Midweek @ Musings: Literary Legacies

Recently Marie at Boston Bibliophile wrote an interesting post, Essentials for a Home Library , where she said:

I like the idea of upgrading some of my classics and creating space in the collection for nice books. But then I starting thinking about what it actually would take to build a home library I could be proud of- not just a bunch of random flotsam that happened to find its way into my house, but a really nice collection.

That got me thinking about my library, which is mostly of the “random flotsam” variety.  When my husband and I were newly married, we subscribed to a “great classic books” offer.  Each month we received a new hardcover classic in pseudo-fancy binding: red, blue, or green covers with gold accents.  These were not expensive or of particularly high quality.  They looked kind of nice on our shelves, but most of the books were works by “dead white guys” that I had no interest in reading.  We canceled our subscription after a billing dispute with the company.  They are still on our shelves, but not really something I’d consider part of my “literary legacy.”

A few years ago, I started collecting Virago Modern Classics, works by oft-forgotten or ignored women novelists.  I now have more than 130; here’s a photo taken when I reached 101:

101 Virago Modern Classics

Nearly all of these books are used, and were published before 1990.  Most are still in very good condition.  The cover art can be quite beautiful:

I think of my Viragos as part of a legacy that will pass to the next generation someday.  But that’s about it, so far.  For my leisure reading, I tend to buy used paperbacks and recycle them through Paperbackswap, or I borrow them from my local library.  I rarely buy a hardcover book!

Perhaps I should.  I wouldn’t mind having a high quality, hardcover collection of literature, both classic and contemporary.  I like the idea of buying the books from the same publisher, to create a consistent look on the bookshelves. But I want to choose the titles myself, and not have someone else’s idea of “great books” foisted on me.  I’m also thinking about collecting a few books on American and British history.

On Tuesday, Marie published her home library mission statement, and gave me even more to think about.

What do you think of the home library concept?

Do you have a home library, or do you prefer “random flotsam”?

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21 thoughts on “Midweek @ Musings: Literary Legacies

  1. I wonder what my VMCs would look like if I put them altogether – I think I have over 100 myself now, though I’m not quite sure. I have to keep all my fiction in author alphabetical or I’d never find them.

  2. Your collection is gorgeous! There are a bunch of smaller publishers that produce good-quality paperbacks- Persephone, Hesperus, a bunch I’m forgetting right now, LOL. And I love the Peguin Ink series, and their 75th anniversary paperback editions. But I am seriously in awe of your Viragos! I think everyone has mostly flotsam- I do, too. My literary legacy will probably be my Bookers and a few nice older slipcased books. I like the flavor of the month as much as anyone. I guess for me it’s also a question of organization and weeding. Both are really, really hard for me! Great post! 🙂

    • Marie, thanks for stopping by to see what you inspired! I have not been bitten by the Persephone bug yet (*la la la I can’t hear all you people!*) but I may have to check out the Penguins …

      I agree organization & weeding are important. I’m hyper-organized and don’t have too much difficulty with weeding. But my other half refuses to part with anything! Fortunately he does many other things well, but oh, if I could just get rid of his crappy old books from hobbies he doesn’t practice anymore … 🙂

  3. Interesting post Laura! Having done two house moves recently and now packing up my stuff for storage as I move across the pond, I’ve had the opportunity to do a lot of library weeding of late. I got rid of a lot of books I was keeping just to look clever or that I’d read and not massively enjoyed but kept anyway to bulk out my shelves. The books I have read and loved I have kept, and I always keep non fiction titles in case I want to go back to them. I buy first edition hardbacks or lovely vintage editions of my favourite books and always try and get hardbacks where possible – paperbacks, apart from Viragos or Persephones, aren’t ‘keepers’, in my opinion. I want to eventually build a library of books that have formed me and that I love, books that I want my children to read, and books that reflect my passions and interests. I think I’ve grown beyond wanting to build a library to look clever – I want a library of books that mean something to me, and in the nicest editions possible. If I read a book and I don’t love it, instead of putting it back on the shelf, now I sell it on or give it away. Only books I want to read again some day get to stay. Your library, I think, should be a tightly curated collection of volumes that speak to you, not random holiday reads and dog eared paperbacks you’ll never read again. But then I am a book snob. So! take my opinion with a pinch of salt!

    • Rachel, I agree with you that paperbacks aren’t usually keepers. I have hung onto a few non-VMCs that have been particularly meaningful to me. And it’s great you figured out that bit about “building a library to look clever” — I think that’s really where my husband and I were when we subscribed to that classics collection I mentioned. Fortunately we’ve matured 🙂

  4. Mostly flotsam. Nothing very high brow at all. I have a section of Stephen Kings I want to keep, an LM Montgomery section, and other than that, it’s books I’ve loved, so I can remember loving the book when I see it, or books I’ve loved that I want to be able to share, or books I’d like my kids to be able to pick off the shelf if they feel like it.

    Love the look of the Virago collection. It’s stunning.

  5. As you know, I’ve done a couple of purges over the years. One was a big one: getting rid of about 1,000 paperbacks in a genre I knew I would never read again. I periodically go through things and take a box of books into the second hand shop for a credit. This kind of editing keeps it manageable. I don’t want to be the Book Lady version of the Cat Lady should I expire unexpectedly.

    First rule: keep what you love. Jane Austen and E.F. Benson’s Lucia series will be with me until my last gasp.

    Second rule: keep what you know you will use as a reference. This is a broad category including everything from Virgil to Northrop Frye. Definitely my gardening books.

    After that, it’s eclectic: autographed/signed books; the collections, like the VMCs and the first edition Bensons (I don’t necessarily like all of the books but they form part of the collection, so I hang on to them), books which have come down through the family (I don’t like Cowper but I have my 3x great grandmother’s copy of hhis poetry, so it stays).

    When I look at my shelves, it’s a combination of my life, my personal growth and my family history.

    • Tui, you cracked me up with I don’t want to be the Book Lady version of the Cat Lady should I expire unexpectedly. !!!

      I like your rules, and the way you summed up your collection.

  6. I’ve been trying to concentrate more on developing my library as well. I need a better set-up for sure. Right now I have books randomly placed all over the house. I’ve started collecting earlier editions of du Maurier and Pearl Buck books. I know I could do an online search and flesh out my collection but this is one case where the joy is in the find. I love perusing antique stores and used books stores and fishing them out.

    I also like Penguin Classics hardcover/clothbound books, which Amazon offers at fairly reasonable prices. Here’s a list of their selections if you’re interested.

    • eb&c, I know what you mean about “the joy is in the find” — that’s precisely what I like about collecting the Viragos. And thank you for the link to Penguin on Amazon, although it looks quite dangerous!!

  7. A lovely post! I am not a keeper of books. Once I’ve read it, I swap it or give it away. Everything on my shelf – with only a couple exceptions – are books waiting to be read.

    Love the Virago picture! =)


  8. What a fun thing to mull over! I feel like my response would be too long for a comment, though: perhaps I’ll do a post next week on the topic. 🙂

    Your Virago books look awesome!

  9. Wow! What an amazing library of VMCs. I probably have only twenty-five! Hmm… my ideal home library: well, I think I agree a lot with what Rachel’s said. There was a time I couldn’t bear to part with any book I had purchased, irrespective of whether I loved the book or not. Now – now, it’s different. If I don’t enjoy a book, it goes in my “charity shop” pile after I ask a bunch of friends if they’d like it. Reason? Maybe a book I didn’t get on with will be the best friend of somebody else whose taste differs to mine.

    There is one exception to this rule, and one exception only: if you’re collecting a series, or you have a “favourite author” – well, those books shouldn’t be discarded from your shelf, even if you thought the book didn’t meet your expectations.

    I did some weeding a couple of months back, when I moved home, but as my new shelf is already overflowing, I think some more weeding will be necessary. Or… I could stop buying books! Nahhh…

    • cookie, I’m sure you’re VMC collection will grow over time — they are hard to pass up! And as mentioned by everybookandcranny, “the thrill is in the find.” I love it when I stumble on a VMC in a used bookshop (much less common here than they seem to be in the UK). Although I admit every once in a while I order one just to satisfy a craving. 🙂

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