In the Comments section of a recent blog, Th. and Boyd Petersen each made the point that our bookcases function as personal—or possibly family—symbols and reveal much about our values and positions on issues. An interesting take—especially since so few homes I visit even have bookcases on view in the living room.
My grandmother had a small bookcase with a glass door in her dining room. It held Relief Society magazines, a few storybooks left from my dad’s childhood, plus a score of hardbound Deseret Book volumes by General Authorities–Christmas and Father’s Day gifts to Grandpa. Both my grandparents liked to read better than their slight library attested—but I can’t imagine either of the pair spending hard-earned cash on books for themselves. They read the Deseret News and week-old Life magazines contributed by Aunt Lovey and Uncle Louie. Their bookcase showed their love for thrift as much as for reading—gift books and the RS Magazine—a year’s subscription for $2.00 year. Grandma read to us from Uncle Wiggly, which served a useful as well as a sentimental value in her bookcase.
Most people who have a bookcase in their living room fill it with hardbound copies of impressive titles. Certainly, my best-looking books like a boxed set of Shakespeare’s plays and Churchill’s History of the English Speaking People—in bright jackets—gleam from my barrister bookcases in the living room. Symbols of my impeccable taste. But the bookcase in the small guest room next to my office—filled with dog-eared Norton’s Anthologies with torn or missing covers, paperback novels, arranged alphabetically by author, from Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward to Anzia Yezierska’s Bread Givers, and a row of religious philosophy from authors as diverse as Catholic Raymond E. Brown and new-age Ken Wilber—might reveal more about my personal taste.
Maybe even more revealing is the bookcase in my office where I keep the books I’ve bought and haven’t gotten around to reading yet—books like the used copy of Alexander Solzhenitstyn’s Cancer Ward next to a hardbound biography of Shakespeare by Schoenbaum who taught a summer school class I enjoyed at the University of Washington years ago. Some of the books in that case I may never read like Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time which is pretty dated by now. I did have good intentions when I bought it 15 years ago, however. The real problem with this bookcase is that I add books faster than I can read them.
Maybe most symbolic is the grandchildren’s shelf—the books I couldn’t bear to toss when our kids grew up and left home. And it’s pretty handy—how else could I enjoy a four-year-old bringing me a copy of Winnie the Pooh and plopping herself on my lap for a read?