There are many reasons why I want to earn a tenure-track professorship. But I’m not going to lie. One reason I want to make my way to a permanent position at a university is because I’m ready to start my library.
I don’t mean my collection of books. That I started long ago, and the overburdened Ikea bookcases in my apartment are evidence that I often buy without rationale or discretion. (I do, however, have one lovely mission-style bookcase that was a gift from my father, the inimitable Mike “Boots” Ford, and I try to keep it stocked with my loveliest of volumes.) I have tried to maintain a sense of order, but I married a man who has a similar book-buying habit, and these days our shelves are a baffling mish-mash, my marked up copy of William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience leaning against Danny’s collector’s-item Confidential Guide to Golf Courses by Tom Doak. My series of vintage Ray Bradbury paperbacks is smooshed between Danny’s very elegant bust of Hellboy and a MOMA statuette of a fat, sleeping cat I inherited from my mom.
No, I don’t need a tenure-track job to start my collection of books. But the day I sense that settled-ness that comes with finally beginning my career in earnest will be the day I begin my Library, the room in my house that will be completely dedicated to desultory reading and, hopefully, those late evenings when I find myself surrounded on either side by a stack of novels and histories and books of literary criticism, weaving them together into something new.
I’ve been planning my someday-library as I read Alberto Manguel’s The Library at Night, a wonderful collection of meditations on books and how we live among them. (I blogged about Manguel’s book briefly here, but I hadn’t read it at the time; instead, I had heard the author in a radio interview.) Manguel’s own library is housed in a restored stone barn in France. Books floor to ceiling, the shelving only broken by sunken windows. Exposed rafters criss-crossing a plaster ceiling. Puddles of yellow light thrown by small lamps scattered across long, low tables. Rugs and studded chairs.
My library will resemble Manguel’s if we end up in the small tudor house with stained glass windows that Danny is always imagining. Perhaps unlikely. But reading about Maguel’s ideal space for reading and wandering among books — and how he made that room appear — have made me consider my own dream library. Here goes.
One large table. Nothing that comes packed flat in a box, and nothing that requires assembly with an Allen wrench. Instead, something I picked up at a flea market or antique store. And I mean large. I love my cubby-holed desk from Target, but I love to spread out when I work, and in our tiny Houston apartment, this is impossible. It needs to be distressed, because inevitably I will spill my coffee or write on it accidentally, and I want such mishaps to add character.
Shelves, obviously. But if I’m building an ideal library, I’m going to be particular. They should line every wall, starting just below my waist and stopping at the height of my reach. Dark wood around the edges, painted inside–royal purple, indigo, dark red. When I take out a book, I want to see a jewel, not barely-hanging-in-there particle board. At least one set of shelves — maybe those on either side of the door — should be closed with beveled-glass doors, my favorite nineteenth-century photos pressed against a few of the panes. Below the shelves, reaching to the floor, cupboards and file drawers.
A reading chair, wide enough for me to sit sideways with my feet tucked to one side while still comfortably sharing with one quite chubby cat. Next to the chair, a small table with distressed mirrored panels and a small drawer for pens, bookmarks, and stickies, because I never remember to bring them with me, and I never realize it until I’m settled.
Warm light. One nice, large shaded lamp on the main table that, when turned on at night, makes the rest of the house recede. Many smaller lamps throughout that offer enough light to browse by but don’t suggest work or study.
And then the things that make an empty room feel occupied. The aforementioned MOMA statuette, to remind me of mom when I’m frustrated. The owl bookends Danny gave me for Christmas. A framed copy of the nineteenth-century small press advertisement featured in my Stevenson article. A clutch of sharp pencils in any color but yellow, angling out of the bright orange pencil cup from Lilian, sitting next to a fat pink eraser.
Deciding to earn my PhD, to live apartment to apartment until that tenure-track job comes along — these are decisions that have forced me and Danny to put a settled and seemingly adult life on hold. Hopefully in the next few years I’ll have at least a small space to call my library, and I know Danny is looking forward to an art studio — natural light, large easel, sinks, shelves of John Singer Sargent and Mike Mignola.
So what’s your dream room, and what’s inside?