RULE #1: THE PRIME DIRECTIVE — It is unacceptable to display any book in a public space of your home if you have not read it. Therefore, to be placed on Matt Selman’s living room bookshelves, a book must have been read cover to cover, every word, by Matt Selman. If you are in the home of Matt Selman and see a book on the living room shelves, you know FOR SURE it has been read by Matt Selman.
(has anyone ever seen Selman and Mike Kozlowski in the same place?) and Ezra Klein’s response to Selman:
Bookshelves are not for displaying books you’ve read — those books go in your office, or near your bed, or on your Facebook profile. Rather, the books on your shelves are there to convey the type of person you would like to be. I am the type of person who would read long biographies of Lyndon Johnson, despite not being the type of person who has read any long biographies of Lyndon Johnson. I am the type of person who is very interested in a history of the Reformation, but am not, as it happens, the type of person with the time to read 900 pages on the subject.
McLemee has it about right when he says of Klein
There is bravery in such candor. The word “poseur” is still around, after all, even if the people who study consumer behavior, and try to channel it, have coined the kinder and gentler term “aspirational taste” for this sort of thing.
So, I know you’re all dying to know: How are books shelved in Chateau Steelypips?
Well, we don’t really come down on either side of the Selman/ Klein debate, for the simple reason that we don’t have significant shelving in the living room. There are two small built-in bookcases on either side of the fireplace (refinishing them was a bitch and a half, let me tell you) that you may have noticed in some dog pictures, but those don’t contain any significant portion of our collection (which runs close to 2,400 books at the time of this posting). One set of shelves contains our athologies and collections, the other contains the long series we own (all of Nero Wolfe and all of the Brother Cadfael books) plus series DVD’s (the full run of Homicide, a few other things).
The vast majority of our books are upstairs, in the bedrooms and the room I use as an office (where I’m sitting as I type this). We’ve got a half-dozen sturdy pine bookcases that we bought from a local unfinished furniture store holding our hardcover collection, plus another seven or eight paperback shelves (I think they sell them as videotape/DVD shelves, but they’re the right depth for a mass-market paperback). The vast majority of these are genre fiction, primarily SF, Fantasy, and Mystery, and they’re shelved aplhabetically by author.
I sort of hold to Selman’s “Prime Directive,” in that I only shelve books that I’ve read. This isn’t so much for display reasons as it is because I forget about unread books if they’re mixed in with the read books. As a result, there’s another “To-Be-Read” shelf (an old particle-board bookshelf I got when I was in grad school) in what used to be Kate’s office, containing books that we’ve bought but haven’t gotten around to reading. There are also a lot of stacks of books lying sideways on the shelves in front of the read books, which are either to-be-read books or books that I haven’t gotten around to shelving properly.
All books on the shelves are alphabetical by author, as God intended.
We also have a single bookcase of non-fiction books on various subjects, though that undercounts our collection a bit, because all of my physics books are in my office on campus Except for the ones that I needed to refer to when I was writing my book, which are now piled haphazardly around my office at home.
My on-campus office contains mostly textbooks and pop-science books, most of which I’ve used for some class or another, though there are a few free promo copies of intro texts, and a stack of books I took from Ralph Alpher’s office after he retired. I also keep a bunch of duplicate books around from when Kate and I merged collections– the first six or seven of Steven Brust’s Vlad Taltos books, the early Black Company books, a couple others. I occasionally loan them out to students.
In the end, though, we’re more with McLemee than Selman or Klein:
Around here, the “prime directive” is that there should not be any books on the floor. If a marriage is its own little civilization, this is among the basic clauses in our social contract. Insofar as “aspiration” comes into play, I find it operating at the level of daydreams about replacing one of the closets or windows with another set of shelves.
Clothing and the outside world are much overrated, in my opinion, which does not carry very much weight in this particular case. Bookshelves are storage; that is all. The idea of using them for “display” seems cute and improbable.
In fact, we’re about to have the garage remodeled into a library/ family room (my car doesn’t fit in it, so we just use the garage as a place to store crap), with built-in bookshelves down both sides of the room. This will let us convert the spare bedroom into a nursery for FutureBaby, my office into a spare bedroom, and most importantly, it will give us plenty of space to hold our entire book collection.
Of course, it will be on the ground floor, and thus visible from the public areas of the house. Which, I suppose, means we’ll be sending a message to people based on our publicly displayed book collection. That message is: “We have a lot of books.”