The Tour de Bookcases

I got married two months ago, and moved into my first home with my husband two weeks later. When we moved, we decided – in our first big step as a married couple! – to combine our books. This act of combination is one of the most visible signs of our married state. Whenever I walk past a bookshelf, I see my books mixed in with his – divided by topic and subject, rather than putative ownership. Of course, the previous sentence shows the unfamiliarity of this state to me: I still refer to “my books” and “his books” rather than simply “ours.” We have kept all the duplicate copies of books that we own – how could we get rid of a copy that one of us feels an attachment to? The books that we brought into this marriage hold memories. The cheap paperback copies of “The Lord of the Rings” are the ones in which I first discovered the magic of Tolkien’s stories. The textbooks each mark an important moment in our college experiences. My books hold memories from my life that my husband cannot share, so they must be in some sense “mine” not “ours.”

But the books are nonetheless combined on the shelves. A brief tour of the books in our (small, one-bedroom) apartment:

Shelves in the living room hold hymnals and books of religion and philosophy. They contain amusing juxtapositions of content: the Qur’an sits by the Marx–Engels Reader; the Bhagavad-Gita two shelves above the Hebrew dictionary.

Elsewhere: books of music theory and history, from my husband’s college coursework, tucked onto a bottom shelf next to the stereo, and a small shelf of cookbooks tucked next to the kitchen. In the hallway, the “work” books (mathematics and literary theory); in the bedroom, the novels (mostly fantasy).

Our books describe us: they expose our studies, our interests, our values. They also expose the values we think we should project: there is a reason the religion and philosophy books are in the living room and the fantasy novels in the bedroom. While I am a great believer in the importance of fantasy and fairy-tales, putting those books in the living room would make me feel a need to explain them to all of our guests: “Yes, these are children’s books. They are ‘easy’ to read; they don’t have the weight of tradition. Yes, they are escapist. But is that so wrong?” I love the novels I read, but I am still somewhat embarrassed by them. I don’t read them to discover fundamental truths about the world, but simply for entertainment. The religion and philosophy books, on the other hand, are in the living room to convey, “We are Christians. We are proud of our faith, and want you to know about it. But we are also thinkers. We read and study and learn. Our faith is intellectual, as well as evangelical.”

The combining of our books mirrors the combining of our lives. Our shared values allow us to combine our books, to decide what image we want to project from our library. I don’t want to sound like a sappy newlywed (although I am one), but one of the joys of marriage is illustrated by the enlightenment that comes from juxtaposing books that come from different homes on a single shelf. These books have more to say together than apart.

1 comment:

  1. Hannah,

    Congratulations on your marriage. May you and your husband, too, find yourselves able to say more together than apart.

    Fantasy=Children's books? Although you might simply be referring to _A Wrinkle in Time_, the Prydian (sp?) books and _Harry Potter_ rather than to _The Lord of the Rings_, the Fionavar Tapestry and _Lord of Light_, I am discomfited by the apparently sweeping generalization. There are many books one reads for entertainment rather than for cosmic truths, and many books one reads for both entertainment and cosmic truths. But it has been my experience that the genre is often *not* a predictor of the reason for reading. There are enough novels in the world that one can find weighty ones and flighty ones of any description.

    My husband and I recently moved into a new apartment in which we have put ALL our bookcases on two facing walls in the living room. We feel very impressive.