The Art and Joy of Building a Personal Library: An Enthusiast’s Guide

books on shelves
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When you stand inside somebody’s library, you get a powerful sense of who they are, and not just who they are now but who they’ve been. . . . It’s a wonderful thing to have in a house. It’s something I worry is endangered by the rise of the e-book. When you turn off an e-book, there’s no map. All that’s left behind is a chunk of gray plastic.

Lev Grossman

There’s something comforting about surrounding yourself with books. If you’re not sure what that feeling is, I encourage you to take a trip to your local public library. Head inside, stroll into the first stack of books you see and just stand there.

Don’t grab a book yet. Don’t walk around the stacks and browse. Just stand there. Let the voices of past and present speak to you. Hear the wisdom of ages, the folly of tyrants, and let the whimsical dance of poets blanket your soul.

You don’t have to take a book home, but you should. You don’t have to pick up a book at all, but you should.

If you stand in the library long enough, you’ll feel a pull on your inner being.

That’s the feeling I’m speaking of right now. The feeling that there is something you need in one of those books; the feeling that what you are seeking is within your grasp.

You can have this feeling at home by building a personal library. A personal library is an excellent tool for both personal and professional growth. It serves to remind you of the vast amount of knowledge that exists in the world, and how much there is still to learn. In addition, it helps to keep you humble by showing you how much you don’t know.

My own journey toward building a personal library began during the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s still a long way from where I want it to be, but I’m well on my way.

Building a personal library isn’t just about stocking books on a shelf. It’s about creating a refuge, a personal sanctuary that houses the wisdom of the ages and sparks your imagination. It’s about carving out a space that reflects your identity, where each book has been handpicked with love and care.

By building your personal library, you can discover new interests and passions, and expand your understanding of the world around you. It’s a hedge against hubris and complacency, providing a constant source of inspiration and motivation for personal growth.

“Read books are far less valuable than unread ones,” author Nassim Nicholas Taleb claims. Your “library should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means, mortgage rates, and the currently tight real-estate market allows you to put there. You will accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menacingly.”

I know not everyone has the means to build a personal library of thousands of books. The thought of owning even 100 books might seem overwhelming. I promise it’s easier to get there than you think.

Whatever means you may have, start building a personal library. Start small by buying physical copies of the books you love. Buy them whenever you have a chance and the means.

“In a good bookroom you feel in some mysterious way that you are absorbing the wisdom contained in all the books through your skin, without even opening them.”

Mark Twain

Let’s look at the process of building a personal library from scratch…

Building a Personal Library: The First Steps

Why Build a Personal Library? Before you dive headfirst into book buying, take a step back. Why do you want to build a personal library? Understanding your motives can help guide your choices and make the process more meaningful. Perhaps you’re an avid reader looking to curate a collection that reflects your literary journey. Maybe you’re a budding scholar who needs a comprehensive resource for research. Or perhaps, you just want a stunning visual display of your love for books. Whatever your reasons, keep them close to heart.

Choosing a Space for Your Library Next on the agenda is choosing a space. Think about where you’d like to house your books. A spare room, a cozy corner, or even a dedicated wall can serve as your personal library. The key is to choose a space that you’ll enjoy spending time in. Ideally, it should be quiet, well-lit, and comfortable.

Book Acquisition: The Heart of Building a Personal Library

Choosing Your Books Now comes the fun part – choosing your books! Start by considering your reading preferences. Are you a fan of classic literature or contemporary fiction? Do you love sci-fi, or are you more of a mystery enthusiast? Don’t just limit yourself to fiction. Your library can house a range of non-fiction genres, from history and philosophy to memoirs and travelogues.

Remember, building a personal library isn’t a race. It’s a journey of discovery, so take your time. Each book should add value to your collection, so consider each addition carefully.

Where to Buy Your Books Books can be sourced from a variety of places. Traditional bookstores, online retailers, second-hand stores, library sales, and even garage sales are all potential gold mines. Don’t shy away from used books; they often come with a sense of character and history that new books lack.

Organizing Your Personal Library

Categorization and Organization Now that you have your books, it’s time to arrange them. You could sort them alphabetically, by genre, by color, or by personal significance. Experiment and see what works best for you. Remember, the main purpose of organizing is to make it easier for you to find a particular book when you need it.

Labeling Your Books Consider labeling your books for added organization. You could invest in a personal library kit, complete with bookplates and a date stamp. Not only does this add a touch of professionalism, but it can also give your library an authentic feel.

“Don’t ever apologise to an author for buying something in paperback, or taking it out from a library (that’s what they’re there for…use your library). Don’t apologise to this author for buying books second hand, or getting them from bookcrossing or borrowing a friend’s copy. What’s important to me is that people read the books and enjoy them, and that, at some point in there, the book was bought by someone. And that people who like things, tell other people. The most important thing is that people read…”

Neil Gaiman

Creating the Ambience: The Soul of Your Personal Library

Furniture and Lighting The ambiance of your library is essential to making it a space where you’ll want to spend time. Choose comfortable seating, such as a plush armchair or a chaise lounge. Consider a sturdy table for your cup of tea or coffee. And don’t forget the lighting – a combination of natural and artificial light works best.

Decor and Personal Touches Lastly, infuse your personal style into your library. Decorate with artwork, potted plants, cozy rugs, or anything else that brings you joy. Remember, this is your space, so make it uniquely yours.

FAQs about Building a Personal Library

1. How much does it cost to build a personal library? The cost can vary greatly depending on your book-buying habits and the décor you choose. Building a personal library doesn’t have to be expensive, especially if you’re open to buying second-hand books and re-purposing furniture.

2. How long does it take to build a personal library? Building a personal library is a personal journey that can take as long as you want. It’s more about the quality of your collection than the quantity.

3. How many books do I need to start a personal library? There’s no set number. Your library could start with a handful of books that mean a lot to you. Over time, it can grow to house hundreds or even thousands of volumes.

4. Do I need a lot of space to build a personal library? Not necessarily. While a dedicated room is ideal, you can also create a beautiful library in a small corner or even on a single bookshelf.

5. How do I maintain my personal library? Keeping your books clean and in good condition is important. Dust them regularly and avoid exposing them to direct sunlight or high humidity.

6. Can I digitize my personal library? Yes, digitizing your library is a great way to catalog and keep track of your books. There are various apps and software available for this purpose.

Conclusion

Building a personal library is a labor of love, a testament to your passion for books and learning. It’s a journey full of joy, self-discovery, and the simple pleasure of holding a good book in your hands. So, take your time, enjoy the process, and above all, let your library be a reflection of you. Happy reading!


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How to Read More Books: Learn from the Masters

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Are you looking to read more books but can’t seem to find the time or the motivation? You’re not alone. The world is full of distractions that can waste your time and energy. But for those who have a passion for the written word, there are ways to overcome these hurdles and cultivate a robust reading habit.

Reading more books is an admirable goal that can expand your mind, improve your cognitive abilities, and offer you a richer, more nuanced understanding of the world. Bibliophiles like Tyler Cowen and Ryan Holiday are well-known for consuming vast quantities of books yearly. Let’s explore their strategies and learn from their habits.

Tyler Cowen: Quantity and Quality

Economics professor and co-founder of the blog Marginal Revolution, Tyler Cowen, is known for his voracious reading habits, consuming hundreds of books per year. How does he do it? Here are a few insights.

1. Skim first: Cowen advocates for speed reading or skimming through a book before deciding whether to devote more time to it. Skimming allows you to get the gist of the book, which can help you decide if it’s worth delving deeper.

2. Don’t be afraid to quit: If a book isn’t engaging or useful, Cowen recommends abandoning it. There’s no sense in wasting time on a book that isn’t providing value. Life is too short, and there are too many good books out there to stick with one that’s not working for you.

3. Read broadly, but specialize too: Cowen suggests reading widely to expose yourself to a variety of ideas, but also recommends specializing in certain areas. By focusing on specific subjects, you can develop a deeper understanding and knowledge base.

Ryan Holiday: Deliberate and Reflective Reading

Ryan Holiday, author, media strategist, and populizer of all things stoic philosophy, is another avid reader who goes through hundreds of books a year. He has a different approach to reading than Cowen; here are some of his strategies:

1. Always have a book with you: Holiday suggests always having a book on hand. This allows you to fill in those idle moments with reading rather than scrolling through your phone.

2. Note-taking and marginalia: Holiday is a firm believer in active reading. He takes notes, underlines passages, and writes in the margins of his books. This helps him engage more deeply with the material and aids in recall later on.

3. Reflect and review: Holiday recommends reviewing your notes and even rereading books to ensure comprehension and retention. By reflecting on what you’ve read, you can deepen your understanding and apply the knowledge to your own life.

Conclusion: Develop Your Own Reading Habit

While Cowen and Holiday have different strategies, they share a deep love of reading and a commitment to making it a priority. If you want to read more books, consider trying some of their strategies.

Remember, the goal isn’t just to read more books for the sake of quantity but to enrich your mind and life. So skim or dive deep, read broadly or specialize, take notes or reflect — find what works best for you and make reading a part of your daily routine. The world of books is vast and varied, and there’s always something new to discover.



Thanks for reading. This site and all the work shared here are completely reader-supported. The best way to support it is to check out my recommendations or subscribe to my weekly newsletter.

The Library is a Safe Place

I had no idea that Wil Wheaton graced my home state with his presence back in March at the Southern Kentucky Book Fest. I can’t tell you how bummed I am that I missed seeing him speak.

Neverminding my failure to stay on top of cool things, Mr. Wheaton was nice enough to post a copy of his remarks on his site. I’m just a few years younger than Wil and not only empathize with his childhood experiences but can say I had my own version of them.

I also totally agree that “the library is a safe place” for everyone.

In order to survive, I disassociated for much of my childhood, but I clearly remember the books. That’s where I found comfort, companionship, inspiration and validation. It’s where the imagination that powers everything I do creatively in my life today was born. And it all started in that library, with that librarian. She was one of the first people I can remember asking me, “What do you like? What’s important to you? What do you want to know more about? How can I help you find it?”

That moment was so special and meaningful, not just then, but for years after. When I got older, I began to learn that so much of what had been presented to me as truth in school wasn’t just false, it was propaganda. I remember the first time I saw a banned books display at a bookstore in the mall when we were on location for Stand By Me. I wanted to read all of them, because I’d figured out that if They didn’t want me to, there must be something pretty great inside.

I read To Kill A Mockingbird, and began thinking about racism and injustice.

I read 1984 and Brave New World, and began thinking about autocrats, and what it meant to be truly free to choose our own destinies.

I read Johnny Got His Gun, and All Quiet on the Western Front, and saw firsthand the horrors of war.

– Wil Wheaton

You can read his full remarks right here.