The Private Library
The History of the Architecture and Furnishing of the Domestic Bookroom
by Reid Byers
“The strange English custom of the after-dinner retreat of the men into the library served two purposes. Initially it allowed the men to piss into a chamber pot without the ladies present, and later, it provided a systemic way of keeping women out of important conversations. Neanderthals, out this way, if you please.”
Your library may contain a chamber pot, but surely you use it for something other than…?
If, in fact, you do not have a library, and instead follow the cues in shelter mags and arrange your books in artful stacks on the floor or in the unused fireplace cavity, or if you do have a library but shelve your books by color (wild cackling and booing from the gallery) or stack them sideways as makeshift pedestals for nicknacks, then you will simply not relate to this book. Which is fine, because it keeps selling out in a blink and is already on its third print run, each with some corrections to the previous. This is a book for people who live with (and sometimes for) books, not decorate with them, in fact may even go so far as to rearrange the landscape outside the library windows to create a particular effect.
From the archly pragmatic (assuming equal floor footage, a library with round walls holds only half the books than one with straight walls; a 40 ft shipping container kitted out as a library can hold 5000 shelved books) to the charmingly anachronistic (paperweights, library ladders: pro or con?) this book takes you deeper than any flimflam lifestyle magazine into the rabbit hole that is the private library, the space in which to be “wholly imbooked, beshelved, inlibriated, circumvolumed, peribibliated: book-wrapt.” Cleverly, the book’s Index contains an entry under W: “what this book is not about,” which is in fact also the title of an early section.
While the book covers many supremely practical aspects of the “architected” i.e. task-specific or even purpose-built library (such as orientation, light, book and display cases etc.) it goes far beyond that, which is evident right from a few words in the CIP description that are not present in the subtitle: “. . . from around 2700 BC to the present.” 2700 BC, that means early civilizations such as Sumer and Babylon, and Byers methodically discusses archeological and historical evidence for when and how and why people first started writing (chiseling) things down and how records and record-keeping then begat, in addition to “official” depositories, private libraries, first for scholars then families. Looking for a transportation angle (other than how many camels it takes to transport a library)? Steam locomotive ->easy travel ->countryhouses ->require spaces in which to entertain/show off/retreat from the noisy world ->etc. pp.
The Table of Contents may look daunting but as scholarly as the book is, it is entirely unstuffy. Nothing is said about the author’s background but he himself insists, self-deprecatingly, that he is “the wrong person to write this book.” Well, he did come to the subject in a roundabout way—wanting to add a library to his house and not finding a decent book about it—but as both a Presbyterian minister and an IT professional (plus stints as journalist, welder, TV newscaster, choral director, Navy sailor) he has an inquisitive mind and the intellectual discipline to run down information. Moreover, he is a bibliophile and what friend of the book could take lightly any of the 1001 aspects of living with books? Speaking of which, it is surely not coincidence that the publisher is Oak Knoll Press who specialize in bibliophile books and books about books, and, through the offshoot Oak Knoll Books deal in antiquarian books.
There’s an elephant in the room . . . does the printed book, and thus the private library have a future? Byers’ IT background becomes eminently relevant here and he devotes an entire chapter to raising issues even the glass-half-empty crowd (who, spoiler alert, will be proven wrong) won’t have thought of yet.
Copyright 2022, Sabu Advani (speedreaders.info)