Reading Reflections: A Book Kingdom

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The figure of my study is round, and has no more bare wall than what is taken up by my table and chair; so that the remaining parts of the circle present me a view of all my books at once, set upon five rows of shelves round about me. … ’Tis there that I am in my kingdom, and there I endeavor to make myself an absolute monarch, and to sequester this one corner from all society. …

Michel de Montaigne*

Where is your book-kingdom? What is your dream book-kingdom if you don’t have it yet?

I own two ten-year-old four-shelf Target bookcases made of particleboard to house 200+ books. My books are stacked on top of one another and crammed together on the shelves, multiple layers deep. Most of my books were purchased used or are remnants from college days, when I wrote in them and reread them so many times they are creased and/or covers are falling off. Other books are ones I acquired for free and probably will never read. This is not me. Although I’ve been trying hard to not be overly attached to books (for budgetary reasons), I am craving a little corner of the world to be my book-kingdom.

(Note that I don’t provide a picture of my bookcases because I’m so embarrassed!)

How nice it would be to let the books breathe on the shelf in their own space, to organize them how I’d like, and to be able to sit in a comfortable, reclining arm chair as I read and see them all at once!

I tried to find some samples of what I’d like to book-kingdom to be. I can’t find the one I have in my mind. But suffice it to say, it would be an over-the-top gorgeous room like this one with hardwood shelves and with a comfortable armchair or sofa to lounge on and look at my books (all of which will be in wonderful condition, of course). Then again, maybe my dream book-kingdom would more simple and clean, like Claire’s shelves are. (Yes, Claire, even though you have books piled in front of your shelves, it is so much prettier than mine, I love it!)

See others’ home libraries at Your Shelves!

I love the idea of my book shelves being my kingdom, an extension of my personality, and a comfortable place to retreat and enjoy reading the written word. For now, I’ll have to dream.

*quoted from “The Commerce of Reading” in Reading in Bed: Personal Essays on the Glories of Reading, edited by Steven Gilbar. While I relate to Montaigne’s love of looking at books, he sounds like a snob in this essay. In fact, I’m not convinced he loves reading for reading’s sake. I’m not impressed by his comments that he goes a few months without picking up a book, for example. And his delight in his book-kingdom seems to be more because he knows he’s well-to-do. Nevertheless, his comments about a book-kingdom got me dreaming!

Reading Reflections is a new occasional feature in which I comment on an article or essay about reading.

Reviewed on February 22, 2010

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

  • Our shelves are ones that happened to be in our garage when we bought this house. We’d had to get rid of what we had in Wisconsin for space constraints, and in any case, most of what we had in Wisconsin was built-in shelves (those are so lovely). So here we have white shelves of various sizes and in some places the old owners stuck huge stickers of chickens on the sides… One has a hole cut out of the bottom shelf’s backing because it used to be in front of an electrical outlet. We have to hold up one of the bottom shelves with a prop because the wood that used to hold it up disappeared before we got here. Needless to say, they’re far from glamorous.

    My book kingdom would be similar to what we had in Wisconsin. I want built in bookshelves from floor to ceiling, light and airy feeling. I don’t want them to be housed off in their own room, but to become part of the whole house (the ones we had were in an entry room between the front porch and the kitchen, and had a huge arch entering the dining and living areas).
    .-= Amanda´s last post on blog ..Sunday Salon – historical fiction =-.

  • Thanks for the bookshelves compliment, Rebecca.I’m so touched that mine have been so well-received but I hasten to add that the piles in front are only temporary.

    I completely agree that our book collections are an extension of our personalities and I would love a bigger book kingdom to reflect different aspects of mine. Ideally I would love floor-to-ceiling built-in bookcases in a long, wide, specious and light hall or a study with wooden shutters and leather Chesterfield sofas.
    .-= Claire (Paperback_Reader)´s last post on blog ..Literary Adaptations =-.

  • Montaigne often makes deprecating comments about how little time/energy he devotes to reading, but I’m pretty sure it’s false modesty. He’s plainly incredibly well-read, and apparently contemporaries did NOT agree with the assertions that he only picked up a book occasionally, or that he had trouble reading for longer than an hour at a stretch. It’s a funny quirk – maybe he’s trying to be more relatable? Or, paradoxically, to NOT come off as a snob/over-educated?

    Anyway, I love your thoughts on book kingdoms. For years & years I lived in a super-tiny apartment, with books stacked on top of every available surface. When David & I bought our slightly larger condo, I got some plain-jane but good quality (solid wood) bookshelves for very cheap from a local college that was updating its shelving. I sanded & painted them all, & now have a custom-fitted wall of books! It’s great. Definitely worth waiting for. 🙂
    .-= Emily´s last post on blog ..Essay Mondays: Stevenson =-.

  • Ah, my very own library. One day, one day. Right now all I have are mixed shelves and piles all over the floor.

    Because I don’t have access to a public library, I buy a lot of books just to try them, and as a result my library isn’t as “me” as it could be. I’m getting better at not keeping them, and hopefully one day my book kingdom will consist only of books that truly speak to me.
    .-= Nymeth´s last post on blog ..Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog) by Jerome K. Jerome =-.

  • My bookshelves are rather old and shabby. All but one of them were given me for free, when their previous owners decided they had outlived their usefulness, so they don’t necessarily impress aesthetically. 😛 I dream of the days when I am just a little bit richer and I can get properly nice bookshelves. That match maybe.
    .-= Jenny´s last post on blog ..Review: The Opposite House, Helen Oyeyemi =-.

  • My bookshelves are spread all over the house and are different in every room but all the ones in any given room match more or less. My dream library is a converted barn even better if it is a particularly big barn so I could live in it too 🙂
    .-= Stefanie´s last post on blog ..Sappho =-.

  • Amanda, Like I said on Twitter, your shelves were so pretty! I like my books in one place. I don’t think I’d like them all over the house. I like the idea of retreating in to my “reading room”.

    Jackie, I too would love a library room! Even though I don’t yet have that many books…

    Claire, I love the detail in your book kingdom dream! I have a hard time imagining mine since my shelves are in such bad shape. I’ll work on it…

    Emily, ah, it sounds like my unfamiliarity with Montaigne caused me to miss the point of his essay. I kind of missed the jokes. He seemed snobby to me. Funny that he’s trying not to be!

    Ah, your shelves sound so nice!!

    bermudaonion, I can’t wait until I have space to organize my books properly! I have a hard time getting them to fit as they are…

    Nymeth, I can’t imagine not having access to a library. I feel for you! And no worries about the piles in that situation!!

    Kim, I ALWAYS wanted a circle tower of my own when I was a kid! Sounds perfect.

    Suzanne, I’ve pondered the ladders. I’m not sure I want any of my books to be out of reach like that — but I do love the idea of having that many books!!

    Jenny, it sounds like you are in the same boat as I am!!

    Stefanie, a converted barn? One of my local libraries is housed in what looks like a former barn! I’m not sure it really was a barn, but it’s the look.

  • I bought my bookcases at this outlet where they re-sell used high-end hotel furniture. The are white contemporary-looking shelves that you might see at the Apple Store. The problem is I need to expand my library and cannot find these bookcases again.
    .-= Matthew´s last post on blog ..“Anna Karamazov” =-.

  • thanks for this article…one has lots to be aware of when we have treasures we want to see …it is so great to know

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