My little piece of Heaven
December 14, 2012 9:23 PM   Subscribe

People posting photographs of their bookshelves:
Father in Law's Library, built by hand in about 5 years: The card file. Details & overview.
The Air-Conditioned Nightmare: Building Wall Shelving for 9000 Books.
“…first time in years I've been able to get most of my books out of cardboard boxes and onto shelves…”
My desk after four months of working in a bookstore.
Nigella Lawson's library.

Turning a spare bedroom into a library.
Bookshelf of wine crates.
I've wanted to upgrade my massive plank-on-ciderblock bookshelves for years. My goal was to build shelving for 1000 books for less than 100$. Using lots of scrap wood, It ended up costing about 80$. It took my girlfriend and me about a week to put it together.
A staircase.
Chromatic Coordination: This was a horrible idea and now I basically can't find anything and it doesn't look that good...
Made my daughters' playroom a book wall with three gutters for $36
Piano turned bookshelf.
posted by growabrain (51 comments total) 83 users marked this as a favorite
I have always secretly dreamed of having a library (indeed, an entire house) that looks like that Father in Law series. I can't imagine how much that must've cost, though.
posted by Scientist at 9:33 PM on December 14, 2012 [4 favorites]

The son in law claimed that the library is inside a normal, somewhat modest, home in Arizona
posted by growabrain at 9:41 PM on December 14, 2012

The best library I ever saw (in pictures) is Alnwick Castle.
posted by stbalbach at 9:55 PM on December 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is relevant to my interests.
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 10:20 PM on December 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

Nigella Lawson's library.

This is something to aspire to.
posted by brennen at 10:21 PM on December 14, 2012

As if I needed another reason to love Nigella Lawson.
posted by bongo_x at 10:25 PM on December 14, 2012 [12 favorites]

Book porn! Yum!
posted by SweetTeaAndABiscuit at 10:35 PM on December 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Wait - there's a "Bookshelf" sub-Reddit??
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 10:42 PM on December 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

There is something about books on aged wooden shelves going all the way to the top
of a high ceiling in some secret den and you have to have a special ladder to climb up and get that one particular
book. A book that may not have been touched for years. It’s comfort food for the brain, It’s total soul opium.
posted by quazichimp at 11:02 PM on December 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

*places wine crates on holiday shopping list*
posted by Smart Dalek at 11:17 PM on December 14, 2012

The single most phenomenal private library I have ever seen is the one in the home that Paul Allen built for his mother, Faye.

There used to be photos of it online but I cannot find them anymore. A stunning place.
posted by bz at 11:32 PM on December 14, 2012

I kinda love my home library, but it's all Ikea shelves and only one small room.
These make me feel inadequate.
Clearly, the only solution is more books, more shelves.

Wait - there's a "Bookshelf" sub-Reddit??

It can't be creepshots all the time.
I'm waiting for Bookshelves Gone Wild....
(And I want close up shots so I can see what people have on their shelves. That's almost as much fun).
posted by Mezentian at 12:19 AM on December 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Chromatic Coordination: This was a horrible idea and now I basically can't find anything and it doesn't look that good...

The problem in the examples is all the crappy shelves. Since going chromatic I'm never going back.
posted by univac at 12:31 AM on December 15, 2012

This is why I have a love-hate relationship with E-Readers - people will be less likely to build beautiful libraries/book collections like these.
posted by JasonM at 1:19 AM on December 15, 2012 [4 favorites]

O great, yet another reason to have sleepless nights over Nigella.
posted by ouke at 1:44 AM on December 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Wait - there's a "Bookshelf" sub-Reddit??

...not to mention - - Bookshelf - - the regularly updated bookshelf blog.
posted by fairmettle at 3:02 AM on December 15, 2012

The son in law claimed that the library is inside a normal, somewhat modest, home in Arizona

It all depends on what you consider modest. I really doubt that's what i would consider it, knowing how much that would cost and the glass above the door. That library (not books included) probably cost more than my house, so i doubt that they would put that much into a house. Not that i wouldn't give a lot to have that, i just know most people like to think what they have is more modest than it really is, especially as you make more.

I've got at last count over 3000 books and most are in simple Billy Ikea bookcases with glass doors. Short of paying more than i can, that's what can really fit in my house with it's set up. That makes me kind of sad, i'd love to have a more organized space where they can all go instead of being stacked up since i ran out of room in the shelves.
posted by usagizero at 3:35 AM on December 15, 2012

That Nigella photo is the best, and it makes me so so angry, because it's marketing an impossible lifestyle, and I would totally buy it! Most of the others would fit into my life without changing it at all (other than the atiseptic FIL library), but the Nigella one would mean my life was glamorous and my time was intentionally spent on beautiful things.
posted by OmieWise at 3:35 AM on December 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

Megami, I don't think you appreciate how many books a good reader can go through. When I last had to pack my books up I had ... hmm... about eighty boxes of them. Which I had all read, except for reference books like dictionaries and so forth, only some of which I had read.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:28 AM on December 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

I grew up in a house with that many books or more and I read them all by the age of about 12. Not just the good ones either, I read the histories, the less interesting adult novels, the entire 12 volume encyclopedia and a whole lot of cookbooks. So yeah, I think it's possible.

Heck, most of them I read twice.
posted by fshgrl at 4:39 AM on December 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've moved five times in four years, the most recent just last weekend, and I couldn't bear to move all my books again. I did a brutal purge. It was horrible and painful and I regret doing it.

I can't wait to be in a more permanent home where I can put my remaining books, still numbering a few hundred, on shelves and not have to worry about moving them again.

Megami, you make an odd argument. My love of books and reading doesn't indicate how awesome I am. It's not a sign of inherent worth. It's a sign that I read several books a month.
posted by shoesietart at 5:26 AM on December 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

Megami, according to Amazon I acquired a Kindle on September 11, 2011 so a year and 3 months ago. Since then I have downloaded 443 books. 17 sit in a collection called "Abandoned" on my Kindle, so I've read 426 of them to the end. That is almost exactly one book a day, so I don't have any problem believing that a lot of the libraries shown here are genuine reading collections. If we had the physical space, proper library housing would be a priority.

But we live in a house that is 12 feet wide and 20 feet deep, so as much as I like a great visual library I am one of those people who is an enthusiastic digital reader convert. While I was used to it, I certainly didn't enjoy having books spill out of everything.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:35 AM on December 15, 2012

This is what I love about the public library. I don't have to find a place for that book when I'm finished reading it.
posted by freakazoid at 5:50 AM on December 15, 2012 [5 favorites]

I love books. I have hundreds of them. I read hundreds every year. Storage is a constant problem.

HOWEVER. Who seriously needs a copy of Peyton Place around the house? Lonesome Dove? An old Algebra textbook? These books can be had at the library.

There comes a point where a book is not worth the trouble and the storage space. The information/art it contains can be stored off-site or electronically.

Yes, there is sentimental value in some books (I have a complete set of Jane Austen, the Flashman series, and Trollope.) But I have also let go of a lot of books, knowing that it is likely I will not read them again and that having the additional space is well-worth it.
posted by jfwlucy at 6:24 AM on December 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Megami, your question reminds me of this blog post by our own LanguageHat.
posted by adamrice at 6:33 AM on December 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

do you really think that the owners of many of these libraries have read all of those books?

In John Waters' book Role Models, he quotes someone for the point that bookshelves are not just for books you've read, but for books you want to read. I've taken that to heart.
posted by wmoskowi at 6:45 AM on December 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Now, before people make the whole 'but books are great things, and shoes are frivolous' argument: do you really think that the owners of many of these libraries have read all of those books?

Who wants a library full of books you've already read? I have many books, many of which I have read - and many more who are patiently waiting for me.

So much to look forward to!
posted by jammy at 6:59 AM on December 15, 2012 [5 favorites]

Earlier this year mlis invited mefites to "Show us your books!", which I and a bunch of us participated in.

This might also be relevant—I was asked to give a presentation on a new bookstore/library model I had written about, and the presentation used a lot of images from Reddit's Bookporn subreddit. You can watch that here.
posted by Toekneesan at 7:05 AM on December 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

Part of me fears that my house could become this overrun with books, but the other part of me hopes that happens some day.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 7:29 AM on December 15, 2012

Looking at someone's bookshelves is like looking into their brain. Great post.
posted by stp123 at 8:08 AM on December 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

When my eldest daughter moved out, I instantly converted her room into another library. It's already full to the brim, and I've begun to store books in my storage space for when no. 2 moves out. I even have foor to ceiling books in my ktichen. This is what I've always dreamt of, and now I have it. It has nothing to do with what others see or think, it's my childhood dream come true. And I enjoy it every day.
(I've achieved it by making books a big part of my professional life, but the dream came long before the jobs)
posted by mumimor at 8:29 AM on December 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Sexy stuff. I love bookshelves. They contain multitudes. Of books.

From the fancy leatherbond be-tomed libraries (WOW.) to the lived-in paperback bookshelves with a nice collection of writers and an old car, something maritime and some other tchotkes...

They definitely make me happy. I hope people don't throw out all their books now that they own those despicable Schmindle's...
posted by Skygazer at 8:45 AM on December 15, 2012

Pride and envy, pride and envy.
posted by blue t-shirt at 9:14 AM on December 15, 2012

Perhaps gluttony too.
posted by blue t-shirt at 9:14 AM on December 15, 2012

It's a sign that I read several books a month.

Huh. That's what my library card is a sign of. And their shelves are way more impressive than mine could ever be.
posted by stopgap at 9:48 AM on December 15, 2012

No one is looking down on anyone here, no one thinks they’re better than you. Some people like to have a lot of books and have the resources. Some people like to look at those collections. I do.
posted by bongo_x at 9:56 AM on December 15, 2012

Books are artifacts of not just our brains but the past of people whose lives have intersected ours. I kept many of my father's books though they in no way will be integrated into my library nor read e.g., ships of the Thai coast. These items they travel through time, solid and decaying. When I hold Kawabata's House of Sleeping Beauties I wonder if my smaller hands hold the book the same way as my father's.

I too have an e-library but really, how long will these tenuous electronic things last? When I transcribe books into electronic formats it is a desperate throw that this artifact will be reborn into another medium; that these words defy time and the grave's gravity.

So I keep books as artifacts of the past, as insurance against electronic corruption, as a physical memory palace and for the pleasure, though messy and disarrayed. My books and I, we travel through time, sold and decaying. I hope my books and their words reach the farthest shores.
posted by jadepearl at 9:56 AM on December 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

The father-in-law library impresses me and I thought of the Morgan Library as well as the blog Beautiful Libraries.

There are book people and people who are not book people. They should be nice to one another. I am one of those who has always dealt in armloads of books. There is no way I could house all the books I've read; I keep only a few hundred now and read most things on the Kindle. I like to have a stack of unread books just waiting and the Kindle makes that easy. If I find something I treasure, I'll buy the book. I recently was delighted with a new copy of Treasures of Britain to update my forty-year-old edition. I'll keep them both. It transports me. "There is no frigate like a book."

Water is the enemy of books; heat and water even worse. There are companies that will kill the mold and mildew in your library or flash freeze and sometimes remediate wet books. Both services are expensive. Neither shelve your rare books on the top floor nor in the basement.

Twenty years ago a tidal surge crept into my house near the lake and ruined the bottom layer of book boxes, still unpacked. I had to move and I lost many other things but the most painful loss was of all those lovingly collected oversized books, many lavishly illustrated art and reference books.
posted by Anitanola at 10:17 AM on December 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

I too have an e-library but really, how long will these tenuous electronic things last?

I'm curious as to what you think is going to happen to these formats and the readers for them. Unlike other key digital formats (or indeed, books) ebooks are not going to degrade over time or something.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:22 AM on December 15, 2012

In my previous house, I turned a bedroom into a library/ den/ computer room. In my current house, I had a flood and lost about 1/3 of my books, before they were even shelved. Some were valuable-ish, many were books and authors I really loved.* I keep acquiring books, and would love to have bookshelves tall enough for a rolling ladder. If I designed a house, The North walls would be book/shelf-lined, for extra insulation.

Cheap books have paper that will turn acid, and the books will fall apart. But probably not as fast as digital formats change, or as fast as gadgets get lost/ break. And what about used books, which are a large percentage of my books? The pleasure of encountering a favorite author at a yard sale, Goodwill, or even a good used bookstore? Bookstores continue to disappear, and midlist authors report that sales are sketchy. Paper books have supported a great deal of diversity.

Thanks for posting this.

*Shelved, and therefore packed, by subject, and alphabetical in fiction, and I happened to lose Brunner, Colwin, Drabble, all favorites, and a lot of art books. Still, they are things, objects, and can be replaced, and I recognize that I miss them out of proportion.
posted by theora55 at 10:36 AM on December 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

It's a sign that I read several books a month.
Huh. That's what my library card is a sign of

Buying books and borrowing books are not mutually exclusive. I love public libraries and think they are a community asset and when I've been especially poor, they've been my only access to books. I also love buying books and supporting writers. I think that's important too. I want good writers to be able to support themselves selling me books.

If you buy physical books, they have to go somewhere. You either keep them, throw them away or give them away. And if you keep them, bookshelves of some type are the only option.

While I regret some of the books I recently got rid of, others are good riddance. Every book is not precious.
posted by shoesietart at 10:38 AM on December 15, 2012

Looking at someone's bookshelves is like looking into their brain.

Recently, I've had three different mefites come to visit on three separate occasions. Independently of one another, on seeing my bookshelves all three exclaimed "Mefites always seem to have the same books!"

Haven't been here that long, haven't bought more than one or two due to recommendations here. So yeah, y'all are my peeps.
posted by likeso at 11:19 AM on December 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

In response to DarlingBri:
I'm curious as to what you think is going to happen to these formats and the readers for them. Unlike other key digital formats (or indeed, books) ebooks are not going to degrade over time or something.
Presently, you are seeing a fight between various formats and those who hold certain file types may not be happy in years to come. Also, we have seen, in our lifetime, various file types, formats and the hardware to read those formats become difficult if impossible to retrieve collection 1 or the original items lost. Heck, I miss my old files from school that used antiquated word processers like Bankstreet Writer. Here is a more recent one, how many of us still retain 5 1/4" floppies or still use a zipdisk?

Electronic information allows for limitless replication but fragile since it relies other things to exist for the knowledge and information transfer to happen i.e., machines/infrastructure. When the information is in a solid form, it is just the reader, object and text. I always found it great that ancient clay tablets still exist recording mundane tax records.

I have nothing against electronic books, I just believe in redundancies in the system.
posted by jadepearl at 12:11 PM on December 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

Yeah, talk to any archivist about "where do you think [medium x] is going to go". Technology rots. Software is abandoned, hardware fails, storage media degrades, and by the time anyone realizes Something Should Be Done, there's a fair chance that the know-how to preserve what's left has vanished.

An edition of a physical book still stands a fair chance of outlasting most of the digital storage on the planet. At least, that is, if the economic and social pressures around digital storage don't actively reach out and destroy our carefully-nurtured capability to preserve documents on a genuinely durable substrate, which is certainly possible.
posted by brennen at 1:11 PM on December 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

"But the fetishing of books kind of rubs me the wrong way. In the whole 'ooh, lots of books, prettily displayed. It's a sign of inherent worth, and how awesome I am' etc. etc. ... That those books are serving any purpose other than looking good/a signifier of how the owner is good because they are a 'book person'?"

My beautifully-displayed books are child-bait. "Come here, sonny ... don't be shy, open me up, I'm a botany textbook, that's right, that's right, look at all the pretty illustrations, now look right next to me, here's a biography of Abe Lincoln, aren't the pages so nice and smooth and full of words? That's right, just read a little bit ... a little more ... oh, no, you don't have to stop ..."

That's also one of my major deciders these days in thinking about whether to get something as an e-book or a physical book -- is this the sort of book I hope my child discovers on the shelves while poking around on a rainy afternoon? Not, like, "Oh no, I DON'T want him to find this book!" but that I assume he'll find throwaway novels just fine without my help. However, the bookshelves in our living room (as opposed to the overstuffed flat-pack numbers in the guest room, etc.) are curated partially with child-browsing in mind -- things that are intriguing, and random, and wonderful, and imagination-firing, and high-quality.

I have vivid memories of poking about my parents' shelves when looking for something to read and spending quality time with my dad's high school botany textbook and the gigantic atlas and Kurt Vonnegut paperbacks. In fact, poking about their shelves on a Christmas visit a few years ago when I took too few books with me, slightly before I got a Kindle, I stumbled across the Forsyte Saga and fell in love. It still works! The library is another form of child-bait, and an important one, but I also want them to have weird and glorious books at home to browse and discover and fall in love with.

A couple of weeks ago I stumbled across my three-year-old who had stolen a big lushly-illustrated cookbook off the table where I'd left it (most of the cookbooks I use daily aren't illustrated); he was flipping through slowly and he said to me, in a voice of wonder, "Mommy, I can make so many things!" (For values of "I" that mean "people allowed to touch the stove," I guess.) He loves food, and he especially loves new food, and it was BLOWING HIS MIND that there was a book with pictures and instructions for so many, many kinds of food that he'd never seen before. Last year he found a Jackson Pollock coffee table book I had hanging around and he spent hours upon hours going through it over and over again. It was almost as tall as he was and he would struggle to lug it off the shelves so he could read it for the fifth time that day. I want my kids to have a chance to grow up as bibliophibians, like I did.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:18 PM on December 15, 2012 [12 favorites]

I grew up a bibliophibian too. My family had a great book collection that I explored as a child. My favorite back then was mythology, preferably massively and gruesomely illustrated. I idolized Coyote, probably not the best role model for a child.

I have a nice bookshelf for a couple reasons. As a decoration it's hard to do better - it covers a huge chunk of wall and has ideal acoustic properties, cutting down on reverb in the room. It is a convenient surface to set something down. Collecting things is fun, and if I'm buying the book already to read it, keeping it on the shelf is easier than reselling or donating it. Also my friends and family like to borrow books so I enjoy providing them with a nice selection.
posted by foobaz at 2:23 AM on December 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

do you really think that the owners of many of these libraries have read all of those books?
'I suppose you read your books?' ask cynical friends from time to time, wrenching from its shelf and brusquely opening some book which they know perfectly well to be unreadable, such as the Aldine Odyssey on vellum, printed in an intricately contracted Greek type, or Frederick the Great's copy of a fifth-rate Roman historian .. In fact I do read a few of them and I constantly lend books to other people who I think would read them with greater profit than myself. For the most part, however, I just look at them or take them down and stroke them from time to time. Book-collecting, I would have you know, is a full-time occupation, and one wouldn't get far if one took time off for frivolities like reading.
(A.N.L. Munby, 'Floreat Bibliomania', 1952)
And for a reminder that collecting can be joyous and life-affirming, consider the collection of the late Jonathan Gili, described here (in the Guardian) and here (in the Mail):
He didn't know the meaning of the word restriction; it was like asking him to stop breathing.

'He'd say: "I wish I wasn't interested in so many things." He had such a fresh, vivid eye. He once had a vigorous row with a friend, arguing that of course a bus ticket had as much value as a record.'
Yes, of course collecting can be miserable and self-defeating when it gets out of control and becomes a form of obsessive hoarding or object-fetishization. But it can also be enjoyable and fulfilling when it's pursued with lively energy and curiosity. I can't understand the people who say, 'I don't need any books, I have everything I need on my Kindle', 'I don't need any CDs, I have everything I need on my iPod', because it feels like closing your eyes to all the wonderfully diverse and fascinating forms of Stuff out there in the world waiting to be discovered.
posted by verstegan at 7:08 AM on December 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've just bought my first house (yay!) and have a room set aside for my library. Not sure exactly how I'm going to fit it out shelf-wise; currently it has boxes. Plenty of inspiration here though :)
posted by Fence at 9:20 AM on December 16, 2012

Looking at someone's bookshelves is like looking into their brain.

I honestly don't think this is necessarily true, especially in this age of digital books, like DarlingBri mentioned above. I wouldn't want people to judge me by what books I have sitting around on my bookshelves at home, and I try not to do that to others. Same goes for CDs.
posted by misozaki at 3:59 PM on December 16, 2012

jfwlucy: "HOWEVER. Who seriously needs a copy of Peyton Place around the house? Lonesome Dove? An old Algebra textbook? These books can be had at the library."

Speaking from experience, although I'm allowed to keep an old algebra textbook I checked out from the library for as long as 12 weeks, that's not enough time to get through much of it, mostly because I'm also dipping into the Advanced Italian course and the Ed Emberley drawing book and the two dozen other books (many recommended by MeFites) that I also checked out from the library, along with, of course, the 400 other books within arm's reach that crowd around my desk.

I believe you're probably right, that there does come a point where the trouble and the storage space outweigh the pleasure and utility of having the book within reach, but for me, having all these books - many of them tattered and creased, but full of ideas and stories that beckon me constantly - right at my fingertips gives me the kind of pleasure Eyebrows McGee describes.

So many things I can learn!
posted by kristi at 5:17 PM on December 16, 2012

Some observations:

- Bookshelf porn is super-hot and this is a great post.

- People read a lot of truly terrible shit.

- People obviously don't anticipate moving often or at all if they're happy to have thousands of hardbacks.

- People don't even organise their books. Forget genre and subject, at least ALPHABETIZE THE AUTHORS.

- The people who read stuff that looks okay tend to work in secondhand bookshops and have taken the good books out of circulation, where somebody who wants and would appreciate them would have paid cash money for them, to put on their desks at home and not read them. Ergo people who work in secondhand bookshops are jerkwads.
posted by turgid dahlia 2 at 6:04 PM on December 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

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