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‘The Library? – I don’t intend to have one,’ was the answer. ‘I consider the private library an exploded superstition. We have an excellent public library in town, to which I make a point to subscribe liberally. Mudie sends us fifteen new books every week, and if I want to make anything like the study of a subject it is open to me to run up to London and spend a few days at the British Museum. To my mind, our modern civilization shows few more satisfactory symptoms than the tendency of the public library everywhere to displace the private one. It is good, every way.

The presence in a dwelling-house of a large collection of old books is extremely detrimental to health. Not only do they gather dust and so become nests for the breeding of fevers, but I am competently informed that the old leather of their bindings emits an odour that is directly productive of phthisis. I believe that, in nine cases out of ten, the family library is at the root of the consumption that carries off the children of the house. I am so firmly persuaded of this that nothing will ever induce me to stay with people who use their book-room for a general sitting-room. I would as soon dine with the skeleton in the cupboard, or sleep in the family vault.’

Mary Elizabeth Christie, ‘Recollections of my grandfather’s library’ (1898).

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I do not like books, I believe I have the smallest library of any literary man in London, and I have no wish to increase it. I keep my books at the British Museum and at Mudie’s, and it makes me angry if anyone gives me one for my private library. I once heard two ladies disputing in a railway carriage as to whether one of them had or had not been wasting money. ‘I spent it in books,’ said the accused, ‘and it’s not wasting money to buy books.’ ‘Indeed, my dear, I think it is,’ was the rejoinder, and in practice I agree with it. Webster’s Dictionary, Whitaker’s Almanac, and Bradshaw’s Railway Guide should be sufficient for any ordinary library; it will be time enough to go beyond these when the mass of useful and entertaining matter which they provide has been mastered.

Samuel Butler, ‘Ramblings in Cheapside’ (1890).

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The few books we owned were largely reference books, bought by subscription through magazines: Enquire Within, What Everyone Wants To Know and, with its illustrations of a specimen man and woman (minus private parts and pubic hair), Everybody’s Home Doctor. No book, whether from the library or otherwise, was ever on view. Anthony Powell’s ‘Books do furnish a room’ was not my mother’s way of thinking. ‘Books untidy a room’ more like, or as she would have said, ‘Books upset.’ So if there were any books being read they would be kept out of sight, generally in the cabinet that once held a wind-up gramophone, bought when they were first married and setting up house.

Alan Bennett, ‘The treachery of books’ (1990).

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How strange it must seem to us bibliophiles to read of people who can actually think that books are ‘detrimental to health’ and find them upsetting! So hard to comprehend such mysteries.

Anyway, I am definitely of the opinion that ‘Books do furnish a room’, and I even have two books with the said title to prove it. :p

Anyone else share the same sentiments? 🙂

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6 thoughts on “Friday Feature : Enemies of Books

  1. ABSOLUTELY. Since my husband retired from the military-15 moves in 30 years, I have collected books.I have SECTIONS on Egyptology, France, Italy, England, Ireland, books on books,classics, mysteries,etc. He has bought or built nice bookshelves for most of our rooms. They have brought us great pleasure.The sad thing is, if we want to sell our house, all the books will have to be stored out of the house.

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  2. I must have a library of my own.If I feel stressed or sad I go into my front room of our small house, sit in the chair and just look at my books, pick up my old favourites from childhood or look at one with a beautiful cover and I find complete peace and equilibrium again. I am glad the scientists have worked out we do not get consumption from an overcrowded book room.

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    1. Books and bookshelves can be so therapeutic, really. I love looking at my books and shelves too whenever I need a little pick-me-up, so I know just what you mean. Yes, much thanks to the scientists, definitely! 😉

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  3. I need books around me, too–they are my friends! I am careful to keep only certain types of books: ones I’ll want to read again, hard-to-find ones that I might want to read again, books that inspire and teach…and ones that make me laugh. And I love snooping through other people’s books. Books most definitely add life to a room, and I don’t quite understand people who read but don’t have their own personal libraries!

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    1. I love snooping through other people’s books, too! A room without a book in sight would be rather dull, indeed. And I really feel that having a personal library is one of the biggest of life’s little pleasures. 🙂

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