There’s a great piece in the New York Times today by Alberto Manguel about his 30,000-volume home library, “a fantastic animal made up of the several libraries built and then abandoned, over and over again, throughout my life.”:
[The] first library was in a house in Tel Aviv, where my father was the Argentine ambassador; my next one grew in Buenos Aires, during the decade of my adolescence. Before returning to Argentina, my father had asked his secretary to buy enough books to fill the shelves of his library in our new house; obligingly, she ordered cartloads of volumes from a secondhand dealer, but found that when she tried to place them on the shelves, many wouldn’t fit. Undaunted, she had them trimmed to size and then bound in deep-green leather, a color that, combined with the dark oak, lent the place the atmosphere of a soft forest. I pilfered books from that library to stock my own, which by then covered three of the walls in my bedroom. Reading these circumcised books required the extra effort of supplanting the missing bit of every page, an exercise that no doubt trained me well for reading the cut-up novels of William Burroughs years later…
I left my books behind when I set off for Europe in 1969, some time before the military dictatorship. I was 21 years old and wanted to see the world I had read about, the London of Dickens, the Paris of Marcel Aymé. My books, I thought, would faithfully wait in my parents’ house for me to come back one day. I could not have imagined that, had I stayed, like so many of my friends, I would have had to destroy my library for fear of the police, since in those terrible days one could be accused of subversion merely for being seen with a book that looked suspicious (someone I knew was arrested as a communist for carrying with him “The Red and the Black.”) Argentine plumbers found an unprecedented call for their services, since many readers tried to burn their books in their toilet bowls, causing the porcelain to crack.
The full essay is here. After reading it, Lisa and I did a rough calculation of the number of books we own—somewhere between 2500 and 3000 volumes. The thought of having ten times as many is just mind-boggling.