In the wake of moving house, which included a ridiculous number of books that prompted even our movers to complain, the notion of a digital library becomes increasingly appealing. True, books are beautiful, tactile and each, in addition to its actual content, is a touchstone of memory and experience, but after slitting open dozens of cartons, I’m feeling less sentimental.
In addition, I never quite realized the degree to which arranging books can prove psychologically fraught. In our new house, my husband gave one of his bookshelves to my preschool-aged son. The resulting scarcity in shelf space has prompted a kind of Malthusian struggle; in this overpopulated world, which books should get pride of place? Should we (finally) attempt to organize by subject area? Should the Wilkie Collins novels that were the subject of my grad school papers be relegated to boxes in the basement? (!) Can we donate still more to Goodwill? We’ve already parted with a small library’s worth of volumes. Yes, we could get yet another bookshelf. Likely we will. But this is not a long term solution, especially when I find that I get stroppy when I suspect that I am culling more books than my husband, who as a publishing professional, an academic and a packrat is thrice-afflicted. So gentle readers, in houses where there is more than one bibliophile, where marriage/cohabitation also involves the union of two book collections, and assuming that you do not possess a soaring multi-floored library that Rachel hankered after earlier this month, what did you do? Must we digitize in the name of conjugal harmony, easier moves, and effortless organization? Is the virtual library the answer, not only for the Vatican Library (check out this New Yorker article) but my own, just slightly less palatial, house?