I recenlty published an essay, “Defending My Library” (The Curator), in which I presented my apologia for bothering to keep a personal library (and pay for the expense of moving it).
In this week’s New Yorker (“Shelf Life: Packing up My Father-in-Law’s Library”), James Wood considers the value of another’s personal library. While he acknowledges that “in any private library the totality of books is meaningful,” he wonders if “a private library [isn’t] simply a universal legacy pretending to be an individual one”:
The books somehow made [my father-in-law] smaller, not larger, as if they were whispering, “What a little thing a single human life is, with all its busy, ephemeral, pointless projects.” All ruins say this, yet we strangely persist in pretending that books are not ruins, not broken columns.
Perhaps our abandoned libraries are not merely ruins because they continue to hold the promise of speaking, if no longer to us then for and beyond us.