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Luxurious Libraries

The Royal Portuguese Reading Room

I opened a fortune cookie one morning, having forgotten it the night before, and read that “You will be surrounded by things of luxury.” I couldn’t argue with this, I was going to be spending my day at a library surrounded by books. That got me thinking on how the status of books has changed, is changing. It wasn’t all that long ago, if you take a giant step back to see all of human history at once as a timeline, when books were a luxury only the most wealthy could own. Books like the Book of Kells were lovingly painted, and embellished with gold leaf.

Enter Gutenberg, and his press. From that point forward, literature has mushroomed. And like a patch of mushrooms, you could only really see part of it. The darlings of the media, in whatever form that was, got talked about. But there were many more unseen books that were unseen, proliferating via word of mouth. It has always been that way, ever since books became accessible to the masses.There were books that were frowned on as vulgar, that you wouldn’t admit to having read, and even at times, reading was not in vogue. Growing up, I was taught that a certain establishment frowned on the peasants being taught how to read, as it would dilute their hold on the ‘truth.’ I don’t know if it’s fact, but it certainly rings true. The luxury of being able to read and form one’s own opinion is open to each one of us.

We live in an era of information, I am told over and over. This is true – there is more of it, and mere freely available, than ever before. But how do we know what to believe? It’s like being drowned in gold coins. And each one needs to be bitten to see if it is real gold, or lead.  Which brings me to the concept of gatekeepers. We have been told, stridently and often, that indie published books must be crap because there are no gatekeepers. What the detractors don’t seem to get is that we are intelligent, educated, rational humans, and we can do our own gatekeeping, thankyouverymuch.

The gatekeepers have become corrupted. Drunk on power, they push their own biases, forgetting that they were supposed to sell to the masses, not the elitists who agree with them. But now, with the rise of independence, we have the luxury of becoming our own gatekeeper. It doesn’t take long for me to look at a book blurb, maybe the reviews, flip through a few pages, and know that I am interested in buying, or not. No longer online than it would take, standing in a bookstore. We are surrounded by the vast array of offerings, looking at what we want to, when we want it. It can make you a bit giddy at times. I know I indulge in book shopping far more often when presented with this option.

There was a time in my life I lived in dire poverty. I couldn’t get more books, for various reasons. Access to a library was limited, my personal library had been pruned down to a bare branch by many moves, and I was growing desperate. Enter the internet, and ebooks. Especially the Baen Free Library, although I had other favorite sites like manybooks and Project Gutenberg. It was like unlocking the vaults and allowing a starving man to take all he could carry. Now, I have the ability to find exactly what I want to read, no matter where I am, or what time it is, or what state of dress I am sporting. Leave my finances out of it, I am a rich woman.

I may not be able to allow visitors to gaze upon my magnificent collection and impress them with having all the right titles, since most of my reading is electronic, and besides, I own a varied library at best. I love ebooks, but I will admit that they don’t get the same reaction as an 1895 copy of Kipling, which was picked up reverently when I had it out in public, raised to an inch of her face, and sniffed thoroughly with a look of bliss and a comment of “I love the smell of old books!”  I love to share my favorites, and have been known to write notes in Literature class, and push them to a classmate with a ‘psst! check this book out!’ knowing that I am contributing to the downfall of a youth into the decadence of reading. I review new favorites, especially those by Indie authors, on my blog for the public to discover. We live in the lap of luxury and it’s lined with a pile of books.

And because I know you will all enjoy this: 30 best places to be if you love books!

 

32 Comments
  1. masgramondou #

    what Kipling?

    October 5, 2013
    • Barrack-Room Ballads… A few years ago I picked up three books at a flea market, when I looked closer, realized I had gotten first US printing edtions. They are beautiful. 😀

      October 5, 2013
  2. Kate Paulk #

    Ooh, those libraries are awesome. Apart from the one in the bathroom. There is a REASON that’s the only place in the house I don’t have books (I’d never LEAVE).

    October 5, 2013
    • But that’s the private place where the kids can’t barge in!

      October 5, 2013
      • Kate Paulk #

        Try telling that to cats…

        October 5, 2013
    • Yes! Worse is going in with Kindle in hand — tooooooo many books to read and choose from and read . . . .

      October 5, 2013
      • I used to keep a shelf of carefully selected books in the bathroom. People must have looked at us funny in the bookstore, as I’d pick up a book and show it to my Dad, or ex, and say “look, a bathroom book!” The criteria were that they needed to be trivia, very short stories, or joke books. Basically, not something that would keep you in there for hours. Seven people, one bathroom!

        October 5, 2013
        • Mark Alger #

          Well, if they looked at you “funny” (funny creepy-clown, not enjoying the humor and warmth funny), they probably weren’t the right sort. The right sort would have looked at you and smiled, maybe looked a littlesurprised, and thought, I know exactly what she means!

          M

          October 5, 2013
        • When I was a kid, my dad had a book in the bathroom that was exactly what you’re describing. If I remember correctly, it was called “Jokes for the John”.

          October 5, 2013
        • That’s a really good idea. For some reason it’s catalogs and specific sorts of light non-fiction that I want to have in small doses. Sometimes editorials. I’m embarassed to admit I got the idea from going to the “Inlaws” and finding _The Bathroom Joke Book_ which was not horrible like I’d imagined.

          October 5, 2013
          • I have kept things like “The Art of War,” “The Darwin Awards” and Ben Franklin’s collection of essays, “Fart Proudly” in there. I really should revive that practice if I can figure out how to put a shelf in this bathroom.

            October 5, 2013
            • *snort* I literally just bought a shelf for that purpose today. I find that baskets on the floor don’t protect the book enough. The Art of War is a good one. Various entries by O’Rourke is often makes an appearance in mine– but since they are Matt’s books I keep them in the bedroom so they don’t get damaged.

              October 5, 2013
        • There’s a whole series called, I believe, Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader. Essays, jokes, short stories, etc.

          October 6, 2013
    • Nathan #

      I’ll admit, as soon as I saw the picture, I went, “I want that.”

      October 5, 2013
    • Have shopped in that store!

      October 5, 2013
      • I admit, I imagine a good chunk of Paradise to look like that. 🙂 I always wanted to write a multidimensional universe where folks crossed over in libraries, then discovered to my dismay that Terry Pratchett beat me to it. 😦

        October 5, 2013
        • Do it again! It’s not like we will get tired of that concept. 😀

          October 5, 2013
          • It was based on a similar metaphysic– I really wanted to make it mine. The world was rather different– though there were literal dinosaur librarians instead of an ape. They all decided that books were better than killing each other, which saved them from extinction. It really did make sense in my head…

            October 5, 2013
            • Hey if dinosaur erotica sells, why not dinosaur librarians? I like the concept of very long-lived librarians.

              October 5, 2013
              • If I remember correctly, they were immortal, and one of them– a giant turtle– remembered the Big Bang. They were also “book angels” somehow in tune with the very metaphysics that makes reading books possible. And psychic. They already know the book you are looking for– but also know when what you are looking for is not really a book. Oh, dear, I think that story seed has been soaked!

                October 5, 2013
                • I can’t wait to see what germinates.

                  October 5, 2013
                  • I think I have to try another jaunt into the mythic. The dino libraries were actually “in-between” in their own pocket universe created by the reality generated by so many books in one place.. But they are all one place, except each has it’s own idiosyncratic nature. Though the dinos inside the library(ies) can bilocate. They even wore glasses. When I came up with this idea I thought I’d OD’ed on dinotopia. 🙂 Oh, heck…

                    October 5, 2013
                • Okay, I put it back into the story seed repository. I don’t have time to nurture it right now… too much stuff on tap already!

                  October 5, 2013
              • I have a dragon librarian in one of my stories in my Flash of Fire collection 🙂

                October 6, 2013
  3. TXRed #

    My dream house has a two-story tower library built onto it, with rolling library ladders, dark wooden paneling, and a really good desk and chairs.

    In a way, things like Project Gutenberg and the Baen Free Library, or local libraries with e-book access, are extreamly subversive. You hear a pundit decrying an old book, say Plato’s “Republic” or Adam Smith, or Milton and Rose Friedman’s economics textbook. Now you can quickly locate and download, or read a copy on-line for yourself. (Assuming you escaped the public school system with both literacy and curiosity intact). Which makes me wonder: how many people in Iran, or Egypt, or India and China, or Venezuela, are quietly downloading dangerous texts like “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” or “The Federalist?”

    Nice piece, Cedar.

    October 5, 2013
    • I know my blog (haven’t looked at this one, but it has to be true times ten) gets international readership. It’s neat, looking at the little map WordPress provides you, to see where you’re being read. So I know that all around the world, people can and do find the links to what they need. Nowadays, the book burnings would be futile, because it’s so pervasive that without global control (and even then!) people can find what they need.

      October 5, 2013
    • I’m aware of a gunblogger podcast wherein they discovered that a significant chunk of their listening audience is in China. They aren’t sure if they are being smuggled in by the locals or spied on by the government. 🙂

      October 5, 2013
  4. Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard #

    Since Librarians have come up, I thought of the Arkon in Michelle Sagara’s Chronicles of Elantra series. He is the Librarian of the Imperial Library. Like his Emperor, he’s a dragon. You don’t mess with HIS Library. [Very Big Grin]

    October 5, 2013
  5. All those books, and no way in hell I could read them all in this lifetime. Kind of sad, really. Almost want to find out if there’s a book there that hasn’t been opened since it was shelved just to read it.

    October 6, 2013
    • Hm – but would it be worth reading? Hard to tell until you try, isn’t it.

      October 6, 2013
  6. That Professor Macksey in the library article sounds like a righteous man. I looked him up. Turns out that he held writing seminars at home in his library, so that he could easily reach for examples.

    October 10, 2013

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