wlip through the cable TV channels, and sooner or later you’ll find a reality show or two about the dangers of hoarding. But when does the love of books cross the line into book hoarding, threatening domestic tranquility?
It’s a question that bibliophiles everywhere must consider as their living room bookshelves crowd with new acquisitions, and that dilemma rests at the heart of “Phantoms on the Bookshelves,” Frenchman Jacques Bonnet’s new book on the perils and possibilities of owning a personal library.
Perhaps banking on the theory that confession is good for the soul, Bonnet, a publisher, translator and author, concedes that his love of books has occasionally — okay, frequently — affected his household. “I once had a bathroom full of bookshelves, which made it impossible to take a shower, and meant running a bath with the window open because of the condensation; and I also kept them in my kitchen, which made it out of the question to use certain strong-smelling foodstuffs,” Bonnet tells readers. “As was the case for many of my colleagues, it was years before I could afford a living space equal to my book-collecting ambitions.”
Bonnet did draw the line, though, at storing books above his bedroom headboard.
Here’s why: “I learnt, long ago, the circumstances of the death of the composer Charles-Valentine Alkan, sometimes described as the ‘Berlioz of the piano,’ who was found on 30 March, 1888 crushed to death by his own (bedroom) bookshelves.”
That limitation aside, Bonnet’s book acquisitions have continued with few reservations. The reason, writes Bonnet, is that the personal library “is what brings us closest to paradise on earth.”
A nice thought, we imagine, although one which might not be greeted with enthusiasm by a book-lover’s spouse.