The subjects are divided into Sentimentalists (Knausgaard fits here), Intuitives, Arrangers, Professionals and Collectors. I’m struck by how different they are: you can almost divide them into those who say “I know where everything is” and those who say “I don’t know where anything is”. Yet by some mysterious process, even these people can put their hands on the book they want.
Not every writer is as chaotic as Knausgaard. Larry McMurtry runs a huge second-hand bookstore in his home town, Archer City in Texas, and his home is chock-a-block with more books, all organised according to subject: he has a vast reference library on Westerns. Jonathan Safran Foer loves to read in his library room, and surrounds himself with books he hasn’t yet read, “a sort of literary optimism”.
All 6241 volumes in Todd Hido’s photography library are catalogued according to themes. Jordana Munk Martin’s books about the textile arts are housed in a bower bird’s dream library of brilliant blue shelves. The collection of graphic artist Art Spiegelman and his wife Francoise Mouly ranges from comics to philosophy to fairy tales. “I often feel we are drowning in our books,” says Mouly. “How much more can we fit in? But how can we stop? This is what we do, how we live.”
Michael Boyd happily admits he’s a grand acquisitor. He has 10,000 or so books on modernist art, design and architecture, plus a collection of vintage guitars. Another acquisitor, the Mexican artist Pedro Reyes, buys 200 to 300 books a month: “On every trip, I come back with three suitcases of books”. He argues that books are the only object where the dilemma between having and being is cancelled, “as the more books you have, the more resourceful you become”.
This is a coffee table book that makes you think as well as admire and desire. It’s about the pleasure of material things, but also the pleasure of ideas and the outer indications of a life of the mind. What I love about these book owners, even the fanatical ones, is that they are so proud and unapologetic. Down with minimalism: when it comes to books, more is more.