The Joy of a Home Library

Size matters

Someone once told me that one of the ways you can judge a person is by comparing the size of their television to the size of their library. I love movies so I’ll admit to owning a ridiculously sized tv. But I love books even more than movies so the size of my library dwarfs the size of my television. The tv was purchased three years ago. My book collection started when I was three years old.

Joy of a Home Library: William Zinsser's starting lineup

Though it’s tempting to make the transition to digital books – note-taking would be decidedly easier, and I could take my entire library with me everywhere I go – I still can’t resist the allure of the physical book, which in my mind is still the most perfect piece of technology ever invented. It never needs recharged, the operating system is always up to date, a book requires no internet connection, and the amount of data storage for its size has only recently been eclipsed after holding the record for about a millennium.

There’s also something perceptibly different about browsing through physical books on a shelf versus looking at a list of titles on a screen. You get no sense of heft, no feel for the pages, and no sense of the personal history of a book from a sterile list of titles, even lists that include the cover art. When I pick a book up off of my shelf, I can feel its weight in my hand, and I can tell at a glance how much it impacted me if I’ve read it before. There’s a connection that comes from the tactile senses that doesn’t translate to ones and zeros. The joy of discovery is just not the same.

Recently I finished reading William Zinsser’s classic guide to writing nonfiction, On Writing Well. I learned a lot from the book, as evidenced from the 25 different tabs (from where I highlighted a passage or made a note) now sticking out of the side of the book. During one of the chapters, Zinsser made mention of his favorite book he had written: a book entitled Spring Training that combined his life’s work of writing with his lifelong love of baseball. As he described the book, some long-neglected synapses in my brain fired and I thought: Hey, I think I own that book.

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After I finished the chapter, I perused through the baseball section of my library and there it was – Spring Training by William Zinsser. I smiled with delight as I pulled it off the shelf. I acquired the book years and years ago when I worked at hastings entertainment, but never read it. It’s traveled with me from Amarillo to New Braunfels and has rested on my shelves all these years, but I never once considered getting rid of it. Books are for keeps. I knew that one day the right time would hit me and the book would be sitting there on the bench, bat in hand, saying “Put me in, Coach.”

In my house, we have three different book shelves: the regular shelves in the library where most of the books are kept, the “showcase” shelves in the living room which we use as a display (though none of the books in our house are ornamental), and my “on-deck” shelf behind our master bedroom door, which my wife had built for me as a birthday present. It’s with great pleasure I announce that Zinsser’s Spring Training has been moved to the on-deck shelf and its turn at bat is coming up.

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YOUR TURN: Do you have a home library? Did you build it by hand using rough-hewn lumber cut on your own back-40? Did you buy it from IKEA and painstakingly assemble it over a weekend (like I did)? Do you have a low shelf filled with Little Golden Books? I’d love to hear all about it. Share your home library story in the comments section.

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