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Hic Habitat Felicitas: “Here Lives Happiness,” says an ancient stone plaque from Pompeii.

“Why are you afraid to let people see your books?” he said. And then laughingly, “What are you reading? The Story of O? Delta of Venus? Dare I ask?”

“I’ve read those and didn’t find them very exciting, as a matter of fact. But yes, I have some erotica that I wouldn’t put out on the living room shelves. Robert Mapplethorpe, erotic art in Pompeii, that sort of thing. I suppose it depends on who’s coming over. Nobody I know would raise an eyebrow at Delta of Venus. Now owning all of the late, great Christopher Hitchens’ books–that would suggest to most people that you’re an atheist.”

“Indeed I am. I suppose a declaration like that is better received here than in the States. One gathers that admitting to being an atheist in the US is like admitting to being a pedophile. But I enjoy his political essays most.”

“Mmm. I love his literary criticism and his wit. He said the four most overrated things in life are Champagne, lobster, anal sex, and picnics. I agree, except for the Champagne. It may be overpriced, but it is not overrated.”

“Now, I would have said that I agree except for the picnics. I fancy an occasional déjeuner sur l’herbe.”

She smiled, thinking of Manet’s painting by that name, which depicted a completely nude woman lunching outdoors with two fully dressed men.

Like the protagonist in London Broil, I’ve always thought that you can tell a great deal about a person from the books he or she owns, and how they are displayed (or not). I’d never dream of snooping in someone else’s bathroom cabinets, but I’m always itching to get a look at their books. I’ve been to houses where the owners thought that only pristine hardcover books in dust jackets should be visible in the public spaces. It says a lot if a person owns big coffee-table art books of Doisneau photographs and Damien Hirst sculptures, but not much else.

I’ve been to decorator’s boutiques where one could buy impressively aged leather-bound books to display on side tables. But they were old sermons and legal tomes written in Latin, nothing the owners would ever read (the idea of buying “books by the foot” for display strikes me as bizarre and pretentious, even though I consider books to be beautiful objects in themselves, and I own plenty of books that I haven’t read and probably won’t). Conversely, I once had a professorial colleague whose wife forbade him to keep any of his books in the main living space. All were banished to his office in the basement, where he and his beloved bottles of scotch spent most of their time.

I love pictures of people’s libraries, and especially those New York apartments where every free inch is lovingly filled with books. To me, books are the most beautiful furnishings in a home. I fear the day when all our books will be reduced to megabytes and pixels stored in sleek plastic slabs (yes, I have a Kindle and use it… BUT.)


What a perfect space! Click for source.

My real life library has grown and contracted over the years as I gathered too many books to store in the available space. I wouldn’t be surprised if we’ve donated 100 boxes of books to various worthy causes over the years… many of which I now wish I had kept. We used to live in a small house, but it had a custom-built library upstairs that I miss. Now we have a bigger house with books in almost every room.


The home office: books on ancient religions. Click to become a bookshelf voyeur!

I still use the simple pine bookshelves that the Long-Suffering Husband built when we first got married. I’m sentimental.


The living room: books on art, collecting, and antiquarian book catalogues from Philip Pirages!


The living room: Plutarch, Milton, Livy, and some relicarios from Peru.

I keep my antiquarian books in various cases, but most of them are stored in an antique pie safe in the living room. In our old house, it used to hold the china.


Small format antiquarian books. I wish I had more time to spend just fondling these and inhaling their fragrance.

The guest room has two big bookshelves. If I were a guest here, I would be in heaven at finding all my favorite books, but a bit disappointed in the reading lamp.

Books on vintage and ethnic beads, and other collecting obsessions.

Books on vintage and ethnic beads, and other collecting obsessions.

A rainbow of treasured fiction.

A rainbow of treasured fiction.

Part of my miniature book collection resides in the guestroom too. I bought this antique chest to house them, but the tiniest ones are in a cigar box.


One of my all-time favorite books is Brillat-Savarin’s The Physiology of Taste. He shares a shelf with Julia Child, Elizabeth David, M.F.K. Fisher, and a host of vegetarians.

The dining room: cookbooks, naturally!

The dining room: cookbooks, naturally!

Sometimes I look over all the books and think what an Aladdin’s Cave of treasures I inhabit. Admittedly, though, they are a pain in the arse when it’s time to dust.

The dining room: natural history and poetry.

The dining room: natural history and poetry.


My beloved Stephen Jay Gould books. And fossils!


First-edition illustrated books on insects by Jean-Henri Fabre.

I need better shelving for the bedroom. All I’ve got is one of those beechwood folding Barnes and Noble shelves. And it’s groaning under the weight. The books have spilled out and are piling up beside my nightstand.

In the bedroom is this jumbled mish-mash of everything I've been planning to read over the last year and haven't gotten to, or books I've read that are ready to be sent to the basement for triage.

In the bedroom is this jumbled mish-mash of everything I’ve been planning to read over the last year and haven’t gotten to, or books I’ve read that are ready to be sent to the basement for triage.

Once as a girl, I went to a friend’s apartment. Her mother had filled an entire room ceiling to floor on every wall with paperback books. I was utterly mesmerized! Today my basement contains paperback collections of mysteries, romances, science fiction/fantasy, graphic novels/comics, and all the other books that have been read and will be donated to a sale.

To me George Herriman, who drew “Krazy Kat,” is one of the great masters of comic art. Or any art.

I am a lover of cozy mysteries, but I've been known to pick up a hard-boiled Raymond Chandler every now and then. Rex Stout is another favorite.

I am a lover of cozy mysteries, but I’ve been known to pick up a hard-boiled Raymond Chandler every now and then. Rex Stout is another favorite.

I love classic science fiction and among the more recent authors, Julian May's Celtic fantasy books.

I am fond of classic science fiction, and among more recent authors, Lois McMaster Bujold. Then there are Julian May’s Celtic fantasy books– like I said, Aladdin’s Cave of Treasures!

No, I don’t have any books in the bathroom. I try not to spend too much time in there. And the seating isn’t particularly comfortable for reading…

Now I feel as though I’ve bared all to the eyes of the world. Books are indeed an extension of one’s personality and as indicative of character as the food and drink we choose. I’m lucky enough to have lots of space for my books, but I often wonder which ones I’d choose if forced to shed all but one shelf.
Perish the thought.

If you’re really in the mood, check out the Bookshelf Porn site.