What interests me about other people's books is the nature of their collection. A personal library is an X-ray of the owner's soul. It offers keys to a particular temperament, an intellectual disposition, a way of being in the world. Even how the books are arranged on the shelves deserves notice, even reflection. There is probably no such thing as complete chaos in such arrangements. - Jay Parini
A room without books is like a body without a soul. - Marcus Tullius Cicero
A house without books is like a room without windows. - Horace Mann
I’ve mentioned a few times that I sold off or given away a huge chunk of books over the years. Some, I miss – the compact OED (though I kept the magnifying glass), the facsimile copy of the Kelmscott Chaucer, the collected Lovecraft, all my Twain. But these are easily found in libraries or online and no longer break my back when I move.
What I have left is the “essential” stuff. Either I use it often, can’t find it on-line, or it’s small and light enough not to have given up. I try to always hold onto out of print
What follows is a quick skim of those books, squinting over my coffee and glowing screen, cross room, not nearly accounting for all.
Poetry Reference: the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, the Longman’s dictionary of Poetic Terms, a word menu (sort of a thesaurus), the Oxford companion to the English Language, a rhyming dictionary, a dictionary of literary terms, a dictionary of philosophical terms, Strunk and White.
Poetics: Some of the above quality, as most of those “dictionaries,” like the Longman’s, contain fairly long essays on various terms and ideas. Thus, they’re all closer to the encyclopedia end of the spectrum. Also – Dobyn’s “Best Words, Best Order,” Kunitz’s “A Kind of Order, a Kind of Folly,” the Biographia Literaria, Levertov’s “The Poet and the World,” Early Celtic Versecraft, the Book of Forms, Oliver’s Poetry Handbook, Todorov’s “Introduction to Poetics,” Aristotle’s “Poetics,” “Six Nomenclatures,” and of course, Nim’s “Western Wind,” which is reference, poetics, and anthology between two covers.
Poetry Anthologies: New Oxford English Verse, Digerati, Into the Garden, The War Poets, An anthology of baseball poems.
Individual Poetry: about 75 books.
Older: Dante’s Comedy, Beowulf, Milton’s complete, Li Po and Tu Fu, Anglo-Saxon manuscripts, Yeats, Lorca, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Rilke, Rochester, Sturrlson, Whitman, Bahso, Hopkins.
Contemporary: Levis, Weigl, Dobyns, Hayden, Lux, Jarrell, Bishop, Collins, Roethke, James Wright, Galvin, Szymborska, Joan Larkin, Phillip Larkin, Neidecker, Ni Domhnaill, Fanning, Jarrell, Matthews, Stafford, Gilbert, Fearing, Louis, Olds, Stanford, Howe, Reed, Hendricks.
Book Binding: Dover’s Hand Bookbinding, Morris’s Ideal Book, Japanese bookbinding, Hudson Thames Bookbinding Manual – a smattering of paper-making books.
Foreign Language: O Siadhail’s “Learning Irish,” Spanish-English Dictionary, Gearr-Fhocloir Gaeilge Bearla, “A Concise Anglo-Saxon Dictionary”
Myth/Proto-fantasy/Early Fantasy: Kenneth Morris – “Dragon Path,” Over Nine Waves, Gregory’s “Gods and Fighting Men,” Ovid, The Rackham Illustrated Tales from Shakespeare, two versions of the Arabian Nights, “The Man Who Was Thursday,” Joseph Campbell.
“Childeren’s or Young Adult:” Susan Cooper, Lloyd Alexander, some Tolkien, some Irish Language children’s books, McKinney, Garth Nix - really these are good enough to be read by adults.
Fantasy Essays: Fantasists on Fantasy (tremendous and hard to find), Letters of Tolkien, LeGuin’s “Language of the Night,” Yolen’s “Touch Magic,” Fliger’s “Splintered Light”
Fantasy: Tolkien, Bujold, Wells, Heinlien, Kenneth Morris, McCaffery, Tad Williams, Hambly, Sean Russell, Robin Hobb, Card (only Ender’s Game), Dave Duncan, David Eddings, Patricia Mckilip, Jack Chalker, Randall Garrett, Megan Linholm, Peter Beagle, Walter Miller (A Canticle for Lebiowitz), Evangeline Walton, HP Lovecraft, Kenneth Robeson (Doc Savage)
Law: about 25 books – Constitutional Law, Criminal, Criminal Procedure, Environmental Regulation, Evidence, Civil Procedure, Insurance Law, Environmental Law Statutes, DC Criminal Code and Rules, FRCP, History of Legal Education, and about 1.5 feet of photocopied articles, essays, cases, guides, and course materials. The course materials are now being scanned in (as images!! ack!!) so I have a significant amount of my hard drive and backup, instead of on my shelves. Law books don't really function like my other books.
Odd: (probably the most interesting category on anyone’s shelf): Emerson’s essays, Astronomical guide, Eastern Tree guide, the I Ching, “The Prince of Providence,” The Beak of the Finch, Land Navigation Handbook.
1st Editons: Heinlein’s Job: a Comedy of Justice, Lindholm’s Wizard of the Pigeons, Shippey’s Tolkien, and various more contemporary books listed above.
Others: A signed Rubiyatt (1907, purple ink, gold leaf, 275 copies, Persian, transliteration, translation), 7 Limited Print hand-bound books of Irish Verse from the Stone Street Press (trans. Malachi McCormick), the first printing of Morris's "The Book of the Three Dragons," an 1830 edition of Sir Walter Scott’s “Lady of the Lake,” The Tenniel Illustrated “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” 1898 Andrew Lang version (illustrated) of the Arabian Nights, 1909 Rackham Illustrated “Tales from Shakespeare,” an 1800 printing of Columbia Dictionary of the English Language (with Grammar). (I used to own an early Webster’s, but the Columbia is my favorite early American Dictionary.)
Signed books from: Lux, Kunitz, Howe, Stafford, Yolen, McCormick, Hendricks, Cantwell, Lindholm and others.