My good friends, bestselling authors Michael and Kathleen Gear, recently posted a photo on Twitter of their 32,000-volume home library. At the time of this writing on February 1, it was trending to the tune of 4.1 million views and thousands of retweets.
Sparked by people’s fascination with such a massive personal library, comments came fast and furious, to the point that digital fistfights broke out and trolls attacked the couple for a variety of bizarre reasons including, “why do you have so many that you can’t possibly read all of them?”
I’ll answer that one for the Gears. “Because they wanted them.”
But thousands were envious and climbed upon their own ramparts of books to repel the attacks and support the couple and their collection.
I’m a reader and collector as well. We moved into our new house four years ago and I contracted with a master cabinetmaker to build bookcases in my office. The polished cherry built-ins reach twelve feet high, wrap around two walls, and the builder constructed a ladder and rail system to reach the upper shelves. He said it was the tallest cabinetry he’d ever designed to hold the weight of so many books.
It is a dream library, though I fall far short of the Gear’s 32,000 mark. Conservatively, I’d estimate my book collection might reach upwards of 5,000, mostly hardback volumes. Lacking enough shelf space even now, some are still packed away in an old quilt box built by my great granddaddy. They’re also scattered throughout the house on bookshelves, barrister bookcases, on other shelves and cabinets.
And yes, I’ve read them all except for those on my TBR stack. I’ve even written a few that are properly alphabetized, that take up almost an entire shelf.
The first paperback books that started my first adult collection came from a married couple, Don and Sally, who lived around the corner when I was in high school. Of course I had a library card, and I’d like to think I was one of the most prolific readers who ever checked books out of the Pleasant Grove Public Library, but I wanted my own.
Don loved westerns and gave me my first Louis L’Amour novels. He bought them for a few cents off a rack at the Rexall, read them, and passed them on to me, after Sally first made sure there wasn’t anything in them that high schoolers shouldn’t read.
But for high school boys, hope springs eternal to find some of those words and scenes Sally worried about. In my case, however, they didn’t show up in anything that came from that generous couple. I had to read The Dirty Dozen (1965) to finally see the “F” word in print, the word “whore” in Drums Along the Mohawk, (1936) and the mild sex scenes in Harold Robbins’ novels (1960s and 70s), that made me go “humm.”
Today there’s a huge push here in the Lone Star State to remove such books from school library shelves, and that kind of book burning nonsense is starting to worry me, because books have been a source of information and entertainment since I was a little critter. Honestly, I don’t need low-level politicians tell me or anyone else what to read.
My first real salaried position was working as a page in the Dallas Casa View Branch library, and shelving books was the best job I ever had. Reporting for work after school, then college, was never tedious, and at least once a week I told myself that someday I’d have my own personal library. Many of those books with bad words in them.
I’ve collected ever since, and prefer physical books over eBooks. For a while there, as Waldenbooks, B. Dalton, and a host of other mom and pop outlets closed their doors to the behemoth Barnes and Noble, I thought bookstores might be a thing of the past.
When B&N bulldozed whole sections in their stores and filled them with big empty tables holding a few tablets, the end seemed inevitable. Physical books might be going the way of the dinosaurs. Good lord, my personal library might be a museum piece before long.
But now stores are coming back, and the market has steadied between eReaders and books. Now the Twitter comments on the Gear library make me wonder. Why is that people can’t believe some of us have our own libraries. And why not? Amazon will sometimes deliver them right to your door only hours after you order them.
It pleases me to look up at the books I’ve collected for the past fifty-plus years. No, I won’t read most of them again, but the familiar titles and covers are my security blanket full of memories filled with the pleasant recollections of the stories between those covers.
There are collections by Robert Ruark, Donald Westlake, William C. Anderson, Douglas Jones, Edward Abbey, and Bill Bryson that I’ve gone back and re-read. Other authors who’ve become friends are there, as well as a collection of first editions by the King himself. I still read his old stuff now and then.
I have books by Owen West, Brian Coffey and Leigh Nicols that make me grin, for those are the early pen names of Mr. Dean Koontz.
Other single titles have sustained me through the years when things looked to be spinning out of control. Fly Fishing Through the Midlife Crisis by Howell Raines was a gift from the Bride who knows all things. My Health is Better in November, by Havilah Babcock and anything by Mr. Gene Hill were there when things became bleak.
I still go back and read The Old Man and the Boy by Robert C. Ruark. Talk about comfort food (books) for the soul.
This personal library is a close friends= my kids will have to deal with when the Bride and I are gone, but with one daughter who is a high school librarian, and another who understands personal belongings that are important to us, they’ll know what to do.
So with that said, here are some questions for the hive mind.
Why the big hubbub about the Gear’s personal library?
How big is your personal library?
Are there authors whose works have been instrumental to your personal career or well-being?
And finally, which authors were the foundations of your own writing or reading world?
So with that, happy reading!