At Home Without Books

by Bob Schwartz

Home libraries, whether modest but treasured shelves of books or vast collections, have been part of homes for centuries. The splendid volume At Home With Books (a kind of bibliophile pornography) celebrates the interesting libraries of the ordinary book-lover along with those of the rich, creative, and the “I had no idea he had such a cool library, but nothing should surprise me about him, including his survival” (that would be Keith Richards).

Most of the changes in what homes typically include have been improvements, additions or trade outs, especially with very useful appliances in the bathroom and kitchen. In entertainment, there has even been the democratizing of screening rooms: once the domain of the rich and famous, thousands now have huge digital screens and plenty of plush seating.

Then there is the evolution/devolution of home libraries. Lots of people never had many books at home, let alone areas or rooms that could be called libraries. Those that do, old and young, are still adding to the shelves, but based on the growth of non-paper formats, at a slowing pace. There is an unsettling sense that, for those of us who view home book collections as the essential equivalent of a working bedroom, bathroom, or kitchen, these libraries are a vestige, a legacy.

Living rooms once had big, beautiful, furniture-style radio consoles that became big television consoles, which then became sleek, minimalist big screens. This is much more than that. This is a model that goes back centuries and that is – hard to say it – disappearing. On a practical level, this is actually a perfect development, since it seems likely that the coming generations may not be living in the expansive spaces that the previous few have enjoyed. Digital bookshelves are a whole lot smaller and easier to move. But separate from the qualitative question of whether paper books are the equivalent of digital books (they aren’t), to some of us, a home without books is not a home at all.