A Bibliophile in the Nursery

Late June is always hectic around here: Half-days at school throw off daily routines, and packing my daughter for camp is often a multi-day, multi-sensory experience that fails to disappoint. And this year, we've also decided to update our woefully inadequate home office. Demolition and construction are slated to take place over the summer while the house is empty, which meant completely emptying the workroom of its contents.

Disassembling the 19th-century partner desk was easy enough--they certainly don't make beasts like this handmade 36-inch oak escritoire anymore--but taking the bookshelves apart and removing their load was, as perhaps you readers can imagine, no simple manoeuver.

My current bookshelves are simple, sturdy, pre-fab birch planks, and though they've served faithfully for many years, I need more room. A common complaint I heard from my parents growing up, I face the same need for greater shelf space.

Now, those pre-fab stacks crowd a small antechamber on our second level, reshelved. I'm surrounded by books on every floor.

Home sweet home.

Construction offers a rare opportunity to cull, to deacquisition books deemed no longer fit for duty, or that would find better use elsewhere, on someone else's bookshelf. Unlike my father, whose archive spans decades, my collection is more modest in size and scope, but still impressive enough to give the uninitiated pause when they first visit. (To see what it's like parting with truly amazing books, read my father's ode to packing up his library in the spring issue of Fine Books and Collections.)

The beginning stages of deaccession are the hardest, but once a rhythm is established, I dare say a certain ruthlessness prevails. Mass-market paperbacks are an easy toss--though I'm still on the lookout for my dog-eared, highlighted-to-hell Hachette softcover edition of To Kill a Mockingbird, especially now that it's no longer in production.

Despite an initial urge to purge, bibliophilia got the better of me, and most books are back on the shelves where they originated. I rediscovered some lost treasures throughout the process: A 1970 publication of Squirrels of North America by Dorcas MacClintock left me scratching my head until I discovered the author was a fellow Smith grad. Stamped a "regional discard" by the Central Massachusetts Regional Library System, Squirrels retains its due date envelope and cards pasted to the back flyleaf, and was last borrowed from the Upton Public Library in June 1995. My nature-loving daughter adores the charming renderings of marmots and prairie dogs, and now claims the book as her own.

My sweetest find was Bibliophile in the Nursery: A Bookman's Treasure of Collectors' Lore on Old and Rare Children's Books. This "profusely illustrated" first-edition is rich in advice for collectors of children's books; a delightful mix of historical essays, lists, and biographical notation, with entries by such authorities as folklorists Iona and Peter Opie; collector Elisabeth Ball, whose donations are now found in the Morgan Library, the Lilly Library, and the Free Library; and Houghton Library's librarian emeritus W.H. Bond.

The empty office is a refreshing palate cleanser, but I'm already looking forward to fall and to filling the new shelves with old favorites.


By Georgios Jakobides - Bonhams London, 20 May 2008, lot 22, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17863841