I’m writing the rough draft of this post with a pencil and paper in our home library by the light coming in the window. The vibe in this room is extremely peaceful. The rug and furniture are old and have gracefully rounded corners. The shelves that reach up to the high ceiling are an inch and a half thick, so there are no poison arrows, as are caused by thin shelves. (Think machete blade.) The books line up well with the edges of the shelves so that no book protrudes over the edge. (The really huge books such as atlases are on a large cabinet top in the living room.) The bookshelf corners are curved near the window and two doorways, so it’s inviting to pass by them going from room to room or when approaching the window.
The real secret to the peacefulness of this room is in three humble cardboard boxes in our pantry. The boxes hold the dustcovers for the hardbacks in our library. They’re in alphabetical order because I need to refer to them every few months as books get accessioned (which usually just consists of cleaning them, if necessary, and erasing prices or removing stickers) and deaccessioned—ours is a living library.
Dustcovers are too slick and yang for home libraries, but I caution you: Never throw away dustcovers. The dust cover of a book is 90% of its resale value, plus it often has author information (including a photo) that is not found elsewhere in the book. Dustcovers are by nature colorful and attention getting; that’s what they are intended to do—grab your eyeballs in a busy bookstore and to do that they have to scream, “Look at me!” That’s a voice you don’t need in your own home and library. (See my previous post about how words affect us.) Behind the paper jacket is sometimes a real treasure. It’s not uncommon to find cotton or silk cloth binding with metallic embossing in an artful design. That’s what you’re supposed to see in your own home—that’s the mark of a fine publisher on a book they consider to be of enduring value. One client in San Francisco had a shelf of art books in her bedroom. As we took off a few dustjackets, she exclaimed, “I’ve owned these books for years and I had no idea how beautiful they are!” The next word I said to her was, “Silk.” Her jaw dropped as I removed the cover from a book published by Tuttle, who are famous for their lovely silk book covers.
When the window light isn’t adequate, the ambient light in our library is a single incandescent bulb in a frosted-glass globe that hangs from the center of the ceiling. There’s also a clever (and cleverly hidden) small halogen task light in the drop-front desk. I advise against any fluorescent light bulbs in the home library (and elsewhere in the home) because of the mercury they contain, their flicker, and the somber quality of their light.
Earlier I mentioned removing stickers as part of accessioning books into our library. Removing stickers says, “I own it now. It’s mine, and I’m not planning on returning it.” Leaving stickers on has the vibe of temporary, as if you might want to return the item to the store. I remove barcode and price stickers from anything in our home that’s not on a food package, and I use GooGone when necessary. I even once removed a big obnoxious label from a plastic trash container in the restroom at Ace Hardware because I figured it would be fast (a few seconds really) and then it was gone. I feng shuied their restroom and never charged them! But I got the satisfaction of upping the vibe in the room—small things matter in feng shui.
I live in the real world and our library reflects it. Sometimes we have more books than can be shelved vertically, and I have to place some books horizontally on top of books that are vertically shelved. There are two ways to do that without making your library looked too crammed. (A “too crammed” look is never good feng shui; it says you’re full and can’t handle anything else that comes your way.) The horizontal books must have a dark-colored spine (so they will visually disappear) and the lettering on the spine should be intended to be read when the book is in a horizontal position. Some books have spines with wording that is horizontal (when the book is laid flat), and other books have wording that is intended to be read when the book is standing upright. (These books often have thick spines; there’s an example of one in the photo above.) Placing books so the title can be read correctly is an example of a fine detail that makes a big difference.