Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Dukedom Large Enough

In his masterful play, The Tempest, William Shakespeare writes "My library was dukedom large enough." Though public libraries are one of the best ideas ever in the history of mankind, it is the private library that holds the heart of most readers. If you are like me, then you are very careful as to which books you add to your library because you know that it serves as a glimpse into your passions and your soul. Here are some of the criteria I use when deciding which and what kinds of books to add to my own personal shelves:

  • I have read it before. It isn't often that I buy books that I haven't read before because I'd hate to spend money on the book and then not care for the story. The only exceptions I make are for older books (more on that later) or for authors that I trust. I know there are some people who choose not to re-read books, but I am not one of them. If I really like a book, then you can be sure that I will read it many times over.
  • My public library doesn't have it or can't get it. I don't think I've ever had to buy a book because my library couldn't get a hold of a copy. Shoot, I've even had my library purchase a copy because I requested it and they couldn't get one. But there is always that possibility, so I'll keep an open mind when it comes to these situations.
  • I can get a good edition. To me books aren't something you just spend money on, they are an investment. A good book can last a lifetime and beyond. So I generally tend to buy hardback and new when I can get them. I'm not completely against buying paperback, but I would rather save my money and invest it in a nice edition rather than buying the cheapest one. Of course, they must also be "Complete and Unabridged".
  • They are antique editions. I'm a sucker for old books. I love the look, the smell, and the feel of them. This is the main area where I break my "I have to have already read it" rule.
None of this is to say that I refuse to buy books that don't meet these criteria. I still pick up random books when they strike my fancy (I bought my edition of Dickens' Bleak House for 25 cents). But they do serve as general guidelines when I decide how I'm going to spend my money.

Finding good editions of books can sometimes be difficult. and Barnes and Noble are great places to start of course. If you have tons of money laying around you can check out The Book Collector's Library which offers rare editions and signed copies of many famous works. There was a signed copy of The Old Man and the Sea that caught my eye, but I don't exactly have $20,000 within easy reach. For those of you who are like me and want nice editions of classic literature without having to take out a loan, I would suggest giving "The Collector's Library" editions a try. They are put out by CRW Publishing which is a British firm. Some of you may recognize them from when B&N used to carry them. They are portable and reasonably priced (ranging from $8 to $16 depending on exchange rate) but are wonderfully put together with cloth-covered hardbacks, gilded edges, some illustrations and ribbon book marks. Though they are no longer widely available here in the US, they are available through the CRW Publishing website as well as Amazon UK. I'm pretty sure that Amazon UK will ship to the US.

If you know of places to get nice, affordable editions of classic literature, please share them. Also feel free to share your criteria for what you add to your personal library.

"Good as it is to inherit a library, it is better to collect one." - Augustine Birrell

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