How do the words ‘home library’ spark your imagination? I confess, my mind goes at once to an enormous, grand room with floor-to-ceiling shelves of old leather-bound tomes, and a ladder to reach the high shelves or even a gallery, and lots of dark wood everywhere, and armchairs and a couch on which to read, and an open fireplace with a crackling fire, and intricate stained-glass art in the windows… Clearly, I have been quite affected by visits to wonderful libraries like the Bodleian in Oxford.
Duke Humfrey’s Library, Bodleian Library, Oxford, UK
Credit: David Iliff. License: CC BY-SA 3.0
Equally, a home library may be light and bright, minimalist and sleek. It may make a design statement; it may be a testament to your love of organisation, with books arranged by genre, by author, by size or by colour (the latter, I must admit, is very visually pleasing, though I usually organise my books by genre).
Alternatively, your home library may be nothing grand at all. Perhaps a cluttered corner piled high with books, or just a few shelves in the living room. Or perhaps you have books scattered all over the place; after all, as Cicero said, ‘A room without books is like a body without a soul.’
The style and look of the library and its size are not what matters; it’s the contents that count. For building a little library of your own means you always have that little piece of paradise whenever you need it. And it has been clear in recent months just how precious and valuable that library is.
Research by Neilson found that during lockdown in the UK readers just about doubled the number of hours they spent reading each week. But sales of books did not increase accordingly, because with shops closed and a sense of anxiety about spending money, many people turned to the books they already had at home – their home library – for something to read. The Economist reported that ‘many people found themselves browsing their shelves and opening volumes they already owned but had never got round to reading’, and this led to an increase in readers delving into classic works of literature.
For me, reading has been a comfort and an escape during these difficult and uncertain times. When the reality hit that bookstores and libraries were closed, I was glad that I had collected books at home, both old favourites that I treasure and new books that I have been stockpiling in a ‘to be read’ pile. Happily, I have long held with the ethos that you can never have too many books!
So let us build up our home libraries, I say. Let us create spaces at home that are little havens, filled with stories that will entertain and inspire and delight us, and books that will inform us with new ideas and knowledge. Let us surround ourselves with these ‘loyal friends’, as Hemingway put it. Let us create a little bit of Heaven at home, one book at a time.