directly de-DRM books on the Kindle Fires, only the eink Kindles and maybe Kindle for PC) so if you get disconnected from an Amazon account and just have the files on your device you are potentially stuck with a lot of unreadable books.

Gotta plan your digital separation in advance I guess.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:36 AM on February 11


This way lies madness. You may as well just climb to the roof top together and shout "Divorce! Divorce! Divorce!"

(We have no books in common, but once we've both read something, there's usually a bit of angst over whose shelves it goes on. I usually "lose" these arguments due to some misplaced sense of librarianic chivalry.)
posted by Devils Rancher at 11:39 AM on February 11 [1 favorite]


I think I set my copy of Good Omens free in the trash.
posted by malocchio at 11:46 AM on February 11


Thank god my husband doesn't read in English. No one bats an eye if The Grapes of Wrath cozy up to Las uvas de la ira on our shelves.
posted by lollymccatburglar at 11:48 AM on February 11 [2 favorites]


I'm at a verrrrrrry early stage of dating now (so much so that I'm not even sure it qualifies as dating yet), but I've already done an initial survey of the media situation; looking more so at music than at books (he's here for grad school so a lot of the books he has are most likely textbooks).

I'm taking it as a very good sign that the Tom Waits album that I really want (Mule Variations) is the one he owns, while I have the one album (Rain Dogs) he'd been wanting and couldn't seem to find.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:56 AM on February 11 [2 favorites]


We have such different books that commingling them on shelves wasn't a problem and there wasn't a lot of purging to be done. I think maybe we have 2 or 3 Murakamis that overlap. Purging the DVD overlaps was a much bigger deal, and only occurred after we'd been living together a couple of years.
posted by matildaben at 12:10 PM on February 11


The Bellman: "Oh yes, we drifted apart years ago; but we were staying together for the apps."

That's a New Yorker cartoon waiting to be drawn.
posted by krinklyfig at 12:13 PM on February 11 [6 favorites]


Monsieur lamb and I are both wildly sentimental about our books but we merged as soon as there was enough wall space to house what we have (and we're not even married) mainly because it's really easy to see the split. Very broadly, if it's fiction (but not short-stories or by Jeanette Winterson, Angela Carter or Sarah Waters) it's his. If it's non-fiction (but not literary criticism or forms) it's mine. This spans hard and paperback, manuals, graphic novels, coffee table tomes etc.

There are minor stumbles over some titles, especially play scripts, sci-fi and travel writing, but there are still clear distinctions so I worked out a neat algorithm to test the premise and you can get to the right answer within about three moves.

We're wildly divergent in musical tastes too. I don't know what this says about us but I like having instant access to whole other genre set if I fancy.
posted by freya_lamb at 12:16 PM on February 11


Oh, and my partner is a published writer, but most of her collection is poetry, and her shelves overflow. She just inherited the better part of a bookstore inventory from a friend who had to move. I'm a reader, but I've lost a lot of books over the years to badly planned moves and difficult circumstances, so my collection of physical books is a bit out of date to my current tastes. I think if we ever do marry, her collection will swallow mine, whether we intend it or not. That would be ok with me. She has plenty to read...
posted by krinklyfig at 12:19 PM on February 11


The question to me is, do you mix your book collections before or after you mix your wardrobes?
posted by Metro Gnome at 12:20 PM on February 11


Good question. Hubby and I never mixed our wardrobes but being easy-going on that front, we borrowed each other's tees on occasion. Underpants, too, if there was no clean laundry and neither of us are cross-dressers.
posted by Bella Donna at 12:26 PM on February 11


One of the things I like most about my girlfriend is that we both read too much to get hung up on books as objects. She's got a tablet now that lets her easily outpace me, but at some point early on we both realized that our books are co-mingled at the library, usually by Dewey, sometimes by Congress.

In the house, it's mostly alphabetized fiction, but some of the non-fiction still gets sorted by size, and the poetry and plays all go on one shelf.

At least with books, we have enough shelves to hold it. Our music is still hopelessly unsorted from our last move, because there's just too damn much of it.
posted by klangklangston at 12:30 PM on February 11 [1 favorite]


Books, no problem. Mrs. Zen and I have been married 26 years and we still haven't merged our LP collections.

Probably never will.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 12:31 PM on February 11


During a long transition period between stable living conditions, I worked through 30+ boxes of books I kept in a storage locker. I managed to separate into about 14 boxes the books I thought I had outgrown or otherwise felt were not keepers; I donated them to a charity.

Imagine my despair a year later, after moving, when I unpacked all the boxes I thought had been donated. I had mistakenly given away all my precious "keeper" books.

It took nearly two years and much expense to replace them. Even now, more than 5 years later, I occasionally remember a book title that needs to be replaced.

No more book culling for me. I'll let my kids to that once I'm gone.
posted by MyTwoCentsToo at 12:34 PM on February 11 [6 favorites]


I just sent this article to my boyfriend with a note; last time I moved I literally had boxes of books floor to ceiling for an entire wall and I organize them in a very specific way that probably seems totally arbitrary to everyone else. My "suicidal female Modernists" shelf, for example... I feel like this article counts as fair warning!

Also, this article reminded me of this, which is my favorite comic ever. I have a copy hanging in my office.
posted by chatongriffes at 12:43 PM on February 11 [5 favorites]


More proof of why living with other humans is hugely overrated. Why should every fucking thing have to be "ours," especially (but not only) stuff that I acquired before I knew of this other person's existence?
posted by FelliniBlank at 12:45 PM on February 11 [2 favorites]


Read through the eyes of anyone who has been divorced, no matter how long ago, this article is shockingly naive. It's as if a child had written it.
posted by w0mbat at 12:48 PM on February 11 [4 favorites]


I have an ex-coworker who's actually considering buying a second house for his books. He currently lives alone in a three bedroom house and is running out of space.
posted by octothorpe at 1:04 PM on February 11 [2 favorites]


My wife and I didn't bother with a registry when we got married. We were moving two extensive book collections together into a new and mostly-unfurnished house, so we simply asked for shelving.
posted by Spatch at 1:25 PM on February 11 [4 favorites]


tl;dr:
I thought you were the one when I heard "Holidays In The Sun"
come from your bedroom
but my mind started to stray when I saw Youth of Today
mixed with your singles
What's with this Underdog and this GNR EP?
I don't think Hanoi rocks
and I don't want your Paul Stanley
next to my Subhumans gatefold
I'm not trying to be a jerk
but I don't think this record merger's gonna work

But when I saw Christ on Parade,
and This is Boston, Not LA
I knew you were the one
posted by zamboni at 1:28 PM on February 11 [1 favorite]


All my thoughts after reading this article are with the poor interior decorator who evidently deserved death for having an insufficiently precious bookshelf-organizing methodology.
posted by prize bull octorok at 1:28 PM on February 11 [3 favorites]


My husband and I have almost no book or music overlap. He likes history and Dan Brown. I like hard SF and fantasy. Together we read dog books and some popular science books, though he likes Malcolm Gladwell and I don't.

In music, I like folk/celtic stuff and female singer-songwriters. He likes Peter Gabriel and Pink Floyd.

We wouldn't have much trouble dividing up the physical books and CDs. Our Audible account is a jumbled mess, though.

20 years together. Every day a new adventure. :)
posted by Archer25 at 1:30 PM on February 11


"... how all the Freud is banished to a bottom shelf in the corner ..."

You do this with Freud? I do that with Jung! We should get together sometime and analyze each other.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:35 PM on February 11 [1 favorite]


Sometimes I need to remind myself that The Library of Alex Brandt was not supposed to be an instruction manual, but the image of a house entirely lined with books through every available square foot of wallspace was enthralling to me at a young age.
posted by adipocere at 1:45 PM on February 11


I love my husband, we have a wonderful marriage, we have been together for a dozen years, we get along fabulously, we respect and genuinely like each other and we almost never fight or even disagree.

But mixing our books?

No. Just....no.
posted by biscotti at 1:50 PM on February 11 [1 favorite]


For two people quite happy to read the books off of each others shelves, my girlfriend of seven years and I had surprisingly little overlap between our sets of bookshelves. I say "had" because, although we never merged our libraries despite living together for years, we lost every last one (except for a Spanish–English dictionary) in a flood this fall. Time to re-build our library, jointly this time.

We're friends with another couple who told us that they merging their bookshelves to be a much bigger commitment than signing a lease and buying a house together.



Cog: My Good Omens book keeps going missing and that annoys me. I'm on my 4th copy now.

My girlfriend had actually given up on owning Good Omens after going through that quite a few times. I recently got her a nice hardcover copy that she doesn't let leave the house.
posted by JiBB at 2:32 PM on February 11


When my husband and I bought our house, sixteen years ago, we spent a thousand dollars on bookshelves to go into it, and unpacked all our books and consciously decided to shelve them together. (I was 22. We had been dating for two years.) It was exciting and heady. We went through our books together, discarding duplicates (!!!) -- my Neuromancer, his Plato -- until we got to the Lord of the Rings. Mine was the 50th anniversary edition with the Alan Lee illustrations that my father had given me for my eighteenth birthday; his was the ratty, yellowing paperbacks that he had annotated and re-annotated every time he'd read them. We looked at each other, and wordlessly shelved them next to one another. Because really, those are two different books.
posted by KathrynT at 3:21 PM on February 11 [16 favorites]


We're out of walls to put bookcases on - merged our collections when we moved in together more than 30 years ago. My father refers to the ceaseless acquisition of books as the family disease and I think he's right. Moving out of this house will be a nightmare - when we moved in 25 years ago the movers doubled the price when they saw all our books and we've done nothing but acquire more since then.
posted by leslies at 3:38 PM on February 11 [1 favorite]


Because really, those are two different books.

Of course. See Madan, Falconer, "The duplicity of duplicates."
posted by octobersurprise at 4:15 PM on February 11


Gosh, arranging books chronologically makes so much sense! I foresee an epic dialogue tonight with the missus on how the Asterix's ought to be arranged, whether their volume number or the order of publication in English...

But yes, we have one of the few bookshelves in the world where Chinese and Telugu books sit on alternating shelves; like a certain Paulo Coelho book, sometimes they're the same book, but translated into two different languages.
posted by the cydonian at 4:34 PM on February 11


Fadiman is great, and Ex Libris is a lovely book, but no matter how much you love a person and believe you share lives, mixing collections is a terrible sacrilege and an affront to theology and geometry.
posted by turbid dahlia at 4:49 PM on February 11 [1 favorite]


Twelve years married, books unmixed. Un. Mixed.

Both because he hates my organizational system and I hate his total refusal to cull for quality. I don't want to be hunting for a GOOD book among monstrous piles of crap.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:50 PM on February 11


"Never lend books." Bill Adama

But if you must, cut the corners off yours so you know it's yours.
posted by crossoverman at 5:47 PM on February 11 [4 favorites]


We both had large personal libraries when we moved in but mine was all ART: A NEW HISTORY and THE GOLDEN BOUGH and his was all ELECTRONIC STIMULATION A GUIDE FOR DOCTORS and PYSCHOLINGUISTISCS, FORM AND CONTENT. So it worked out well with few duplications.
posted by The Whelk at 7:05 PM on February 11


( oh and the bedroom bookshelves are all paperbacks and genre novels read for fun and since he hasn't voluntarily read any fiction published after 1953 it's pretty easy to keep them straight)
posted by The Whelk at 7:06 PM on February 11


( the only books that are definitely one person's are his first edition Asimovs and my shelf of illustrated editions, which is always the clear symbol to anyone visiting that YES WE WOULD LIKE BOOKS AS HOUSE WARMING GIFTS.)
posted by The Whelk at 7:18 PM on February 11


Wait. Wait. Some of you ORGANIZE your books?
I've got to try that, someday.
posted by cccorlew at 8:11 PM on February 11 [1 favorite]


No. This book mingling makes me nervous.

Like a chaperone at an all-girls school dance where they've invited some boys to join the party for the first time ever in the school's history. And there's a snowstorm coming so the boys may be stuck here all weekend dear god I broke my pearls clutching them so tightly.

No really it does make me anxious. That's some commitment.
posted by sio42 at 8:23 PM on February 11 [2 favorites]


Sort of on topic: have you ever noticed that if you lend a woman a book, she'll eventually bring it back, but guys never do? Seriously, not one guy that I've ever known that I lent a book to ever gave it back. One class act said he'd bring it next week and then disappeared, never to be seen again. Some of them have been all, "Oh, I already gave it to someone else." What, you don't ask first?

As for mingling bookshelves...not that I've ever had the option, but as you can imagine, it gives me the wiggins.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:45 PM on February 11 [1 favorite]


I mingled the books when we moved in. I mingled the music, which was even more serious.

I'd been married before. When we discuss the books and music I no longer have, it's "I lost it in the fire". Mixing the books and music was part of the long beatdown to my resistance to marrying again.
posted by immlass at 10:26 PM on February 11


We've been married 23 years, and most of our books remain separate.

Recently, we moved, and gave nearly 1500 books to the local hospice's charity store - all titles we had acquired in electronic form once we realized that our books were taking over. Even so, several hundred still remain, but shelved separately. Part of my collection - some signed or otherwise cherished volumes - resides entirely away from the rest, in its own bookcase in my bedroom. Looking at that case funny is likely to get you bitten.

Maus suggested during our Unpackalypse that we shelve everything together and do away with the "unnecessary" segregation of my much loved tomes. The Monsters had to intervene on his behalf, I was a hairsbreadth from eating him.

Nope. My books remain MINE.
posted by MissySedai at 11:09 PM on February 11


I'm gonna put it this way: Sometimes you have to just walk away. My next computer is going to be a laptop because a desktop is harder to evacuate and I never want to be more than an hour from wheels-up again. I spent a lot of time and money collecting the books filling the dozens of milk crates that hold my library. I know which ones can't be left behind. I'd commit yubitsume before I'd mix them in with someone else's books.
posted by ob1quixote at 11:41 PM on February 11


My husband would love for us to mingle our books; for him, knowing the difficulty I have with it, this would be the ultimate gesture of commitment. Much to his dismay, I steadfastly refuse, despite there being very little overlap in our reading tastes. (Him: mostly non-fiction, especially biographies, American history, politics, Ireland, film; comic strips. Me: science fiction, fantasy, literary fiction, poetry; non-fiction mainly limited to language, writing, cookbooks, science, photography, books about books. Overlap: almost entirely Tolkien—but, amazingly, no duplicate editions between us.) I simply cannot stomach the thought.

At times, I have blamed it on my growing up as (mostly) an only child—"Sharing? What's that?"—at others, on my inability to find any of my favorites within the vastness of his collection. (My husband is a big movie buff. There are movies everywhere. We have not mingled DVDs, because I would never be able to find "my" tiny collection within his system of organization if I ever wanted to watch something specific. I have, however, relented with regards to the Blu-Rays, all of which were acquired in the context of our relationship. [But, embarrassingly, I still keep a list of what's "mine."])

Maybe, as my husband fears, what it really amounts to is that I view our relationship as more fragile, disposable, than he does. I watched my mother marry two men who didn't treat her as well as she deserves, and I don't think that just because you promise, in complete earnest, "forever," it means you need to just suffer through it when it all goes to hell and neither one of you is happy anymore. I love my husband with my whole heart, and I hope, want, need to have him by my side for the rest of my days. He brings me such unbelievable joy. But our lives are, ultimately, unknowable, and perhaps some part of me needs to plan for the unthinkable, even though I hope with everything that I am that it will never happen.

And yet it seems to me more than all of that. Somehow, a part of my identity is tied up in these leaves of paper, as if what I love is what I become. And their organization changes as I grow and change, or as I want to grow and change. Eye level at the moment? Poetry—inspiration serving, I hope, to get me writing more again. I need the freedom to rearrange the shelves when the books call to me, when the whimsical mood strikes. I cannot be distracted or constrained by the collection and organizational structure of another. The books that I love, the words that have changed me, are too much a part of the heart of me. The heart cannot be denied.
posted by cellar door at 5:23 AM on February 12


We've been living together for 5+ years and it never occurred to me, even once, that our books should be combined.

Then again, our respective libraries have exactly one book in common: Madeline L'Engle's Troubling a Star, which we both read as kids.
posted by inertia at 11:22 AM on February 12


My husband and I also decided to mix our books together...
posted by Monkeymoo at 12:16 PM on February 12


Sort of on topic: have you ever noticed that if you lend a woman a book, she'll eventually bring it back, but guys never do? Seriously, not one guy that I've ever known that I lent a book to ever gave it back. One class act said he'd bring it next week and then disappeared, never to be seen again. Some of them have been all, "Oh, I already gave it to someone else." What, you don't ask first?

Perhaps this is a sign of my own gender non-conformity but this AFAB person has terrible trouble returning books. I actually have a stack of books I've been meaning to return (to a radical project's library, yet!) for....oh, at the very least, months. I don't generally borrow books anymore, in fact, because I am so bad at returning them.
posted by Frowner at 12:48 PM on February 12


I don't generally borrow books anymore, in fact, because I am so bad at returning them.

Me too. Also, I ended a friendship with a girl in college because she borrowed my like-new, only-read-once copy of Lolita and then left it at a friend's summer cabin. When I asked her about it, she offered to replace it from the local used bookstore. It was the straw that broke the camel's back of that friendship.
posted by donajo at 1:26 PM on February 12


I don't lend. I give. "He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me." --- Thomas Jefferson.
posted by SPrintF at 1:57 PM on February 12


I can't keep Cat's Cradle, The Shipping News or Black Elk Speaks. Not sure how many copies I've given away, except one time a friend who was a high school teacher in Woostah posted on a message board that "Help! I need 23 copies of Cat's Cradle for a class this week," so I went down to Half Price on my way home from work to look, & they had 16 on the shelf. I enquired if they had any more in back-stock & the dude returned with 7 copies & said "this is it," so it was a fate thing. So I have given away AT LEAST 30 copies of Cat's cradle, at a minimum. They're not hard to come by. Whenever I want to read it again, I go buy another copy, then end up eventually giving it away again.
posted by Devils Rancher at 2:38 PM on February 12


We’re preparing for a big move and have donated well over a thousand books so far, and packed as many. You would not be able to tell any are missing. One of the biggest concerns about the new house was where the bookshelves would go.

When we moved in together 20 something years ago my wife marked all of her CD’s with little stickers (but not the LP’s probably because she couldn’t bring herself to put stickers on them, and she knew precisely which ones were hers). I just laughed about it and ignored it. She is not good with sharing. When I sent her this article she said "honestly I just consider all the books mine". It works best if I just indulge this way of thinking. I figure if we split up these things are not going to be the biggest problem I have.
posted by bongo_x at 2:21 PM on February 23


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